The key strategic process that has taken place in the Middle East in the last half-decade has been the emergence of an Iranian-led bloc of states and movements, committed to undermining the U.S.-led status quo. ...In the course of 2009, however, this Iranian-led alliance has suffered a series of setbacks....
Central to the outlook of the pro-Iranian alliance is the notion of "muqawama" - resistance... challenging what they portray as the declining power of the United States and its allies. Israel, which this bloc views as an artificial remnant of colonialism in the region, is a central target.
For a while, the muqawama bloc appeared to be racking up achievement after achievement. Iran has sidestepped international attempts to limit or slow its nuclear program. Hezbollah, its creation and client, emerged intact - and claimed to be victorious - in its 2006 fight with an ill-prepared and badly led Israel Defense Forces. The same organization went on to defend its independent military infrastructure in Lebanon, intimidating its pro-Western opponents.
In the Palestinian arena, Hamas has been able to maintain its Gaza enclave thanks to Iranian support. This is important because Iran knows the Palestinian issue remains the great legitimizing element for millions in the region. So a plausible bid for ownership of the Palestinian cause is a strategic goal for the bloc.
In the course of 2009, however, the muqawama alliance's winning streak seems to have ended.
- Operation Cast Lead proved that Hamas' belief that it could deter Israel from a major ground operation in Gaza was baseless. The organization's confidence derived from a key item of faith guiding the Iran-led alliance - namely, that Israel is a tired and lost society no longer capable of generating the self-sacrifice necessary for successful national defense.
- In Cast Lead, Israel demonstrated its ability to deliver a telling military blow to Hamas-led Gaza, at minimum cost to itself. In so doing, it also showed that the asymmetric-warfare methods developed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and applied by Hamas in Gaza are not foolproof. The silence that has emanated from Gaza since the January operation is a mute testimony to the setback suffered by Hamas and its allies.
- The June 7 elections in Lebanon delivered an additional blow to the Iran-led bloc, with the unexpected defeat of Hezbollah and its allies. The movement's rearming in the country's south continues unabated. But there is no doubt that its inability to attain a parliamentary majority struck at the aura of invincibility and inevitability that this movement has worked to weave around itself.
- Perhaps the most decisive setback to the muqawama bloc, however, has been the ongoing unrest in Iran itself. The demonstrations and protests against the rigged presidential elections there have made a mockery of the claim by Iran and its allies that they represent "popular will" in the region against corrupt pro-Western regimes.
The unrest has laid bare the mechanisms of coercion behind power in Iran. The regime is not in any immediate danger, but it is increasingly being seen, both in Iran and across the region, as just another Middle Eastern government holding power against the will of its own people. The ambition for regional hegemony, an article of faith for the radical group that includes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably was always beyond the capabilities of the Islamist regime in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad had hoped to turn the rickety, corrupt regime of the mullahs into a model of successful defiance and development for the region. But this aspiration is looking farther off than it did a year ago.
Of course, the impact of these setbacks should not be exaggerated. The game is not yet decided. Iranian nuclear efforts continue apace, Hamas is holding on in Gaza, Hezbollah maintains its independent infrastructure in Lebanon.
The Arab world and the Middle East have a tendency, every few years, to fall under the spell of bright, shining lies that promise to avenge every humiliation, reverse every defeat, reestablish the rightful order. These ringing untruths and their bearers - Pan-Arab nationalism in its rightist and leftist forms, the Palestinian "guerrillas," even the Saddam Hussein regime in the early 1990s - appear on a wave of rhetoric, ride along splendidly for a while, and then crash on the rocks of reality.
The reality, in this case, is the superior social and economic organization of Western states such as Israel, and the inability of any of these forms of politicized anger to adequately address this fact. The muqawama doctrine of Iran is the latest example. Its defeat may still be distant, but the first indications that it is likely to share the eventual fate of its predecessors have become apparent this year.