“[The Iranian regime is targeting] deliberately, knowingly and indiscriminately Israel’s soft belly, which are its civilians and its cities. The purpose is to exhaust Israel. To make Israel come down on its knees in the end of the days so the final blow will be easy to do. [They have built] a massive critical military infrastructure in Lebanon, in Gaza and in Syria and when the day comes, [according to their master plan] all the components of the “Ring of Fire” are going to join together to blow Israel all to hell with dozens and dozens of rockets raining down on Israel every day…” – Avi Melamed speaking to AJPA on October 26.
Avi Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence official. He served as Deputy and Senior Advisor of Arab Affairs to Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, and also was key in negotiations during the first and second intifadas. He is the author of multiple writings, including his latest book “Inside The Middle East: Entering A New Era,” and his latest docuseries, “The Seam Line” available on the Izzy streaming platform.
Mr. Melamed first met with The Jewish Press in person in New Orleans, then last week via Zoom session organized by The American Jewish Press Association (AJPA) to educate Jewish journalists on Iran’s intentions in the Middle East, and more specifically, in the current Israel-Hamas War. This article has combined all interviews for a complete and comprehensive presentation of his highly respected synopsis of current events.
During the AJPA session, Mr. Melamed commented on the driving force behind Iran’s involvement in the conflict in Gaza with Israel, and Iran’s relationship with the Palestinians and Hamas.
Avi Melamed: The hegemony vision of the mullahs in Tehran that came to power in 1979 are inspired by a revolutionary apocalyptic vision of mankind… a Shiite narrative… where basically mankind will perish as part of the purification of this planet, in preparation for the time when their ‘kingdom of heaven’ is to come. As part of their ideological outlook of the world…the Shiite ruling regime in Tehran has been proactively advancing a regional vision of hegemony which was described already in 2004 by the Jordanian king as the ‘Shiite crescent;’ referring to a crescent-shaped Iranian backed structure, stretching all the way from Yemen in the south, crossing to Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Iranian regime advanced and advocated this whole vision, a concept that is known by the name of ‘The Resistance and Defiance.’ These two words have become very common in discussions in the Arab world.
I would say that in the context of our discussion, there are two major features of this concept that have to be noticed: first, the challenging of Western values and the eradication of Western influence in the Middle East and, second, the Resistance and Defiance: the unrelenting struggle against Israel until it is eliminated.
So, the mullahs have basically developed a very sophisticated three-legged plan of action: One, the nuclear program, two, the missiles and drones project that is constantly developing and, three, the creation of a network of terror armies across the Middle East. When you look at the Middle East you can see that today, unfortunately, the mullah regime was very successful. Most of those armies of terror are based upon domestic Arab Shiite groups [such as Hezbollah in Lebanon] … the one exception is in the Gaza Strip… Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not Shiites. They are Sunnis. What would bring them together? Of course, the Resistance and Defiance – their commitment to eliminate Israel through the use of violence and power.
Hamas in the Gaza Strip was appointed by the Iranian regime to make sure that the violent frame of the conflict would continue…because one of the marketing points they were very effectively selling to the Arab world was, [Iran is leading the resistance and we will liberate Palestine, but in fact] they couldn’t care less about the Palestinians.
Mr. Melamed also spoke to the AJPA about why Hamas chose now to strike so brutally at Israel.
[The decision was] a combination of two major processes. Hamas views itself not only as the leading Palestinian factor that will dictate the trajectory of the Palestinian cause, but it also views itself as a regional powerful player. The other has to do with the normalization process [between Israel and other Arab countries]. The Abraham Accords fueled the growing sentiments of discontent, anger and frustration with the Palestinians because they feel that their brothers, the Arabs are deserting them. Indeed, today the message from the Arab world to the Palestinians is very clear: “look – we have sacrificed for you for decades and now it is about time for you – the Palestinians – to decide what you want to do. Where do you want to go? Do you want to take the Hamas way? Do you want to be in the camp of the Iranian regime? Do you want to take a pragmatic, practical approach…you need to make a decision. Because we – your brothers – the Arab world – we are busy with our own challenges.
Against the background of a possible Israeli-Saudi [Arabia] agreement…the sentiment of discontent, fear and disappointment within the [Palestinian community] was heightened because the Palestinians have always felt Saudi Arabia was their last resort to achieving their goals. So, Hamas decided it was going to send a message. The message was October 7.
Mr. Melamed pointed out that Hamas has a strong relationship with Russia, and even has a delegation based in Moscow. He said at first the Russians were sympathetic to Hamas’ plight, but in the last few days there has been a shift in their position, calling for Hamas to release all the hostages.
The Jewish Press: We know that currently across the globe Russia and Putin are in a very desperate war with Ukraine. And currently, U.S. Congress has been questioning the amount of U.S. funding going to Ukraine and if the U.S. can afford to be involved in two distinct war efforts at one time. Is it also possible that Russia has played a role in the creation of the current conflict with the hopes of distracting America’s attention from its efforts to defeat Russia in Ukraine?
