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.”
More broadly, the Syria crisis has engendered “a return of a global competition," says Mr. Khouri. Indeed, Russia and China – feeling burned by voting for a Libya resolution last year that turned into de facto regime change – have vetoed two United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria, thwarting American and European attempts to take action against the Assad regime. Since then, Syrian forces have launched brutal assaults on key rebel strongholds, including Homs, Idlib, and Deraa.
"It was the Russian and Chinese veto that really gave the Syrians a special boost,” says Khouri. “The Russians are clearly pushing back against what they see as an American-dominated drive in the region, and Russians don’t want the Americans to go around changing regimes at will.”