An alarming new report by international inspectors lends a new urgency to the nuclear threat posed by Iran. The headline blared in The New York Times: "Iran has more enriched uranium than originally thought." The story goes on to say that Iran now has enough material to produce a nuclear bomb.
As if that wasn't troubling enough, another report this week confirmed, despite Syrian denials, that the Syrian facility bombed by Israel in 2007 would have been able to produce plutonium once the reactor was complete.
The new danger signals from the Middle East come as Israel's prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to put together a coalition government that does not totally skew to the right.
And it comes as the Obama administration is trying to forge a cohesive foreign policy in the region. Both leaders must tread carefully given the stakes. The signals the Obama administration is sending are decidedly mixed, in regard to both personnel and policy.
On the one hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added Dennis Ross to her team. But she did so in an enigmatic way — naming him special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia without mentioning Iran as part of his portfolio, although it is widely assumed that Iran policy would be front and center.
Ross, a veteran diplomat who played key roles in Middle East policy in past administrations, has struck a tough tone with Iran. He advocates toughened sanctions against Iran while offering carrots that would entice it to change its behavior.
At the same time, however, reports surfaced this week that the administration's possible pick for a top intelligence post helped peddle a Saudi-funded school study guide decried by Jewish groups and educators for having anti-Jewish biases.
Charles "Chas" Freeman, the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to chair the National Intelligence Council, which helps provide analyses of foreign-policy issues.
Just as the players that ultimately make up the Netanyahu government will have a significant impact on the direction Israel will move in these difficult and dangerous times, so, too, will the players on the Obama team. In each case, they must be chosen with care.
There is much speculation that a right-wing Israeli government will be on a collision course with the Obama administration, though both sides are trying to downplay that scenario.
One thing is certain: As the dangers in the region escalate, both leaders will need to work together to confront the common threat of terrorism and nuclear capability. They must work with other world leaders to develop a coordinated strategy for containing — if not eradicating — the threat that has loomed so long and now appears unstoppable.
It will be a tough path, but an essential one. We can't wait for the next report; by then, it might be too late.