Israel today finds itself more alone than ever, particularly in its regional neighborhood. As Public Radio International's The World explains: “For nearly all of its 63-year history, the Jewish state could count on decent relations with at least one of the major powers in the Middle East. That's what makes the political reality facing Israel today so grim.
“It's the lowest point diplomatically we ever had in the region. Ever,' said Alon Liel. Liel spent more than 30 years with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as ambassador to both Turkey and South Africa. He said Israel is facing unprecedented isolation.
“We always had a strategic partner, sometimes two,' Liel said. 'Don't forget we had Iran for 20 years. Then we had Turkey for many years. Sometimes, we had Iran and Turkey together. And then we had Egypt and Turkey together. These are important countries in the region. And we are a Jewish state and they are big, important, Muslim states. And we worked it out. Now, we don't have any of the three as an ally, even not as a friend'” (“Israel's Growing Isolation in the Middle East,” Sept. 16, 2011).
In addition to the deteriorating relationships with its closest allies, the instability of other uprisings rocking Muslim Arab states will likely lead to continually worsening relationships with Israel's neighbors. The Arab Spring is creating new realities in the Middle East that can no longer be addressed solely by diplomatic means. Even if these uprisings in places like Egypt and Libya do not result in new regimes heavily influenced by Muslim radicalism, the general public's dislike of Israel will likely push emerging leaders to be more hostile toward Israel than in the past. Where is all of this leading?
Israel's closest regional ally gone
After enjoying warm military and commercial ties with Turkey since the 1990s, relations have taken a major turn for the worse.
In May 2010, Israel protected its naval blockade of Gaza—intended to keep out weapons and more terrorists that would harm Israelis—against a flotilla billed as a humanitarian mission but intent on breaking the Israeli blockade. Israeli forces boarded a Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, and in the conflict that ensued, nine Turkish activists died.
Turkey demanded an apology, but the Israeli government refused. Even a review by the United Nations, typically ill-disposed toward Israel, found that Israel acted appropriately. Nevertheless, Turkey retaliated by kicking Israel's ambassador out of its capital and downgraded the diplomatic relationship. It halted military commercial relations and considered stepping up its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Liel said the episode reflects a shift in Israeli diplomacy under the current government. There's been a move away from traditional partners in the region like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, toward new partners, including Greece, Cyprus and Romania. Which he called ridiculous. 'Because for many, many years, one of the main leading arguments of the Arabs was, “you don't belong here.”' Liel said Israel spent years cultivating relationships with its regional neighbors to disprove that” (ibid.).
The same article later gives what international relations professor Mark Heller of Tel Aviv University sees as the cause of Israel's diplomatic losses. “Particularly the rise of Islamist political forces,' Heller said. 'The loss of Iran as a partner was not the result of anything that happened in the bilateral relationship between Israel and Iran. It was the Islamic revolution. And similarly the same could be said about Israel and Turkey. It's the rise to power of a cautious or pragmatic Islamist power there.'”
He points to Turkish aims at a given time as determinative. “Whenever they were focused primarily on orienting Turkey towards the west and integrating Turkey with the western world, then relations with Israel were pretty good,' Heller said. 'And whenever there was some flirtation or attempt to re-orient in another direction, then one of the casualties of that was the Turkish-Israeli relationship'” (ibid.).
Heller believes that for the foreseeable future Turkey is lost diplomatically. As American influence wanes in the region, Turkey is less focused on relations with the west and is seeking to fill the growing void in the region caused by the Arab Spring.
Deteriorating relationship with Egypt
On the heels of the souring relationship with Turkey came trouble with Egypt.
There is a growing display of deep antipathy towards Israel on the Egyptian street. Israel's embassy in Cairo, the premier symbol of the relations between the two countries, was overrun by hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators, tarnishing a symbol of the two nations' 32-year-old peace. Among the signs waved were displays of swastikas and a message that translates into English as, “The gas chambers are ready” (Memri TV, Aug. 21, 2011, memritv.org/clip/en/3083.htm).
This came in the wake of an incident along the Israeli-Egyptian border in the Sinai. Terrorists crossed into Israel, killed Israeli civilians and headed back into Sinai. Israeli troops pursued them, and, with gunfire exchanged at the border, several Egyptian police there were killed in the crossfire.
