A bolder Iran, empowered Hamas and Hezbollah, and defensive Israel mean a troubled future
A New, Messier Mideast
...For one thing, the current crisis is showing us just how effective Iran's reach can be. By supplying Hezbollah with long-range rockets, it has changed the strategic equation and created a stunning situation in which a Shiite militia holds its own against one of the world's most effective military powers.
Iran's inclination to meddle — mostly as a way of reminding the Sunni Arab world, Israel and the U.S. that Tehran has cards to play and can inflict pain — will not go away. And ongoing turmoil in Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza will ensure that when Iran next chooses to meddle, it will have fertile ground in which to do so.
A second conclusion to be drawn from the events of recent weeks has to do with the perils of unilateralism. In the Middle East, if you don't get for what you give, there will be no end to the pressure to give more. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and from Gaza in September 2005 may have benefited Israel politically (both domestically and around the world), but it also emboldened Hezbollah and Hamas.
That both groups continue to claim that they alone forced Israel out of Arab territory without agreements or reciprocity is more than just a talking point; it is a powerful inspiration to a younger generation of Arabs and Muslims looking for ways to counter their perceived humiliation at the hands of Israel and, by implication, the United States. It is no coincidence that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were encouraged by Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and used it to stoke the flames of their own intifada four months later.
At the same time, the fact that Israel felt the need to respond so forcefully to the July 12 Hezbollah attack across its border is a clear indication of its own concern about the erosion of its deterrence and the perception of its weakness.
Unless Israel wins a decisive victory over Hezbollah (which seems increasingly unlikely), it is almost unimaginable that any Israeli government would consider significant unilateral withdrawals from the West Bank in the near future. With a unilateral approach blocked and no chance of negotiations with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, Israel is faced with the unpalatable alternative of sitting on the West Bank and controlling 3 million Palestinians for some time to come. This will generate increasing anger and bitterness...