Iran's Ace in the Hole - But is it Reliable?

Are Hezbollah and Hamas as dedicated as Iran they seem?

The West's opportunity to peacefully disarm Iran...

Avi Melamed

This is the English version of the Hebrew article I sent out earlier this week.  Click here for the Hebrew article.

March 1, 2012


Is War in the Middle East Inevitable?
by Avi Melamed

The Iranian nuclear military program and the possibility of a massive military collision in the Middle East are clearly occupying the world's attention. 

These concerns are not groundless.  However, is military confrontation inevitable?

In this article, I would like to bring your attention to the fact that at this specific moment, due to the confluence of particular events, the West has a unique opportunity, which, if “played correctly," could force the Iranian regime—in a completely non-combative way— to put a halt to its nuclear military program. 

In order to take advantage of this opportunity, the West must fundamentally understand what is currently happening in the Middle East that makes this moment so unique.  It needs to know how to maximize the situation to its, and the world's, benefit. Most importantly, because there is such a small window of time, the West must seize the moment and act quickly and decisively.

What is happening right now that offers this unique window of opportunity?

The Iranian regime is under increasing stress.  The days that it can continue to manipulate the international community are numbered. 

One of the reasons for this is the severe economic crisis inside Iran caused by the international sanctions the West has imposed on the regime.

There is another very important reason for the Iranian weakness:  the Axis of Resistance is beginning to crumble.

What is the Axis of Resistance?  A powerful web of allies and proxies developed and sponsored by the Iranians. Its major members are:  The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Palestinian terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committees.

What is the military capacity of the Axis of Resistance?  The massive arsenal upon which the members of the Axis of Resistance rely is composed of rockets and missiles supplied and primarily developed and manufactured by the Iranians and the Syrians.  According to Israeli intelligence estimates, the combined rocket and missile capacity of Iran and Syria and their proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza, is unmatched by almost any other nation.

What is the purpose of this massive military build-up?  To help Iran in its aspiration to become the dominant superpower in the Persian Gulf;  to deter Israel from damaging Iranian interests;  to prevent Israel from stalling or destroying the Iranian military nuclear program;  and to attack Israel in the case of a military confrontation between Iran and Israel or Iran and the West.

The Axis of Resistance is one of Iran's major assetsThis massive military capability is a major card the Iranian regime plays when it comes to its nuclear military program.   In its talks with the West and the international community, the regime makes the following crystal clear:  if its vital interests are jeopardized, Iran has the ability to create an immediate, massive eruption in the region by ordering Hezbollah and Hamas to use their arsenals to attack Israel.

What is critical for the West to understand is that there are signs in the Arab world today that indicate that Hezbollah and Hamas, Iran’s main proxies in the war against Israel, just might not jump so fast to comply with such an order.  This possibility creates a unique window of opportunity.

The main reason for this change in the relationship between Iran the patron and its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, is the crisis in Syria - Syria acts as both a patron and a proxy.

The events in Syria are causing major fissures within the Axis of Resistance, with the result that Axis members are facing growing stresses and dilemmas.

Events in Syria and their Impact on the members of the Axis of Resistance:


When the uprisings began sweeping the Arab world at the end of 2010, the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said that Syria is not threatened by the current tsunami because it is the "leader of the Resistance." 

In March 2011, a few months after that reassuring interview, the tsunami did indeed reach the shores of Assad's rule.  One year later, Assad is fighting to survive the uprising of the Syrian people. More than 8,000 Syrians—most of them civilians—have been brutally and indiscriminately killed, thousands are missing,and thousands are being tortured in Syrian jails.

The armed force of the rebels in Syria is called the "Free Syrian Army.”   It is comprised of tens of thousands of Syrian soldiers and officers that have defected from Assad’s forces - most of them Sunni.  As of now, most of the Syrian army still remains loyal to Assad.   The Syrian army is mostly Sunni, Alawi aka Alawite and Druze.  The elite units, as well as the mid and senior level command, are members of Assad's sect - the Alawites.   The Alawites are a minority, making up about twelve percent of the population in Syria, but they have ruled Syria for decades.   They are considered to be a distant branch of the Shiites.   The Sunni clergy have opposed the Alawite rule over the Sunnis, since in their mind the Alawites are not only non-Muslim; they are "infidels.”

