Mention the words “Middle East,” and several other words come to mind—violence, bloodshed, hatred, instability, refugees and terrorism. In short, the Middle East scares us! For most of us outside the region, it’s hard to make sense of the huge changes in the Middle East in recent years—the Arab Spring, governments overthrown, dictators toppled, the never-ending wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
Yet even to the casual observer, it’s easy to see that in the absence of strong leadership from the United States, coupled with the massive drawdown of U.S. forces in the region, ISIS, Russia and Iran have been filling the political and military power vacuum in the area.
The Middle East scares us! For most of us outside the region, it’s hard to make sense of the violence, hatred and terrorism. How will it end?
Add to this the seemingly naïve Iran nuclear agreement, and this situation has all but assured that Iran will be able to manufacture nuclear weapons with which to threaten its neighbors for decades to come (though President-elect Donald Trump has stated his desire to negotiate a new deal).
Meanwhile, the instability and endless warfare in the region have sent a flood of Middle Eastern refugees into Europe and a growing stream into the United States—bringing political and cultural convulsions wherever they go.
Dramatic change from a century ago—what happened?
Think about it for a moment. Have you ever wondered why the Middle East is so often in the news headlines?
In stark contrast, a century ago it was a place where nothing of significance happened. Historian David Fromkin, author of A Peace to End All Peace, writes: “The Middle East, although it had been of great interest to western diplomats and politicians during the nineteenth century . . . was of only marginal concern to them in the early years of the twentieth century . . . The region had become a political backwater” (1989, p. 24).
Fromkin adds, “Few Europeans of Churchill’s generation knew or cared what went on in the languid empires of the Ottoman Sultan or the Persian Shah” (p. 25).
Today, the Middle East dominates global headlines. Why is it so different now? If we peel back the layers of recent history, we can begin to understand the factors underlying the instability of this vital region today.
What changed? Three major events, all of which were needed to set the stage for end-time biblical prophecy:
1. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
2. The establishment of the state of Israel.
3. The rise of fundamentalist Islam.
How did these transform the region and lay the groundwork for prophecy to be fulfilled?
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire
For nearly 600 years, the Ottoman caliphate had ruled an empire that had subjugated Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, other peoples of the Middle East, Southeastern Europe and North Africa. During the six centuries of its rule, the Ottoman Empire had provided a laissez faire stability in a region that would later become a modern-day powder keg.
By the early 1900s the Ottoman Empire was a mere shadow of its former greatness. Like the Russian Empire to its north, the Ottomans presided over a region of largely backward agricultural peoples for whom little had changed in centuries.
In the decade prior to the First World War, however, the so-called “Young Turks”—a group of Turkish intellectuals and military officers who founded the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.)—took control of the Empire and began to try to modernize the state that had come to be dubbed “the Sick Man of Europe.” Their publicly proclaimed reforms included ending official discrimination against
non-Muslims, the education and emancipation of women, and increasing the powers of secular law courts (at the expense of Islamic courts).
But as David Fromkin points out, “Once in power the C.U.P. showed the dark side of its nationalism by asserting the hegemony of Turkish-speaking Moslems over all others” (p. 48).
This emphasis on Turkish nationalism only served to provoke a sense of nationalism in other groups, including the Arabs. Yet the time for reforms had run out. Three disastrous wars, the first against Italy in Libya (1911-12), then two wars in the Balkans (1912-13) had cost the Ottoman Empire almost all of its European territories.
Ever wary of Russian designs on Turkish territory, the Ottoman Minister for War, Enver Pasha, signed a fateful, secret treaty of mutual aid with the Germans against Russia. As World War I (1914-18) began, the Ottoman Empire was drawn into the fight against the Allies (Britain, France, Italy and Russia).
Four years after the close of the hostilities of World War I, the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist in 1922, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk overthrew the last caliphate and declared the Turkish Republic. The real question was not why the empire fell, but how the Ottomans managed to hold this cultural “patchwork quilt” of an empire together for so long!
