Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah's speech on Sunday (which the Iranians would have you believe was watched by Obama live) merely formalised what everyone has known for a while now: Hizbullah and its chief sponsor Iran no longer believe Assad is a lost cause.
During my recent trip to Lebanon I was told that initially there was disquiet among Hizbullah's support base that the party was becoming too involved in the Syrian issue. They felt that the loss of Syrian support would have made life difficult logistically for Hizbullah but not impossible, and greater involvement was therefore not worth the investment in blood and treasure.
But the more sectarian the nature of the conflict has become, the more Hizbullah's support base has solidified behind its leadership. Claims that Sunni Islamist fighters had begun desecrating Shi'a holy sites and that the political opposition is a bunch of unreconstructed Muslim Brotherhood Islamists who have no truck with their Shi'a brethren certainly plays to the popular narrative among Hizbullah's support base that the loss of Syria now poses an existential threat to Hizbullah.
The reality is somewhat more prosaic. After equivocating early in the conflict when it appeared Assad might fall relatively quickly, Iran began to sense it could influence the outcome in a manner favourable to its interests. Saving Assad may be possible rather than probable, but saving Tehran's interests is certainly an achievable goal.
Tehran appreciates that Obama has absolutely no desire to become committed in Syria. He made his political name by opposing an invasion that was based on false intelligence and underpinned by unrealistic goals. His historical legacy will be the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the two wars he inherited. Syria is of vital importance to Tehran's regional interests, but it is of significantly less interest to President Obama.
Of course, the Syrian opposition and regional states have done everything in their power to make Obama’s decision-making on Syria more difficult. Regional states have advanced their own interests with little if any regard for the second- or third-order effects of their actions. The political opposition has little influence over the fighters in Syria, who routinely despair of the self-interested political aspirants fighting with each other in Istanbul while they fight Syrian forces inside the country.
Somewhat unexpectedly, momentum has now shifted to the Syrian regime. After the winter lull, it has regained the initiative in some key areas and has put military pressure on the rebels. The German intelligence service has even revised its outlook regarding the status of the regime forces.
With the opposition fighting over who will represent it during upcoming talks, Hizbullah and Iran have signaled that they are now invested in Syria for the long haul. With Russia's continued diplomatic support and a world growing increasingly suspicious of the opposition, the cost of outside intervention is growing at the same time as the West's appetite for it is shrinking. The support Iran and Hizbullah are providing to Syria is costly, but they have accepted it and put down their marker. The question is to what degree the international community is willing to meet them or double up.
Photo by Flickr user helga tawil souri.