Adolf Hitler ruled over and devastated much of Continental Europe from the late 1930s until 1945. Yet polls in several of these formerly captive European countries show that, when asked which country is the biggest threat to world peace today, nearly 60 percent of the respondents named Israel .
Denying Israel's legitimacy and undermining its right to exist is still very much in vogue today—even in countries previously ravaged by the Third Reich.
An easy job for any journalist would be the task of assembling quotes from hostile Arab nations calling for Israel to be destroyed.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is perhaps the most outspoken, making such statements as "Israel must be wiped off the map" (2005), "the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation . . . [it]
is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm" (2006), "the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives" (2007) and "the world powers established this filthy bacteria, the Zionist regime, which is lashing out at the nations in the region like a wild beast" (2008).
Could Israel survive a nuclear exchange?
In a Dec. 14, 2001, speech, then-Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani—considered a "moderate" Muslim leader—openly threatened a nuclear attack on Israel: "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with [nuclear] weapons like those that Israel possesses now . . . the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world [—not destroy it]. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."
American journalist Suzanne Fields summarized Rafsanjani's simple mathematical equation: "In a nuclear exchange with Israel his country might lose 15 million people which would amount to a small 'sacrifice' from among the billion Muslims worldwide in exchange for the lives of 5 million Israeli Jews" ("Confronting the New Anti-Semitism," The Washington Times, July 25, 2004).
In other words, he believed it would be worth it to start a nuclear war with Israel that could result in the death of 15 million Muslims if the 5 million Jews of Israel could be wiped out. After all, a billion Muslims would still be left around the world, but only few surviving Jews in other countries—and no state of Israel.
It is hard to believe how some people think, but it's also hard to argue with the cold-blooded logic of this calculation.
Israel simply cannot afford the kind of nuclear war threatened by Iranian leaders. Such a war could and would do considerable damage to Iran and the Arab world should it ever come to pass. But Israel itself in all probability simply would not survive.
The enormous geographical odds against her in a war with Iran alone are almost 80 to 1. Here is a very big factor: Israel is very short on living space, especially in comparison to the vast acreages of the Arab countries, which combined are some 650 times the size of tiny Israel.
The bottom line is that only two or three nuclear detonations in Israel would leave its land totally devastated and largely uninhabitable for generations to come. What an unconscionable catastrophe that would be for the world, given the nation's overall scientific, technological, humanitarian and cultural contribution to the world!
It is a frightening thought to envision a world without Israel. Yet this is precisely what many of her enemies throughout history have seriously contemplated. Notice the plea to God from King David's chief musician Asaph, written some 3,000 years ago:
"Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God! 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'" (Psalm 83:1-4, emphasis added throughout). The Bible is right on target in describing conditions besetting our contemporary world.
The next few verses describe the nature of the forces arrayed against Israel. Viewed in the light of its contemporary history, these passages show that neighboring nations would be Israel's natural enemies: "For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You" (verse 5).
In the wake of the 1956 Suez War came the short-lived United Arab Republic, the union of Egypt and Syria. Does another union of hostile Muslim countries lie around the corner?
Verses 6 and 7 give the ancient names of the neighboring peoples surrounding Israel. But the overall principle remains crystal clear: Israel would be severely harassed by its neighbors.
The multiple burdens of modern Israel
The state of Israel has had to maintain its existence while being harassed by active Arab hostility often expressed by horrific terrorist acts and, more recently, continuous rocket and mortar fire well into its southern regions—now even reaching into the coastal city of Ashkelon, between the Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv.
The terror group Hamas now controls Gaza and is responsible for the rain of rockets presently afflicting Israel. This "Islamic resistance movement" was established in 1987 and is infamous for its suicide bombings. The Hamas charter plainly states that "there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad" and that " Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it." Clearly Hamas is devoted to the destruction of the state of Israel.
British historian Martin Gilbert has aptly summarized some of Israel's major difficulties since its founding: "Israeli society has faced a combination of pressures that are unusual in any nation: the pressures of continuous and massive immigration; five wars; the unpredictable cruelty of terrorist attacks (and, most recently, of suicide bombers); and a sense of the isolation and vulnerability of a small nation, each generation of which has lost loved ones in war and as a result of terrorist attacks.
"Israel is not only a nation that for the first three decades of its existence was surrounded by sworn enemies, but one that, following a victorious war in 1967, has had to share part of its own land with another people" (Israel: A History, 1999, p. xxi).
