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Syria crisis causes Iran-led 'axis of resistance' to fray

The Syria crisis is complicated by the regional cold war that has simmered for years between resistance powers like Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah, and Western allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia.

By Staff writer / March 16, 2012

Syrian protesters living in Lebanon shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration after Friday prayers in Beirut.

Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

On the ground, Syria’s day-to-day revolt may look like any other Arab Spring revolution, with widespread protests against the dictatorial rule of President Bashar al-Assad, and powerful military and security forces trying to crush them.

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    Graphic Syria
    (Rich Clabaugh/Staff)

But analysts say the Syrian crisis is already having a global strategic impact beyond that of the Arab world's other people-power uprisings, which brought down authoritarian rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

As revolutionary turmoil in Syria enters its second year today – with more than 8,000 killed already – the crisis is rekindling US-Russia rivalry in the Middle East. It is also jeopardizing the Iran-led “axis of resistance" to Western interests in the region.

In keeping with the regional cold war that has been simmering here for years, Iran and the Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon have fully supported their Syrian ally, while Sunni states friendly to the US, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have called for arming anti-Assad rebels.

But last month, a central member of the resistance axis – the Palestinian militant group Hamas – abruptly abandoned its longtime patron Syria and its leaders decamped to Egypt and Qatar.

Moreover, Syria's role in the resistance alliance is only as strong as Assad's rule. If he were forced out, Hezbollah's ready access to Iranian-supplied weapons could be severely reduced and therefore Iran's ability to maintain Hezbollah's potency as a proxy against Israel could diminish.

“This Syria-Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas ‘axis of resistance’ has started to fray, with Hamas essentially pulling out, and the Syrians being challenged at home, so this whole equation has to be reconsidered,” says Rami Khouri, a Mideast analyst at the American University of Beirut. “If the Syrian regime were to be changed, both Hezbollah and Iran would be dealt a blow.”

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