Israel's fight with Hamas in Gaza, like the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago, is not just a struggle over the Palestinian issue but a broader proxy battle between Western allies and Iran for the very future of the Middle East. Unlike the Lebanon war, the fighting in Gaza contains faint stirrings of change across the region that could bring a more hopeful outcome for Israel, the Palestinians and the West. Chief among them is the inauguration of a new U.S. president. The Bush administration had long ago lost most ability to get even allies in the Middle East to robustly push U.S. goals. Incoming President Barack Obama won't, of course, instantly change Arab resentment toward America, and he has made clear that he will continue with traditionally strong U.S. support for Israel. But Obama and the team he has chosen might be more willing to accept the type of arrangement that many believe is needed to relieve the suffering in Gaza and figure out a political solution. That will likely involve giving Hamas some face-saving partial authority role in the crowded territory it seized in 2007 after winning elections. That alone might end the blockade of Gaza that has frustrated the hopes of Palestinians there, who have long had little ability to work or move about or live normal lives. That anger and dismay has boosted support for Hamas. Supporters of such a policy, including many Europeans, think it is the only way to lure Hamas toward eventual political accommodation with Israel, whose right to exist is rejected by the militants. They note that Hezbollah guerrillas on Israel's northern border seem loath to engage Israel again militarily since gaining a larger role in Lebanon's politics in the wake of the 2006 war. It is surely a huge gamble that militants will trade political participation for violence. But such a tactic has worked in the past with other, once-radical Palestinian factions. Obama also has indicated he may be willing to talk to Iran _ a country most view as key to the overall Middle East puzzle. The Islamic Republic gained significant regional clout after its protege, Hezbollah, held out against Israel in the 2006 war. That in turn directly hurt the credibility and influence of many Arab moderates. Iran is controlled by hard-liners whom the West accuses of seeking a nuclear capacity, and its president has called for an end to Israeli rule or for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.'' Iran also is said by Israel and the United States to provide economic and military support to Hamas and Hezbollah militants. But factions in Iran have also long wanted some type of deal and recognition from the United States. In that reality could lie the seeds of negotiating power on issues the West cares about, such as Israel and alleged Iranian support for Islamic militants _ as long as the U.S. bargains tough and with its eyes wide open. More subtly, two recent trends could change the overall dynamic of Iran seemingly ascendant in the Middle East, while the West's Arab allies stumble and appear weak. For one, Iran is poorer today than just a few months ago because of the plummet in the price of oil and its own economic mismanagement. The financial crisis does means its leaders must pay more attention to domestic woes and their own dissatisfied public, and not just on foreign issues and the Palestinians or Hezbollah. The hard-line president faces a tough re-election battle this summer. Second and more profoundly, the Iraq war is going better. That may seem totally disconnected from Gaza for now, but it is, in fact, hugely important for the immediate and long-term future of the entire Middle East. While violence in Iraq is sure to continue, there is now a definite end game in sight _ the fact that the United States and Iraq have agreed on a general timetable for the drawdown of many U.S. troops, and reached a deal for more Iraqi sovereignty. For American allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, long dismayed by what they saw as a misguided U.S. occupation of Iraq, that change will create great relief. Importantly, it gives them more credibility with other Arabs. No longer can they be criticized for their roles as stooges'' of the U.S. Iraq policy, and that in turn could strengthen their willingness _ and their hand _ to dig in for tough diplomacy on Gaza. All along, Hamas and Hezbollah have played the spoiler role with great glee, provoking and poking at Israel, and when it responds with attacks, trumpeting that only they defend the Palestinians and their children. One of Hamas' strengths has been its ability to criticize more moderate Arabs for weakness and an inability to improve the lives of Palestinians. Indeed, Arab allies have been divided internally, more interested in scoring points against each other and competing on diplomacy _ mainly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar _ than in pulling together in the same direction to solve the big issues. The Western and moderate Arab goal is to turn around that dynamic and convince the Arab public that political accommodation _ that is, peace deals _ are the real solution, not the current path of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Among the hopeful signs: This time, Egypt spoke strongly against Hamas, and even Saudi Arabia's cautious foreign minister obliquely blamed the militants for the fighting. Turkey is ideally placed to bring all players to the table if it gets some stronger backing from the West _ Israel, the moderates, the militants and their backers. But it will still take hard-nosed, smart and extremely committed diplomacy from the West and from the United States in particular.