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High Noon in the Middle East

Jerusalem – As a result of misguided American policy, the threat of another military confrontation hangs like a dark cloud over the Middle East. The United States’ enemies have been strengthened, and Iran – despite being branded as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” – has been catapulted into regional hegemony. Iran could never have achieved this on its own, certainly not in such a short time.

A hitherto latent rivalry between Iran and Israel thus has been transformed into an open struggle for dominance in the Middle East. The result has been the emergence of some surprising, if not bizarre, alliances: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the American-backed, Shia-dominated Iraq are facing Israel, Saudi Arabia, and most of the other Sunni Arab states, all of which feel existentially threatened by Iran’s ascendance.

The danger of a major confrontation has been heightened further by a series of factors: persistent high oil prices, which have created new financial and political opportunities for Iran; the defeat of the West and its regional allies in proxy wars in Gaza and Lebanon; and the United Nations Security Council’s failure to induce Iran to accept even a temporary freeze of its nuclear program.

Iran’s nuclear program is the decisive factor in this equation, for it threatens irreversibly the region’s strategic balance. That Iran – a country whose president never tires of calling for Israel’s annihilation and that threatens Israel’s northern and southern borders through its massive support of proxy wars waged by Hezbollah and Hamas – might one day have missiles with nuclear warheads is Israel’s worst security nightmare. Politics is not just about facts, but also about perceptions. Whether or not a perception is accurate is beside the point, because it nonetheless leads to decisions.