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Senior Editor Chloe Dennison reviews a paper focusing on Iran’s use of insurgent groups

Updated: Feb 11, 2020

“I Came, I Saw, Iran”

Chloe Dennison, Senior Editor

In the paper “I Came, I Saw, Iran: The Increasing Use of Insurgent Groups in Iranian Foreign Policy following The Arab Spring,” written by Sarah Abdelbaki, Luke Dillingham, and Ramsey Nofal, the authors propose to analyze how the Iranian funding of such insurgent groups in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel/Palestine as Hezbollah and Hamas impacted the groups’ subsequent political and economic ties to Iran. Though both groups have significant influence in their respective regions, the means of exerting that power is varied, so the methods of examining their relative successes and ties are unique to each. Since Hezbollah is incredibly organized within the governmental systems of Lebanon, the authors chose to measure the number of years and seats the group has held power in parliament, in addition to qualitative data on the correlation between Iran’s national security plans and Lebanon’s respective actions.

In the case of Hamas, more qualitative data is used, as there are not as many objective measures available for comparison with Hezbollah.

In the paper, the level of success of Hamas is equated with their gains in political legitimacy (which is a primary concern of Iran)—such legitimacy is measured by public opinion polls of Palestinians towards the group. According to the authors, Iran desires increased public support for Hamas, as they believe it will likely lead to the institutionalization of the group, allowing Hamas to further check the power of Israel. By the authors’ calculations, support for Hamas has steadily increased from 2010 to 2018, including additional support for Hamas’ more aggressive policies.

Regarding Hezbollah, the authors were largely inconclusive on the relative power within Lebanon of the group since the Arab Spring. Though there has been an increase in the number of parliamentary seats held by the organization, such findings were not statistically significant, suggesting that there is no direct relationship between Iranian foreign policy and Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon.

Ultimately, the authors did propose that there were significant variations in levels of Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas between the pre- and post-Arab Spring eras, which contributed to more hostile policy decisions towards Israel from Palestine and Lebanon. Furthermore, this increased support for these groups is indicative of the rise in power of Iran, who is poised to continue consolidating their power and policy objectives in the larger region of the Middle East.

The authors were forthcoming in acknowledging the limitations of their research, noting that there was a distinct lack of available data on Lebanese foreign policy towards Iran, Palestinian relations with Iran, and support for Hamas within Palestine. Furthermore, their analysis of Hezbollah relied on an incredibly small sample size, with only one parliamentary election occurring since the advent of the Arab Spring, making any conclusions drawn quite tenuous.

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