The nation has also had to deal with the troubling memory of the Holocaust—the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis. The nation's Jewish population has often contemplated what talents and resources these men and women and their never-born descendants could have contributed to the national wealth and welfare.
Instead, through no fault of their own, they succumbed to the 20th century's most virulent outbreak of anti-Semitism. Six million trees (the " Forest of Martyrs") were planted in a reforesting of the Judean hills specifically in honor of the Holocaust victims. But the Nazi hostility of the Third Reich (1933-1945) has been replaced by equally virulent Arab and Muslim hatred.
The late American historian Barbara Tuchman wrote: "The Arabs are gracious and attractive people, friendly and courteous to strangers, possessing dignity, charm and even humor. On the subject of Israel, however, they are paranoid. Israel does not appear on Arab maps" (Practicing History, 1981, p. 128).
Israel has had to fight several wars of survival with surrounding Arab countries since its inception as a nation in 1948. Today this tiny state still has to periodically battle ruthless terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Yet Israel is not without its national advantages.
Israel's inherent advantages
The story of Israel is not all one-sided. Notice Barbara Tuchman's historic assessment: "With all of its problems, Israel has one commanding advantage— a sense of purpose: to survive. It has come back. It has confounded persecution and outlived exile to become the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name [although Judah would be more accurate], and with the same religion and same language as it did three thousand years ago.
"It is conscious of fulfilling destiny. It knows it must not go under now, that it must endure" (p. 134). Indeed, God has a very great purpose for the modern nation of Israel, even in the fulfillment of end-time Bible prophecy. A Jewish homeland had to be reestablished in the Middle East to fulfill Bible prophecy (see pages 39-41 of our free booklet Are We Living in the Time of the End? and pages 5-6 of the January-February 2008 Good News).
Martin Gilbert stated, "Although confronted with many problems, Israel possesses a strong will to succeed and prosper, to maintain its vigorous and fulfilling daily life, and to confound the critics who point to both external and self-inflicted problems as insoluble" (p. xiii).
The U.S. government has consistently supported Israel throughout its 60-year history. Former U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett wrote: "We stand with Israel because Israel is a beacon of freedom and hope—to the world, generally, and in a more important sense, to the Middle East . . . Israel has kept faith with the promise of its founding [in 1948], a founding more similar to America's than perhaps any other nation's" ("Why I Stand With Israel," Alan Dershowitz, editor, What Israel Means to Me, 2006, p. 39).
The founding Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), spoke of Israel as a "treasured people." But what type of treasure? Israeli civil rights spokesman Shulamit Aloni, a former member of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) told of Israel's "treasure [of] ethics, knowledge, culture, art, science, literature, openness and listening to and respecting every single person, man, woman, and child as freeborn human beings, created in the image of God" (p. 23).
Israel's dilemma with demographics
Bennett firmly stated: "We must never ignore the fact that if Israel loses its war against terrorism, it will lose its existence" (p. 41). The stakes are very high indeed!
Yet not every enemy is a military predator. Simple demographics have become a critical concern for Israel's leaders. Jewish identity within the nation itself is being threatened.
Israel Harel founded the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea. He also writes a weekly column for a popular Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz . He describes the threat:
"Firstly, in Israel there is a large minority group (20% in the general population, which constitutes 30% of elementary first graders), the Arab minority, which resents the identity—and sometimes the very existence—of Israel as a Jewish state. This minority perceives itself as a part of the Palestinian people. Most Arabs in Israel identify with their people who fight a cruel and unrestrained war of terror against Israel" ("The Image and Significance of Contemporary Zionism," Jewish Quarterly, Winter 2007, p. 52).
David Ben-Gurion, perhaps modern Israel's greatest patriot, felt very strongly about Jewish identity in the land. He said to the 20th Zionist Congress meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1937: "No Jew is entitled to give up the right of the Jewish nation to the land. It is not in the authority of any Jew or of any Jewish body; it is not even in the authority of the entire nation alive today to give up any part of the land" (quoted by Harel, p. 56).
Yet U.S. News and World Report editor-in-chief Mortimer Zuckerman reminds us that "it was [Yasser] Arafat who described 'all of Palestine,' which includes all of Israel, as a "holy wakf," i.e., an Islamic trust that cannot be given away" ("Denial and Hope in the Mideast," Oct. 8, 2007).
Do we grasp the extent of the significance of these conflicting territorial claims and their crucial historic, present and future implications?
