"No democracy in the world today lies under a darker shadow of existential dread than Israel. And the events of the past month ought to demonstrate that Israel's dread is not of shadows only."
These words are from the final paragraph of a Wall Street Journal column by the former editor of The Jerusalem Post, Bret Stephens ("Israel's Predicament," Sept. 13, 2011).
Mr. Stephens frequently writes on the Middle East. He began this particular article with a catalog of setbacks that had befallen the Jewish nation in just one month's time:
"On Aug. 18, eight Israelis were killed in a sophisticated cross-border ambush near the frontier with Egypt.
"From Aug. 18-24, some 200 large-caliber, factory-made rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza.
"On Sept. 1, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency announced that it was moving the bulk of its enrichment facilities to a heavily fortified site near the city of Qom.
"On Sept. 2, the United Nations released a report on the May 2010 Turkish flotilla incident, which defended Israel's right to enforce a naval blockade on Gaza and noted that Israeli commandos faced 'organized and violent resistance.' The Turkish government responded by yanking its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelling Israel's from Ankara.
"On Sept. 4, the U.S. made a final appeal to the Palestinian Authority to drop its bid to seek statehood recognition at the U.N., a bid that sends to the rubbish bin decades of international agreements that a Palestinian state can be established only on the basis of negotiations. The PA rebuffed the American entreaties.
"On Sept. 8, Turkey's prime minister announced that Turkish warships would escort future Gaza-bound flotillas.
"On Sept. 9, thousands of hooligans stormed and nearly sacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Israel evacuated nearly its entire diplomatic mission from Egypt the following morning."
The day before Stephens' article was printed, Ynetnews reported that King Abdullah of Jordan had described Jordan and the Palestinians as now being more powerful than Israel.
A new state "free of Jews"
As the Palestinian Authority pushed forward with plans to bring its statehood bid to the United Nations, on Sept. 15 Arutz Sheva reported comments by "the Palestinian Authority representative delegation's United Nations observer, who said that the Arab state the PA plans to declare in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem [biblical names for the territories of the West Bank] will be 'free of Jews.'"
It went on to note that "in June, [PA leader Mahmoud] Abbas himself made a similar statement. Telling reporters that he would under no conditions recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas said that he would agree to an international force to ensure enforcement of a peace agreement between Israel and the PA state to prevent terrorism. But, he said, 'I will not agree to allowing Jews to participate in this force, and I will not agree to allow even one Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land'" (emphasis added throughout).
The attempt to get United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state is not only a breach of previous Israel-PA agreements, but also a clear provocation that can only raise tensions between Israel and its neighbors.
Understandably, Israeli historian Benny Morris raised the question: "Is Israel Over?" (Newsweek, Sept. 11, 2011). He stated: "Israel is under assault . . . The Palestinian Authority plans to unilaterally declare statehood and go to the United Nations for recognition. This is a rejection of all efforts for a peaceful compromise. In its wake will come waves of Palestinian violence.
"And yet this is just the latest manifestation of an embattled Israel that is being threatened from the outside—by Muslim Arab states and societies, Egyptians storming the Israeli Embassy, a nuclear-arming Iran (with its local sidekicks, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hizbullah in Lebanon), and a besieged President Bashar al-Assad in Syria—and from the inside by domestic upheaval that led to the largest mass protests in the country's history."
Morris then continued to highlight Israel's internal divisions, after which he wrote: "Now there looms the even greater threat of resurgent Islam, not just within Israel's borders or the Palestinian territories, but across the region, where it is spreading like a brushfire."
The Middle East—the epicenter of Bible prophecy
Bible students have long known that the Middle East is the epicenter of biblical prophecy and history. After bringing the Israelite slaves out of Egypt, God gave to them the Promised Land—sometimes called the Holy Land. It was here that the subsequent history of Israel was written.
It was here, too, that Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, walked and preached the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. It was also in this area that, long before, the tribes of Israel grew, fought, flourished, then divided into the separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah after the death of King Solomon.
The people of Israel and then of Judah (the Jews) were taken into captivity. The 10 tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel were taken to Assyria in the eighth century B.C. Not much more than a century later, the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered, and the Jews were removed to Babylon. Some of them returned several decades later. The "lost" 10 tribes of Israel dispersed to other parts of the world. (You can read about this in our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)
The Jews suffered another dispersion centuries later, after two revolts against the Roman Empire. These were crushed, and for almost 2,000 years those of the Jewish diaspora lived scattered in Europe and the Middle East. In the 19th and 20th century tens of thousands started returning to their ancestral homeland.
Eventually, in 1948, an independent Jewish nation was proclaimed. Invaded by four Arab armies on the day after it declared independence, Israel managed to hang on and defeat them and has continued ever since.
A tough road to survival
Surrounded by hostile nations, Israel remains the only real representative democracy in the Middle East. Its ideals are very similar to those of other Western democracies. As in other representative democracies, Israel respects the rights of religious and ethnic minorities—something that cannot be said for Israel's neighbors. Israel has 1.2 million Arab citizens, most of whom are Muslim.
At first, Israel received a great deal of support and sympathy from much of the world. Six million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust of World War II. As a free society that easily fit into the Western world, it identified with Western nations.
But the sympathy soon ended. In June 1967 Israel was victorious in the Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and other Arab armies. Defeating the armies of its three larger neighbors, Israel captured territory from all three.
In October 1973 Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a devastating surprise attack on Israel, but again Israel was victorious. Following a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Israel withdrew from the conquered Egyptian territories, including the whole of the Sinai Peninsula. In 2005 it withdrew from the formerly Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip.
