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

Abstract

The purpose of this case study was to examine how Iranian support of insurgent groups in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel/Palestine has affected economic and political ties with Iran, specifically in relation to events of the Arab Spring in 2011. Lebanese foreign policy towards Iran and Israel/Palestine was studied through compiling evidence of action in Parliamentary meetings in the form of draft laws and resolutions. Trade policy, immigration, and border conflict between Lebanon and Israel were tracked. Palestinian relations with Iran were considered by looking at Hamas’s budget for social services for Palestinians before and after the Arab spring, and by studying polling numbers to examine changes in Hamas’s popular political support. Finally, data were recorded on the change in Hezbollah’s number of seats in the Lebanese Parliament overtime and the number of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. The results presented a low number of concrete political actions taken by Lebanon towards Iran, Syria, or Israel outside of 2011, but hinted at tension between Lebanon and Israel since the July War in 2006. Studying Hamas’s budget showed a drop in funding from Iran after events in 2011, but not enough evidence was provided to draw more solid conclusions. A chi-squared test using Lebanon’s parliamentary seat distribution from 2009 and 2018 revealed no significant change before and after the Arab Spring for seat of the March 8th Alliance. Along with this, there was not a significant increase in the mean amount of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel after 2011. Finally, polling numbers showed that from 2010 to 2018, support of Hamas had increased. From the data, trends were highlighted to make room for several conclusive points; After the Arab Spring funding for Hamas did not increase, the political power of Hezbollah increased, Hamas support in Palestine increased, Lebanese foreign policy towards Israel did not change, and the ties of Iran and Hezbollah did not affect Lebanese foreign policy.

Introduction

In 2011, the Arab Spring protests erupted from the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia and spread to dozens of other Middle Eastern countries.  In the midst of the political destabilization of many of its neighbors, Iran sought to increase its influence in the region.  Through the utilization of Shia insurgent groups, Iran is able to check the power of its most powerful rivals in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  In the years following the Arab Spring, partially due to external assistance from Iran, both Hezbollah and Hamas have become increasingly institutionalized in the political systems of Lebanon and Palestine, respectively.  This paper will examine the success of Iranian support for these two groups and compare the different strategies used for each group. 

Hezbollah is comparatively more organized and more successfully institutionalized into the Lebanese political system than Hamas. In spite of this key difference, Iran’s goal is for both to become the dominant political force in their respective nations, forming two stable allies that threaten Israel.

Due to the unstable nature of the Palestinian state, the institutionalization of Hamas is of even greater importance to Iran. If Hamas were to gain support from the majority of the population, or enough to form a strong coalition government, it could have legitimate status for the first time since the breakup of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2007. Increasing the political legitimacy of Hamas places a greater strain on Israel and gives Iran greater levels of influence in Palestine. This would also necessitate that  Israel allocate more of its resources to its borders rather than projecting power elsewhere in the region, allowing Iran greater degrees of freedom in influencing the policies of other nations in the region.

Review of the Literature

Modern Use of Insurgent Groups

The Operation of Modern Insurgencies

In their work, Walter L. Perry and John Gordon discuss the nature of modern insurgencies as a way to prepare nations in responding to and planning counterattacks.[1] They explain the importance of technology in international communication and in recruiting new members to expand their support.[2] These scholars draw on the work of David C. Gompert , who argues that this affects the government of a host nation (the state containing the majority of members of a given insurgency) because it becomes significantly difficult for them to react accordingly to any activity.[3] Perry and Gordon elaborate that not much has changed recently concerning the basic operating methods of insurgent groups; they work to compete for popular support and will collapse without it. In counterinsurgencies, lethal force must be used, the military must provide a secure environment for reforms and victory in difficult situations when groups receive foreign support.[4]

These scholars further describe the way insurgencies evolve from the time of their creation, a factor that could be helpful for fully understanding their behaviors and government involvement as they grow. In the stage of proto-insurgency, a group is comprised of a few committed members who lack the capacity to actually influence any affairs of the state. On the other hand, emerging groups at this stage can become risky because they are so difficult to detect. It is mentioned that because of the corruption plaguing political institutions around the world, it is difficult for good intelligence efforts to be made. This point can be applied to countries like Lebanon and Syria that will be looked at in this study. In the second stage, called small-scale insurgency, the presence of these groups is felt by small attacks made on government infrastructure and other activity with support of outside countries and NGO’s who supply funds and political support. At this point, the government still generally reacts within the state with police forces who still have the advantage of strength over insurgent groups at this point.[5] But, again, Gordon and Perry describe that because of corruption and a lack of loyal police, local power vacuums allows rebels rise up in and a need for military increases, as well. The final stage, large-scale insurgency, a military intervention can be seen as support, and the number of new recruits grows rapidly.[6]

