'Iranian Axis' or 'Axis of Resistance'?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On January 26, 2024, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the escalation in Yemen and the Red Sea. Moderator Andrey Sushentsov invited participants to discuss possible developments in the region, the potential role of Russia, and the conditions for the re-stabilisation of regional security.

Andrey Baklanov, Head of the Middle East and North African Studies Section at the Higher School of Economics, noted that the aggravation of the situation in the Middle East is likely to be protracted, with low- or medium-intensity hostilities. In his opinion, none of the participants, no matter what statements they make and no matter what goals they officially declare, wants a big military conflict in the Red Sea, which does not negate other methods of confrontation - from rhetoric to bombing. Trade will continue, but logistics costs will rise. Egypt is likely to suffer the most from this. Speaking about the diplomatic dimension of what is happening, Baklanov pointed out that the United States rejects proposals to involve Russian diplomats in the settlement process in the format of a Quartet of international mediators or in any other format. The Americans claim that they consider the discussions in the UN Security Council to be sufficient, although recently these discussions have looked largely automatic, which makes this method of interaction seem ineffective.

Kobi Michael, Senior Research Fellow at the National Security Institute in Tel Aviv and Senior Research Fellow at the Misgav Institute, provided an Israeli perspective on what is happening. He called for the conflict with the Houthis not to be separated from the overall picture of a regional war with global consequences. The origins, in his opinion, are various “proxies” of Iran. He sees what is happening in the Middle East as the result of the activities of a certain “Iranian axis”, supported by Russia and China, which are striving to create a new world order and resist American hegemony. The Middle East is important to America's adversaries, because undermining US interests in this region affects the situation in other regions. The very fact that the Houthis, with the support of Iran, were able to influence one of the most important transport routes in the world presents a challenge to the United States and some of its key allies.

Kayhan Barzegar, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University in Tehran, rejected the existence of a connection between Hamas, Iran and Yemen. The Houthis and Hamas, he said, constitute a kind of “axis of resistance” whose activities are directed against external interference in the affairs of the region. Barzegar argues that they are not Iranian “proxies”, but independent actors who, despite having certain ties to Iran, act in accordance with their own logic. He considers the escalation in the Red Sea a direct consequence of the war in the Gaza Strip, which radicalized the Arab world, and the long-term neglect of the Palestinian issue by the world community. The political scientist emphasized that the regional conflict cannot be resolved through war and that it is necessary to deal with the roots of the situation. An agreement on a truce and a ceasefire are needed, he pointed out.