CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - As Americans celebrate over the Fourth of July weekend, they can contemplate the largely underreported good news of increasing stability and reduced violence in Iraq, with gratitude to the servicemen and women who have labored long under dangerous conditions, often with meager support from their fellow citizens.
But while the presidential candidates wrangle over what went right and wrong in Iraq, another member of President Bush's "Axis of Evil" -- Iran -- may be poised to create another Middle East maelstrom.
U.S. Admiral James Winnefeld, commander of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, warned this past week that Iran is likely to launch ballistic missiles against Israel. He wrote an article for the Naval Institute called "Maritime Strategy in the Age of Blood and Belief," in which he urged the United States and NATO forces to prepare for such an attack on Israel.
His warning comes as the Bush Administration wages its internal struggle over how to respond to Iran's unchecked quest to develop nuclear weapons.
Winnefeld called Iran an easily provoked "unpredictable adversary." He wrote that the missile threat against Israel is "by far the most likely employment of ballistic missiles in the world today, and it demands our immediate attention in the event of a need for a U.S. or NATO response."
Winnefeld's boss, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during his surprise visit to Jerusalem last week that he hoped the United States would not stop sanctions against Iran and resort to military force to thwart its nuclear ambitions. But he also referred to the presence of the Sixth Fleet's anti-missile defense vessels, which could be used to help defend Israel if Iran decides to launch.
The presence in Jerusalem of the highest U.S. military official seems to reflect the seriousness of the drift toward conflict in the Middle East.
The newspapers and airwaves were full of reports in recent days that Israel is closer to a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Discussion of a first strike by Israel led to warnings from U.S. officials that the consequences of an attack would be too dire for the U.S. and the world.
But the view from Jerusalem has always been that Iran posed a greater threat to Israel, the Middle East, Europe and the United States than Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others have gone on record calling for Israel's destruction, and Israeli intelligence estimates say Iran could have the knowhow and ingredients to build a nuclear weapon as early as next year.
Israeli leaders, ever sensitive to dictates from Washington, may have little choice but to respond -- alone if need be -- to the existential threat posed by Teheran.
Iranian mullahs watching Israel see a country dispirited, its leaders mired in political infighting and corruption charges, seemingly unable or unwilling to stand up to their Iranian-supported enemies in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip. They're also allied with the American superpower, drained by its military investment in the region, weary of an unpopular war and not anxious to see already-skyrocketing oil prices jump higher because of more conflict. Allah willing, they might be thinking, this could be the ideal time for an attack.