External Support for Insurgencies

The work of scholars Gordon and Perry elaborates upon the way a government responds domestically and directly to insurgent organizations.  However many details on foreign military support of insurgent groups is lacking.[7] Scholars Idean Salehyan, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and David E. Cunningham look into ties between insurgencies and their foreign support and how these relations begin.[8] They explain how wars with outside involvement are hard to end through negotiation and lead to an increased number of deaths. Here, Salehyan et al. focus on the features of insurgent groups that provoke intervention, mentioning why some rebels are offered outside support while others are not.[9]

From their work, Scholars Salehyan et al. offer an interesting angle on the connection between the host state and foreign supporter through the insurgency. They explain how outside states often fund these groups as a way to destabilize the host government and that they are unlikely to give direct aid unless there are bigger underlying issues with the host government.[10] Though they discuss many factors, one of the largest determinants is a need for the presence of international rivalries and alliances to fuel an offer of support. This is an idea that can be applied when considering the relationships between Iran with Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine with respect to the establishment of Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet, this also brings to light an aspect that also brings light to a deficit in current research efforts in this area.[11]

Iran in the Arab Spring.

In this research, the spectrum of information can be narrowed by looking at Iran’s foreign policy in general, and in particular with Hamas and Hezbollah during the Arab Spring. Why is the Arab Spring such a significant landmark in time for Iran? According to Peter Jones (2013), these events in 2011 and onwards were sparked by weak governments, unemployment, and rising prices of basic products. He elaborates on Iran’s overall view of the conflict, saying most people found it as an Islamic Awakening in the region. A quote by the Supreme Leader claims that the Spring was an American tactic to split up and weaken the Middle East to take control. He warns the public about Zionism and the U.S. regime, a concept that could take us to further investigate ties with specific Middle Eastern countries and the U.S. to make a hypothesis about those countries’ relations with Iran and insurgencies. Jones mentions a final school of thought on the Arab Spring that claims that every event was just a response to a corrupt system. The scholar points out criticisms made by Egypt on Iran’s policies towards Syria and support of Hamas and describes Iran’s overall low standing amongst other Middle Eastern countries.

Much research has been conducted on the friendly relations between Iran and Syria under Assad as it is tied with Iran’s funding of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Jones describes tensions between Lebanon and Iran because of Iran’s support of Assad, and also details a similar situation with its support of Hamas straining relations with Israel.[12] Nonetheless, Jones’s paper questions whether Iran actually benefited at all from its participation in the Arab Spring.[13] Though Jones’ research provided solid information, it lacked specificity in discussing Iran’s relations with Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. Brandon Friedman goes more into depth in his study in this way, looking at “Iran’s Syria” after the Arab Spring. Friedman mentions Iran’s claims that its support was a major factor in Syria’s ability to survive its civil war until now. By finding similar work on Hamas and Israel, an answer for the central question of this paper will begin to come to light.[14]

Use of Insurgent Groups for Regional Influence

Hezbollah as a Political Machine

Much of the scholarship that surrounds the Iranian push to extend its regional influence revolves around Iran’s utilization of the efforts of insurgent groups, such as Hezbollah, in order to define itself as a necessary ally to the people of the Middle East. Primarily through Hezbollah’s economic efforts throughout the western Levant, namely Lebanon, Iran has secured its position as a significant pillar of the regional economy, and one which is unlikely to topple in the near future. Shannon Caudill of Joint Force Quarterly analyzes the complexity and scope of Iran’s economic ties to Hezbollah, and the influence of these ties on the Lebanese economy.[15] According to Caudill, Iran has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into the organization since Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel.[16] These funds were primarily used to rebuild Shiite communities damaged by Israeli incursions. Moreover, close to two-hundred million dollars were appropriated by Hezbollah for direct cash payments to community members made homeless from Israeli attacks on Shiite areas. These observations provide insight into the level of reliance certain areas of Lebanon have placed on the efforts of the Iran-Hezbollah economic funnel. For many thousands of Lebanese, Hezbollah acts as a landlord, charity, or both. These roles foster economic dependence on the organization.

Caudill further asserts that the motivation behind this generosity is to reinforce the political presence of Hezbollah in Lebanese parliament, with Hezbollah party affiliates now holding nearly a third of parliamentary seats. From this position of political power, Hezbollah can then lobby to improve the conditions of its Shia constituents. In effect, Hezbollah can purchase the long-term loyalty of this group.[17] This loyalty is used, as Caudill states, to encourage “anti-Israeli sentiments” and to reinforce the military arm of Hezbollah, which has been described as increasingly “competent . . . skilled in the use of high-tech weaponry and knowledgeable of Western-style tactics.”[18]