In its essence, the uprising in Syria is the manifestation of the desire of the Sunnis, the majority in Syria, to end the rule of the Alawites.  As the struggle has intensified, it is sliding more towards a civil war divided along Sunni-Shiite lines.  And we see signs of other Sunni movements turning against Assad as well.  The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jordan is openly calling for a military Jihad against Assad's rule.  Similar calls have been issued by Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda.  And there are reports that Sunni Muslim militants are entering Syria from Iraq, Lebanon,and Libya to assist the rebel forces.
How events will play out in Syria is unclear, as are the results of the current uprising. 

But three things are certain:  Assad has lost his legitimacy in the Arab world; he has lost his legitimacy in the West, and Syria will never go back to what it used to be.

The collapse of the Assad regime would be a massive blow to Iran.  Assad is Iran’s primary strategic ally, and the regime has invested huge amounts of money in Syria. The alliance with Syria has enabled Iran to increase its influence and promote its interests in the Arab world.  The alliance with Syria enabled Iran, via Hezbollah, to build a de-facto stronghold in Lebanon.  The alliance with Syria and the Iranian presence in Lebanon has allowed Iran direct access to the Mediterranean Sea.  Access to the Mediterranean is important to Iran for strategic as well as ideological reasons – including their ability to export the Islamic Revolution. 
The downfall of the Assad regime would mean that Iran will lose its land bridge to the Mediterranean and to its biggest outpost in the region - Hezbollah in Lebanon.
If Assad falls, it is clear that the Sunnis will come to power in Syria, and a Sunni rule will be much less friendly towards Iran than the current regime.
And most disturbing to Iran is that the downfall of the Assad regime could provide inspiration to the Iranian people and spark a new popular uprising.  Reports of evolving unrest within Iran are growing as the Parliamentary elections scheduled for the beginning of March are right around the corner.
Considering the above, it is no wonder that the Iranian regime is doing whatever it can to save Assad's rule - including providing the regime with money, oil, commodities, weapons, advisors, etc.  The Iranians have even sent forces from their elite Revolutionary Guard Units to assist Assad's troops in quelling the rebellion.
The Iranian regime gives lip service to the Arab world and presents itself as the defender of the Arab cause and Muslim interests, but most of the Arab world doesn’t buy this line.  In the eyes of the majority of Arabs, the Iranian regime is brutal, dangerous, and cynical. Its participation in the massacre of the Syrian people is the ultimate proof.
The Arab world will shed no tears should the Iranian regime fall.

The collapse of the Assad regime would also be a massive blow to Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon.  Syria is Hezbollah's lifeline - the huge caravans that carry the weapons supplied to Lebanon by Iran and Syria travel to their destination through Syria.
Like its Iranian patron, Hezbollah is making efforts to save the Assad regime.  In many public speeches, Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has urged the Syrian people to stand by Assad, and he describes the uprising in Syria as an "Israeli-American plot."  Only a couple of weeks ago, Nasrallah said, without blinking, "Nothing is going on in Homs," even as footage showed the city reduced to rubble under the endless bombardment from weapons fired relentlessly and mercilessly by Assad's forces.
Hezbollah's support for Assad does not end with rhetoric.  According to reports, Hezbollah militants were killed as they fought side by side with Assad's army against the rebels.  In an attempt to hide Hezbollah's support and involvement Hezbollah ordered that the bodies be buried secretly.(1)
The majority of Syrians are Sunnis. They will never forget nor forgive Hassan Nasrallah for supporting the cold-blooded massacre of more than 8,000 (and counting) Syrians, most of whom are Sunnis.  With Assad gone, Hezbollah may very well find itself confronting massively armed, enraged Sunni militants at the same time its weapons supply route is cut.  It is important to note here that Nasrallah has been hiding in a bunker since the 2006 war - he is not hiding from Israel.  He is hiding from the Sunnis because he knows they will seize any opportunity to eliminate him.
Held hostage by Hezbollah, Lebanon is on the verge of a massive domestic eruption that would unleash the full wrath of Hezbollah's opponents in Lebanon – the Sunnis, together with most of the Christians and the Druze.

