In these troubled times, when terror is infesting the streets of our cities and unemployment is growing, while the budget is winding its tortuous way through coalition negotiations boding no good for the coming year, President Bush's State of the Union message to the American people was music to Israeli ears.

In his speech last week, the president pointed to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. "States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil," he said. "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

That Iraq, Iran and North Korea posed a major threat to Israel had been apparent in Israel for many years. But that did not seem to worry the rest of the world. While periodically threatening Israel, Iraq and Iran continue with their programs for the acquisition of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The North Koreans supply ballistic missiles and the relevant technology.

Israel's appeals to the international community that the possession of non-conventional weapons and ballistic missiles by Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs in Iran would threaten not only Israel's existence but also world peace fell mostly on deaf ears. The UN inspectors that had been stationed in Iraq after the Gulf War were withdrawn years ago, allowing Saddam Hussein to proceed with his weapons acquisition program unobstructed.

While Saddam Hussein adamantly refused to permit the return of the UN inspectors, a growing chorus of voices pushed for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War because they caused suffering to the Iraqi people. And yet, according to all intelligence estimates, Saddam Hussein was continuing his nuclear program, was in possession of Scud missiles and launchers, and chemical and biological warheads - and was likely to attack Israel under certain circumstances.

Unlike Iraq, Iran has been unhindered by economic sanctions, and has used its oil income to fund a massive program for the development of nuclear weapons and medium-range ballistic missiles. It is estimated that unless the program is curtailed, Iran will be in possession of operational ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads within a matter of years. Iranian leaders periodically threaten Israel. "There will be no peace in the Middle East until Israel ceases to exist" is one of their favorite expressions.

Like Iraq, Iran effectively maintains a state of war with Israel. It funds, arms and trains the Hezbollah terrorist organization that operates from Lebanon against Israeli and Jewish targets. All this seems to have been of little concern to the international community. On the contrary, the countries of the European Union are actively pursuing commercial activities in Iran and increasing diplomatic contacts. They claim that Iran is turning more moderate and that these contacts will encourage this trend.

Iran's obsessive animosity toward Israel seems to be of little concern to them. Their leaders' pronouncements - whether the "conservative" supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the "moderate" Prime Minister Mohammed Khatami - do not give the slightest hint of moderation regarding Israel. That should be a fair indication of the lack of existence of any moderating tendencies in this fundamentalist regime.

North Korea has for a number of years been the supplier of ballistic missiles and missile technology to Middle Eastern regimes, and has succeeded in turning it into a region bristling with ballistic missiles. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Egypt have been its clients. Syria has been sold large quantities of Scud B and Scud C missiles as well as missile production facilities.

Iran's medium-range and long-range missile development projects are based on North Korean components, technology transfer and the presence of North Korean engineers. If Iran indeed achieves the capability to lob nuclear warheads over long distances, it will in no small measure be thanks to the North Koreans, who have leveraged the missile know-how they originally received from the Soviet Union into a missile supermarket. It is hard to believe that this isolated poverty-ridden country, run by the last of the Stalinist regimes, has become the major destabilizing force in the world today.

The Clinton administration was ineffective in dealing with the North Korean danger. Even Israeli governments, throughout the years of massive transfer of North Korean missiles to the hands of Israel's enemies, tended to throw their hands up in despair. Finally, the President of the United States has identified the "axis of evil."

"I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer," Bush said. Israelis can breathe a sigh of relief.