Western officials have raised their expectations that military developments in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, will result in major changes in how the region operates.
They say that Gaza and Lebanon will no longer see violent escalation, and that even Syria may be approaching the end of its crisis given that its opposition has now united.
These officials are keeping a close eye on the upcoming presidential elections in Iran, especially given the rumors of secret talks between Iran, the U.S. and other important members of the international community.
They base their understanding of the potential changes in the region on the rumored meetings between Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and U.S. officials in European capitals.
These meetings, the officials say, will reiterate to all parties that the time for violent conflict is over. They believe that the rapid developments in Syria will have strong repercussions on Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has been forced by the changing situation into three options:
The first choice is for Hezbollah to wage a new war against Israel, a move officials believe would be suicidal. The second is to engage in a domestic war with other Lebanese factions. The officials argue that this would have negative consequences for Hezbollah, and the party would come out of such a conflict with its popularity and political standing much weakened. The final option is for Hezbollah to engage in a new dialogue with their political rivals and reach a consensus on a variety of issues on which March 14 and Hezbollah disagree.
The officials add that Hezbollah’s leadership is well aware of the dangers the Syrian situation poses for the party, and foreign countries have signaled to the group that the war there is nearing its end.
According to the officials, Hezbollah will now further commit itself to Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, and engage in a more constructive dialogue with March 14, especially with its Sunni politicians.
March 14 is currently boycotting Parliament and the National Dialogue until Mikati’s government resigns.
This new dialogue, the officials say, will be in the form of a conference entitled “Reconciliation and Forgiveness,” and is set for Feb. 14.
The Western officials say that Hezbollah’s behavior, especially after recent bouts of violence in Lebanon, will change with regional shifts. The party will stop providing political cover to those who break the law, and instead will focus on avoiding Sunni-Shiite strife.
This is significant given the November incident in Sidon when Hezbollah’s supporters clashed with those of Sheikh Ahmad Assir, leaving three dead.
Hezbollah fears that incidents like these could become more serious after the Syrian regime falls, the officials add.
The prospect of more than 15 million Syrian Sunnis joining Lebanon’s Sunnis to confront Hezbollah is not one the party relishes.