The Ottomans had managed their conquests through decentralized governmental structures at the local level. When the European powers picked up the pieces of the fractured Ottoman Empire after the First World War, they imposed arbitrary governmental boundaries, while paying no attention to the complexities of the existing tribal and ethnic divisions that the Ottomans had given a certain autonomy to for centuries.
The League of Nations Mandate in 1921 made the land grab official. France acquired Syria and Lebanon, while Britain got Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. The Saudi Arabian Peninsula became a series of independent kingdoms and British protectorates.
While Europe got what it asked for, it failed to get what it wanted—compliant, happy subjects. Fromkin adds: “World War I was often called ‘the war to end all wars.’ At the close of the peace conference following the worst conflict in history, Archibald Wavell, an officer who served with the British Army in Palestine and was later promoted to field marshal, prophetically declared, “After ‘the war to end war’ they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making a ‘Peace to end Peace’” (p. 5).
The stage in the Middle East was now set for the next two prophetic elements.
Establishment of the modern state of Israel
On Nov. 29, 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (known as the Partition Resolution) in spite of all Arab states voting against it. It divided the League of Nations Mandate for British-administered Palestine into Jewish and Arab provinces, not states, as Britain’s withdrawal was set for May 14, 1948, when its mandate ended.
Under Resolution 181, the holy places within Bethlehem and Jerusalem would remain under international control. On May 14, 1948, however, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel. The United States recognized the new nation that same day.
The following day, forces from five Arab nations (plus local Palestinian Arab forces) attacked the new state. Nine months later, the war ended and Israel had miraculously survived. As hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Jews immigrated to the new, fledgling nation.
The Arabs largely allied themselves with the Russian-led Soviet Union. Israel, conversely, allied itself with the United States. The stage was set for three more major wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors, along with a score of other military actions. But in spite of what many believe, 1947 and the creation of the state of Israel was not the starting point for the strife in the Middle East.
Resurgence of fundamentalist Islam
During the “Young Turk” reforms before World War I, many Arabs, including the influential Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, labeled the Ottoman government anti-Islamic. As the First World War began, Arab nationalism began to stir.
Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, who was a descendant of the family of Muhammad, founder of Islam, and the ancestor of the present King of Jordan, began the Arab Revolt in June of 1916. Financial and military support for the revolt later came from the French and British, including the support of Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence—better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Sharif Hussein ibn Ali was driven by Arab nationalism. He envisioned an independent, unified Arab nation stretching from Egypt to Iraq and from Syria to Yemen. But for Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, it was a particular type of Islam that drove his vision—Wahhabism.
What did this movement have to do with the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam? A lot—even today.
Writing in World Affairs, Carol Choksy, adjunct lecturer on strategic intelligence at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, and Jamsheed Choksy, distinguished professor at Indiana University, observe: “The Saudi kingdom’s inseparability from the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, first espoused in 1744 and the fundamental creed of Saudi Arabia since its modern founding in 1932, has ensured that fundamentalism shapes domestic and foreign policies.
“Saudi Arabia is not the only source of resources for jihadism—public and private entities in Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and more recently Turkey have also been linked to collection and transfer of funds supporting terror groups. But the Saudis have been the most persistent source of support for global jihad by spreading Wahhabism abroad to radicalize foreign Muslims and then giving financial support to their violent struggles in countries as far-flung as Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya”(“The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad,” May-June 2015).
The Choksys add that the weapons and ammunition used in the January 2015 attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine that left 12 dead and 11 wounded “have been traced back to jihadis in Bosnia, where preachers at the King Fahd Mosque in Sarajevo who were trained and funded with Saudi support declare those attacks were staged by the West as an excuse to discriminate against Muslims” (ibid.).
The rise of fundamentalist Islam and its militant course brings up two legitimate questions: Why all the violence, and where will this clash of cultures and the rise of fundamentalist Islam lead?