Many European observers would even like to see the state of Israel void of its Jewish identity. For instance, according to noted London columnist Melanie Phillips, "The [British] general public no longer believes the Jews have a claim to the land of Israel." In her view, those who hold that belief "need to be told otherwise" (The Jewish Chronicle, Nov. 11, 2007).
She explained: "Long before the Shoah [Holocaust], the world decided the Jews should be returned to their ancestral homeland in Palestine—which consisted of what is currently Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza—because of their overwhelming entitlement to the land. This was not because of the biblical promise, but because it had been the Jewish nation state for hundreds of years, centuries before Islam came into being" (ibid.).
But will ceding portions of their homeland nonetheless bring Israel real peace with its neighbors?
Land for peace?
Israel 's pioneering founders such as David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol are almost all gone from the scene. A new Israeli intelligentsia has arisen that is apparently willing to make whatever compromises are deemed necessary to achieve peace. Land for peace became the new watchword. Giving up Gaza unilaterally seemed like a good idea. But so-called democracy in Gaza produced the election of Hamas, which has rained rockets down on Israeli citizens in the southern border area of the country ever since.
Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the intifada of 1987-92 created "a substantial bloc of guilt-ridden Israelis ready to take almost any risk for peace." This led to a situation where "a majority of Israelis were considering previously unthinkable concessions such as uprooting Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and redividing the city of Jerusalem" ("The End of the 'Guilty Israeli," March 2, 2008).
In this atmosphere Israel withdrew in late 2005 from the Gaza Strip, which it had captured from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War, turning it over to the Palestinian Authority government. But Hamas won a surprising victory in elections a few months later and started a small-scale civil war against the previous ruling forces of Fatah. Ever since, nearby portions of southern Israel have been regularly bombarded by rockets and mortar shells fired from the vacated territory.
Halevi sums up Hamas as a ruthless terrorist group "whose theology calls for the destruction of Israel and war against the Jews around the world, and whose terror attacks are small pre-enactments of its genocidal ambitions . . . Gaza was a test case for Israeli withdrawal and the experiment was a disaster."
As Halevi notes, " Had Gazans begun at this point to create a peaceful state from their new, self-governing territory, the Israeli public almost certainly would have endorsed substantive negotiations over a West Bank withdrawal." But since the Gaza withdrawal was met with rocket fire, surrendering the West Bank is apparently no longer seen as an effective "carrot" in achieving the long-sought-after peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Consider also that "from the time of the Bible to 1948, the West Bank, which includes the old city of Jerusalem (containing the Western Wall) and Hebron (where the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are buried) has always been part of the land of Israel" (Gush Emunim, "West Bank Versus Judea and Samaria," Jewish Literacy, 2001, p. 343).
This is how many ordinary Israeli Jews view ownership. They realize that a West Bank in Palestinian hands could very well become a launching pad for rocket attacks on the city of Jerusalem and its environs.
Tony Blair's sobering assessment
Last summer former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was appointed as a special Middle East envoy under the auspices of the "Quartet" of the EU, the UN, the United States and Russia. Spending considerably more time in the region than ever before enabled Mr. Blair to gain a much better comprehension of the stubborn regional dilemmas.
He said: "I understand more than when I was the prime minister the difficulties here. I would hesitate to cede the West Bank to the Palestinians after the nightmare Israel has faced since the Gaza withdrawal."
The "land-for-peace" formula that has been the basis for Arab-Israeli peace talks was proven a failure by the Gaza debacle. Blair now acknowledges that a crucial factor for peace is "the character of the Palestinian state . . . There won't be a Palestinian state unless it is coherently governed and run, and anyone who tells you different is misleading you" (quoted by Mortimer Zuckerman, "The Elusive Mid-east Peace, U.S. News and World Report, Jan. 17, 2008).
Strong words indeed for any British prime minister, given the general U.K. predilection for the Arab world.
The most serious long-term threat to Israel
Notwithstanding the current dangers posed by Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinians and even Syria, what is the Israeli government most worried about?
The most dangerous foreseeable threat is Iran's nuclear ambitions and their oft-professed desire to wipe out Israel. In mid-February Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for bilateral talks in Berlin. According to the International Herald Tribune, he said that " Iran was still seeking to build nuclear weapons and called for a greater international effort to prevent Tehran from succeeding." Olmert indicated that " Israel was 'certain' that the Iranians were engaged in a 'serious' and 'clandestine' operation to build up [nuclear] capacity'" (Feb. 13, 2008).
