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Challenging the sponsor-proxy model: the Iran–Hizbullah relationship

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This article attempts to demystify the Iran–Hizbullah relationship and to challenge the widespread conceptualisation of this partnership as one between a sponsor and proxy. I argue that the proxy model is not only politically irresponsible but also over simplistic in that it reduces a complex, multidimensional relationship that is bound by ideational and normative factors to a materially-driven, transactional relationship. I begin with a brief survey of the historic and cultural ties between Iran and Hizbullah, and then explore their shared ideology, and strategic culture. Using Bertil DunĂ©r’s proxy theory, and his focus on power, I further assess the relationship against Realist criteria, and highlight Hizbullah’s autonomy from Iran, using several interviews with Hizbullah officials and commanders that I have conducted. Not only does Hizbullah’s independence from Iran defy the proxy label, but I go further to argue that the resistance movement has become a regional power in its own right, based on both Realist hard power criteria and constructivist ideational understandings of power. I conclude that given the organic nature of the relationship between them, and the power modalities Hizbullah offers the partnership, the Iran–Hizbullah relationship is better understood as an interdependent symbiosis between close allies.
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Keywords: Hizbullah; Iran; alliance; cultural ties; ideology; proxy; regional power

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Lebanese University, Lebanon

Publication date: November 2019

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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