And to make matters worse for Hezbollah, following Nasrallah's statement that "nothing is happening in Homs," even the Shiites in Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Lebanon brazenly renounced the organization and burned its flag.  Just a few short years ago, something like that would have been unthinkable.(2)

Hezbollah could very well find itself fighting for its life - and the Lebanese will once again find themselves drowning in bloodshed.

The dilemma Hezbollah confronts is a deeply serious one. In a recent public speech, Nasrallah alluded to his organization’s predicament by announcing that "Iran does not expect Hezbollah to attack Israel automatically in a situation of an Israeli-Iranian confrontation . . . Iran respects Hezbollah's free decision."
This is Hezbollah’s problem:   

Iran has invested billions of dollars in Hezbollah, mostly in a huge arsenal of rockets and missiles.  The tens of thousands of rockets possessed by Hezbollah are not supposed to rust but to be used against Israel when Iran commands.  Failure to comply with such an order would cost Nasrallah more than his position.

On the other hand, Nasrallah knows that following Iran’s directions would bring catastrophe upon Lebanon.  Even worse, a massive confrontation with Israel would leave Hezbollah severely weakened and hence totally vulnerable to the Sunnisin Lebanon who will be supported by Syrian Sunnis. The Sunnis might use such an opportunity to take their revenge on Hezbollah - a revenge that would surely be merciless.


Like Hezbollah, Hamas, another Iranian proxy, confronts a similar dilemma.

Hamas and Syria

As events in Syria evolve and the regime’s suppression of its people turns more and more brutal, Hamas finds itself increasingly stressed and facing a serious juncture.

With Assad as its patron, Hamas has traditionally located its headquarters in Syria, where it has for decades enjoyed the warm welcome of its host, the current regime.

An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas defines itself ideologically and operationally as a branch of that organization.  But the Muslim Brotherhood could not stand silent in the face of the massacre of thousands of Syrians, most of who were Sunnis, and strongly condemned Assad.   As I noted earlier, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan called openly for a militant Jihad on Assad's rule.

Hamas is thus trapped between its affiliation with and loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and its dependence on Assad's hospitality and support on the other.   Although the Hamas leadership has gone to great lengths trying to "hold the stick at both ends," the pressure on the organization has steadily increased.  President Assad demanded that Hamas stand by him officially and publicly, while the Arab world harshly criticized the organization for staying silent as Assad’s regime continued its brutality. 

When the pressure became so intense that the Hamas leadership had to choose a side, they chose to flee the sinking Syrian ship and removed their headquarters from the country, turning their backs on Assad.

Today the leadership is travelling around the Arab world, looking for an alternative host.
Hamas' Inner Turbulence

Exiting Syria was only the beginning of Hamas’s problems.

By distancing itself from Iran and Syria, Hamas exposed the ever-present differences that have long existed between those who lead the movement outside the Gaza Strip and those in charge inside that volatile locale.  The rising tension has quickly evolved into a public rift.

Traditionally, the Hamas leadership in Syria has taken a tougher line about violence against Israel, pressuring their cohorts inside the Gaza Strip to continue their assaults regardless of the suffering the people of Gaza would experience as a result of the Israeli response to such aggression. However, the Hamas leadership inside Gaza began to understand that the citizens of Gaza would hold them directly accountable for the trauma such a policy brought. If perceived as callous rulers who attack without regard for the consequences for their own population, Hamas would risk a loss of power.

Suddenly “leaving home" has reversed the traditional roles within Hamas.

Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas who was based in Syria, is in a very difficult position.  By exiting his host country, he has removed himself from the warm embrace of the Syrians and the Iranians.  And now he has to find a new home in the Arab world.