Involvement in Regional Crises

A central development in the evolution of Iran’s foreign stratagem can be found in how it utilizes instability in the wake of the Islamic State, and the greater Syrian Civil War, to fuel the efforts of Iranian-backed insurgent groups. Friedman describes that, since 2011, Iran has funneled billions of dollars of direct aid to the Syrian government and has injected thousands of fighters into Syria, on behalf of both Hezbollah and Iran.[19] Beginning with the 2011 declaration of support for the Syrian regime by Hezbollah, the militant group has supported Assad forces across the country in their effort to reclaim lands lost to the Islamic State and other armed groups.[20] Further support has come in the form of so-called “Shia legions,” Iran’s al-Quds forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the National Defence Force, whose purpose is to organize the paramilitary groups fighting on behalf of the regime. The 2014 Iranian establishment of “Hezbollah in Syria,” has, according to Friedman, completed what he refers to as the “Hezbollahzation of Syria,” part of the process of tightening the connections of the Iran-Hezbollah-Syria bloc, and projecting Hezbollah’s influence across the Levant.[21] This abrupt, yet substantial increase of Hezbollah’s power has heightened its regional political standing, strengthened its role in the financial and military future of both Syria and neighboring Lebanon, and increased the risk it poses to Israeli and Western interests.

Friedman details the ways in which this method of exploiting disaster to extend regional control is not unique in the playbook of Iranian foreign policy.[22] Iran sent Revolutionary Guards to the Bekaa valley in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon to train early Hezbollah fighters and backed local Iraqi militia after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein. For nearly the past forty years, Iran has backed paramilitary allies in crisis areas in order to establish long-term military and political connections with regional governments. Its exploitation of the Syrian Civil War is merely a continuation of this policy, albeit a critical one.[23]

Defense vs. Expansion

Though much of the scholarship that surrounds Iran’s use of insurgent groups suggests that Iran’s overarching goal is the expansion of the Islamic Republic, Samuel and Tabatabai contend that this is not the case.[24] According to their research, what certain officials dismiss as “Iran meddling in Arab affairs” is, in fact, a method used to defend the regime against external threats and ensure its survival in an “anarchic world.” This strategy, which Samuel and Tabatabai claim is rooted in “defensive realism,” is largely a reaction to what Iran perceives as an effort by the United States and its allies to isolate the nation and weaken its capabilities. Iran extends its reach through insurgent groups, such as Hezbollah, not necessarily in an effort to spread its ideology and increase its influence; these outcomes are merely means to the end of preserving Iran against foreign aggression. Thus, the economic, cultural, and military ties formed between Iran and its allies through insurgent groups act as a bulwark against Western encroachments on Iranian sovereignty and general wellbeing.[25]

Iran’s use of Shia insurgent groups in the Middle East can also be understood through the context of a much broader inter-religious rivalry between Shia and Sunni power blocs in the region. Iran’s status as one of the few Shia-majority countries worldwide has motivated its leadership to spread its ideology. David Patten asserts that this spread, though partly conducted for the sake of ideology, is also pragmatic.[26] In order to combat its ideological, religious isolation and resist the political ostracization that it faces from its Sunni rivals, Iran funded Shia militia groups throughout the Middle East. Patten notes, however, that these efforts have been largely unsuccessful, with movements in Lebanon (and now Syria) being somewhat remarkable in their success. Scholars, however, infer from these trials that the ultimate goal of Iran spreading its ideology in this way is to provide the nation with a certain degree of legitimacy it currently lacks in order to allow the country to conduct its regional affairs with less foreign backlash.[27]

Levant Strategy

Scholars such as Wurmser argue that Iran’s main goal for securing regional influence is to secure control of a so-called “Shia Crescent” reaching through Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon.[28]  Iran already has worked to ally itself with the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War.  Iran has similarly moved to increase its influence in Iraq following the recent instability there.[29]  Friedman states that Iran uses instability in Iraq and Syria to increase its legitimacy and prop up friendly governments, which are dependent upon Iran for financial and military aid.[30]  This financial aid allows the supported governments and insurgent groups to provide social services and public goods to their subjects, which promotes loyalty to the government and to Iran. For example, Hezbollah was able to rebuild houses and provide subsidized medical care to its citizens that were harmed in conflicts with Israel.  This strategy doesn’t secure perfect loyalty, but it keeps many of Iran’s allies in a semi-clientelistic state; if they oppose Iranian interests for too long they lose support entirely, plunging them towards regime failure or massive political instability from a weakened financial and military status.[31]  Under this theory, Iran will eventually push groups neighboring Israel to expand their territories in a proxy conflict with Israel.  A full-scale conflict seems to be the least likely option, but support for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is often in the interest of checking the power of Israel and limiting their territorial expansion into area like Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.  This interpretation of events focuses on Iran’s proclaimed end goal of creating a large Shia caliphate and eventually controlling all of the territory currently held by Israel. However, it places too much emphasis on the Levant in relation to Iran’s national security policies as a whole.  There are often similar Iranian policy goals that carry over to areas outside of the Levant such as challenging the power of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.  This can be seen through Iran’s support of the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  Iran’s actions in the Levant have arguably seen more effective results, but the overall national security strategy remains similar for its neighbors in and out of the Levant. 

