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Axis of Resistance

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Axis of Resistance
Leaders
Group(s)Primary
HeadquartersIran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen
Ideology
Political positionBig tent
StatusActive unofficial military alliance
Allies
Allies

Non-state allies

Opponents
Opponents

Non-state opponents

Former opponents
Battles and warsIran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, Iran–Israel proxy conflict, Syrian Civil War, Israel–Hamas war, 2024 Iran–Israel conflict

The Axis of Resistance (Persian: محور مقاومت Mehvar-e Moqâvemat;[28] Arabic: محور المقاومة Miḥwar al-Muqāwamah) is an informal Iranian-led political and military coalition in West Asia and North Africa.[29][30]

It most notably includes the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, the Syrian government, the Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah, the Yemeni political and military organization Ansar Allah,[b] Hamas,[c] and a variety of other Palestinian militant groups.[31][32][33]

The various actions of members of this axis reflect their domestic interests while serving the broader goal of complicating Israel's attacks and imposing a cost on the United States to support Israel.[34] The coalition is also opposed to Sunni Salafist armed groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS.[35]

History

Etymology

The term "Axis of Resistance" was first used by the Libyan daily newspaper Al-Zahf Al-Akhdar in response to American president George W. Bush's claim that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea formed an axis of evil. Its 2002 article, "Axis of evil or axis of resistance", said "the only common denominator among Iran, Iraq, and North Korea is their resistance to US hegemony".[36] The Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami subsequently adopted the language in reference to the Shia insurgency in Iraq, writing in 2004: "If the line of Iraq's Shi'is needs to be linked, united, and consolidated, this unity should be realized on the axis of resistance and struggle against the occupiers."[37]

In 2006, the Palestinian minister of the interior, Said Saim, used the term during an interview at Al-Alam television to refer to common political goals among Arabs in opposition to those of Israel or the United States. Noting the large number of Palestinian refugees in Syria, Saim stated, "Syria is also an Islamic Arab country and is also targeted by the Americans and the Zionists. Hence, we see in Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas an axis of resistance in front of these pressures."[38]

The term "axis of resistance" was used as early as August 2010.[39] After two years, Ali Akbar Velayati, senior advisor for foreign affairs to Iran's supreme leader, used the term and said:

The chain of resistance against Israel by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, the new Iraqi government, and Hamas passes through the Syrian highway... Syria is the golden ring of the chain of resistance against Israel.[40]

The phrase was used again in August 2012 during a meeting between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, regarding the Syrian civil war.[41] Velayati said:

What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue, but a conflict between the axis of resistance and its enemies in the region and the world. Iran will not tolerate, in any form, the breaking of the axis of resistance, of which Syria is an intrinsic part.[40]

Foundation

In the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, some of the most radical founders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps such as Mohammad Montazeri (who had been trained by the Palestinian Fatah in Southern Lebanon and maintained close relations with Gaddafi's Libya) and Mostafa Chamran (who had visited Cuba and was influenced by revolutionary internationalism) strove to create what is often called an "Islamic Internationale",[42] drawing upon Ali Shariati's and Ayatollah Khomeini's notions of the "solidarity of the oppressed".[43] Montazeri and Chamran, along with Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur, Iran's ambassador to Syria from 1982, created the Department for Islamic Liberation Movements, as part of the People's Revolutionary Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose aim was to bring together the activities of the outlawed Iraqi Islamic Dawa Party and Badr Organization with those of the Lebanese Amal and Hezbollah movements.[44] The Department for Islamic Liberation Movements is thought to have been the starting point of Iranian attempts of forging what was later to become known as the Axis of Resistance.[45]

Evolution

At first, the alliance consisted of the Syrian government and Lebanese Hezbollah. Years later, Iran, already closely aligned with Syria and Hezbollah, would form stronger relations between the three, creating the axis. Iraqi and Yemeni militants coordinating with Iran came in as the newest members of this alliance.[46] After the beginning of Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war, a slew of posters showing images of Nasrallah, Assad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, have appeared with an Arabic caption meaning "men who bow to no one but God". The posters suggest another emerging regional Axis of Resistance, according to The Hill. This coalition has been described as "deeply polarising" for its sectarian targeting of Sunni Syrians.[47] Hezbollah's actions have also arisen denunciation in Lebanon, most notably from Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who demanded an end to unilateral armed maneuvers by Hezbollah. Grievance is also widespread amongst Lebanon's Sunni minority, who charge Hezbollah with engaging in sectarian violence against other Muslims, and of forfeiting its anti-Zionist stance.[48] With Hezbollah's intensifying participation in the Syrian civil war following the years after 2013, the coalition has become explicitly Khomeinist and anti-Sunni; with the Assad regime becoming beholden and subservient to Iran and its proxies for continued existence. Alienated by sectarian policies, Sunni Islamists such as Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas began publicly opposing Iran and Hezbollah and have aligned closely with Turkey and Qatar, countries which are engaged in geo-political competition with Iran.[49][50]

