Iran seems intent on joining North Korea in the nuclear club. Uneasy neighbors will likely soon start their own nuclear programs. What does the proliferation of nuclear weapons mean for the rest of us?
It's a common misconception, but Jesus Christ did not talk about the end of the world. Rather, He talked of the end of the age —the age of man's rule, which will directly precede the establishment of the Kingdom of God at Christ's return. God's Kingdom will be a literal kingdom on this earth. That's the good news—the gospel message He gave to the world (Mark 1:14).
When the disciples asked Him, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3), Jesus began a long prophecy about the events that will take place just before His second coming.
He listed a series of cataclysmic events and then stated, "If that time of troubles were not cut short, no living thing could survive; but for the sake of God's chosen it will be cut short" (verse 22, Revised English Bible).
It's easy to read this particular verse and not think too deeply about it. We know that man has the potential to destroy himself. We also know how destructive man is.
But what many overlook is that mankind for a very long time never had the ability to bring about his own extinction!
It is only in our day that man has acquired this ability. Perhaps this is why Jesus adds in verse 34 that "this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place." A generation now exists that can destroy itself. Put that together with the realization that humankind has never invented a weapon that wasn't eventually used and you can see just how likely we would be to destroy ourselves if not prevented by God!
Spread of the most deadly weapons
World War II was nearing its end when we entered the atomic age with the detonation of the first atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But even then mankind did not have the potential to destroy itself. That came a few years later with the invention of the hydrogen bomb and its development and proliferation by both sides in the Cold War.
By the mid-1950s we had entered the era of "mutually assured destruction," aptly abbreviated as MAD.
By 1964 there were five nuclear powers—the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France and China.
Forty years later, we have to add other nations to that exclusive list. Israel almost certainly has nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan, who have fought each other in three wars since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, both successfully tested them in 1998.
Of greater concern is the intense work being done to acquire them by North Korea and Iran, both longtime supporters of terrorism.
North Korea announced a successful nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006, three months after rattling their sabers with a series of ballistic missile tests. The Japanese in particular may feel that their only realistic defensive option is to launch their own nuclear-weapons program.
Iran's mid-November announcement that its nuclear program is near completion will likely trigger a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other predominately Sunni Muslim nations desperately wanting nuclear weapons to defend against Shiite Iran's revolutionary brand of radical Islam.
The rapid acquisition of nuclear arms in the most volatile region of the world bodes ill for the future peace and stability of the planet. Logically, the more nations that have nukes, the more likely it is that one or two of them will trigger the end-time events that led Jesus Christ to make that prophetic assurance to His followers: For their sakes, He will intervene to prevent human extinction.
That's the good news for all mankind, the gospel of the Kingdom—man will not be allowed to destroy this planet. But the bad news of devastation that precedes that time of worldwide peace is the stuff of nightmares.
What's behind Iran's race for nukes?
Almost three decades have passed since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a revolution that overthrew the pro-Western shah of Iran and replaced him with a radical Islamic theocratic regime. That single event triggered a series of developments that has radicalized much of the Middle East.
In Iran itself, amid expectations of the imminent arrival of the mahdi—the messianic deliverer in Shiite theology—President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes he is in contact with "the hidden imam" (leader), a key figure who, in Shiite belief, will emerge to usher in Islam's triumph as the dominant and only religion over the entire world.
Iran is also issuing increasingly hostile threats to the West, lately directed at Europe. On Oct. 20, speaking under a banner reading "Israel must be wiped off the face of the world," President Ahmadinejad warned Europe not to support Israel: "We have advised the Europeans that . . . the [Muslim] nations are like an ocean that is welling up, and if a storm begins, the dimensions will not stay limited to Palestine, and you may get hurt."
Not to be outdone, the chief of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, threatened that the United States and Zionism "are on the threshold of annihilation."
The following week the Iranian government announced the doubling of its uranium-enrichment program. At the same time, the UN Security Council squabbled over a largely meaningless European resolution whose sanctions, in the words of Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, "would do no more than prohibit Iranian students from studying nuclear physics abroad, deny visas for Iranians working in the nuclear area, and end foreign assistance for Iran 's nuclear program, oh, except from Russia."