Clearly this situation demands a new strategy.

So Mashaal has turned to the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a means of redefining his relationship with the Arab world and finding a way to navigate its dramatically changing political landscape.

Khaled Mashaal, as the leader of Hamas, agreed to the concept of "Palestinian peaceful resistance" against Israel.  He further agreed, again as the leader of Hamas, that the Prime Minister of the transitional Palestinian reconciliation government would be Mahmuod Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestinian National Authority and the leader of Fatah.  That agreement, signed by Mashaal and Abbas, led to an open confrontation between Mashaal on the one hand and Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip on the other.  Though the agreement was eventually formally approved by Hamas, the open rift inside the organization is obvious.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas self-declared government in the Gaza Strip also recently took himself on a tour of the Arab world.   He arranged a formal visit to Iran, in spite of the fact that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood told him not to.  During his tour Haniyeh reaffirmed Hamas' commitment to the militant resistance and reassured the Iranian leader that his organization is dedicated to continuing the war against Israel until Israel is destroyed.  By doing so Hanieyh is sending a clear message to Mashaal  - Hamas in The Gaza Strip and has its own independent position and you must not ignore that fact.

Haniyeh is clearly trying to keep his options, including the connection with Iran, open.  Iran is Hamas’ major sponsor, but the Iranian regime does not give free meals.  As with Hezbollah in Lebanon; the thousands of rockets that Iran has provided to Hamas in the Gaza Strip are not supposed to rust but to be launched against Israeli cities when Iran so commands.

Hamas' inner friction is not confined to the Mashaal-Haniyeh power struggle.

For the first time in its history there is the possibility of an inner "divorce."  Reliable reports indicate that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas,is also experiencing a split.   

Hamas and Iran

When it comes to Iran, Hamas faces the following dilemmas:

If Hamas refuses to comply with an Iranian order to fire missiles at Israel, the Iranian regime has alternatives.  Palestinian terror organizations like the Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees, which operate in the Gaza Strip, won't hesitate to launch their rockets.

In the above scenario Hamas could find itself in a war it doesn't want, a war that might jeopardize its rule in the Gaza Strip.  To prevent other organizations from obeying an Iranian order to strike, Hamas must assert its leadership in ways that could very likely antagonize other Palestinian organizations inside the Gaza Strip.  Scenes of Palestinians butchering one another would severely damage Hamas's attempt to portray itself as a reliable and accountable entity and discredit campaign to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the world.

On the other hand, if Hamas complies with an Iranian directive to launch missiles against Israel, it jeopardizes its relationship with the Arab world.  If the attack were to ignite a war that produced another catastrophe for the people of the Gaza Strip, Hamas would be perceived by the Arab world as a Sunni Arab movement that sacrifices Sunni Arabs for the sake of the despicable Iranian Shiite regime.

An additional dilemma for Hamas is that if it complies with an Iranian order to launch an attack on Israel, it puts the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt in a difficult position.  As the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt rises to power, they are expected to deal with Egypt's enormous domestic challenges.  To that end they need three things:  money, international acceptance and stability.  The last thing they need is a war in the Gaza Strip that would spark huge demonstrations in the streets and chaos throughout Egypt. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military leadership are demanding that Hamas play a stabilizing role.  The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip cannot afford a confrontation with the strongest political factor in Egypt and clearly one of the emerging central powers in the Arab world.  Hamas will have to be sensitive to their needs.

Severely fragmented and under stress, Hamas is quickly moving towards a pivotal junction in which it will have to make strategic decisions.

The Unique Window of Opportunity:

The dilemmas Hamas and Hezbollah face weaken Iran’s bargaining power and its ability to maneuver and manipulate. 

More importantly, this conundrum gives the West a unique opportunity to persuade the Iranian regime to stop its nuclear military program without resorting to armed conflict.

To take advantage of the moment, the West must act quickly and decisively by leading a parallel effort focused on two objectives:

Increasing the sanctions on the Iranian regime
and speeding up the downfall of Assad.

