Two days ago, Lebanon deliberately lit a match that threatens to engulf the entire region.
In a wanton act of murder, Lebanese military snipers pointed and aimed their rifles at IDF soldiers on a routine operation to clear away bushes along the fence on the Israeli side of the border.
With their prey in their sights, the gunmen pulled the trigger, killing IDF Lieut. Col. Dov Harari and badly wounding Capt. Ezra Lakia.
Israeli forces quickly returned fire, reportedly killing two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist, in what is perhaps the worst incident between the countries since the 2006 Lebanon war.
Make no mistake – this was not one of those periodic incidents which occasionally take place between countries where it is hard to ascertain the who, how or what that occurred.
As OC Northern Command Maj.- Gen. Gadi Eizenkot made clear in remarks to reporters, this was nothing less than a premeditated and belligerent act by our northern neighbors.
Employing unusually blunt language to describe the incident, Eizenkot said that, "It was a planned ambush by a sniper unit…this was a provocation by the Lebanese army".
Indeed it was. And what is particularly worrisome is the peril that it portends for the Middle East as a whole.
This sinister and cynical episode may or may not spiral out of control. Either way, it demonstrates that some nefarious forces are at work, and that conflict may very well be in the offing.
AFTER ALL, it could hardly have been a coincidence that just four days previously, on Friday of last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad paid a dramatic visit to Beirut, marking the first time he set foot in the Lebanese capital in eight years.
Accompanied by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Assad attended an urgent summit with Lebanese leaders to discuss an upcoming report by a UN inquiry into the 2005 assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The report is said to implicate Hizbullah in Hariri's murder and may even include indictments against senior figures in the terrorist movement, such as its secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
Since Hizbullah is closely allied with both Syria and Iran, this will necessarily incriminate Damascus and Teheran, if only by association.
And if the report does tarnish Hizbullah, it will be a blow to the two countries' interests in Lebanon, where both have sought for decades to assert their influence and create some strategic depth.
Undoubtedly, therefore, Nasrallah, Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are all of one mind on how best to deal with this rather sticky situation.
And what better way is there to divert the world's attention than to kindle some bloody gunplay with the Jewish state?
Even if Tuesday's clash proves to be an isolated incident, it nonetheless advances Syrian and Iranian interests.
By demonstrating that they can easily spark a conflagration at will, Damascus and Teheran are sending a timely reminder to Israel and the US that they won't hesitate to turn up the temperature in the region to forestall a possible future military raid against Iranian nuclear installations.
And if the message wasn't clear enough, the dictator of Damascus and the tyrants in Teheran made sure to emphasize their point by getting their Hamas comrades in Gaza to launch a spate of new rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns and cities.
Not surprisingly, the Obama administration's initial reaction was mealy-mouthed and uninspiring. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a press conference on Tuesday that, "We deeply regret the loss of life; we urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid an escalation and maintain the ceasefire that is now in place".
That's fine and nice, but wouldn't a condemnation of Lebanon and its allies have been more appropriate?
IT IS precisely this kind of Obama-style moral relativism and diplomatic naivete that threatens to push the region still closer to anarchy.
Instead of holding the bad guys to account for their actions, Washington seems more inclined to coddle them in the vain hope that this will foster a change in their behavior.
Ironically, rather than reducing the likelihood of war, this unsophisticated approach only serves to boost its chances still further.
After more than a year of reaching out to Iran and Syria with the aim of improving relations, it is time for Washington to view this week's incident as a tangible sign of the futility of its efforts.
The administration needs to change course, and to stand firmly behind Israel at this hazardous juncture.The dangers of a regional flare-up are hovering in the air, and they are real. Some observers believe that war may be just around the corner. Hopefully, it won't come to that.
But while Washington fiddles, the arsonists of the Middle East are busy lighting fires, attempting to set the whole neighborhood ablaze.
Now more than ever, strong and determined US leadership is what is needed to forestall the possibility of confrontation, if only because it is difficult to understate the seriousness of the present situation.
Similarly, Israel must not allow this provocation to go unanswered. Lebanon and its government, as well as Iran and Syria, must be held accountable and made to pay a price for their devious deeds.
Weakness on our part will just invite further aggression. The only way to stop the bullies from terrorizing us is to stand up to them rather than slinking away.
When and how – and even if – the next war will start is of course anyone's guess, so the Jewish state and its citizens must be duly prepared.
Israel may not start the fight when it comes. But this time around, our enemies need to know that we will most certainly be the ones to finish it.