Several newspaper and Internet articles have already cast considerable doubt on the validity of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, which several months ago stated, "We judge with high confidence that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."
Although the UN Security Council recently passed a resolution with further sanctions against Iran by a 14-0 vote, canny observers tend to view these new measures as little more than a slap on the wrist.
According to The Wall Street Journal: "Meanwhile, Iran continues to flout the Security Council's chief demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. The production of sufficient quantities of fissile material is one of three key components in any nuclear weapons program, a fact that was relegated to a footnote in December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] claiming Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.
"Nor did that NIE make any mention of Iran's ongoing ballistic missile programs, the second key component. Instead, its chief claim was that Iran had suspended work on weaponization, which by all expert accounts is the least challenging part of a nuclear-weapons program" ("Irresolution on Iran," March 10, 2008).
Although Newsweek 's "Point of View" column played down the threat of Islamic fascism, it did state that President Bush had "warned that the Iranian government is out to destroy Israel." It also said that Tony Blair had "compared Iran to the rising fascist powers of the 1930s" (Nov. 19, 2007).
It goes without saying that the Iranian threat is far more real to the Israelis than to America and Britain, since Iran is much closer to Israel, the ancient Holy Land of the Bible.
Another deadly round of war coming
We must, of course, look to the biblical record to round out our overall picture of Israel's predicament. It is impossible to separate the land of Israel from the Word of God. Even nonbelieving secular Jews rely on the Hebrew Bible to help establish their historical and geographical claims.
Both the Bible and secular history show that the land of Israel (Jerusalem in particular) is among the most contested areas on planet earth. The city itself has fallen to invading forces more than 20 times in its recorded history. But there has been no successful invasion since the formation of the modern Israeli state in 1948.
The Bible makes it clear that end-time prophecy could not be fulfilled without the restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland.
The book of Zechariah shows that Jerusalem will be the center of global conflict immediately prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ: "Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem" (Zechariah 14:1-2).
These prophesied events could not take place without the physical restoration of the tribe or nation of Judah (now called Israel) prominently in the Holy Land just before Christ's coming, with the continual international tension and turmoil that has accompanied the nation's creation and existence.
Jerusalem will once again be the scene of horrifyingly violent turmoil. Zechariah continues in verse 2: "The city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity, but the remnant of the people shall not be cut off from the city."
So even after Israel united the city in the 1967 war, Bible prophecy tells us that Jerusalem will once again be fought over and divided. This region of the world is destined to be the very center of events at the end of this age—setting the stage for Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
And Jesus Christ will indeed intervene personally and directly: "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations . . . And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east . . . Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You" (verses 3-5).
Zechariah 14:12 and Revelation 19:17-18, 21 describe the end of those armies that are gathered around Jerusalem and fight against the Messiah, Jesus Christ, at His return. It will prove to be no contest as Christ intervenes to save not just Israel, but the entire human race, from annihilation.
Jerusalem: Future capital of the world
Other prophecies tell us that Jerusalem's destiny is to become a center of peace for all nations on earth. Zechariah adds: "Thus says the Lord: 'I will return to Zion [referring to Christ's second coming], and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the Lord of hosts, the Holy Mountain'" (Zechariah 8:3; see also Jeremiah 3:17).
Long ago God promised: "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch [the Messiah, Jesus Christ], and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:5, New Revised Standard Version).
Nations will send representatives to Jerusalem even from faraway places to learn God's ways and to take them back to their peoples. As Isaiah 2:2-3 says, "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it."
In Bible prophecy, "mountains" and "hills" are often used to refer to governments and nations. This tells us that the government of Jesus Christ, established in Jerusalem, will rule over all the nations on earth.
Isaiah then continues, describing a world transformed by the wonderful knowledge of God's way of life: "Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."
Under Jesus Christ's reign as the Prince of Peace, all war, weapons and even military academies will be abolished (verse 4). Peace with justice will be administered to all peoples from Jerusalem.
Sadly, these sure biblical prophecies are far from the reality of conditions in the Holy Land today—a region plagued by violence, corruption, despotism and bloody, random terror. Yet these millennial prophecies assure us that "old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing" (Zechariah 8:4-5).
The Bible pictures a majestic future with a peaceful life in this long-troubled land. All will at last be safe from harm during Christ's coming rule on earth. Jeremiah 23:6 promises, "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely."
God speed those days! GN