The world has long been hearing about the so-called “Axis of Resistance”, made up of Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah against the encroaching, ever present and menacing Zionist aggressor, Israel. Long have we been hearing threats emanating from Tehran, Damascus and southern Lebanon about how the Zionist enemy must be wary of initiating any acts of aggression, or else they would suffer the wrath of the axis. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors have been threatening Israel, and yet nothing has ever come of these threats apart from rhetoric.
Indeed, the infamous Iran-Contra Scandal during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s demonstrated how pragmatic the Iranians can be. Fearing Iraqi hegemony and power in the region, Israel lobbied the Americans on behalf of the Iranians and resupplied the Iranian military with spare parts for their Western-made aircraft. This expanded once the Americans came on board, believing that they could arm Iran secretly against Iraq in exchange for some American hostages by selling new weapons to Israel to replace the weapons and parts that Israel was sending to Iran, and then using the proceeds of those behind the scenes sales to fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Iran was all too happy to continue screaming “death to Israel” whilst receiving logistical support from Tel Aviv in order to fight Iraq.
Iran’s modern role as suzerain to Syria – which has its own history of failed wars with Israel – and also its role as the main supporter, financier and military backer of militant Shi’ite movements, particularly Hezbollah, place it at the head of the Axis of Resistance. Hezbollah has the occasional low intensity conflict with Israel; Iran makes a big game and show of supplying minor rocket technology and hardware to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip; whilst Syria for a long time played host to the aforementioned governors of Gaza, before they set up shop in Qatar in order not to be dragged into the slaughter of the Syrian people. Whenever Hezbollah fights Israel, or the civilian population of Gaza is massacred, Iran looks for an opportunity to increase its credibility and that of its proxies on the Arab street by exclaiming that it is the only one arming the resistance.
Latterly, however, the populist public relations campaign of the Tehran-Damascus-Lebanon crescent has taken a severe blow. Not only did an Israeli air strike kill several high ranking Hezbollah commanders in Quneitra in Syria, but it also killed General Sardar Allahdadi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who was obviously in the area helping the Assad regime stay afloat in Damascus.
Ironically, just days before the attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stated that he possessed missiles, Iranian no less, that were capable of striking anywhere in Israel. In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV, a pro-Assad Lebanese channel, Nasrallah claimed that the Iranian supplied Fateh-110 missiles have an effective range of 200km. Hezbollah has possessed this capability since 2006, he said, which begs the following question: Why did the movement do nothing when Gaza was being bombed intensely by Israel in Operation Cast Lead in late 2008? Its fighters were not engaged in any war in Syria at that point, and kept threatening Israel, yet they did nothing even though their whole raison d’être is supposedly to resist Israel and drive it out of Arab and Muslim land.
This brings me to my next point. Israel’s missile strike hit two out of the three Axis of Resistance components directly, Hezbollah as well as Iran; and the attack took place on the territory of the third, Syria. How should the axis respond? Should Hezbollah strike Israel with its Fateh-110 missiles, and rain terror down upon Israel from north to south? Should Iran activate some of its sleeper cells to attack Israeli interests in the region and beyond? Syrian sovereignty (what is left of it, at any rate) was breached, and the Golan Heights are still occupied, so will Assad raise the flag of national pride and honour, and strike back? I believe that no such thing will happen.
Hezbollah made a terrible strategic mistake by involving itself in the Syrian conflict, although it had no choice as it has no desire to defy Iran, its ideological master. Any credibility the movement may have had in their “resistance” against Israel evaporated and transformed into an image of sectarian brutality and the capacity to massacre those who most certainly are against Israel. Furthermore, Hezbollah is in no position to retaliate as its military capabilities and resources have been committed to Syria; the quality of its fighters has been reduced due to the need to replace losses suffered in the fighting in Syria; and it does not have the ability or will to open up a second front with Israel to restore its “resistance” credentials. Even a short term, low intensity conflict would be catastrophic for the greater strategic trophy in Syria.
What of Iran and Syria? Assad has no control over the sovereignty of his borders nor those residing within them, let alone Syrian skies. Syria’s Russian equipment and third world training is simply no match for US-equipped and highly experienced and trained Israeli air power. The only thing Syria can do is act as a conduit to transfer arms to Hezbollah at Iran’s behest. Iran, meanwhile, will certainly not commit to exchanging missiles or retaliatory strikes with Israel because it has sunk all its resources into maintaining and sustaining its loose grip on its new empire, stretching from Tehran through Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and now Yemen. Iran will take this Israeli hit on the chin, and any retaliation will probably be related to terrorist attacks abroad and in a way that Iran can deflect the blame for them. However, none of this helps the public relations effort that has been disseminated throughout the world and the Middle East in particular in order to gain grassroots support for Iranian hegemony.
Israel’s strike has cornered the various arms of the Axis of Resistance. Now, it’s time for them to put up, or shut up. My bet is on the latter.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.