This inflamed the growing anti-Israeli feelings. Some political parties now want to close the Suez Canal to the Israeli navy and block the sale of natural gas to Israel. The new Freedom and Justice Party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, says the 1979 treaty should be “revised.” Opinion polls suggest Egyptians want peace with Israel but not necessarily under the terms of the 1979 treaty.
The interim ruling military government says policy towards Israel should be left to an elected government. Parliamentary elections have been scheduled for November, and presidential elections are expected to be held in March or April 2012. Still, the embassy incident serves as a warning to Israel that a democratically elected Egyptian government may be a lot less friendly.
The former head of Israel's Shin Bet Intelligence Service recently expressed deep concerns in an Israeli radio interview: “This should be very disturbing to us…there is a question about our place in the Middle East…The Egypt that was the bedrock on which we founded our strategy has disappeared” (quoted by Joshua Mitnick, “Israel Reels Over Rifts With Allies,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 12, 2011).
The Palestinian divide
Not only have relations with Egypt and Turkey deteriorated over the last several months, but so have relations next door with the Palestinians. All nations have ideological divisions, but the Palestinians are divided over the fundamental question of their national identity.
Fatah, the party that has continued to exercise control among the 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank despite popular support for rival Hamas, sees itself as part of a secular Arab world that is on the defensive. Hamas, strong in the West Bank and ruling over the 1.5 million Arabs of the Gaza Strip, envisions the Palestinian nation as an Islamic state forming in the context of a region-wide Islamist rising. Neither is in a position to speak authoritatively for the Palestinian people, and the issues that divide them cut to the heart of their peoples.
While the two parties came to a reconciliation agreement last spring, they have yet to work out their differences. Things came to a standstill after they failed to agree on a prime minister who would lead a unified government. They did agree to new parliamentary elections, but as of this writing presidential and parliamentary elections are yet to be scheduled.
Both groups have different views on a future relationship with Israel, as George Friedman of Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.) explains: “Fatah has accepted, in practice, the idea of Israel's permanence as a state and the need of the Palestinians to accommodate themselves to the reality. Hamas has rejected it” (“Israeli-Arab Crisis Approaching,” Stratfor.com, Aug. 22, 2011).
How Egypt's new government forms will also have an impact on both Hamas and Fatah. If Islamist forces like the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a wing, according to its charter) come to power in Egypt, it could favor Hamas. But Friedman doesn't think this is likely. He states:
“Egypt's military has retained a remarkable degree of control, its opposition groups are divided between secular and religious elements, and the religious elements are further divided among themselves—as well as penetrated by an Egyptian security apparatus that has made war on them for years. As it stands, Egypt is not likely to evolve in a direction favorable to Hamas…
“There is a broad sense of unhappiness in Egypt over Egypt's treaty with Israel, an issue that comes to the fore when Israel and the Palestinians are fighting. As in other Arab countries, passions surge in Egypt when the Palestinians are fighting the Israelis.
“Faced with this dynamic, it will be difficult for Fatah to maintain its relationship with Israel. Indeed, Fatah could be forced to initiate an intifada (uprising), something it would greatly prefer to avoid, as this would undermine what economic development the West Bank has experienced. Israel therefore conceivably could face conflict in Gaza, a conflict along the Lebanese border and a rising in the West Bank, something it clearly knows” (ibid.).
And Israel's own Arab minority is emerging as a potential problem as well. The country's landscape is increasingly dominated by minarets and veiled women. And leaders among this minority, identifying with their Palestinian cousins outside, are vociferously calling for Israel to shed its character as a Jewish state and give Arab citizens collective minority rights and perhaps some form of autonomy.
Palestinian unilateral UN bid for statehood
In the midst of the Palestinian division, Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah's leader, formally submitted to the United Nations a bid for the recognition of an independent Palestinian state. This reversal of strategy came after two decades of on-again, off-again direct negotiations failed to establish such a state. It's not clear how long it will take the Security Council to act on it.
Many observers feel that the Palestinian unilateral effort at the United Nations is a clear rejection by the Palestinians of direct negotiations with Israel.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is negotiating for the Quartet on the Middle East—made up of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia—in an effort to establish a two-state solution through direct peace talks. He condemned the unilateral move at the UN, according to a recent article in Britain's Daily Mail (“Blair Attacks Palestinian Bid for State Recognition as 'Deeply Confrontational,'” Sept. 24, 2011).
