What the Pandemic Revealed About the “Axis of Resistance”

The Ideology of Resistance Stands in Sharp Opposition Against Science
An Iranian man, wearing a protective face mask, walks down a street in the capital Tehran during the COVID-19 epidemic
Hospital personnel attend a funeral for their 25-year-old colleague, Mohammad Rezaie Kormajani, who has died from COVID-19

Political Shiism – or what the Iranian regime refers to as “the axis of resistance,” have been establishing itself in the region, and spreading its roots. Its main rhetoric is resisting Israel and Western Influence, and secondly empowering the Shia to have equal political and economic opportunities. Its tools: mostly wars, conflicts, and empowering dictators and corrupt political class, from Lebanon to Syria and Iraq, among other places.

Despite the loss of many lives and assets, and the fact that political Shiism have isolated the Shia in these countries from the rest of the region, its ideological power was strong enough to blind many from the real goal of Iran’s resistance; that is, regional hegemony. However, things have started to change when economic collapse hit these countries and people had to finally choose between resistance and putting food on the table.

As this difficult choice was unfolding and forcing many to ask questions and cast doubts, the COVID-19 pandemic took the world and revealed many truths about our capacities as a human race, it also revealed a number of hard truths about political Islam in general, its capacity to accommodate science, but most importantly the susceptibility and weakness of political Shiism, the Iranian regime, and its regional proxies.


When COVID-19 hit the region, many suffered, and many countries struggled to find ways to contain and deal with its repercussions, and eventually to plan the vaccination rollouts. It is; however, not surprising that the regimes within the axis of resistance, mainly Iran, Lebanon and Syria, have witnessed more cases, deaths and failed plans. The structures that these states are built on are structures designed to implement conflicts, not prosperous economies or health plans.

The pandemic revealed two things about the vulnerability of this structure. First, that it is incapable of implementing health plans that require qualified governments and strong infrastructure, and second, it doesn’t know how to deal with socio-economic challenges.

When the Corona virus hit Lebanon, it first came from Iran, which was and still is one of the most infected countries worldwide. According to media reports back then, Hezbollah has been hiding “thousands more infected people… and had quarantined areas in many towns in the south… where neighborhoods were guarded by party members.” This – of course – is not surprising as the Lebanese government continued to allow planes coming from Iran to land in Lebanon until mid-March.

In March 2019, instead of stopping flights from Iran into Lebanon and close off the official and nonofficial borders with Syria, Hezbollah launched a health emergency plan. Hashem Safieddine, head of the group’s executive council, told reporters on March 25, “It is a real war that we must confront with the mindset of a warrior...Our role is to complement the government apparatus, not to stand in its place.” Under the plan, Hezbollah will deploy a total of 25,000 personnel to deal with the crisis, including 1,500 doctors and 3,000 nurses. In addition, it has dedicated one of the Beirut hospitals it owns to treating coronavirus patients, rented four unused hospitals, prepared thirty-two medical centers across Lebanon, and laid plans for three field hospitals if needed. It has even rented hotels to be used for quarantine, according to Safieddine.

But as it turned out, Hezbollah lacked the actual equipment, such as ventilators and these field hospitals stayed nonfunctional until today, with nothing to show for, except empty statements and empty promises.  As usual, the group wanted to appear more prepared than the Lebanese state to handle emergencies, but it failed, and dragged state institutions along its failure.

Similar failures to strategize and implement emergency plans were seen across the region, along Iran’s land bridge, and its axis of political Shiism. People fell victims to empty promises and COVID-19 eventually won the battle.


To make things even more problematic, a few days after Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that he will not take a Corona vaccine made in the US or the UK, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned Western coronavirus vaccines, claiming they’re untrustworthy, that’s despite a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 56,000 Iranians. Instead, Iran will import 2 million coronavirus vaccines before the Iranian New Year on March 21 from “India, China, or Russia.”

The Iranian Red Crescent had said that US-based Iranian scientists had been planning to send 150,000 doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to Iran, but that the delivery had been cancelled following Khamenei's comments.

As Khamenei puts millions of people’s lives at risk by banning the vaccine, his statement has another deeper and yet more dangerous implication on the region’s societies: Ideology versus science. This gap has never been this harsh and profound. The ideology of resistance with all its layers and meanings stand in sharp opposition against science. One causes death and one saves lives. One spells conflicts and predicts collapsed states and societies, and the other spells prosperity and progress.

In the light of these two options, Iran has sided with death against life and expects the people and governments along the land bridge it maintains to follow its lead. However, Iran has thereby pushed its isolation further and widened the gap between its regimes and its people.

An Iranian, a Lebanese, an Iraqi or a Syrian citizen, is watching the news today and realizing that as he/she is hiding from death and struggling to put food on the table, his/her neighbors in Israel are going to be vaccinated – all of them - by March 2020. Between Iran’s ideology and Western scientific achievements, this citizen will not only wonder, but also could wish he was far away from this axis as possible.

No one wants to sacrifice lives and children for the resistance anymore. In fact, the victory achieved by Western science against Covid-10, the world’s main enemy, sounds more like a divine victory than any of Hezbollah’s divine victories. And when the Iranian regime bans it, it is only a sign of weakness, vulnerability, and criminality.
Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann Fellow at The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant.