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Probably no foreign weapon is more familiar to the Israeli public than the Shihab 3, the Iranian ballistic missile. The missile is an open book: We know its range, its potential range of targets in Israel, and how many people will be killed or wounded in the event of an attack on Israel. Soon people will be writing songs about its multiple warhead and mothers will start warning their children that if they don't eat their food, the big, bad Shihab will come and eat them.

The Shihab missile threat comes wrapped with a fundamentalist religious state, some of whose leaders believe that Israel has no right to exist. And as in any crime story, there is a weapon and there are motives, so now is the time for all good people to be afraid.

Interestingly, Iran says the exact same things about Israel. Israel has nuclear weapons, the leaders in Tehran say, as a Jewish state it has a motive to do battle against Islam, and it is an expansionist state. Therefore, Iran argues with its political logic, it is best to prepare for a possible Israeli attack, or at least to build a deterrent system that will make it impossible for the Zionist state, with American backing, from turning Iran into a radioactive heap of rubble.

For Iran - which has already endured a painful war against neighboring Iraq, in which it suffered from missile attacks and chemical weapons; is bordered on the east by Afghanistan, which in the past threatened it with the Taliban and is now dragging the United States onto its territory; is adjacent to Pakistan, another rival state with nuclear weapons capability, and beyond which lies India, with similar capability - it is only natural it will want to arm itself as well as it can for self-defense, or at least for deterrent purposes.

Iran is not a very pleasant country - far from it. Even though its democracy is one of the most advanced in the region, and even though it has signed the nuclear weapons inspection convention, it perpetrates terrorism against the regime's opponents both inside the country and outside it, and it supports Hezbollah and Muslim isolationist groups, some of them terrorist organizations, in another dozen or so countries. Iran, though, is not an irrational state. The early days of the revolution fomented by Ayatollah Khomeini are long since behind us, having given way to a fierce struggle between reformers and conservatives in the parliament, between those who espouse a dialogue with the United States, and the religious establishment, which would like to prevent any such development. Iran maintains diplomatic relations with most countries and is adopting new ties with the countries of the Middle East. For example, it has intensified its alliance with Saudi Arabia - which has offered Israel comprehensive peace in the name of the Arab world - and it has close relations with Turkey, which conducts joint military maneuvers with Israel. Jordan and Egypt, which have peace treaties with Israel, continue to maintain extensive trade ties with Iran, and the Iranian foreign minister went so far as to reprimand Hezbollah after the series of attacks the militant Shi'ite organization launched against Israel about two months ago.

Unexpectedly, the network of ties between Iran and the Arab states also produces a protective layer for Israel. Because if an Iranian missile is fired at Israel, the Arab states will also have reason for anxiety. No Arab country wants to see in its immediate surroundings a ballistic or nuclear threat wielded by a non-Arab, Shi'ite Muslim state.

This does not mean that Israel should remain indifferent to the development of advanced weapons by enemy states. But it is best to acknowledge the true dimensions of the problem and not turn a ballistic missile into a Doomsday weapon. Of the various select threats facing Israel, the Pi Glilot fuel depot, the fuel containers in Kiryat Ata, the rockets in the possession of Hezbollah, the explosive belts of the Hamas suicide bombers and the Syrians' chemical warheads all pose dangers that are more clear and present than a long-range missile that will make its way toward Israel.