Members

Iran

Ali Khamenei, who has served as the Supreme Leader of Iran since 1989, has repeatedly defined the Islamic Republic government as a "resistance government" (i.e., against Western and Israeli influence).[51] Qasem Soleimani played an important role in Iran's battle with ISIS in Iraq. He has been described as the focal point for bringing together Kurdish and Shia forces for the war against ISIS.[52] Soleimani's achievements led to the creation of an axis of Shia influence throughout the Middle East centered on Iran.[35] During a meeting with Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel in December 2023, Khamenei said that that the political and economic potentials of Iran and Cuba should be used to form a coalition against the "bullying" of United States and its Western allies, in order to adopt a "common and effective position" on important global issues such as the Palestinian issue.[53]

Syria

According to Jubin Goodarzi, an assistant professor and researcher at Webster University, the Iranian–Syrian alliance that was formed in 1979 is of great importance to the emergence and continuity of the axis of resistance. Both countries are in key locations of the Middle East, and they have been affecting Middle Eastern politics during the past three decades. Also, the alliance is considered to be an enduring one, lasting 34 years "in spite of the many challenges that it has faced and periodic strains in the relationship".[40] The axis has been described as altering "the strategic balance in the Middle East" by assisting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to remain in power and backing his war-crimes against Syrian civilians.[54] According to Marisa Sullivan, the programme and aims of the Axis have three main pillars; shared regional objective in preserving the Assad regime, maintaining access to supplies of weapons and money from Iran, and stopping a Sunni-majority government from ever coming to power in Syria.[55] The current ruling Syrian Ba'ath party elites are primarily made up of Alawites, who are an offshoot sect of Shiism, which is also the majority sect of Iran.[56] This common background has made them strategic allies on various issues, including defense.[57] The Syrian state-run news agency, SANA, has stated that the two governments discussed their "strategic cooperation relationship" and "attempts by some Western countries and their allies to strike at the axis of resistance by targeting Syria and supporting terrorism there".[41] The alliance has been described as an "Axis of Terror" by the prime minister and ambassadors of Israel.[58][59][60]

Iraq

Armed militias emerged in Iraq after the US invasion of the country in 2003. These groups became exponentially stronger when they organized as a collective front to counter the terrorist group ISIS.[61]

Iranian officials claimed on 30 October 2023 that attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and other parts of the region were the consequence of "wrong American policies", which included Washington's backing of Israel during the Israel–Hamas war.[62]

Yemen

Abdul-Malik al-Houthi, the commander of the Houthi movement in Yemen, declared on 10 October 2023 that the organisation would retaliate by using missiles and drones in addition to other military measures if the United States got involved in the Gaza conflict.[63] The Houthis then launched attacks on ships they claim are linked to Israel in a self-proclaimed bid to end the war, prompting a military response from a number of countries led by the United States.[64]

Palestine

Despite the Axis of Resistance being composed of primarily Shia Islamist factions, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular Marxist–Leninist formation, is generally considered part of the Axis of Resistance, and receives support from Iran.[65][66] The Sunni Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas has also at times been considered part of the axis due to its opposition to Israel and the United States. As of March 2012, the group has since pulled its headquarters out of Damascus and thrown its support behind the anti-Assad Syrian opposition.[67][68] In October 2022, Hamas restored ties with Syria after reconciliation with the support of mediation by Iran.[69][70]

Opponents

Despite the alliance members' differing ideologies and domestic interests,[71] they serve the broader goal of complicating Israel's attacks and imposing a cost on the United States to support Israel.[72]

Israel

The axis claims to be against Israel in order to shore up popular support across the Islamic world, according to Tallha Abdulrazaq, writing in the Middle East Monitor, and it took a severe blow after the Israeli Mazraat Amal air strike.[73][better source needed] Three days before that airstrike against the Hezbollah convoy, Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah said: "We consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria."[74] The Guardian pointed out that it "is a network of autonomous militant Islamist groups through which Iran can project power, determine the course of events and deter attack by Israel or the US".[75]

As a result of the outbreak of the Israel–Hamas war on 7 October 2023, Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Yemeni Houthis, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, and other factions in Syria have launched drone and missile attacks on Israel. Hezbollah launched its operations against Israel on 8 October 2023, whereas Yemen began launching its operations on 19 October 2023, and the Islamic Resistance of Iraq began launching its operations on 2 November 2023.

