WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told his top military commanders last week that the Iranian nuclear program remained "the gravest danger to Israel's existence in the future. This is because Iran calls for Israel's annihilation. We must do our utmost, under U.S. guidance, to delay or eliminate the prospect of the extremist regime securing weapons of this sort."
That is one salient reason why, despite the latest bomb in Baghdad, Israel remains the focus of all the gravest perils in the Middle East.
The second reason is that the second Palestinian prime minister in four months, Ahmed Qureia, informed the Fatah party Sunday that he will resign and refuse renomination when a new Cabinet is formed Nov. 3. There is no obvious or even half-obvious successor prepared to work under the death-grip of that dreadful old man, Yasser Arafat, on the brittle levers of Palestinian power. The Palestinian Authority has become, literally, ungovernable.
The third reason is that Hezbollah's leaders have now declared last week's Israeli attack on the jihadi training camp in Syria to be "the first round in a new Middle East war."
"It is wrong to bear an attack without a response. This changes the region," declared Mohammad Raad, Hezbollah's deputy leader (whose organization is being equipped by a desperate Syria, intelligence sources say, with Russian-made SA-18 surface-to-air missiles).
"This demands that the resistance groups increase pressure on Israel," Raad went on. "In the south of Lebanon, this means Hezbollah has the responsibility for aggression toward Israel. We are moving toward regional war."
Allow for the super-heated rhetoric of the Middle East. Allow also for the ability of Arafat to concoct some sort of nominal Palestinian Authority government that gullible Europeans will take seriously. Allow even for the hopeful signs that Iran might be swallowing its pride and subjecting its nuclear program to the intrusive inspection region of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And this is still the dangerous moment in the Middle East for exactly 30 years when the last Middle East war erupted over Yom Kippur.
Thanks to the historians and the memoirs of the statesmen involved, we now know that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was under intense pressure from her Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to consider the use of nuclear weapons as Israel's forces reeled back under the initial Egyptian and Syrian attacks.
We know also that the Soviet Union, emboldened by the split within NATO when the European allies refused to let the United States use their air bases to resupply a desperate Israel, threatened to send in its own "peacekeeping" forces. We know also that the U.S. government, its president virtually unmanned by the Watergate crisis, went to the high alert status of DefCon 3 to warn the Soviets off.
What in the present day could be half as dangerous as that moment in October 1973? Consider one component of that crisis -- the nuclear danger. Last week, Germany's respected news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Israel was preparing a possible attack on Iran's nuclear plants. Sunday's Los Angeles Times reported that Israel's new Dolphin-class submarines now carried Harpoon cruise missiles, modified to carry nuclear warheads (a story first reported by United Press International 18 months ago).
Consider another component of the 1973 crisis, the fracturing of the Atlantic Alliance as the Europeans (worried for their supplies of Arab oil) refused to help their American ally help Israel. The currently difficult state of today's Atlantic alliance barely needs emphasis.
And yet for the past year, thanks in part to the careful diplomacy of the U.S, Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Britain's Tony Blair, all the outsiders that matter in the Middle East have been rallied together around the "road map." Drafted and backed by the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union, the "road map" is the one policy where the international community has got and kept its act together -- despite the efforts of too many Israelis and Palestinians to ditch it.
The real nightmare, therefore, of the three latest causes for imminent concern with which this column began is they can each break this "road map" coalition apart.
The United Nations, Russians and Europeans were all appalled by Israel's attack on the Syrian camp, while President George W. Bush suggested that the United States might have done the same. Again, the Russians, United Nations and Europeans will feel little option but to keep dealing with Arafat in the latest Palestinian vacuum of power, which the Bush administration will not. On these issues, even Blair parts company with Bush.
And there are few things more likely to rend this coalition asunder than more threats from Mofaz of an Israeli strike on Iran. These are parlous times.