The Axis of Resistance

August 8, 2012

Iranian security chief Saeed Jalili, yesterday pledged Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Members of Iran’s government joined Mr. Assad during talks in Damascus broadcast by Syrian state television. Mr. Jalili said, “Iran will not allow the axis of resistance, of which it considers Syria to be an essential part, to be broken in any way.” 

The “axis of resistance” refers to Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

As I alluded to in my post yesterday, the Lebanese Hezbollah has operated as an instrument for the radicalized Shi’ite community. The “axis of resistance” is a purely Shi’ite alignment of nations that seeks to be a counterweight (within the Middle East) to the power of the Sunni alignment of nations led by Saudi Arabia.

Iran is seen as the de facto leader of this Shi’ite alliance. The biggest effect the Iranian Revolution of 1979 had on the Middle East was to encourage the most uncompromising elements within the Shi’ite community to fight a regional counteroffensive against what was then a Sunni status quo.

Iran has been attempting for years to export its revolution to the rest of the Muslim world. The social norms and values espoused by the Iranian Revolution encourage Shi’ite legitimacy and political power.

The Middle East has been dominated by Sunni power centered in Saudi Arabia since the creation of the Islamic conference in 1969. However, Iran has considered itself the true standard-bearer of Islam since its revolution, despite its Shi’ite minority status. Iran considers the Saudis to be “usurpers who sold oil to the West in exchange for military protection–a retrograde, conservative monarchy with a facade of ostentatious piety” (Kepel 2000).

As I explained yesterday, the Shi’ite faith has always appealed to the poor and oppressed waiting for salvation. Iran’s propaganda promotes an “Islam of the people,” and incites the poor to rise up against the impiety of Sunni-lead governments.

Saudi policy, however, has sought to prevent Iran’s “axis of resistance” from appropriating Islam for itself and possibly changing the status quo. One could argue that Iran’s axis has been designed to resist Israel, Western intervention, and a Sunni- (read: Saudi-) dominated Middle East.

Thanks to this power dynamic, a sectarian cold war has been underway in the Middle East since the 1980s. Much of the conflict we see today in the Syrian civil war is motivated by a broader strategy to dominate the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda and other Sunni groups wish to overthrow the Syrian Shi’ite regime. Iran is desperate to keep other Shi’a governments in power.

Al-Qaeda has no love for the Saudi regime, but it likes Shi’ite governments of Iran and Syria even less. It will be up to Iran and Hezbollah to counter al-Qaeda’s influence over the civil war, since the Syrian government in Damascus lacks the means to fully dominate an unconventional war with opposition groups.

You can read more about Iran’s “Axis” here– Iran: We’re in “axis of resistance” with Syria.

One Response to “The Axis of Resistance”

  1. Thanks for clearing this up a bit. The differences between Shi-ites and Sunni’s has always been a bit vague for me. This helps to clarify who’s who and where they stand.

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