Islamic Revolution

This interpretation for Iran’s actions is not necessarily the most relevant to actually assessing their plans and motivations, but it must be considered due to the propaganda aspect for the citizens of Iran.  Although religious ties are an important aspect in what groups Iran supports, other considerations take a more prominent role.  Scholars such as Wehrey, Thaler, and Green emphasize the importance of Iran and its goals of an “Islamic Revolution” for several reasons.  First, Iran is able to claim a set ideology to legitimize their actions to their people and Shais in other countries.[32]  It also allows for members of the insurgent groups that they support to claim a consistent ideology, legitimizing their actions as well.  Wehrey, Thaler, Bensahel, Cragin, and Green discuss the ways in which Hezbollah utilizes Iran’s loyalty and talking points in order  to create a legitimate ideology through their “Open Message from Hezbollah to the Downtrodden in Lebanon and the World”.[33]  Iran is also able to use this ideology to keep groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas in line with their goals and to make their transition towards more nationalistic policies more difficult.  This, along with their use of military and financial aid, allows for Iran to more closely control these insurgent groups.

Iran is also able to use the intra-religious conflicts between Sunnis and Shias to gain legitimacy among the wake of the instability caused by the Arab Spring.  Iran has supported Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime during both its civil war and its conflicts with groups such as the Islamic State and has used religion as a way to legitimize these actions.  Iran and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria have allowed both to increase their regional influence while maintaining an ideological base.  Similar actions have been taken in Iraq, as Iran has gained increasing support from the Shia majority after opposing Sunni insurgent groups such as the Islamic State.  Iran has gained increasing influence in the nations that were destabilized in the wake of the Arab Spring and claimed to spread the Islamic Revolution to further increase their involvement as the leader of the Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East. 

Methodology

The target question of our research aims to assess the economic and political ties affected by Iran’s support of insurgent groups in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel/Palestine during the Arab Spring. This will be accomplished by examining Hezbollah and Hamas as case studies of insurgent groups funded by Iran.

Our first case study will analyze the changes in the foreign policy of Lebanon following the Arab Spring in regards to Iran and other actors in the Middle East such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. The success of Hezbollah in Lebanon will be measured by the number of years that their coalition, the March 8th Alliance, has held power in Parliament as well as the number of seats that they have gained. We will implement a chi-squared analysis to evaluate the statistical significance of this change and determine whether the number of seats held is independent of, or associated with, Iranian support. The changes will also be measured qualitatively by examining the evolution of Lebanon’s actions in the region and its relation to Iran’s national security plans in the Middle East. 

Due to the lack of organization of Hamas relative to Hezbollah, we will have to rely more heavily on qualitative analyses to examine the impact of Iranian funding on the attitudes and actions of Hamas toward Western-aligned states, such as Israel, and toward its supporters. First, an analysis will be completed to compare the level of provisional/social services provided to Palestinians by Hamas before and after the Arab Spring, followed by a quantitative assessment quantitative assessment of the evolution of Hamas’ popular support since the beginning of the Arab Spring. This dualistic approach will allow us to evaluate Iran’s influence on the legitimacy of the Palestinian state. We will also examine the level of hostility toward Israel in the years following the Arab Spring, measured by quantifying the frequency of missile attacks conducted by Hamas on Israel in the period between the start of the Arab Spring (2011) and the present day (2018).   

Results

Lebanon Foreign Policy Towards Iran

To study the impact of Iran and Hezbollah’s ties on Iranian-Lebanese relations, we collected data on Lebanese actions from seven years before and after the Arab Spring in 2011. This information provided a good idea of pro-Iran actions, support for Assad’s Syria, and anti-Israel sentiments and policies passed by Lebanon.

Several meetings were held through the year 2004, with five of them focused on verbal challenges against the actions of Israel such as massacres, assassinations, media and air strikes that members spoke out against. Up until 2011, meetings of the Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Committee often highlighted tensions with Israel in discussions and speeches, with support for Syria announced once in August 2008.[34] For the first time in January 2011, three draft laws were released that encouraged relations between Syria and Lebanon through creating uniform laws for taxation, agriculture, and the licensing of drugs and vaccines. Later that year in July, Lebanon signed “memorandums of understanding” with Iran on issues of health, education, agriculture, tourism, and trade and industry. These were the first concrete actions taken by Lebanon in their relations with Iran and Syria. In 2013, a draft law was also released regarding relations with Israel on a loan agreement for “facilities affected by Israeli aggression.”[35]

Lebanese Foreign Policy Towards Israel

The relationship between Lebanon and Israel has been essentially nonexistent for the entire history of Israel, as Lebanon has never formally acknowledged its legitimacy as a nation. Neither country has any form of formal diplomatic presence in the other and tensions have been high since the July War in 2006.  Along with this, Israel has been building a border wall over the past several years along the Blue Line.[36]  The growing experience of the Lebanese military in the Syrian Civil War was seen by some in Israel as a threat to their security.  Tensions have remained relatively stable since the July War, and there have been relatively little conflict since then.  Trade is nonexistent from a formal standpoint, and there are very few external or internal forces that would move to bring the two nations together. 

