The New York Sun
— President Ahmadinejad is riding high these days. His radical ideological path calling for the elimination of Israel has catapulted him to the top of the global Islamist tsunami against the West. The month-long Hezbollah rocket assault on northern Israel is the latest manifestation of Mr. Ahmadinejad's role as the new Nasser in the Middle East. But in the Middle East, appearances can be deceptive. Another view of the 2006 Lebanon War is that it represents the peak of Iranian power following America's convenient defeat of Iran's two enemies on its western and eastern borders, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. We may now be seeing the beginning of the Iranian regime's descent.
The Lebanon war has brought two issues into focus: Iran's war of radical ideas, and the opportunity of the West to ultimately return Iran to its people and its national self-interest. The weakest links in the Iranian arsenal against the West are the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. One by one, their potency is being diminished. The Islamic Jihad, a wholly financed subsidiary of Iran without mass support among the Palestinians, has launched a dozen suicide bombings and hundreds of rockets against Israel since the hudna of early 2005. They have been decimated by the IDF in the two months since the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit on June 25. Implicated in that kidnapping, Hamas, which poses as the government of the Palestinian Authority, has been shunted off the headlines. Rendered impotent on the Gaza battlefield, Hamas is looking less and less like an effective resistance movement.
The next Iranian stick in the process of being broken is Hezbollah, which miscalculated in its ambush-kidnap-killing of Israeli soldiers on June 28. While Hezbollah has gained prestige among Muslims outside Lebanon, it will be hard-pressed to rebuild the destroyed homes, mostly of Shi'a, in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah's tactical successes in launching terror rockets into northern Israel will not be able to obscure its strategic defeat and eventual dislodgement from much of southern Lebanon where its militias will be less able to ambush and kidnap Israeli soldiers. In the summer of 2006, Iran's main deterrent against the West, the Palestinian and Lebanese militants, have been weakened severely.
The last laggard to be removed from Mr. Ahmadinejad's arsenal will be his ally, Bashar Assad, and the clique of 15 family members and security chiefs who rule Syria. Crippled by its ham-handed role in orchestrating the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, the Assad regime has done a remarkable job at diverting attention by supporting Hamas militants and facilitating the supply of Iranian and Syrian rockets and other military equipment to Hezbollah.
If Mr. Assad decides that international, especially American, pressure makes it too expensive to support Hezbollah's lifeline and Hamas militants, he may divorce Syria from the Iranian war of radical Islam, a war that the Alawite regime in Syria has no natural ideological affinity. If, however, Bashar persists on the radical path, he may soon find Syrian-based supply depots for Hezbollah and apartment buildings for Hamas militants blown apart. His likely feeble response against such Israeli air force attacks will remind the Syrian people once again how weak and corrupt their rulers are. Without fear of their regime, the Syrian people may just eject Mr. Assad's clique of 15 out of Syria.
That leaves the Iranian regime with a lot of short sticks. The best strategy of the West against Mr. Ahmadinejad is to do the unexpected: continue to break Iran's weak sticks, one by one, and then undermine Iran quietly from the inside. The Iranian regime thinks of itself as carpet weavers, patiently working for a long-term victory. The West can defeat the Iranian regime not through appeasing it and striking some grand bargain that leaves it intact to bully the region and provoke ideological wars against Arabs and Israelis alike, but through a step by step strategy of stripping the Iranian regime of its sticks and leaving it and Mr. Ahmadinejad with nowhere to go but down.