While politicians and pundits debate what to do about the matter, Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons, threatening Israel and the world. How does the Bible guide us in understanding Middle Eastern events and gaining a proper global perspective?
Iranian military forces launch a surface-to-surface missile said to have sufficient range to reach any part of Israel.
Many hundreds of blog, newspaper and magazine articles have been published about how to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. Sanctions and diplomatic pressure have failed to deter Iran's leadership.
During a recent discussion on British television among various opinion makers, it was actually seriously suggested that if Britain were to abandon its own nuclear armaments, this unselfish act would help encourage Iran to cease and desist from creating its own nuclear capability.
The same argument was made by the liberal left during the Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades following World War II—that American unilateral disarmament would have led the Soviets to follow suit.
Apparently some influential liberal observers still think along these lines. The drophead of an editorial in the International Herald Tribune says, "By cutting its nuclear arms, the U.S. will have more credibility in its efforts to contain others' nuclear ambitions" ("Reshape the Arsenal," March 13, 2012).
This questionable supposition has also been articulated by Hans Blix, the former United Nations weapons inspector, who indicated that Western military intervention in Iran would only bring the West disaster. His formula for peace envisions a nuclear-free Middle East—meaning Israeli nuclear disarmament.
The onerous media debate over the issue has ceaselessly droned on for several years. Conservative observers tell us that we are drawing ever closer and closer to that dreaded time when Iran will in fact possess a nuclear bomb. As a Financial Times editorial put it, "The intractable problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions—and the threat to an increasingly alarmed Israel— appears to be reaching crunch point" (March 6, emphasis added throughout).
Yet not a few liberal commentators believe that this assessment is more about Israeli politics than the physics of mass destruction and that a military solution will prove unnecessary, dangerous and potentially disastrous.
So the West remains trapped in a proverbial Catch-22 dilemma. There seems to be no viable way out. The options are precious few—and all very risky. Analysts speak of "a least bad option."
Is the situation really that dire? What does it mean for Israel, the prime target of Iranian threats? What does it mean for the world? Where does America stand on the issue? And where can we find the best perspective on where events in the Middle East are headed?
Will America face matters squarely?
A well-informed take on the stark dangers we now face in the Middle East was recently published in The Wall Street Journal. In their article titled "America's Iranian Self-Deception," the director and the research manager of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute wrote: "Americans are being played for fools by Iran—and fooling themselves. There is no case to be made that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. There is no evidence that Iran's decision-makers are willing to stop the nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions or anything else" (Frederick Kagan and Maseh Zarif, Feb. 27, 2012, emphasis added throughout).
Another piece in the same Wall Street Journal issue also addressed the Iranian dilemma. Titled "Wishing Upon Iran," it carried the drophead, "U.S. spies hold out hope the Mullahs [the ruling Islamic clergy] won't build a bomb."
But the article's conclusion proves more telling: "President Obama has misjudged Iran at every turn—starting with his assumption that the mullahs would negotiate with him because he wasn't George W. Bush, that he would engender goodwill by downplaying Iran's stolen election in 2009, and that sanctions would make them bend. Wishful intelligence thinking won't deter Israeli leaders from defending their interests any more than it will stop Iran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction."
A third Journal article begins with a quote from the president, stating, "'I try not to pat myself too much on the back,' President Barack Obama immodestly told a group of Jewish donors [to his election campaign] last October, 'but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration'" (Dan Senor, "Why Israel Has Doubts About Obama," March 6, 2012). The article goes on to point out that others view the matter quite differently.
Those who value the existence of the state of Israel sincerely hope that the following headlines that appeared the same day in the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph are genuinely reflective of the U.S. administration's resolve: "We'll Always Stand With You Over Iran, Obama Tells Israel," and "Military Action Is No Bluff, Warns Obama."
The threat from a nuclear-armed Iran
What would Iran having nuclear weapons mean? The possibilities appear almost too terrible to even contemplate.
As an editorial in The Sunday Times of London pointed out, the British foreign secretary sounded the alarm in mid-February: "William Hague was stating the obvious when he said . . . that an Iranian nuclear bomb would lead to 'a disaster in world affairs'" ("Slowing the Countdown to War," Feb. 19).
The rest of the editorial highlights the unacceptable dangers the Western nations, and Israel in particular, would have to face. Iranian leaders consider Israel a "one-bomb" nation. That is, Iran would need only a single nuclear bomb to wipe the state of Israel off the map. In spite of the territorial gains of the 1967 War, Israel remains a tiny country geographically (less than 10 miles wide at its narrowest point). Iranian threats to exterminate this small nation have occurred far too often to not take them seriously.
Clearly an Iran-Israel nuclear war would devastate the entire region and greatly imperil the world economy. Author Jerome Corsi stated in the concluding chapter of his book Why Israel Can't Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran: "Still, in the final analysis, Israel is a 'one bomb' state such that one atomic bomb, even of a relatively low yield, detonated successfully over Tel Aviv, Israel's business, banking, and telecommunications center, would destroy the modern Jewish state as the world knows it" (2009, p. 102).