Palestinian Relations with Iran

In the 1990’s, Hamas’s budget ranged from $50 to $150 million per year with an estimated 85% funneled towards various social services projects.[37] Another source provided that the percent of the region’s social organizations affiliated with Hamas was 40% in 2000. Three years later, around 120,000 individuals received financial support from those charities as well as directly from Hamas. The group’s efforts towards the social sector resulted in an increase of number of mosques from 1,472 in 1998 to 2,228 in 2006.[38] In 2011, Hamas received $70 million in funding from foreign entities.[39] Following the Arab Spring in 2013, the group received $60 million from Iran. Hamas received around $150 million from Iran in the years before.[40]

Lebanese Internal Politics

Lebanese internal politics are inextricably linked to the actions and political standing of Hezbollah.Within Lebanese parliament, Hezbollah and its allies, under the banner of the March 8 Alliance, hold well over half of all Lebanese parliamentary seats, which allows them to exert considerable control over Lebanese policy. Though measures exist to check the power of parliament, Hezbollah took advantage of its position as one of the largest parties of this alliance to directly mold Lebanese policy. This has been thought to be influenced by the directives of Iran, which shares constant communication with the leadership of Hezbollah.[41]

Therefore, we will seek to quantify the ability of Hezbollah and, in turn, Iran to direct Lebanese policy through an analysis of the influence of the March 8 Alliance over Parliament in the years since the start of the Arab Spring. This influence will be measured using the results of a one population proportion test built around the proportion of seats held by the March 8 alliance within the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. The null hypothesis will be H0: p = 0.4453 with the alternative Ha: p > 0.4453, where “p” is the population proportion of seats held by the March 8 Alliance in Lebanese parliament from 2018 (post-Arab Spring). The value of 0.4453 is derived from the 2009 (pre-Arab Spring) seat count of 57.

With a post-Arab Spring March 8 Alliance seat count of 68, the test yields a p-value of 0.0503, which allows us to fail to reject the null hypothesis, suggesting that, at the 5% significance level, there was not a significant change in seat count for the Alliance after the beginning of the Arab spring.[42]

Palestinian Policies Toward Israel

To build an adequate interpretation of the ways in which Iran directed Palestinian attitudes toward Israel since 2011, we sought a quantitative analysis of the alterations in Hamas’ military attitudes since the beginning of the Arab Spring. This is accomplished through a paired t-test evaluating whether the mean number of monthly rocket and mortar attacks conducted by Hamas (which obtains at least some of its arms directly from Iran)against Israel has increased between 2011 and 2018.[43] For this test, we will implement a hypothesis test at the 5% significance level, with a null hypothesis of no change in the population of rocket attacks launched between 2011 and 2018, and an alternative of the 2018 population count being larger.

This test, using data collected from the Jewish Virtual Library for the number of attacks (for the months of January, February, May, June, and July, which are the only months for which data from both years have been collected), yields a p-value of 0.30292, allowing us to fail to reject the null hypothesis, suggesting that there was not a significant increase in mean monthly rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas on Israel from 2011 to 2018.[44] This opens up the possibility that Iran has not increased its military support for Hamas since the Arab Spring. However, the limitations of this test and the data behind it give room for more substantial follow up analyses.

Internal Attitudes in Palestine

The internal attitudes of Palestinian citizens are an integral measure of the success of Hamas at gaining legitimacy. This is one of Iran’s key goals in their support for Hamas because greater levels of institutionalization of Hamas will better allow it to check the power of Israel.  The measure for the legitimacy of Hamas in Palestine will be the percentage level of support that they received from public opinion polls that attempt to find the level of support for Hamas in the Palestinian Parliament.  Although this is not a perfect measure for finding the total level of legitimacy held by Hamas in all of Palestinian politics, an increasing level of support shows that Hamas is increasing its legitimacy to the public.  High levels of support will also suggest that Hamas is becoming institutionalized as a political party, which further adds to its political strength and stability.  

As shown in Table 2 , from 2010 to 2018, trends for support of Hamas have shown a steady increase.  This has corresponded with a slightly steeper decline in support for Fatah, which can account for the increased polling numbers for Hamas and as well as smaller parties in Parliament.[45]  There is also some evidence of frustration with the policies of the Fatah and growing support for the more aggressive policies of Hamas. One measure for the attitudes of Palestinian citizens in relation to Israel is the proportion of the population that supports the two-state solution. Changes in support for the two-state solution reflect attitudes toward Israel in two ways.  The first is that support for the two-state solution reflects lower levels of hostility toward Israel as a neighbor.  Support of the two-state solution also reflects the belief, to some extent, that Palestinian citizens believe that Israel is willing to change its policy in the region in order to allow for the two-state solution to occur.  The fall in the support for the two-state solution is related to a growing belief in Palestine that this solution is no longer viable due to actions by the Israeli government to actively move against the enactment thereof.[46]  This can be seen as a response to hostile policies by the Israeli government, such as the creation and expansion of the settlements in the West Bank, the creation of a border wall, and violent responses to protests. These actions all push the Palestinian population to respond to these events by taking more hostile positions toward Israel, aligning them more with Hamas from an ideological perspective.

