Responding to a statement by Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai warned Iran not to threaten Israel, HA'ARETZ reported. Shamkhani had said Iran would fire missiles at Israel if it were to attack the nuclear reactor in southern Iran.

"The Iranians know our strength and our ability, and I advise them not to threaten us. We have all the necessary means to ensure the life of the State and its citizens," Mordechai said upon leaving a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

During the meeting, Mordechai said that Israel is building a long-term solution to the threat of ballistic missiles from Arab countries in the form of the Arrow anti-missile missile. The Arrow, he said, will eventually provide protection against both Scud missiles and the missile recently tested by Iran, known as the Shihab-3. However, he warned, even after the Arrow is operational, there is no way to hermetically seal the skies against attack.

Defense Ministry representatives told the Knesset members that if everything goes according to plan, the Arrow will be partially operational by the end of 1999, at which point it will have interception capabilities. However, it will not be fully operational until 2005, they said.

A senior intelligence officer told the committee that development of the Shihab-3 will end next year, and the missile will become a production prototype. Despite massive pressure from the United States, he noted, the Russians have not stopped their assistance to Iran's missile program.

MA'ARIV reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking from New York, called Iran's nonconventional arms buildup "a global threat." Netanyahu added, "We are investing unprecedented budgets and are explaining to world leaders that this threat does not concern us exclusively." He explained that the Shihab-3, which is capable of reaching Israel, is being followed by development of the Shihab-4, which would be able to reach Europe, and the Shihab-5, which would threaten New York.

"Whereas there is an international system in which Iraq is understood as a global threat and Saddam Hussein is being pressured, there is no such system working against Iran," Netanyahu said.