BEIRUT – Since taking office, President Donald Trump has shown himself to be committed to “crushing” the so-called Axis of Resistance in the Middle East, an alliance — composed of Iran, Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — that opposes the West’s and Israel’s vision for the region. Over the course of his presidency, Trump has targeted the Resistance Axis with direct threats as well as sanctions and, most recently, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal – all aimed at weakening the group’s influence. However, those actions have increasingly had the opposite effect, instead strengthening the standing of these governments and groups domestically, regionally, and internationally.
The backfiring of Trump’s Middle East policy has become most obvious following his administration’s most drastic decision aimed at countering the bloc: the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal. European countries widely rejected the U.S. decision and subsequently decided to nullify any new sanctions the U.S. may impose on Iran by banning European companies from complying with those sanctions. This would essentially allow Europe to engage in “sanction-proof” trade with Iran, strengthening Iran’s economy and undermining the U.S.’ influence at the international level.
In addition, analysts have noted that Iran’s economy – increasingly diversified and resilient – is likely to successfully weather any sanctions – no matter how intense – that the U.S. may impose.
Iran has also doubled down on its presence in Syria, a major point of contention with Israel and the U.S. After U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded Iran withdraw completely from Syria or face crippling sanctions on Monday, Iran’s government announced it would continue to maintain a military presence in Syria at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite Pompeo’s threats.
The U.S. keeps making its enemies stronger
Iran, confident in its economic clout and ability to rebuke Washington’s attempts to isolate it, has actually sought to increase its support for other members of the Resistance Axis since the U.S.’ decision to exit the Iran deal and attempts to threaten and isolate Tehran.
According to journalist Elijah Magnier, the U.S.’ promise of new sanctions against Iran and the related increase in hostility between the two countries has prompted the Iranian government to increase its financial support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah by “tens of thousands” of Euros. According to Magnier, this is an indication that Iran is not concerned with U.S. efforts to put the country under financial pressure and will only increase its support for regional allies in the face of U.S. aggression.
As a result of that policy, Hezbollah has emerged even stronger, already buoyed by Lebanon’s election earlier this month. The results of that election saw the group and its political allies in Lebanon gain a majority in the country’s parliament. The election results were previously hailed by Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah as a “moral victory for the choice of resistance.” It was also a rejection of the anti-Hezbollah alliance in Lebanon led by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri — whose bizarre kidnapping by Saudi Arabia late last year, in a desperate attempt to challenge Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon’s government, helped push neutral Lebanese voters towards the resistance.
Hezbollah’s increase in influence in Lebanon and elsewhere is arguably the most unintended and bitter consequence of recent U.S. Middle East policy. Indeed, a major goal of the U.S. and Israel in the Syrian conflict — which was originally planned by the Israelis and then orchestrated with the help of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and others — was to weaken Hezbollah. Yet, seven years later, Hezbollah has instead emerged stronger than ever, with even the most hawkish Washington think tanks admitting that the group has now transformed into “a powerful army” thanks to its experiences in Syria.
Thus, the ambitions of the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, aimed at curbing the influence of the Resistance Axis, have backfired spectacularly, not just in Iran but also in Lebanon and Syria. The growing clout of this group has been a direct result of U.S. foreign policy, as many in the Middle East have become increasingly intolerant of Washington’s actions in the region in recent decades, particularly its 2003 invasion of Iraq and the continuing occupation of Afghanistan.
Regardless, the Trump administration’s continued threats levied against the group suggest that the U.S. is still completely unaware that its rejection of regional self-determination and its neocolonial designs for the Middle East are not just wildly unpopular but entirely counter-productive to its own imperial goals.
Top Photo | A Hezbollah supporter waves her group flags during an election campaign speech by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, April 13, 2018. (AP/Hussein Malla)