Limitations

There were several limitations that were encountered while completing the results of the research:

1. Lack of solid data on Lebanese Foreign Policy Towards Iran

It was assumed that looking at meetings from the Lebanese Parliament would provide solid data to locate trends regarding Lebanese foreign policy towards Iran. But after the data were compiled, it showed no clear trend from which to draw a solution. In fact, the Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Committee of the parliament didn’t produce any documents or bills involving the target countries outside of draft laws with Syria and Iran in 2011 and another regarding Israeli aggression in 2013.

2. Lack of accurate data on Palestinian relations with Iran

In this area of research, the goal was to find data for studying changes in relationships between Palestine, Hamas, and Iran. Originally, the idea was to look at the percent change in Iranian financial support for Hamas and the percent of Hamas’s budget going towards Palestinian social welfare. Searching for data on these issues proved to be difficult, with the final results only including small piece of information from different sources. Because of this, it is hard to form any accurate conclusions based on the data.

3. Negatives of our Hamas test on rocket attacks

Our test on the change in Palestinian foreign policy toward Israel had two major limitations. The first of these was the fact that measuring the volume of rocket attacks from one state to another provides an incredibly narrow interpretation the interaction of those states. Foreign policy is a multifaceted, complex issue, so focusing on one type of military tactic over a handful of months is not the most balanced way of viewing it. The other major issue of this test was the lack of reliable data to support it. It is often difficult to define what exactly “counts” as a rocket/mortar attack, the source of such attacks is not always obvious, and certain groups may be inclined to inflate or deflate the true extent of these attacks. This makes it difficult for even ostensibly reliable sources to capture accurate information.

4. Small sample size of elections

The test we conducted to determine if the parliamentary power of Hezbollah and its allies has increased is limited by the small sample size available to support it. Only one parliamentary election has been conducted in Lebanon since the start of the Arab Spring, making it difficult to establish a clear trend. However, this limitation would be difficult to correct for before the next election.

5. Lack of accurate voting data and data on support for Hamas within Palestine

One limitation is that the polling support for Hamas and the Fatah does not perfectly represent the political legitimacy of the two groups because it  includes the differing political preferences of the Palestinian people. As a result of this, polling support will under-represent the true level of political legitimacy held by each particular party.  However, this may be more accurate than in other countries due to the split of the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2007, which means that there is actually some degree of contestation over which group has the mandate of the people.  This is especially relevant due to the fact that after the last election for the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, Hamas was the majority party, and they are now excluded from the Palestinian Authority. 

Discussion

Regarding Iran and Hezbollah’s relations effect on Lebanon foreign policy, a slight impact was observed from the data on the meetings of the Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Committee Meetings. From January 2004 until the Arab Spring, not many concrete actions were taken by the Committee on issues with Syria, Iran, or Israel. Most meetings were focused around discussions on tensions and conflicts with Israel. In January 2011, it was found that three draft laws were released encouraging relations with Syria and Israel. In July, Lebanon also signed “memorandums of understanding” with Iran on several issues, a document focused on enhancing the alliance in a long-term perspective. Besides one draft law in 2013 regarding relations with Israel on a loan agreement, no other actions were taken by Lebanon that seemed to directly impact Iranian ties with Hezbollah. But because Lebanon signed “memorandums of understanding” with Iran, it was concluded that Iran and Hezbollah’s relation did have a small impact on Lebanon policy making.[47]

There are enough data to conclude that before and after the Arab Spring, funding for Hamas from foreign entities, specifically from Iran, has not increased. It was found that the organization received around $150 million annually from Iran in the years before the Arab Spring and only $60 million in the year 2013.[48] There is not enough information to accurately claim that funding has necessarily decreased from before 2011. Furthermore, in the years leading up to the Arab Spring, there are several pieces of data suggesting that Hamas was very involved in funding towards social service projects for Palestinians. In the 1990’s, 85% percent of their budget was directed towards funding these projects.[49] More recently in 2006, it was recorded that Hamas was responsible for overseeing the construction of 2,228 mosque in the region.[50] Information on this matter was difficult to locate after the Arab Spring and, therefore, it cannot be concluded that there was a clear change in Palestinian and Iranian relations.

There is no clear indication that the political power of Hezbollah and its allies (in the form of the March 8 Alliance) within Lebanon has changed since the beginning of the Arab spring. We have found that even though the raw number of seats held by this group in Lebanese parliament has increased, this change is not statistically significant. This suggests that there is no obvious correlation between post-Arab spring Iranian foreign policy and the parliamentary standing of Hezbollah.