Nuclear blackmail a serious danger
The Sunday Times editorial mentioned that Iran had joined forces with al-Qaeda as well. It also stated that "even without such a [nuclear] weapon, Iran is already the biggest destabilising force in the Middle East. It rarely behaves like an ordinary hostile state. Its internal divisions mean the regime itself is unstable and acts accordingly."
We should also consider Iran's persistent sponsorship of the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, which have long threatened Israel—using the client state of Lebanon and the Palestinian Gaza and West Bank groups respectively. Another way of putting it is that "Iran runs an unconventional, postmodern empire of substate entities in the greater Middle East: Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Sadrist movement in southern Iraq" (Robert Kaplan, Foreign Affairs, May-June 2009).
Considering Iran's long track record of support for terrorist groups and movements, if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons it's not difficult at all to conceive of the theocratic state sharing these deadly weapons with groups who have little regard for life and little to lose in carrying out their deadly aims.
Another worrisome scenario with a nuclear-armed Iran is the threat of nuclear blackmail hanging over anyone within range. Other regional powers have long recognized Iran's desire for hegemony over the area and its prized energy resources. For this reason Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have all declared that if Iran gets the bomb, they too will be compelled to develop or acquire nuclear weapons lest Iran hold them hostage for whatever its leaders desire.
For the same reason, a nuclear Iran also has grave implications for Western military powers, especially the United States. American military assets in the region, such as U.S. troops and bases in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE), will find themselves in close missile range and imminent danger as soon as Iran successfully develops a nuclear warhead. U.S. options will be quickly and severely constrained then—a point seemingly lost on American leadership.
Appeasement or preemptive strike?
Harvard professor Niall Ferguson summed up Western options in his column in Newsweek, concluding: "War is an evil. But sometimes a preventative war can be a lesser evil than a policy of appeasement" ("Israel and Iran on the Eve of Destruction in a New Six-Day War," Feb. 6, 2012).
He listed five reasons that have been given as to why Israel should refrain from preemptively attacking Iran. The first four are Iranian retaliation through closing the Strait of Hormuz and terrorist proxies, Muslims setting ablaze the entire region, skyrocketing oil prices severely disrupting the world economy, and the strengthening of Iran's leadership.
And the last one is: "A nuclear-armed Iran is nothing to worry about. States actually become more risk-averse [risk-avoiding] once they acquire nuclear weapons."
Professor Ferguson then countered each of these arguments. He pointed out that two American aircraft carriers are already present in the Persian Gulf, with another likely slated to join them. He also stated that many Muslims, most being of the Sunni branch of Islam in opposition to the Iranian Shiites, would not be genuinely upset if Iranian nuclear ambitions were checked. He contended that the Saudis would release more oil into the world market to keep prices down. And he put forward the unlikelihood of Iran's leaders being in a stronger position after severe military humiliation.
He ridiculed the notion that nuclear arms will make Iran's leaders suddenly responsible by saying: "We're supposed to believe that a revolutionary Shiite theocracy is overnight going to become a sober, calculating disciple of the realist school of diplomacy . . . because it has finally acquired weapons of mass destruction?"
Ferguson went on to say: "The single biggest danger in the Middle East today is not the risk of a six-day Israeli war against Iran. It is the risk that Western wishful nonthinking allows the mullahs of Tehran to get their hands on nuclear weapons. Because I am in no doubt that they would take full advantage of such a lethal lever. We would have acquiesced in the creation of an empire of extortion."
Surprisingly, political leaders and analysts alike seem unable or unwilling to address the terrifying implications of the religious beliefs of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs he answers to (see "Ahmadinejad's Apocalypse ").
Jerusalem—focal point of end-time prophecy
Regardless of how matters fall out over the short term, we can know where events are headed over the long term—giving us much-needed perspective on current events.
For instance, we can know that a Jewish political entity will remain in Jerusalem and the land of Israel no matter what Iran succeeds in doing. The latter chapters of the book of Daniel even present the Jews of the end time as reinstating sacrifices in Jerusalem—to be cut off by the invasion of a revived Roman Empire 3½ years before the return of Jesus Christ (see our free Bible study aid booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy for details). Thus, Iran will not wipe Israel from the map. However, the Jewish state could still suffer serious devastation.
Geographically, the Bible is a Middle Eastern book. The centerpiece of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy will occur in the Middle East—although Central Europe also assumes significant prophetic importance, particularly in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Yet Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem, descending to where He earlier ascended from, the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4; Acts 1:9-12).
So the focal point of end-time events is right here. "Thus says the Lord God: 'This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations'" (Ezekiel 5:5). Jerusalem symbolizes both the city and the whole country.
No other territory on this planet has aroused such incendiary religious passions. While much of God's true plan and purpose for human beings has already been acted out in the Holy Land, portions of the Middle East have been the geographical setting for grievous spiritual idolatry and all of its tragic consequences.
You can read much more about what Bible prophecy reveals in the articles "The Middle East: Focus of End-Time Bible Prophecy " and "The Coming of a New Babylon ".
Continue to watch world events in the Holy Land and the broader Middle East. Prophesied events will powerfully impact our lives no matter where we reside on this troubled planet. It's ever more urgent that we humbly turn to God for help and deliverance during these disturbing times.