Ed: 32: December/2007
The tectonic plates are shifting in the Middle East. Shi'ites are challenging Sunnis; Saudis are squaring up to Iranians; Iraq is drifting inexorably towards fragmentation; Lebanon is sliding back into Syria's clutches; the Palestinians are in violent free-fall; major players in the region - galvanised by Teheran - are scrambling to acquire nuclear capability; and radical Islamism is casting a sinister pall over the entire scene.
The surge of operations that American and Iraqi forces began on June 15 has dramatically improved security in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. US commanders and soldiers have reversed the negative trends of 2006, some of which date back to 2005.
In recent weeks, the United States had reduced expectations that the Annapolis peace conference would culminate in a diplomatic breakthrough for all parties after almost seven years of terror, violence, and non-engagement.