Our evaluation of the change of Palestinian attitudes towards Israel since the start of the Arab Spring indicates that there has been no clear alteration in Palestine’s foreign policy goals between 2011 and 2018. This conclusion, based on the number of rocket and mortar attacks launched by Hamas against Israeli targets, clearly revolves around the military aspect of Palestine’s foreign policy, but nonetheless gives us a reasonable, albeit crude, understanding of the influence of the Arab Spring on the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Therefore, Given Iran’s historic levels of support toward Hamas, in part through direct military aid, we can conclude that it is not in the portfolio of Iran’s foreign policy to increase direct confrontation between its allied insurgent groups (and the countries in which they reside) and Israel.

Hamas has received gradually increasing support from the Palestinian populace in the years following the Arab Spring, which also shows a negative correlation with the support for their main political opponent, the Fatah. There has also been an increasing level of disillusionment of the Palestinian population with the currently policies of the Fatah and the attempt for a peaceful relationship with Israel, as shown by the decrease in support for the two-state solution.  In this case, this is due to the fact that the majority of those who oppose it feel that Israel has taken actions that have made it impossible to create a two-state solution. 

There has been no significant change in the relations between Lebanon and Israel following the Arab Spring, because tensions had previously existed following the July War in 2006.  However, they have grown increasingly strong and the Lebanese military has grown more active in the past years, as seen through their active assistance of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War. This means that they now pose a greater threat to Iran than before due to the greater degree of military experience and activity in the Middle East.

Conclusion

In this study, we examined Iran’s impact on the foreign policy decisions of Lebanon and Palestine through its support of Hezbollah and Hamas. We found that there was likely a significant difference between pre- and post-Arab Spring levels of Iranian support toward these insurgent groups. Furthermore, our metrics suggest that this difference has led to more hostile policy decisions by Lebanon and Palestine toward Israel.

Even if we consider the limitations of our procedures, our findings demonstrate a clear shift in the behavior of Lebanon and Palestine and increasing influence for Hamas and Hezbollah. In the context of the complex, post-Arab spring political landscape of the Middle East, Iran is poised to direct an increasingly cohesive power bloc toward meeting common foreign policy objectives. The Levant, including Lebanon and Palestine, is the cornerstone of this coalition.

In the wake of increasing populist movements in the West and increasing levels of isolationist rhetoric, the role of external support for Israel and Saudi Arabia is in question. With the potential for an Iranian-led Shia coalition of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, the power of Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council could be contested more easily. Without external support from the West, it is not unlikely that Iran could grow to become the hegemon of the Middle East. The question now revolves around whether the West will continue to pull away from the Middle East, and if Iran is able to create a stable coalition.

Appendices

Table 1. Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Committee Meetings from January 2004 to December 2018

April 2004 Lebanon decides to help in stopping Israeli massacres and dangerous U.S. media that threatens Palestinian safety
July 2004 Lebanon challenges “Zionist enemy” after assassination of Ghaleb Awali, mentions need to support Palestine
July 2004 Lebanon holds meeting in support of Syria, against “Israeli terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction in Israeli, and against Syrian forces staying in Lebanon
November 2004 Lebanon speaks against Israeli air strikes
December 2004 Speeches against Israeli media
October 2005 Discussion about Israel-Palestine Situation in Lebanon
December 2005 Discussion on Israel’s attacks on Lebanon
June 2006 Discussion on Gaza situation
October 2006 With France, trying to implement a resolution to limit Israel’s violation of Lebanese air space
August 2008 Announcing support for Syria, discussing Israeli threats
January 2009 Lebanon calls for Israel to let Palestinian refugees go back to their land
January 2009 Discusses Israeli violations
November 2010 Discussed Palestine-Israel issue
January 2011 Three draft laws encouraging relations with Syria and Lebanon
July 2011 Lebanon signs “memorandums of understanding” with Iran on issues of health, education, agriculture, tourism, and trade and industry Iran thanked for assistance provided in 2006 Lebanon-Israel conflict
June 2012 Statements on Israeli threats
December 2012 Issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon brought up
May 2013 Both Syria and Israel issues discussed
May 2013 Draft law on loan agreement for “facilities affected by Israeli aggression”
September 2013 Syria situation discussed

Table 2. Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Public Opinion Polls from 2010 to 2018

(“Index PSR Polls │PCPSR”, 2018)

