These lukewarm words won't woo the Syrian dissidents who have been killed by the thousands, but they reveal a movement trying to reposition itself. In a way, it's reminiscent of President Obama's rhetorical shuffling as he tried to distance himself from Mubarak in the final days of his rule in Egypt.
Syria's opposition, along with the Muslim Brothers around the region who support them, have taken note of Hezbollah's support for Assad's violent, reactionary regime. They might be willing to make a deal with Hezbollah later, but the distaste and mistrust will linger.
One Hezbollah official, Ibrahim Mousawi, told me that at root, the interests uniting the resistance axis would persist. "I don't like to make predictions based on a murky situation," he said. "But it's hard for me to imagine that a future regime in Syria would not see its interests aligned with the resistance." He has a point: Syria is stuck with the allies and leverage that is has now, unless there's some grand strategic shift in the region -- a viable plan to return the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Syria, or an offer from America that swings Syria out of Tehran's orbit. Neither outcome seems imminently likely.
No doubt, Iran and Hezbollah will continue to play powerful roles in the Arab world. But they're struggling to absorb a new strategic reality. Until recently, they were among the few dynamic players able to shape events, rather than react to them. Now, the stage is crowded. Turkey has emerged as a viable and savvy leader, dramatized by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's celebratory visit this month to Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Egypt itself is reawakening to its natural role as the Arab world's political center of gravity. The Palestinian leadership has energized constituents with its statehood bid. Political actors of all stripes, from labor unionists to Marxists to liberals to Islamists, are seizing the initiative and trying to steer the national and regional debate.
A genuine political contest is underway after long decades of stagnation, one that is likely to diminish the influence of Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and perhaps even of the current Goliath, Turkey. One can see the stirrings in the response to Erdogan's Arab tour. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt complained about Turkish triumphalism, and has expressed annoyance at Hezbollah's claim to leadership of the resistance. The Brotherhood considers itself the dean of Islamism and anti-Israeli resistance although it has been a long time, a half a century and more, since it played the role of regional firebrand now enjoyed by Hezbollah. "Resistance existed long before us, and will continue long after we are gone," Hezbollah's Mousawi said. "We never brag that we alone are the resistance."
Humility has always been a hallmark of Hezbollah's rhetoric, but until this year the movement, along with its backers in Tehran and Damascus, enjoyed internal supremacy, and behaved like strongmen even while talking like underdogs. Now, the challenges to their power come not only from outside -- Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Arab rivals -- but from within the ranks of those who support the idea of resistance but question the bona fides of those who claim its mantle. As Syria's current regime stumbles and perhaps eventually falls, the political movements it helped give voice and comfort will seek support elsewhere.