President Obama’s former Middle East adviser Dennis Ross pens a curious commentary that highlights the underlying defect in Obama’s approach to the region and much of the punditry attendant to it.

Ross writes, “[I]t’s precisely now that the United States needs to survey the new landscape that has emerged in the Middle East, and determine how it can shape it going forward. The place to start is with the most obvious question of all: who won and who lost? In this particular case, there is an irony: Israel, Hamas, and Egypt all gained something.” He completes his piece without any mention of Iran, the most destabilizing force in the region, or Syria.

Ross, like too many pundits who have no interest in dealing forthrightly with the potential dominance of Iran in the region, is fixated on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s relationship with Hamas (and potential role in reconciling Hamas and Fatah) and on — you guessed it — Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians. (“Washington, too, will oppose the Abbas move at the U.N. [for recognizing Palestine as a non-member state]. But that’s not enough. In addition to cooperating with Egypt on Israel, the U.S. also needs to work together with Israel in determining whether the future address and identity of the Palestinians will be Islamist or nationalist.”)

Like looking for the car keys under the lamp post because that is where the light is, it is hardly surprising that Ross and others obsess over the Hamas-Egypt-Fatah relationship. It seems more manageable than tackling issues such as Iran’s unabated quest for nuclear weapons. But let’s be blunt, the Egypt-Hamas relationship is small beans and a sideshow to the main issue, which is and has been Iran.

The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and Tehran’s continued support for Hamas and other terrorists are far more influential in determining the future of the region than whether Morsi half-heartedly decides to keep some of the Iranian missiles out of Gaza. The future of the Palestinian identity will be determined not by Israel but by the Palestinians, who will need to choose between a normalized nation-state or perpetual victimhood, armed and abated by state sponsors of terror. The future of Syria, the possible infiltration of jihadists and the storehouse of chemical weapons are much more critical to the future of the Middle East than the Fatah-Hamas on-again-off-again melodrama.

I wish I could be as sanguine as my colleague Jackson Diehl that “Iran’s ability to supply Gaza militants with rockets likely will wane because of economic sanctions and the crumbling of the allied Syrian regime.” But a nuclear-armed Iran and a jihadist-dominated Syria changes that equation dramatically.

A sane and effective Middle East policy should begin with a coherent policy toward Syria (as former secretary of state Condi Rice outlined), a regional alliance against Iran and concerted steps to effectuate regime change in Tehran. The rest amounts to the proverbial rearranging of the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic.