The muscle flexing taking place in the Middle East is reducing the threat of a regional war. Military maneuvers conducted by Iran, America, Israel, Syria, and Russia are in full swing. The arms race between Iran and the Gulf countries is a cover for the cold war that is being expressed as local conflicts. The American withdrawal from Iraq has triggered a rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia; but the protection of the Syrian regime by Iran, China, and Russia has set the boundaries of any potential foreign military intervention. Nevertheless, these restrictions do not prevent the fueling and encouragement of civil wars. In the long term, the US priority in the region is to prevent Iran from filling the security and political vacuums [left in the wake of the US departure] and deprive it of a reliable axis [of regional allies].
Iran will not have a stable influence on the central state of a unified Iraq. Nor will it be able to make Lebanon and Syria an extension of its strategy. In all scenarios, the outlook for Iran is negative. It cannot be the dominant force in the Arab regional order. Turkey also followed a hasty and losing policy of trying to be the protector of anti-Iranian forces. The Arab Levant has become an arena for competing influences where it is impossible for one regional player to dominate. The presence of the Russian fleet on Syrian shores is a symbolic message that the Middle East - and specifically its Asian [non-African] component - is not a purely American playground, in spite of the American influence in the Arab Gulf and North Africa. In the shadow of all these activities, there are small wars clarifying the domestic balances of power.
The Americans have laid siege to the Islamic movements loyal to Iran and have given strong incentives to Islamic movements which oppose it. The Gulf states are leading this transformation and are developing their Arab standing using money and the spread of an Islamic political culture similar to their own.
The Americans have revived an old plan that was in circulation before the events of 11 September, 2001: They want to transform Political Islam into a stable ally by exaggerating the Iranian threat. The [Arab] regimes which had inherited the Arab nationalist era have failed in confronting [Iran], so the Americans are trying again by giving these regimes an Islamic face. The radical Arab [states] and their practices have been discredited everywhere; they had been complicit with the Islamist movements, but that was more of a play on contradictions than an actual strategy, and they used [the Islamists] in limited regional conflicts.
The Syrian regime has succeeded in blocking Western internationalization and the legitimizing of direct military intervention. The regime and the political and social components it represents have become players in shaping Syria's internal situation and its regional role. The regime is changing. Syria cannot recover its unity and stability without a historical settlement inspired by the Iraqi and Lebanese experiences, and that would involve granting the "majority" the right to participate [in politics] and the "minorities" some guarantees [of their rights].
But implementing this formula will depend on the neighbors - specifically, Iraq and Lebanon. The recent terrorist attacks in Syria are an indication that a decisive military victory or the rebuilding of the [Syrian] state on the basis of the previous centralized security structure is not possible. Therefore, violence may engulf this region [Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon] so long as the only possible political solution - a national dialogue on the future of the ruling regime and the nature of [political participation] - is delayed.
Lebanon is at the mercy of its internal disputes until the balance of power has been clarified. This is why there is a competition over who will control the Lebanese-Syrian borders.