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The Middle East in Conflict: How Will It End?

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The Middle East in Conflict

How Will It End?

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Your life will eventually be affected by events in Israel and the Middle East. Even if you couldn't locate Lebanon, Gaza and Israel on a world map. Even if you have absolutely no interest in current affairs. No matter. Important aspects of your future will be determined by what occurs in this volatile part of the world.

The focus of the political world is largely on tiny Lebanon, which, not for the first time, is the setting for battles over issues not really its own. Practically speaking, Lebanon has been a vassal state for at least 30 years.

The most recent crisis was sparked when Hamas forces tunneled under the border between Israel and Gaza, attacked an outpost and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. This followed almost a year of Hamas' raining down rockets on southern Israel after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

It widened to Lebanon when Hezbollah fighters launched a rocket attack and cross-border raid, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. Then when Israel retaliated, Hezbollah began firing indiscriminate rocket barrages that hit Haifa, Tiberias and other cities in the north of the country.

As the Lebanese crisis accelerated, the usual calls for a cease-fire and peacekeeping forces from the UN soon began in earnest. Condemnation of Israel soon followed. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero censured Israel's Gaza and Lebanon strikes (El Pais, July 15). Other European nations grew furious with Israel just as they were in the early 1980s when Israel first invaded Lebanon in response to terror attacks.

A base for attacking northern Israel

History reminds us of what has happened in Lebanon beginning more than 35 years ago. In the early winter of 1969 Lebanese authorities and Yasser Arafat concluded an agreement that allowed his followers in Lebanon to carry out their armed struggle against Israel. (Lebanon did not terminate this agreement until 1987.) Then in 1970, after its bloody expulsion from Jordan, the PLO moved its headquarters to Lebanese soil from where it continued to attack Israel.

Eight years later the Israeli Defense Forces entered Lebanon after an attack by PLO militants killed 37 Israeli civilians. Then in late 1982 a Lebanese Shiite Muslim suicide bomber killed 141 Israelis at their military headquarters in Tyre.

British historian Martin Gilbert sums up the events of the 1982-83 war: "The costs of the Lebanese war had been high for all combatants . . . an estimated 6,000 PLO troops had been killed, as had 460 Lebanese civilians, 600 Syrian troops and 368 Israeli soldiers" (Israel: A History, 1998, p. 512).

Israel finally completely withdrew from Lebanese territory in May 2000. In the power vacuum created by the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the Iranian-supported Hezbollah—Arabic for "party of God"—essentially set up a state within a state along the northern border of Israel.

Clearly, whether it was the PLO of yesteryear or Hezbollah today, Lebanon has consistently allowed—or proved too weak to stop—armed incursions and rocket attacks against northern Israel.

Israel, seeing Hezbollah amass an arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets to be used against it, apparently decided enough is enough and hit back hard. The state of Israel, always fighting for its very survival, found itself waging a very difficult war against a notorious, well-armed terrorist group that hides among civilians.

Hezbollah, though badly mauled by Israel, did something no Muslim fighting force had done in more than a generation—successfully survived an onslaught from the powerful Israeli military. As a result, Islamic political aspirations have shifted from the traditional Arab powers to radical terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas and their primary backer, Iran.

Will history repeat itself?

Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni summed up the seriousness of the Lebanese situation for Newsweek magazine: "Hizbullah is a threat to the region and to the international community. It is the long arm of Iran that wants to keep an open front with Israel in order to destabilize the region. In UN resolutions 1559 and 1680, it was stated that there was a need for the Lebanese government to extend its sovereignty over the entire (country of) Lebanon and to dismantle all militias including Hizbullah" (July 31, emphasis added throughout).

But not only was Hezbollah not disarmed after the previous Israeli withdrawal, it used the lack of hostilities to build a massive arsenal of weaponry supplied by Iran and Syria, including modern Russian antitank missiles that proved deadly to Israeli armored vehicles.

Practically speaking, Lebanon is so weakened by years of civil war and occupation that it could not then—and cannot now—disarm Hezbollah without the aid of Israel, the cooperation of Syria and Iran, and a reliable and heavily armed peacekeeping force. Sadly the UN peacekeeping record is undistinguished.

Will a new international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon really produce any lasting peace in the area? The UN force that has been in place in southern Lebanon for years, 2,000-strong at the latest outbreak of hostilities, has proved utterly powerless to influence Hezbollah. In the latest round of fighting, Hezbollah guerillas cynically used UN posts in southern Lebanon as cover for firing rockets into Israel.

A Sunday Times feature article concluded that "there is little in the history of the past 30 years to suggest that a 'stabilisation force' or a buffer zone will produce any lasting peace" (Aug. 6). This was even before Hezbollah fighters stated that they had no intention of disarming as called for in the latest UN resolution that brought a cease-fire.

The growing danger posed by Iran

One lesson is evident from this latest war: Iran is warning the West that it had better not be ignored. Leon de Winter states in a feature article for The Wall Street Journal: "It is clear that the Iranian theocracy has set its sights far beyond its region. The rhetoric of the Iranian regime has been clear for years. As with Germany in the 1930s, anti-Semitism plays a key role in modern Iranian politics.

"If Iran succeeds, its nuclear weapons will be controlled by people who believe that they should bring the End of Days closer—a notion not dissimilar to Hitler's apocalyptic visions. An Iranian bomb threatens the very existence of Western civilization" (March 7).

The primary targets are, of course, Israel and the United States—the latter at least presently beyond the reach of Iranian missiles. Israel is not so fortunate.

