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After Lebanon, there's Iran

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Average Iranians resent their government's generous support for Hizbullah when unemployment and poverty plague the Iranian economy, and many bristle at the risk that support for Hizbullah carries for Iran. But Iran's leaders see Hizbullah as an ally and an asset. Hizbullah is a fruit of the Iranian revolution – the only time its seed found fertile soil outside Iran. Tehran cannot back away from Hizbullah without acknowledging that the revolution is over. Iran's hard-line leaders, looking to rekindle revolutionary fervor at home, see their own values reflected in Hizbullah.

Nor will Tehran easily give up on a pro- Iranian force in the heart of the Arab world and an important instrument in confronting Israel and the US. Tehran has basked in Hizbullah's new-found glory, taking credit for a popular military adventure that has greatly weakened Iran's traditional regional rivals – Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Iran had hoped that its cooperation with the US in rebuilding a post-Taliban Afghanistan would lead to an opening in the relations between the two countries. But Washington was not keen to build on that initiative. It refused to engage Iran over the future of Iraq and instead focused its energies on containing Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf and rolling back Iran's nuclear program.

In the Lebanese conflict, Iran has found an opportunity to underscore its regional importance. The Iran-Hizbullah axis has hijacked the Palestinian cause and redefined the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither criticism by Arab governments nor fatwas (religious edicts) by radical Sunni clerics have slowed down Hizbullah's and Iran's rising stock.

As the US looks for a way out of the crisis, it is increasingly evident that it is Iran's and not Washington's traditional allies in the region that hold the key to solving the crisis, and Tehran hopes that Washington will come to realize that without Iranian cooperation it cannot ensure regional stability.

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