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What to Watch in the Middle East

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The most fascinating-- and little-noticed story of the past ten days has been the response by Saudi Arabia to the Lebanon situation. In every previous incident where Israel was involved-- including when Israel has been bombed or attacked-- Saudi Arabia's reflexive response has been to blame Israel for it. This time: not a word about Israel, but a strong condemnation of Hezbollah for instigating this crisis. The same reaction has come, albeit less unpredictably, from Egypt and Jordan. In fact, the contrast between the strongly anti-Israel language of Spain, Venezuela and France and the mild response and strongly anti-Hezbollah reaction of these three Arab League opinion leaders makes one worder if we are in a parallel universe.

So what is going on here? For the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians, Iran is a bigger threat by far to the survival of their regimes than Israel-- and Hezbollah is not only a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran, but an agent working to undermine them as well. Hezbollah or its surrogates have supported the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, allied with anti- Saudi extremist fundamentalist factions in Saudi Arabia, and agitated against the King in Jordan. Iran's radical fundamentalist regime wants to spread its version of revolution and to cement Iran's role as the dominant player in the region.

Of course, this does not mean a new alliance in the Middle East, with the Saudis suddenly finding virtue in Israel. But it does suggest that the rash move by Hezbollah, its patron Iran and its enabler Syria to try to damage Israel at a vulnerable moment may create new dynamics in the region. The Europeans may be blind to the dangers posed by Iran and its posse. A whole lot of people who live in their neighborhood are not. If Israel is successful at doing major damage to Hezbollah in the coming days and weeks, there will be a lot of grateful people not normally associated with glee at Israeli military success.