In October 2005 Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated at a conference titled "The World Without Zionism" that "anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury [while] any Islamic leader who recognises the Zionist regime means he is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world . . . As the Iman (Ayatollah Khomeini) said, Israel must be wiped off the map" (The Times [London], Oct. 28, 2005).

Hezbollah's fighting force has long been financed, trained and armed by Iran. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah echoed the same general sentiments on April 9, 2000: "The Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities. Anyone who reads the Koran and the holy writings of the monotheistic religions sees what they did to the prophets, and what acts of madness and slaughter the Jews carried out throughout history . . .

"Anyone who reads these texts cannot think of co-existence with them, of peace with them, or about accepting their presence, not only in Palestine of 1948 but even in a small village in Palestine, because they are a cancer which is liable to spread again at any moment."

Two years later, in comments to Lebanon's Daily Star, he said, "If they (the Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide" (quoted by Michael Rubin, "Eradication First, Before Diplomacy," National Review Online, July 17).

Over the years Islamic leaders have made many statements about wiping out the state of Israel. On May 26, 1967, just before the Six-Day War started, Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser proclaimed, "Our basic objective is to destroy Israel" (quoted by Martin Gilbert, Challenge to Civilization, 1999, p. 366).

An axis of hatred—not peace

In an Aug. 3 feature article carried in the Daily Mirror, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that "the flames and destruction in the Middle East are painful to watch. The bloodshed and misery we see on our TV screens are a haunting daily reminder of the hatred and aggression that exists in our world." How tragically true!

In a speech delivered to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles Aug. 1, the prime minister referred to "an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and clutching with increasing definition countries far outside that region" (The Sunday Times, Aug. 6).

The whole Middle East is now rife with violent hot spots. Any of several unresolved issues could escalate into disastrous conflagrations.

A nagging worry of both the past and present is the fact that unstable nations like Iran and Iraq are perched atop multiple billions of barrels of oil, the energy source that makes the world go 'round.

In fact, the world's eyes have been focused on the Middle East ever since the 1974 oil embargo showed how vulnerable the global economy is to black gold. Yet today they are also focused on the Middle East because it is the primary source of fanatical religious extremism that threatens to overthrow if not destroy entire countries.

The Iranian revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979 started a chain of events that ultimately led us to the box canyon the world finds itself in now. Iran 's current leader proclaims Iran to be in its "second revolution," having rolled back reforms and returned to the ideals of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

What Bible prophecy reveals

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has good reason for feeling that Europe—and indeed all of Western civilization—is threatened by trends in the Middle East.

Europe has already come under pressure due to insecure and uncertain oil supplies so vital to the wellbeing of its economies. European nations are already vulnerable to the whims of the Russian Federation regarding essential natural gas supplies.

Britain has also experienced the carnage of terror attacks on its own soil, having seen 52 die and some 700 be injured in suicide bombings in the London subways in July 2005. Spain experienced an even more horrifying attack in March 2004 when 192 were killed and 2,050 injured in train bombings in Madrid . Several other European countries have experienced small-scale attacks or broken up terror cells within their borders.

This past August, British counterterrorist units foiled a plot to blow up jetliners after they left Britain bound for the United States—an act of mass murder apparently designed to eclipse the number of deaths from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But whatever the specific cause, the Bible shows that ultimately the world will see a head-on collision between a unified Europe and the Middle East.

Eventually Israel itself will become subject to this European-centered superpower (the "king of the North") who will invade the Holy Land as a result of a "push" by the "king of the South" (most probably leading an Islamic group of Arab nations) as foretold in Daniel 11:40-45. Armageddon will be in the making.

Jerusalem a burden for all peoples

One particular passage in the Bible expresses the whole range of troubles that has plagued the Middle East for centuries—and will continue to do so until the end of this age of man.

God says through one of His prophets that He would "make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut to pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:3, King James Version).

But diplomats, world leaders and even theologians don't really grasp the message of the Bible. In Jesus Christ's lengthy prophecy before His death, far from foreseeing a successfully negotiated peace, He instead warned that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies at the time of the end, signaling that "its desolation is near" (Luke 21:20).

Attempting to bring real peace to the Middle East during this age of human misrule is a dangerous and impossible proposition. Let peacekeeping forces beware! It is so easy to be inexorably sucked into the swirling vortex of stubbornly unbridgeable divisions and deep-set animosities.

Particularly at the time of the end, the focus of this world will be on the Middle East, just as much of it is now. The final conflagration will finish only after the return of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the true Messiah, Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:11-21).

Dr. Albert Sabin, creator of the oral polio vaccine that eliminated so much suffering, once said, "I keep looking for some as yet unforeseen event that will change the present progress of relations among the big powers . . . a change that is absolutely necessary if we're not to face catastrophe."

That event will turn out to be the coming of the Messiah, when it will be said, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15). The changes He will bring will be greater than anything we have ever seen.

The Creator of all humankind is going to intervene to save us from utter destruction (Matthew 24:21-22). The Bible guarantees it! The site of Christ's direct intervention will be the holy city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4; Acts 1:11-12). These benchmark events will herald a new world in which Israel and the other nations will come to obey their Creator (Isaiah 19:21-25), bringing mankind universal peace and prosperity.

Wherever you may reside, you need to be concerned about important events in the Middle East. The year 1996 marked some 3,000 years since the establishment of Jerusalem as King David's capital city. As David said so long ago, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem " (Psalm 122:6). The one and only true Messiah, the Prince of Peace, will come back to the earth and bring real peace to Jerusalem, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf region, the entire Middle East and finally the entire world. That is His mission! GN