If the Assad regime falls, Hezbollah will be isolated from Iran and cut off from its military source of support.   Hezbollah will be weakened, while its major opponents, the Sunnis in Lebanon and Syria (it is widely assumed that a Sunni government will replace the Assad regime) will be strengthened.  In this situation, Hezbollah will finally be forced to do what it has so far refused to do - comply with Security Council Resolution 1701 and disarm itself.  In that case, Hezbollah's ability to dictate their radical agenda will be substantially diminished.

Once Hezbollah, the leading Arab Shiite proxy for the Iranians, is weakened and neutralized, it won't take long for Hamas, its Arab Sunni proxy, to redefine its own relationship with the regime.  Hamas will then do the most natural thing that serves its own interest.  They will turn to their natural ally – the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  In that case, similar to Hezbollah, Hamas' ability to dictate a radical agenda will be substantially diminished.

The time for the west, and the opponents of Iran’s nuclear ambition to act together is now:

The Axis of Resistance is beginning to crack, and the West must act to hasten its disintegration.

If the West moves strategically and swiftly it can:

Force Iran to stop its nuclear military program with no military action.

Prevent Iran from posing a threat to the West and to the Arab world.

Secure the world primary source of oil.

Rehabilitate the image of the West, particularly of the United States, which is currently viewed as a "sinking power" in the eyes of the Arab world.

The Iranian's ability to activate, at their whim, the Axis of Resistance, has allowed the regime to promote its agenda and interests.  Without nuclear capability this Axis has been the main source of instability in the region for the last generation.   

Should Iran achieve its nuclear ambitions, Iran and its proxies will be bolstered and will have a greater influence in the Middle East.  Thus, the hope for a stable Middle East will be an illusion. 

Should Iran not achieve its nuclear ambitions, its proxies will also be weakened. Thus, a major source of instability in the region will be diminished.  The region will have the opportunity to enjoy stability.  Stability is the greatest need in the changing landscape of the Arab world today.

The question that keeps me up at night is . . . will the West recognize the opportunity and act swiftly and decisively?  



Tahir, Marwan.  "Will the Lebanese Army Have a Presence in the Southern Quarter?  Will Nasrallah Announce the Southern Quarter an Open Zone?"Middle East Transparent.  November 11, 2011.  
"The Free Syrian Army:  We Killed Hezbollah Militants that were Engaged in Battle Against Us.Alshark Alawsat.  February 3, 2012.
 Star, Wael.  "Lebanon:  The Fears of an Uprising and the Concerns about a Conspiracy." alarabonline.  February, 2012

Haydar, Ali. "Following Nasrallah's Announcement "Nothing is Happening in Homs" Signs of a Popular Uprising Against Hezbollah in the Shiite Areas."Middle East Transparent.  February 12, 2012

Above are in Arabic; any translation mechanism on your computer will help you with the essence of articles

Please note, I did not include a bibliography because it is very long. If you would like the list of sources I used for this article please write me at avi.yanshuf@gmail.comand I will gladly send it to you. 

Additional related articles I have written on this subject:

Click for Inside Hezbollah's Private Dominion, February 2012

Click for The Arab Awakening – Bullet points (video) September 2011

Click for The Middle East:  Where Rhetoric is rarely Reality, August 2011

The Gaza Jungle:  Hamas is Under Stress and Other Predators Smell It, April 2011 (attached)

Master of Chaos, June 2010 (attached)

Syria: The Wall of Fear is Cracking, March 2011 (attached)



is an independent Strategic Intelligence Analyst, former Israeli Senior Official on Arab Affairs and an Expert on Israel, the Middle East and the Arab World.
Avi provides information and intelligence analysis to private clients, organizations and media outlets Israel and the Middle East including:  Current Affairs in the Arab and Muslim world and its Impact on Israel and the Middle East; Emerging Challenges and Opportunities in the Arab World; the Role of Evolving Radical Islam; Israel's Security Challenges, etc.

