Iran-Hezbollah Alliance Reconsidered: What Contributes to the Survival of State-Proxy Alliance?

Published date01 April 2020
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
Alliance Reconsidered:
What Contributes to
the Survival of
State-Proxy Alliance?
Akbar Khan1
Han Zhaoying1
States often build alliances with non-state actors to address their security needs
and pursue their strategic objectives, but such alliances are highly unreliable and
fraught with grave risks for the allying parties. The gradually increasing capabili-
ties of a non-state actor may embolden it to give preferences to its own geopo-
litical agenda, thereby adversely affecting the alliance. Thus, states and non-state
actors have mostly failed to maintain stable relationships due to diverging inter-
ests and opportunistic politics. Iran and Hezbollah have however maintained an
alliance, which has entered its fourth decade of organisational existence, and
this potentially hostile alliance is transforming the regional strategic landscape.
The longevity of their alliance is somewhat puzzling. This article contends that
the Iran-Hezbollah alliance has withstood collapse because Iran gives significant
autonomy to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah controls and optimizes its resources and
revenue which are at its disposal. Additionally, the chaotic regional structure
and their intersecting interests play a pivotal role, not only fostering this nexus
but also significantly potentiating the survival of their alliance while reducing the
likelihood of opportunistic dissociation.
Iran, Hezbollah, survival, cooperation, alliance, terrorism
1 Department of International Relations, Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai University, Tianjin,
Corresponding author:
Akbar Khan, Department of International Relations, Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai
University, Tianjin 300350, China.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(1) 101–123, 2020
The Author(s) 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020906654
102 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 7(1)
In the 1980s, Lebanon was engulfed in extraordinary violence and turmoil, often
remembered in the Middle East with ineradicable images of the destructions of
infrastructure and human lives obliterated by the fighting groups in civil strife.
Anarchic Lebanon provided a window of opportunity for other regional states
such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran to intervene in the domestic affairs of Beirut.
However, Tehran took a decisive step in bringing the impoverished Lebanese
Shiite under an umbrella to stretch its muscles in a strategically important area,
and the establishment of Hezbollah in 1982 was a manifestation of this strategy.
Initially, Hezbollah was a collection of a few marginalised and ideologically less
inspired and tattered Shiite fighters in south Lebanon (Art & Richardson, 2007).
However, Tehran adroitly exploited their grievances and vulnerabilities through
its revolutionary potentials, including the propagation of Iranian revolutionary
doctrine, the concept of martyrdom, the establishment of social welfare institutions
and provision of their services.1 This galvanised the impoverished Lebanese Shiite
not only to rally around the newly established Hezbollah but also to maintain their
support over decades.
As the alliance between Iran and Hezbollah started developing, Iran convinced
the religiously motivated hardliners within Hezbollah to its cause, which
connected the allying partners firmly along sectarian lines. Initially, to
demonstrate and consolidate its power, Hezbollah carried out a bombing
campaign, which killed dozens of US and French forces in Lebanon.2 The
catastrophic suicide attacks and the subsequent withdrawal of foreign troops
made Tehran realise that Hezbollah is a capable organisation par excellence.
Since then, Iran has been providing military, economic, political and diplomatic
support to Hezbollah (Pollack, 2002). Moreover, Iran’s revolutionary potentials
and its repeated hostile interactions and conflicts over contentious issues
deteriorated Tehran’s relationship with regional states and left Iran with no
potential allies. Thus, caught between security challenges and isolation, Iran
made state-sponsored terrorism a part of its aggressive foreign policy. To prevent
its isolation in the region, Tehran tightened its alliance with Hezbollah (Alagha,
2011). Over time, Tehran’s generous sponsorship increased Hezbollah’s strength
and military capabilities exponentially, and its involvement in contemporary
regional conflicts became the manifestation of its growing power (Levinson,
2012). Consequently, the Iran-Hezbollah alliance became stronger and survived
unlike other alliances between states and non-state actors.
States in the context of rivalry have always provided support to non-state
actors to hunt their strategic objectives (Akins, 2019), but states and non-state
actors have consistently failed to develop a long-term reliable and trustworthy
relationship because of greed, opportunism and diverging interests (Shapiro,
2013). Non-state actors often come to the surface and collapse within a very short
period without achieving their political objectives (Cronin, 2009). For example,
Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida failed to work together because of lack of trust and
commitment, which led to their alliance’s collapse. Moreover, there are multiple
such instances where states have provided help, including sanctuaries, weapons,

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