Ten years ago, the Resistance Axis (mihwar al-muqawama)—an alliance between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas against Western and Israeli interests in the Middle East—was ascendant. Today, this cross-sectarian, state/non-state coalition has almost completely unraveled—a product of both its inherent differences and the events that have ravaged the region in the intervening years. That is not to say that analysts foresaw this eventuality. Indeed, the opposite—its continued expansion—seemed much more likely for quite some time. Led by Iran, which had both strategic ambition and the resources to match, the Resistance Axis aimed to reignite a resistance agenda throughout the region, transcend sectarian divisions, and support Palestinian efforts to liberate Jerusalem from Israeli occupation. Syria’s role was to provide Iran with a forward operating base from which to exert influence and gain access to its two non-state allies: Hezbollah and Hamas. Specifically, Iran would transfer weapons and funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria’s territory, while it would meet with and provide material support to Hamas’s exiled leadership in Syria proper, where they had been given safe haven in Damascus by President Bashar al-Assad.
This Axis stood in direct opposition first and foremost to the United States and Israel, but also to the motley crew of seemingly complacent monarchs and presidents who were seen to be in cahoots with the Big Satan (the United States) and the Little Satan (Israel). These countries (and entities)—namely Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Authority—were all supportive to some degree of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians brokered by the Americans. The Resistance Axis, as its name would suggest, was bent on undermining this effort.
There were a few key events that strengthened its comprising actors in a way that gave the impression that the Resistance Axis would prevail over its adversaries. First, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the subsequent elimination of Iran’s twin deterrents—the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq—left Tehran unbridled and poised to exert it hegemonic ambitions throughout the region. Second, Hamas’s victory over Fatah during the U.S.-instigatedPalestinian elections of 2006 transformed a problematic terrorist group into a much more powerful, democratically elected semi-state actor. Third, Hezbollah’s ability to consolidate power in Lebanon during and after the 2006 Lebanon War similarly transformed it from a powerful militia to a politically active semi-state actor. And finally, the initial wave of Arab uprisings that swept the region in late 2010 and early 2011 rocked the capitals of many of the Resistance Axis’s adversaries.