How the ‘Axis of Resistance’ Lets Iran Destabilize the Middle East

A billboard celebrating the death of a martyred fighter in Syria is put up by Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Shiite militia of Lebanon, in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, on August 30, 2023. (Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

Hamas’ horrific October 7 attack on Israel has ignited a war that risks plunging the Middle East into broader conflict that could draw in the United States. The war has already expanded beyond Israel, as Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and even Yemen have mobilized in support of Hamas and have begun attacking Israeli and U.S. targets throughout the region. These militias are part of a transnational coalition called the “Axis of Resistance,” built up over decades by Iran for the explicit purpose of attacking the United States and Israel on multiple fronts at the same time. 

The Axis of Resistance consists of state, semi-state, and non-state actors, including the Iranian regime, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthi movement in Yemen, and myriad other militias made up of Afghan, Bahraini, Iraqi, Palestinian, Pakistani, and Syrian fighters deployed throughout the region. Iran directly founded some of the groups in the alliance after its revolution in 1979, while others emerged independently and later forged ties with Tehran. Iran furnishes these groups with varying levels of financial, military, and political support in exchange for some degree of influence or control over their actions. Some are traditional proxies that are highly responsive to Iranian direction while others are partner militias over which Iran exerts more limited influence.

Members of Axis of Resistance are united by their commitment to eroding and eventually expelling American influence from the Middle East, destroying the Israeli state, or both. Pursuing these objectives and supporting the Axis of Resistance to those ends have become cornerstones of Iranian regional strategy. 

Iranian leaders have invested immense energy, resources, and time over the past few decades into turning the Axis of Resistance into a formidable military power, one that allows it to apply and project force, deter and coerce foreign actors, and shape the regional environment. This military alliance helps Iran advance its campaigns against the United States and Israel, while also supporting its bid for regional hegemony.

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