It’s very logical to assume that. I would even take it one step further: Russian has an alternate interest – [not wanting the conflict to spread into Syria, where it has bases and is propping up the Assad regime]. So it’s an interesting perspective to explore whether to what extent the Russians are really looking to help the story and prevent further deterioration [of the Israeli-Hamas war], or the other way around, which says Russia would have an interest in the escalation of this story because it will divert attention from the story in Ukraine.
Was it ever really thought by Israel that Hamas could pull off an attack of the scale we saw on October 7? Was this a failure on the part of Israeli and American intelligence? Did you ever think an attack of this scale was possible?
The answer is simple: No. Maybe [one could perceive] the possibility of something that resembles this carried out by Hezbollah in the north, but I don’t think there was one person in Israel who was thinking this was possible [from Hamas].
What went wrong? Is the enemy getting smarter, more advanced? Or were we simply not keeping up to speed with the enemy?
It’s both. But we really never underestimate our enemies. Hamas, we know, is sophisticated, dangerous, brutal and getting more sophisticated and lethal in its modus operandi and its way of thinking. So, this is one aspect. The other aspect is – bottom line, we failed. I don’t want to say we underestimated Hamas but definitely we were misreading what was really going on and that was partly because Hamas was [successfully] disguising its plans and partly because we were fixed on an outlook or concept of reality that was inaccurate.
Another journalist in attendance of the AJPA Zoom session asked about the positions of Egypt and Jordan in the current conflict.
Both Jordan and Egypt have a big challenge with Hamas. Why is this? Because in Jordan the majority of Jordanians are Palestinians. The Islamic Jihad movement as well as Hamas have wide popular base-support in both places. Jordan and Egypt loathe Hamas. But from their own perspective they need to make sure Hamas’ toxic influence will not generate a risk in their own respective countries. They have both openly said Hamas is unacceptable. Jordan is enormously threatened by Iran. Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood: a major challenge for Egyptian rule. So, they would like to see Hamas evaporated [immediately]. Many people in the Arab world – more and more – are expressing a very strong criticism of Hamas.
Mr. Melamed shared his thoughts on the possibility of the war spreading to other fronts.
The answer for that is in the hands of the Iranian regime. It has a dilemma. Are they going to allow the downfall of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip… or are they going to order their most powerful proxy – Hezbollah, in Lebanon – that has a military capacity that is 10 times bigger than Hamas and Islamic Jihad combined…are they going to order Hezbollah to join the war full-scale, knowing that by doing that, they might not only lose their Gaza base but expose their most significant proxy – Hezbollah – to very substantial damage. That’s their dilemma, given the fact the U.S. sent a message to Iran and Hezbollah saying stay out. And that message is backed by a massive American military deployment in the middle east.
The Jewish Press: Israel is currently dealing with three unique groups of Arabs. Where do we stand with each of these groups, now and in the future, in terms of Israel’s long-term safety and prosperity?
On the Palestinians:
Right now, what we see is increasing outcry in the Arab and the Palestinian world, actually saying to Hamas ‘you have inflicted on us the worst disaster since 1948.’ The situation in Gaza is not going to get better. The ramifications of Hamas’ attack are already shaking up the whole Palestinian system. There are two major paths: Hamas’ path of destruction and violence and continuing the conflict, or the other path that is actually saying: ‘look, this is a dead-end street, we have to compromise, we may not like that the state of Israel exists, but we just cannot continue on with this pointless, mindless, killing and butchering that leads us nowhere.’ So, we can already see at this point that these are the reactions coming from Palestinians and the Arab world. I am hearing it all around.
On the Israeli Arabs:
Israeli Arabs are torn between being citizens of Israel and part of the Israeli family, and on the other hand identifying emotionally and politically with the Palestinians. Most Israeli Arabs don’t think Hamas is the right way to go. I think they are also shocked by the atrocities afflicted by Hamas. Remember most of the Israeli Arabs are Muslims, and like most Muslims the horrific atrocities conducted by Hamas is something that is very difficult for them to believe, on every level as people, as Muslims and so on. Also, they understand that Israel is in such a vulnerable and painful place.
On the rest of the Arab world, the Abraham Accords and normalization:
I wrote about this, and as I look down the road and beyond the horizon, I think this war is going to accelerate the process of Israel-Arab normalization. This is a pivotal moment…it offers a strategic opportunity for all the sectors in the Middle East that want to have stability, that need stability, a potential positive shift is possible, but it requires to end Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s ability to continue to be relevant players with their extreme agenda [which is ultimately] the Iranian regime agenda. We must make Hamas and Islamic Jihad irrelevant players. Once we do that, then I hope [we can] create the conditions for a totally different reality and conditions for stability.
Avi Melamed’s docuseries “The Seam Line” is available to stream on the Izzy app. His latest book, Inside The Middle East: Entering A New Era is available for purchase.
If you want to have a better understanding of the news and what really drives the unfolding events…
Read the latest book of Avi Melamed,
INSIDE THE MIDDLE EAST | ENTERING A NEW ERA, available now >>>
I can always be reached at Av*@Av********.com