Juan Cole: Leaks Suggest Iran Is Now Winning in the Middle East

Roundup: Historians' Take

Iran is winning and Israel is losing. That is the startling conclusion we reach if we consider how things have changed in the Middle East in the two years since most of the WikiLeaks State Department cables about Iran’s regional difficulties were written. Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister, once a virulent critic, quietly made his pilgrimage to the Iranian capital last week. Israeli hopes of separating Syria from Iran have been dashed. Turkey, once a strong ally of Israel, is now seeking better relations with Iran and with Lebanon’s Shiites.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Iran was in part an attempt to reach out to a major foreign patron of his country’s Shiite Hezbollah Party. Hariri’s father, Rafiq, was mysteriously blown to kingdom come in 2005, and a United Nations tribunal is now rumored to be leaning toward implicating Hezbollah. Many Lebanese are terrified that the tribunal’s findings might set Kalashnikovs clattering again in Beirut, given that the Hariris are Sunni Muslims linked to Saudi Arabia, and their followers could attack Lebanese Shiites in reprisal. Lebanon, a small country of 4 million, is more than a third Shiite, but Christians and Sunni Muslims have formed the political elite for two centuries.

Hariri’s consultations with the ayatollahs in Tehran were an attempt to seek Iranian help in keeping Hezbollah militiamen in check (many Lebanese Shiites look to Iran as their external patron, just as many Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia and Christians to France and the U.S.). The talks also aimed at reconfirming Iranian pledges of economic aid to Beirut. In return, according to one anonymous Iranian source who spoke to Agence France-Presse, Hariri would throw his support behind Iran’s “development of nuclear capabilities for civilian and peaceful purposes.”...

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