As to the first question, historian Karen Armstrong adds this insight on the violence associated with Islamic fundamentalism in her book Islam: A Short History: “As the millennium drew to a close, however, some Muslims seemed to have lived up to this Western perception, and, for the first time, have made sacred violence a cardinal Islamic duty. These fundamentalists often call Western colonialism and post-colonial Western imperialism al-Salibiyyah: the Crusade” (2000, p. 180, emphasis added throughout).
This term reminds Muslims of the violent wars between medieval Christianity and Islam almost 1,000 years ago during the Crusades (in which European armies tried to retake previously Christian Middle Eastern lands that had been invaded and taken over by Muslims). It also reminds them of the Western incursions of more recent times—World War II, the first and second Iraq wars and Afghanistan.
Many Muslims view the impact of modern Western culture as something of a cultural crusade aimed at taking over the world. While some aspects of Western culture like technology and medicine are welcomed, others, particularly corrupt moral values, are seen by many as contrary to Islam and their way of life.
Karen Armstrong continues, “All over the world, as we have seen, people in all the major faiths have reeled under the impact of Western modernity, and have produced the embattled and frequently intolerant religiosity that we call fundamentalism” (ibid.).
As the intensity of the resentment against Western culture and military incursions continues to build, we can expect Islamic fundamentalists to continue to strike out against targets in the United States and Europe and even against other Muslims who do not subscribe to their particular brand of Islam.
As for the second question: Where will this clash of cultures and the rise of fundamentalist Islam lead?
An end-time confederacy of Arab states?
The Bible actually has much to say about the current situation in the Middle East. In fact, Bible prophecy reveals where these current conditions will ultimately lead. One mention can be found in Psalm 83.
This psalm appears to be a prophecy of a confederacy of nations that, while it may have applied in part to ancient events, seems to tie in to end-time events. It describes how a group of nations and peoples band together for a common purpose—to cut off the nation of Israel:
“For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; and those who hate You have lifted up their head. They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones. They have said, ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.’ For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You” (Psalm 83:2-5).
Prophecy is clear—a coming conflict in the Middle East will lead to a new world war that will threaten the survival of all human life!
Here we read of a coalition of people who are fighting ultimately not against Israel, but against God. For many Arab leaders and people, the annihilation of the Jewish state of Israel—and eventually the United States and other Western powers of Israelite heritage—is among their chief goals.
Psalm 83:6 identifies a host of Arab people who, it appears, will ally together to fight against Israel: The “peoples of Edom” include the Palestinians and some of the Turks. “Ishmaelites” comprise many of the Arab peoples throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Moab is the area of central Jordan. The “Hagrites” appear to be other descendants of Hagar, mother of Ishmael. The “children of Lot” refers to Moab and Ammon—again, regions of modern-day Jordan. Others are identified as well.
One of the great unfulfilled aspirations of the fall of the Ottoman Empire was a unified Arab state. It was the dream of Sharif Hussein ibn Ali and many others. Could this confederacy be the fulfillment of that dream? The social and political currents sweeping throughout the Arab world point to this possibility.
The caliph and the king of the South
The word caliph comes from the Arabic khalifa, meaning “successor” (to Muhammad). The last of the caliphs were the Ottomans (1517–1924). Many in the Islamic world today dream of restoring a caliphate to unify the Muslim world and restore the hegemony of Islam.
The leaders of al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS in particular have all pictured themselves in this role. Given their abject brutality, however, it might prove rather difficult for any of these groups to gain a following widespread enough to produce a caliph broadly acceptable to the Muslim world.
However, if such a leader were to arise today, under the right circumstances he would be able to command the allegiance of millions of Muslims. As a new caliph rises, so will the desire to once again wield the sword of Islam to conquer and bring all others under submission to Islam. We have regularly seen Islamic leaders such as al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, former Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi and Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declare this goal.
War between the king of the South and king of the North
Daniel 11 is a prophecy covering the time from the 500s B.C. up to and including Jesus Christ’s return. Most of this remarkable prophecy describes the dramatic ebb and flow of a clash between the once mighty Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires in the Middle East of around 485 to 168 B.C.
