THE TIPPING POINT….Inside his sunny office in Herzliya yesterday, Yoni Fighel of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism took a sheet of paper and started to draw a crude map of the Middle East for me. Then he started sketching lines between each nation, from theocratic Iran to client states like Syria to crumbling countries he thought likely to slide into the Iranian orbit, like Iraq (led by Iranian-sympathetic Shi’ite Nouri al-Maliki) and Lebanon (dominated by Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah). He finished off his sketch by drawing in Gaza and the West Bank, ruled by Hamas; the radical Islamic group has adopted many of the most successful elements of the Hezbollah playbook.

“Now, Israel is surrounded by a sea of green,” he said, referring to the color of Islam. “I call it the ‘Green Bloc.’ It is far, far more radical than it was ten years ago, even five years ago. With the exception of Syria, negotiation is no longer possible. We’ve never faced this kind of enemy before….We’re seeing the domino theory of the Fertile Crescent” ? a chain reaction where every event in the sequence becomes more inevitable, and builds in intensity on the one before. It’s the “new Middle East” the administration has been promising ? but it’s almost as perilous for the U.S. as for Israel and Lebanon.

Why? “Everything is connected,” said Fighel. The U.S.-led war in Iraq helped create this new reality, and now the Middle East has reached a tipping point. “Now we are at a critical juncture,” he warned, “where we find out whether the U.S. will continue to be in a position to dictate or lead in this region, or whether the EU will be able to step in and create a counterbalance. This [current crisis] is the test case.” So far, he said ? eyeing his map ? signs aren’t hopeful.