Iran's defense minister warned of a "painful response" if Israel attacks Iran, the official IRNA news agency reported Monday.

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was responding to statements from Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli Cabinet minister, who warned Friday that Israel will attack Iran if it doesn't abandon its nuclear program.

Israel, which itself is believed to have stockpiled about 200 nuclear weapons, has accused Iran of seeking to build its own arsenal.

Iran has denied the charges, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity, not bombs.

"If somebody wants to do such a foolish job, the response will be very painful," IRNA quoted Najjar as saying.

Mofaz set off an international uproar over the weekend by saying in a published interview that Israel will have "no choice" but to attack Iran if it doesn't halt its nuclear program. Mofaz is a former military chief and defense minister, and has been Israel's representative in a strategic dialogue on Iran with U.S. officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert distanced himself on Sunday from the statements but didn't explicitly reject Mofaz's threatening comments.

Verbal threats and political tensions have increased between Iran and Israel after Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in 2005 that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Ahmadinejad has called Holocaust a "myth" and has repeatedly called for Israel's elimination. Last week, he said Israel has "reached the end ... and will soon disappear from the geographical" charts.

There is a precedent for Israeli military action: In 1981, Israeli planes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi reactor.

Other Cabinet ministers accused Mofaz of speaking irresponsibly and suggested he was trying to sound tough for reasons connected with internal politics.

Mofaz sees himself as a candidate to replace Olmert, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal that might force him to step down. He is vying with Israel's popular foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, for the job.

Iran's military leaders have threatened to attack Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor if the Jewish state takes any military actions against Iran.

Iran is equipped with ballistic missiles with a range of 1,200 miles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases across the Mideast. Its upgraded version of Shahab-3 and Ashoura are both capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.