But in verse 40, the prophecy catapults to the future, when the end-time king of the South, likely the leader of a confederacy of Islamic nations in a restored caliphate, will initiate a war with a power lying to its north, apparently centered in Europe. This war will unleash a chain of events leading to unprecedented destruction, bringing the human race to the verge of extinction were it not for Jesus Christ’s return to save mankind from its madness.
Here we see a description of the forces of the end-time kings of the South and North as they clash: “At the time of the end 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; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through” (Daniel 11:40).
It’s not clear what this “attack” consists of. Considering the methods employed by Muslim extremists in recent years, perhaps a series of major terror attacks against European targets could constitute what is referred to here. What is clear, however, is that this end-time king of the South will attack the king of North in such a way as to provoke a major military counterstrike in the Middle East that will completely overwhelm the forces of the South. Following the complete defeat, we read no more of the king of the South in Scripture.
What should you do?
The fall of the Ottoman Empire unleashed a series of events that set in motion the unstable Middle East that we see in the headlines nearly every day. The demise of the Ottomans set the stage for Bible prophecy to be fulfilled, and Daniel 11 is clear that coming conflict between king of the South and king of the North will lead to a new world war, one that will threaten the survival of all human life (Matthew 24:21-22).
At this critical juncture in world affairs, you need to comprehend not only what is happening around you, but why. Isn’t it time you blow the dust off your Bible and begin to see for yourself? Isn’t it time for you to begin developing a close relationship with your Father in heaven? It could very well be your only source of help in a coming time of need!
A Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East?
Israel and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons. Iran wants nuclear weapons in addition to regional hegemony, and its efforts are causing others to join the nuclear bandwagon as well. The United Arab Emirates began building a nuclear reactor due to be completed in 2017. They are now joined by Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the latter of which plans to build 16 nuclear plants over the next two decades.
What’s behind this Middle Eastern push for nuclear power plants and the potential for nuclear weapons? All the nations listed above are controlled by Sunni Muslim governments that feel increasingly threatened by Shiite Iran. Should Iran get a nuclear weapon, these nations will need a “plan B.”
One of the quickest ways to acquire a nuclear weapon is to get one that is already made. For that, many nations and terrorist organizations need to look no further than Pakistan. Pakistan has gone through a great deal of instability. The Pakistani government has been battling the Pakistani Taliban, perceived as a threat, while turning a blind eye to other terror groups in the country that threaten people outside the country. It’s a dangerous game. Terrorists are most certainly ready to take advantage of any potential opportunity to seize a nuclear weapon.
The possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons being procured for a terrorist group or even a nation-state is alarmingly real. Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ Senior Fellow Rolf Mowatt-Larssen has explored this topic. He wrote: “The greatest threat of a loose nuke scenario stems from insiders in the nuclear establishment working with outsiders, people seeking a bomb or material to make a bomb. Nowhere in the world is this threat greater than in Pakistan” (“Nuclear Security in Pakistan: Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today, July 1, 2009).
He went on to catalogue how Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, gave nuclear technologies to Iran, Libya and North Korea while Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, who had been in charge of Pakistan’s Khushab reactor, had reviewed al-Qaeda’s nuclear plans with Osama bin Laden.
Despite the Pakistani government appearing to take new measures to improve security for its weapons program, Mowett-Larsson was still concerned, adding: “There are troubling indications that these insider threats are not anomalies . . . It would be foolhardy to assume that such lapses could not happen again” (ibid.).
Given the tumultuous situation in the Middle East today, the money available to terrorists and rogue states and the religious sympathies extant, the potential is indeed quite real. The nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a danger to the entire world.
Bible prophecy indicates that weapons of mass destruction will play a key role in the end time. In fact, chapters 8 and 9 of the book of Revelation state that a third of humanity will perish—more than two billion people according to current world population statistics. The only thing that will save us from extinction is the return of Jesus Christ. His ultimate victory will usher in a thousand years of peace.