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An operation to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities if necessary is under consideration, according to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Speaking in Persian last week on Israel Radio, Mofaz said that if the need arises to destroy Iran's nuclear capability, "the necessary steps will be taken so that Iranian citizens will not be harmed."

The bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981 was carried out on a local holiday when it was assumed that the facility would be empty or nearly empty, and one person, a French technician, was killed in the attack.

In the two decades since, air attacks have become more sophisticated, to allow precise hits without collateral damage.

In his visit to Washington last month, Mofaz called Iranian nuclearization "insufferable," and he said that Israel would take steps to prevent it.

In a report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mossad head Meir Dagan recently described the Iranian threat as the greatest one Israel has ever faced, but did not say how Israel would counter it.

Senior Israeli officials have been less direct than Mofaz in their pronouncements regarding Iranian nuclear capability - the defense minister's radio statements were the first of their kind by a high-ranking Israeli.

A radio listener had asked about the statement of Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Hussein Dahakan that Iran sees Israel and the U.S. as a "principle threat" that is essentially technological, and the response to it is by means of "other tools."

Mofaz, who was born in Iran and left with his family at age nine, said that Israel bears no animosity toward the Iranian people. The two countries had good relations until a few years ago, he noted, saying Israel has no aggressive plans against Iraq. However, if Israel is attacked, Mofaz said, it will use all means to defend its territory and its citizens.

Dahakan said last week that Iran had neglected the development of its long-range Shihab 4 missile and is moving ahead in upgrading the Shihab 3, but experts in Israel say that the change is in terminology, and not in development. The effective range of the Shihab 3, estimated until last summer at 1,300 kilometers, has been extended to make it possible to hit Israel even from central Iran.

In a military parade in Tehran a few weeks ago, a model of the Shihab 3 was presented with the claim that its range was 1,700 kilometers, "straight into the heart of the enemy."

According to Israel Radio Persian programming director Menashe Amir, many listeners called the station and asked Mofaz for Israel to "save them the way Cyrus the Great did 2,500 years ago when he allowed the Babylonian exiles to return to their homeland, and as President Bush helped the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan to liberate themselves from tyrants."

Mofaz was careful not to promise aid of this type, but said he sympathized with the Iranian people and wished them success in its struggle. Mofaz said that the U.S. had more work ahead after Afghanistan and Iraq, and hinted that the work included Iran and Syria. He insinuated that the regime of Saddam Hussein presented a "more urgent threat" to Israel than Iran.

Mofaz refused to answer the question of a listener from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq about Israel's stand regarding the Kurds.

Mofaz told listeners he had heard about an Iranian Jew, one of 12, who had disappeared eight years ago in an attempt to escape to Pakistan and that Israel "saw an obligation to protect Jews wherever they are."