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The Middle East’s New Game

MADRID – Whether or not the Arab Spring will usher in credible democracies across the Arab world remains uncertain. But, while the dust has not yet settled after months of turmoil in Tunis, Cairo, and elsewhere, the Arab revolts have already had a massive impact on the strategic structure of the Middle East.

Until recently, the region was divided into two camps: an incoherent and weakened moderate Arab alignment, and an “Axis of Resistance,” formed by Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah, against American and Israeli designs for the region. Driven by a strategy of “zero problems” with its neighbors,” Turkey’s quest for a leading role in Middle East politics brought it closer to Syria and Iran.

The Arab Spring exposed the fragile foundations upon which the entire Axis of Resistance was built, and has pushed it to the brink of collapse. The first to opt out was Hamas. Fearful of the consequences of the demise of its patrons in Damascus, Hamas tactically withdrew from the Axis and let Egypt lead it towards reconciliation with the pro-Western Palestinian Authority on terms that it had refused under former Egyptian Hosni Mubarak.

Turkey is genuinely interested in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and in a regional system of peace and security, whereas Iran and  Hezbollah are bent on derailing both in order to deny Israel the kind of peace with the Arab world that would end up isolating Iran. Notwithstanding its bitter conflict with Israel, Turkey, unlike Iran, is not an unconditional enemy of the Jewish state, and would not discard an accommodation with Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. Indeed, talks are now under way between the parties to restore more normal relations.