Navigating Relationship with Resistance Forces

Iran’s effort to redefine its relationship with resistance forces and dissociate itself from their actions is not going to prove easy. Despite attempts to downplay this connection on the global stage and regardless of the international community’s receptibility to this narrative, the resistance forces hold significant sway in propagating anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiment—core tenets of the Nezam’s proclaimed ideology and in many ways its raison d’être.

There is a noticeable shift in Iranian rhetoric concerning resistance forces, especially following recent events such as Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and the killing of U.S. servicemen in Jordan. In his meeting with government officials and ambassadors from Islamic countries, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei abstained from using the term “resistance forces” and instead referred to the fighters in Gaza as Palestinian combatants. Naser Kan’ani, the spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs, and Amir-Sa’id Iravani, the head of Iran’s permanent mission to the UN, have repeatedly maintained the “independence” of resistance forces from the Islamic Republic in recent weeks. In his interview with NBC, Iravani likened his government’s relationship with resistance forces to a defense pact similar to NATO. He also denied providing arms to the Houthis for their recent drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. However, the recent discovery of Iranian missile parts off the coast of Somalia, reportedly intended for Houthi rebels, raises doubts about Iravani’s claims. Reformist analysts in Iran criticize such redefinitions, arguing that the NATO comparison would work against Iran’s interests because Israel’s attacks against Hamas would then oblige Iran to get directly involved in Gaza. Questioning the timing of such statements, they point out that efforts to change the narrative surrounding these groups may be too late. Nonetheless, some high-profile figures like former foreign minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif seem increasingly active in this campaign for a change in narrative. Mostafa Zamanian, head of the Presidential Center for Strategic Studies, advises legal experts to establish a new platform dedicated to defending the rights of the Iranian people and the resistance front as an initiative that aims at advancing Iran’s regional hegemony.

While many conservatives in their debates increasingly emphasize the notion of the “independence” of resistance groups from Iran, the importance of these groups’ survival persists due to their central role in promoting core aspirations such as anti-American and anti-Israeli stances. At the same time, hardline outlets portray the Palestinian Authority and Mahmud Abbas as insincere or appeasers of the West. They allege that Western conversations about recognizing a Palestinian state aim to undermine the resistance front. Key hardline politicians like Ali-Akbar Ahmadian-Babaki, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and Hasan Kazemi-Qomi, Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, do not shy away from drawing parallels between Iran’s relationship with groups like Hamas and the Taliban, signaling that a brigade of Afghans could be deployed to Gaza as “resistance” forces.

Overall, as the costs associated with the actions of resistance forces rise, Iran is crafting a narrative that emphasizes the independence of these groups. However, despite this narrative, the groups prove instrumental in supporting Iran’s mission of exporting the revolution and advancing its “anti-arrogance” agenda. The multiplicity of these groups and their occasional conflicts of interest may prompt Iran to reconsider its organizational relationship with them and move towards achieving structural unity. In this context, the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs’ endorsement of UN resolutions promoting a two-state solution for resolving Israel-Palestine conflicts is understandable. Despite the fact that the two-state solution is anathema to Iran, this endorsement was driven by the fear that failure to do so could result in Hamas’s actions on 7 October 2023 being designated “terrorist” acts.


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