Something is stirring in the Middle East. The winds of war are blowing, picking up speed with each passing day, and the threat to Israel is growing steadily more alarming.

All around us, trouble - major trouble - appears to be brewing, and it is time we open our eyes and confront the dangers that may lie ahead.

From Beirut and Damascus in the north to Teheran in the east, and back to Gaza in the south, the "arc of hate" surrounding the Jewish state is speaking openly and brazenly of conflict and destruction.

Israel's foes have launched increasingly fiery verbal volleys in recent weeks, in what appears to be a coordinated campaign to heighten tensions in the region.

With pressure mounting on Iran over its nuclear program, and the threat of stricter sanctions in the air, Israel needs to be on guard and alert.

Consider the following.

On February 3, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem brashly told reporters: "Don't test the determination of Syria, you Israelis. You know that war this time would move to your cities." Even among Israel's detractors in the Western media, Muallem's remarks caused a stir, with ABC News noting that, "The threatening language implied Syria would be willing and able to target Israeli population centers with long-range missiles in a conflict. It was the first time such a threat had been made."

That very same day, Muallem's boss, Syrian President Bashar Assad, also turned up the heat, saying that Israel is "pushing the region toward war".

On February 16, Hizbullah thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah made similar threats, taking Muallem and Assad's rhetoric one step further by warning that Israel's infrastructure and cities would be targeted in the event of war.

"If you hit Dahiyeh, we will hit Tel Aviv. If you strike Martyr Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, we'll strike your Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv," he said, adding that, "If you hit our ports, we will hit your ports. If you attack our refineries, we'll attack your refineries. If you bomb our factories, we'll bomb your factories." Two days later, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke with Nasrallah by telephone and reportedly encouraged him to make sure that Hizbullah is ready for a confrontation with Israel.

The tyrant of Teheran told Nasrallah that, "this readiness must be at a level that they [the Zionists] will be finished off and the region will be rid of them forever." And earlier this week, in an address broadcast live Tuesday on Iranian state television, Ahmadinejad again vowed to destroy Israel, saying that, "If these criminals make the mistake again, the regional countries need to eradicate them once and for all."

IT IS easy, and somewhat tempting, to dismiss all this as more of the same hate-filled harangues which our neighbors frequently like to hurl our way.

But a report the other day in the Saudi newspaper Okaz would seem to belie such wishful thinking.

According to the paper, Ahmadinejad will soon visit Damascus to meet with Assad, Nasrallah and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

In light of the brazen threats being made against Israel by the participants, such a convocation starts to look more like a council of war, rather than just another routine gathering of terror chieftains.

Indeed, on January 31, US National Security Adviser James Jones warned that Iran might very well choose to lash out at Israel in the coming months.

Speaking to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jones said, "When regimes are feeling pressure, as Iran is internally and will externally in the near future, it often lashes out through its surrogates, including, in Iran's case, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. As pressure on the regime in Teheran builds over its nuclear program," he said, "there is a heightened risk of further attacks against Israel." This turn of events should give us all pause.

After all, back in 2006, Iran provoked the outbreak of war in Lebanon to send a message to Israel and the US and divert attention from its nuclear progress. They might very well now be planning Act 2, viewing this as their trump card in order to prevent an attack on their nuclear installations.

It is therefore essential that the Jewish state take steps to confront such a dire possibility.

This means moving aggressively to impede weapons shipments to terrorists in places such as Gaza, shutting down their supply routes and maintaining the closure of the area.

In the public sphere, Israel needs to draw more attention to the saber-rattling of our neighbors, and highlight their progressively more violent rhetoric. For if the threat of war continues to mount, and diplomacy fails to defuse it, then the government may end up with no choice but to consider preemptive measures.

The Second Lebanon War showed us the perils inherent in indecisiveness and delay, and we dare not allow our foes once again to dictate the rules or timing of future conflicts.



It is therefore essential that international pressure be brought to bear on Damascus and Teheran to cease and desist from driving the region toward greater instability.

Our enemies may leave us with no choice but to fight, and we should hope and pray this will not be the case. The last thing anyone wants or needs is another conflict in this part of the world.

Either way, we had better awaken from our slumber now, and prepare ourselves for the challenges that may lie ahead.

The way the winds are currently blowing, the storm might very well be just around the corner.

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