He served in an Elite Combat Intelligence Unit, holds a B.A. in history and Middle Eastern studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a graduate of the International Program for Conflict Resolution at the Leonard Davis Institute at George Mason University, as well as the Program for Outstanding Leadership at the Carmel Institute for Military Research he is also a graduate of the JAFI Program for Lay Leadership.
An Israeli Jew, fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew, he spent many years in intelligence, public and private positions in Arab speaking areas. He has held government, counter-terrorist, intelligence and policy making positions, including serving as Senior Advisor on Arab Affairs and Jerusalem to Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek and Advisor to Ehud Olmert.
After public service Avi founded Mikdam a strategic consulting company on Arab affairs and simultaneously entered the field of education; while teaching he founded Idan, a grassroots initiative of educators and students empowering educators to recapture their visionary role.
One of his newest initiatives, - Israel Speaks Arabic, is a groundbreaking and unprecedented non-profit initiative presenting Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic, serving as a platform for a constructive dialogue between Israelis and Arabs.
The overwhelming majority of the people in the West do not speak Arabic. Therefore, their knowledge of the Middle East and the Arab world is partial. Avi is passionate that it is impossible to understand the Middle East without knowing Arabic. Therefore, he is determined to offer his audiences the opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge, analysis and insight in order to enhance their understanding of this complex and fascinating region.
Avi’s unique skill set, his rich and varied background, as well as hands on experience throughout the region allows him to present English speaking audiences with a professional three dimensional picture of the Middle East as well as analysis and information based on his relationships throughout the Arab world as well as primary sources in Arabic. He also offers his clients and audiences and readers non-censored and non-edited Arabic materials from a wide variety of sources. His comprehensive and insightful analysis, coupled with access to Arabic sources, provides people the crucial missing link in the puzzle of their knowledge about a region that occupies our minds and our hearts.
Through all of his work Avi dedicates himself to enhancing the Arabic, English and Hebrew speaking audience’s comprehensive understanding of the Middle East and of each other.
Avi's experiences and connections provide his clients and audiences the crucial missing link in the puzzle of their knowledge thus enhancing their understanding of this complex region.
His tours and briefings, based on decades of field experience, policy design and intimate connections throughout the Arab world, offer a behind the scenes, first-hand, insider’s view of the constantly-changing Middle East landscape and future regional implications.
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In case you did not get my email regarding my website ….please see below. 

Dear friends,

As you know from time to time I publish articles and videos about Israel, the Arab World and the Middle East.  I hope that these articles provide you with a comprehensive - perhaps even an alternative - narrative and analysis of the region, and allow you to have a better understanding of and insight to, the Middle East. 

The articles I publish are my modest and voluntary contribution to Israel advocacy.

These articles, as well as my professional activities, are featured on my web site

Unfortunately, my web site was hacked and has been severely damaged and it is not repairable.

As you may notice, my articles are primarily based on Arab sources which support Israel’s position and “arguments.”  This is the same method, and these are the same sources, I use when I brief foreign and local visitors, missions, delegations, diplomats, politicians, organizations, media outlets, public and private officials, etc.

Based upon the many briefings and interviews I conduct, I know that my knowledge, the sources I bring with me,  and my specific method of presentation, successfully disarms and sways critics of Israel (and even some supporters), who are influenced by very efficient and sophisticated anti-Israel campaigns.   

Though the damage to my web site is severe, I somehow feel proud.  It seems that my articles deeply disturbed some factors.  One could guess who those factors may be.

Be sure that I will continue my work.  I feel it is important for those who cannot read Arabic to have insight into what Arabs and the Arab world says about Israel and about Israel’s “enemies.”  

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a very positive outlook on life.  As soon as I noticed the website had been hacked I decided to speed up an initiative I had put on the back burner and once I found out that the web site was totally destroyed I significantly stepped up the pace!  The new initiative is a new and advanced web site as well as a new and improved  and  

As always I'm thankful for the opportunity I'm given to add knowledge and understanding.

Your friendship and support is, as always, most appreciated.

In the meantime if you wish to receive any of my past articles in English or Hebrew please send me an email to and I will gladly forward them to you.



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