Time Period Support for Hamas % Support for Fatah (PLO)% Support for the Two-State Solution
Sep 30-Oct 2 2010 26% 45% 57%
Dec 16-18 2010 25% 44% 54%
June 16-18 2011 18% 61%* contested elections so this would give full control in the midst of this situation 58%
Sep 15-17 2011 29% 45% 55%
Dec 15-17 2011 29% 43% 59%
Mar 15-17 2012 27% 42% 56%
June 21-23 2012 29% 40% 51%
Sep 13-15 2012 28% 37% 52%
Dec 13-15 2012 35% 36% 53%
Mar 28-30 2013 29% 41% 55%
June 13-15 2013 30% 41% 62%
Sep 19-21 2013 38% 31% 51%
Dec 19-22 2013 29% 40% 53%
Mar 20-22 2014 28% 43% N/a
June 5-7% 2014 32% 40% 54%
Sep 25-27 2014 39% 36% 53%
Mar 19-21 2015 32% 39% 51%
June 4-6 2015 35% 39% 51%
Sep 17-19 2015 35% 35% 48%
Dec 10-12 2015 33% 33% 45%
Mar 17-29 2016 33% 34% 51%
June 2-4 2016 31% 34% 50%
Sep 22-24 2016 32% 37% 49%
Dec 8-10 2016 32% 41% 46%
Mar 8-11 2017 30% 36% 47%
June 29-July 1 2017 29% 39% N/a
Sep 14-16 2017 29% 36% 52%
Dec 7-10 2017 30% 36% N/a
Mar 14-17 2018 31% 36% 48%
June 25- July 1 2018 32% 39% N/a
Sep 5-8 2018 27% 36% 47%

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.


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Endnotes

[1] Perry, Walter L., and John Gordon. “The Nature of Modern Insurgency.” In Analytic Support to Intelligence in Counterinsurgencies, 5-12. Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA: RAND Corporation, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gompert, David. “Heads We Win. The Cognitive Side of Counterinsurgency (COIN).” PsycEXTRA Dataset, 2007.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Perry, Walter L., and John Gordon.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Perry, Walter L., and John Gordon.

[8] Salehyan, Idean, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and David E. Cunningham. “Explaining External Support for Insurgent Groups.” International Organization 65, no. 4 (2011): 709-44.

[9] Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid.

[12] Jones, Peter. “Hope and Disappointment: Iran and the Arab Spring.” Survival 55, no. 4 (2013): 73-84.

[13] Jones, Peter. “Hope and Disappointment: Iran and the Arab Spring.”`

[14] Ibid.

[15] Caudill, S. W. (2008). Hizballah rising: Iran’s proxy warriors. Joint Force Quarterly : JFQ, (49), 128-134.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Friedman, Brandon. “Iran’s Hezbollah Model in Iraq and Syria: Fait Accompli?” NeuroImage. May 24, 2018.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ariane M. Tabatabai and Annie Tracy Samuel. “What the Iran-Iraq War Tells Us about the Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal.” International Security 42, no. 1 (2017): 152-185.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Patten, David A. “Using Small Powers to Great Effect: How States use Insurgent Proxies to Achieve Foreign Policy Goals.”

[27] Ibid.

[28] Wurmser, Meyrav. “The Iran-Hamas alliance.” inFOCUS, Fall 2007.

[29] Ibid.

[30]  Friedman.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Wehrey, Frederic, David E. Thaler, Nora Bensahel, Kim Cragin, Jerrold D. Green, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Nadia Oweidat, and Jennifer Li. “Iran and Its Non-State Partners: Assessing Linkages and Control.” In Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East, 81-128. RAND Corporation, 2009

[33] Ibid.

[34] “The Lebanese Parliament.” Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Committee. 2013.

[35]  Ibid.

[36] Ahronheim, Anna. “IDF: No Hezbollah Militant Will Return Alive from Infiltration Attempt.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. September 07, 2018.

[37] Phillips, David L. “From Bullets to Ballots: Violent Muslim Movements in Transition.” From Bullets to Ballots: 35-68. doi:10.4324/9780203791455-3.

[38] Shitrit, Lihi Ben. “Righteous Transgressions: Women’s Activism on the Israeli and Palestinian Religious Right.” 2015.

[39] Ahronheim, Anna. “IDF: No Hezbollah Militant Will Return Alive from Infiltration Attempt.” The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. September 07, 2018.

[40] Davis, Richard. Hamas, Popular Support and War in the Middle East: Insurgency in the Holy Land. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

[41] Ajroudi, Asma. “Will the Lebanese Vote in Parliamentary Elections?” GCC News | Al Jazeera. April 22, 2018. Accessed January 04, 2019.

[42] Diss, Mostapha, and Frank Steffen. “The Distribution of Power in the Lebanese Parliament Revisited.” SSRN Electronic Journal, September 2017.

[43] Zohar, Eran. “The Arming of Non-state Actors in the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula.” Australian Journal of International Affairs 69, no. 4 (2015)

[44] “Rocket Threat to Israel: Rocket & Mortar Attacks.” Suleyman. Accessed January 04, 2019.

[45] “Index PSR Polls.” PCPSR. August 12, 2013. Accessed January 04, 2019.

[46] “Index PSR Polls.” PCPSR. August 12, 2013. Accessed January 04, 2019.

[47] “The Lebanese Parliament.”

[48] Davis, Richard. Hamas, Popular Support and War in the Middle East: Insurgency in the Holy Land. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

[49] Phillips, David L. “From Bullets to Ballots: Violent Muslim Movements in Transition.” From Bullets to Ballots: 35-68.

[50] Shitrit, Lihi Ben.

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