High stakes for a dangerous region
Iran is undoubtedly emboldened by America's continuing problems in neighboring Iraq. Only two things now seem certain in Iraq. One is that, following the congressional election setbacks for President Bush Nov. 7, the United States will at some point pull out; the second is that Iran will be the main beneficiary.
Iran, already a regional superpower in the Middle East, looks set to become even stronger. Iranians believe that America is a "sunset power" (in decline), while they are a "sunrise power," growing stronger and rising inevitably to greatness. The possession of nuclear weapons will only hasten that rise and add to their international stature.
Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons will have a ripple effect throughout the region. The Times of London reported Nov. 4 that six Arab states are joining the rush to go nuclear. Alarmed by a resurgent Shiite Iran exporting its radical brand of Islam to Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, fear is growing among the Sunni Arab nations of yet more instability in the area:
"The spectre of a nuclear race in the Middle East was raised yesterday when six Arab states announced that they were embarking on programmes to master atomic technology. The move, which follows the failure by the West to curb Iran's controversial nuclear programme, could see a rapid spread of nuclear reactors in one of the world's most unstable regions, stretching from the [Persian] Gulf to the Levant and into North Africa.
"The countries involved were named by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] have also shown interest."
Further down, the article adds: "Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that it was clear that the sudden drive for nuclear expertise was to provide the Arabs with a 'security hedge.' 'If Iran was not on the path to nuclear weapons capability you would probably not see this sudden rush,' he said."
On Nov. 2 Iran tested long-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and other targets in the region, including U.S. military bases and deployments, particularly in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf. Other potential targets are India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, each of which has its own reasons to fear Iran.
The spectacular swarm of sophisticated missiles fired in Iran's surprise military exercise stunned military planners in the United States, Israel and Europe. The precisely planned firings of scores of surface missiles demonstrated technical abilities and weaponry the Iranians were not previously known to possess.
Threat to Europe a spark for the end time?
Military experts worry that one of the missiles tested, the Shahab-3, may be more than a match for American, Israeli and European anti-missile systems. The missile's 1,250-mile range puts Israel, Egypt, Turkey, India and U.S. Mideast forces within reach.
A Nov. 4 report from DEBKA, a Middle East political, military and news analysis Web site, notes the potential threat to Europe: "The spectacular missile show may have been designed for European consumption as much as to impress the US and Israel. Rather than making a secret of the display, General Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, which staged the exercise, bragged that Iran had proved its ability to strike targets outside the Middle East.
"Europe, which Tehran sees as susceptible to such threats, was being warned that it would be first in line for a backlash from a US or Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities" (emphasis added).
Readers of this magazine are familiar with biblical passages that prophesy a coming clash of civilizations between the "king of the South," a leader to emerge from the Islamic world, and the "king of the North," head of a European-centered coalition of 10 leaders who come together to form a new but short-lived superpower the Bible calls "the beast."
Daniel 11:40 prophesies that "the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships."
While Iran is to the east of the main events prophesied in this passage, the Iranian revolution is spreading Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region, leading to increasing nervousness among Arab leaders. A nuclear-armed Iran will only lead to more instability.
We also must not overlook the dangerous situation in Pakistan. Its leader, Pervez Musharraf, has already survived several assassination attempts and for years has walked a tightrope in trying to balance his support for U.S. antiterrorism efforts with a military and civilian populace that is largely supportive of Islamic fundamentalist aims.
Should a future assassination attempt prove successful, Pakistan's dozens of nuclear warheads and missiles could come under the control of Islamic fundamentalists overnight.
Added to the growing sense of instability is the continuing war in Iraq and the threat of a withdrawal by American, British and other coalition forces. This would leave a huge vacuum in the region, particularly if the United States were to eventually turn its back on the Middle East.
Mideast oil is vital for the world's economy, with the countries of Europe more dependent than most. A security vacuum in the region, with its resulting chaos, could be the catalyst that precipitates the prophesied ascendancy of the European-centered union of nations that will usher in end-time events. GN