In April 2024, Iran launched a missile and drone attack against Israel with its supporting factions in response to the Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy complex in Damascus.

Islamic State

This axis became the main fighters against ISIS after the group took over almost a third of Iraq in 2014.[35] According to the Los Angeles Times Amirli was the first city to successfully resist an ISIS offensive and was secured thanks to an unusual cooperation between Iraqi and Kurdish troops, Iranian-backed Shia militias and US warplanes.[76] In 2012, Hezbollah deployed troops to support Syrian government forces against the FSA rebels, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. In 2013, Iran began deploying troops to support the Syrian government against the rebels and other factions. In both instances, the Iraqi government provided support, even having volunteers joining the battlefields in Syria.[77] Also, the Popular Mobilization Forces, which was established in 2014, became the main force in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.[78] In 2014, Hezbollah rejected the idea of Lebanon helping in the US-led intervention in Iraq, against the Islamic State arguing that it may lead to the U.S. domination in the region or "substituting terrorism with flagrant US occupation".[79] During the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Axis of Resistance became more united, forming the 4+1 coalition which was a joint military cooperation coalition with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Hezbollah of Lebanon.[80]

The coalition supported one another in many battles in the Syrian civil war, such as in Hama Governorate, Palmyra, Aleppo and Idlib Governorate. The Russian Air Force has used Iranian airbases for refueling namely the Hamadan Airbase.[81]

The IRGC Quds Force leader claimed: "the resistance of the Iraqi and Syrian governments and the perseverance of the armies and young men of these two countries ... played an important role in overturning this dangerous event … [I can announce] the termination of the rule of this vicious cursed entity, following the liberation operation of Abu Kamal, as the last fort of ISIS, bringing down the flag of this US-Zionist made terrorist group and raising the flag of Syria".[82]

Relationships with other countries

Relations with Russia

Russia's effort to expand its role in the Middle East is intertwined with its relations with the Iranian-led Axis of Resistance. While it is not called a meaningful strategic alliance, the common interest in preserving the Syrian government is a common goal.[83] Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of Bashar al-Assad was prompted by a visit to Moscow by Iran's Qasem Soleimani, where he asked Moscow to directly support Syria against the advance of Syrian opposition forces. Since then in 2015 two countries—along with Syrian forces, Hezbollah, and a wider range of Iranian-backed militias, including from Iraq—have worked together to bolster Assad's military position. Russia has provided air support to the regime and Iranian-backed forces on the ground. For Russia, Syria is important in the context of the international order and Moscow's desire to prevent US hegemonic efforts to engineer political change around the world. In contrast, Tehran is worried that the regime change in Syria will represent the first domino of the American, Israeli and Arab efforts to challenge the vast position of Iran and ultimately the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran.[83] Meanwhile, despite cooperation with Iran in Syria, Moscow has maintained close ties with Israel and Arab countries[84][85][86] to reduce American influence in the region and has been pursuing normalisation of ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia.[87] During the Israel–Hamas war, Russia condemned both the Hamas attack and Israel's response,[88] but Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Israel's goals in Gaza were similar to Russia's goals in Ukraine.[89][90]

Relations with Afghanistan

Iran was accused of supporting the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan.[91][92] Ali Akbar Velayati[93] and Hassan Kazemi Qomi[94] claim that the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is also part of Iran's Axis of Resistance. However, commander of the Quds Force Esmail Qaani believes the Taliban government was "no friend of Iran".[93]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Hurras al-Din (HaD) is the successor organization of Al-Nusra Front and the current branch of Al-Qaeda in Syria.
  2. ^ a.k.a. Houthi movement, de facto government in Northwestern Yemen since the 2010s.
  3. ^ Islamic Resistance Movement, de facto government of the Gaza Strip until 2024.

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