In an apparent retaliation for the Palestinian Authority's bid for statehood, the U.S. Congress has frozen $200 million in humanitarian aid. But the Arab League has already promised that Arab nations will make up for the aid shortfall.
For now, America's position is reportedly to veto the recognition of Palestinian statehood when it comes before the Security Council. Yet an American veto or rejection could spawn waves of Palestinian violence. It would also likely harden the stances of Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. At least one Saudi leader has threatened to end the current form of his country's long-standing cooperation with the United States if there is a veto. And the country with the most to lose from such weakening of the U.S.-Saudi relationship would be Israel.
As the move at the UN was in the offing, the German magazine Der Spiegel explained the European Union's position: “If the Palestinians even just seek recognition in the General Assembly, Israel could lose the support of the European Union. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton is feverishly working to reach a compromise with the Palestinians that would give them a status as a non-member observer state [at the UN], somewhat analogous to the one enjoyed by the Vatican. The arrangement would also require the Palestinians to waive their right to bring Israeli politicians before the International Criminal Court. The majority of EU member states would most likely back this kind of solution. But there is still no deal in sight” (“Palestinian Statehood? A Litany of Diplomatic Failures in US and Europe,” Sept. 20, 2011).
With or without a U.S. veto, this “Vatican option” is a plausible outcome. From Israel's point of view, it would still be rather disturbing. But this observer-state option is the emerging consensus among the Europeans.
Israel surrounded by enemies—yet rescued at last
What this all adds up to is a shifting dynamic in the Middle East that has not been seen in a generation. The state of Israel finds itself in the worst isolation in its history. As surrounding enemies become more hostile, Israel will eventually be encircled by armies, as Jesus Christ and other prophets foretold.
The EU's independent proposal reflects a growing effort to more directly influence the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Eventually, Europe will play an even more central role. Bible prophecy reveals that Europe will evolve into a final resurrection of the ancient Roman Empire. A powerful, persuasive leader will emerge in Europe who will bring about a false sense of peace. Manipulative and crafty, he will also be empowered by evil spiritual forces that can sway world governments and institutions (see Revelation 13:2-8 Revelation 13:2-8 2 And the beast which I saw was like to a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.
4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power to the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like to the beast? who is able to make war with him?
5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given to him to continue forty and two months.
6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
7 And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
8 And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
American King James Version×; Daniel 8:23-25 Daniel 8:23-25 23 And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. 24 And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practice, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people. 25 And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
American King James Version×; Matthew 4:8-9 Matthew 4:8-9 8 Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
American King James Version×; 2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×).
Jerusalem will eventually be divided again, violently traumatized, with at least part of it falling under the rule of gentile (non-Israelite) forces. “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near…For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24 Luke 21:20-24 20 And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the middle of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
23 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath on this people.
24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
American King James Version×, emphasis added).
The prophet Zechariah quoted God in referring to the same time. “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city” (Zechariah 14:2 Zechariah 14:2For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
American King James Version×; see also Zechariah 12:2-3 Zechariah 12:2-3 2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. 3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
American King James Version×; Revelation 11:1-2 Revelation 11:1-2 1 And there was given me a reed like to a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2 But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
American King James Version×).
Traumatic times lie ahead for Israel, as these and other prophecies reveal. But the good news is the Jewish people and other Israelites will be reestablished in the Promised Land as Jesus Christ starts His glorious reign from Jerusalem (Hosea 1:10-11 Hosea 1:10-11 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said to them, You are not my people, there it shall be said to them, You are the sons of the living God.
11 Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land: for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
American King James Version×).
Sadly, man's efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and the world have proven a complete failure—as will be even more evident in the years to come. But Jesus Christ will not fail. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “Lord, You will establish peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12 Isaiah 26:12LORD, you will ordain peace for us: for you also have worked all our works in us.
American King James Version×).
He will do this by first powerfully assuming control over all opposing forces. Then He will lead the world into the way of righteousness and peace, giving people everywhere a change of heart through His Spirit (Isaiah 2:2-4 Isaiah 2:2-4 2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
3 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×; Joel 2:28 Joel 2:28And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
American King James Version×). This transformation after Jesus' return will commence with the Jews at Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:10 Zechariah 12:10And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
American King James Version×).
For a more complete perspective of the events prophesied to come in the Middle East and more of the history behind them, be sure to send for or download our free booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.