Today Israel still holds on to portions of the West Bank (formerly part of Jordan) for security reasons. Israel also retains control of the Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria), also for security reasons.
In an anti-colonial age, this arrangement has been unacceptable to much of the rest of the world, including Western nations that have never accepted the new arrangement and have persistently pressured Israel to give up those territories it still holds. Israel maintains that it cannot go back to its indefensible pre-1967 borders, which would leave the country less than 10 miles wide in some places.
The Israelis have made a number of attempts to reach out to Palestinian Authority leaders, offering a peaceful resolution which would give them their own independent nation.
Talks between the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000, seemed close to success, with Barak offering Arafat all of the Gaza Strip and more than 90 percent of the West Bank, but Arafat balked. As Israel's longtime late Foreign Minister Abba Eban once said, "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity!"
So why now suddenly is Israel more threatened?
From "Arab Spring" to Israeli Winter
What has changed for Israel in recent days is the much-heralded "Arab Spring," so enthusiastically received in the West.
The supposed democratization of Arab countries has coincided with the fall of several Arab dictators. One of these, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, was backed by the United States for 30 years, following the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that was sponsored by Washington.
His fall has had a serious impact on Israel's security. While the Egyptian president maintained a "cold peace" with Israel, the majority of Egyptians do not feel the same way. They are incensed with Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians.
An additional factor is the increased influence of Islamic extremists in the country since the fall of Mubarak—such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which has already threatened to abrogate the Egypt-Israel peace treaty after new elections later this year.
Jordan's King Abdullah observed that the Arab Spring has made things worse for Israel. According to one news report: "The king described a recent conversation he held in the US with 'one of the Israeli intellectuals' who commented on events in the Arab world, arguing that they were good for Israel. 'I replied and said that it was the opposite and that Israel's situation today is more difficult than ever before'" (Ynetnews, Sept. 12, 2011).
A dangerous new world
Islamic extremism continues to threaten Israel in other ways.
Following the fall of the pro-Western Shah of Iran in 1979, the radical Islamist Iranian republic has taken a very anti-Israel line.
In Gaza, Iran has supported Hamas, a terror group committed to Israel's destruction (and which, for that very reason, opposes the creation of a Palestinian state out of present Palestinian territories on the grounds that such a state would be forced at some point to agree to Israel's existence). In Lebanon to Israel's north, it supports another terror group, Hezbollah, which started another war against Israel in 2006 and has since rearmed with thousands of rockets and missiles pointed at Israel.
Moreover, Iran's leadership is set on developing nuclear weapons and a delivery system that will enable Iran to hit U.S. military targets in the area as well as the nation of Israel. Israel is so small it wouldn't take more than two or three well-placed nuclear warheads to wipe the country off the face of the earth.
This is part of why the Bible mentions Israel (actually inhabited by the descendants of the biblical kingdom of Judah, known as Jews) so prominently in end-time prophecy.
The prophet Zechariah, speaking for God about events leading up to the return of the Messiah, tells us: "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:2-3 Zechariah 12:2-3  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.
 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×).
This is certainly true today. Jerusalem, the city of peace, is often the place where hopes for peace go to die.
Highlighting the fact that Jerusalem is at the very center of so much conflict, Jesus Christ warned, "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near" (Luke 21:20 Luke 21:20And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
American King James Version×).
Centuries earlier God inspired Zechariah to write: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem" (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×).
Lest people think this is referring to an event in ancient history, Zechariah clearly showed the timing to be at the return of Christ. "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley" (verses 3-4).
While Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives 2,000 years ago, the mountain certainly did not split in two. And He did not battle nations at that time. This is still in the future, to be fulfilled at Christ's return.
Events in the Middle East will be central to the final fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
These passages and others also show us that, despite the threats against Israel at this time, the Jewish nation will still exist right up until the time of the end. In fact, Jewish authorities will exercise control in Jerusalem until 1,260 days before Christ's return.
Referring to a future time when armies come against Jerusalem, the book of Revelation tells us that "they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophecy one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (Revelation 11:2-3 Revelation 11:2-3  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.
 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.
American King James Version×).
The following verses show that these two witnesses, God's prophets preaching a final warning message to this world, will be killed by those hostile to them. And then, a few days later at Jesus Christ's return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they will be resurrected to life again.
Israel's very existence a miracle
The very existence of modern Israel is a miracle in itself. With the Jews dispersed by the Romans in the first and second centuries, the Holy Land was ruled by others for centuries. It wasn't until modern times that the idea of an independent Jewish nation gained ground.
In 1917 the famous Balfour Declaration, named for the British foreign secretary at the time, pledged Britain, then the dominant power in the world, to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Following the Nazi Holocaust, a vote at the newly formed United Nations turned the former British Mandate of Palestine into the nation of Israel. Prior to that, only serious students of the Bible would have known that a Jewish nation had to exist near the end of man's rule of this world.
But hostility to it has been a problem from day one, when neighboring Arab armies tried to crush it, at a time when the Jewish population was only half a million. The Jews won—as they have against every major threat in the last 63 years.
The time is coming when Jerusalem will be surrounded by gentile armies and Israel will again be engulfed by war. But that time will also culminate in the end-time events that lead directly to the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Watch Jerusalem. Watch Israel. "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming" (Matthew 24:42 Matthew 24:42Watch therefore: for you know not what hour your Lord does come.
American King James Version×). Watching events in the Middle East directs our attention to the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ to the earth!
To Learn More...
To understand what’s happening today in Israel and the Middle East, you must first understand the past. The region’s ancient antagonisms, dating back to biblical times, have led to bitter disputes and war for thousands of years. You need to read our eye-opening booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy to get the full picture and to see where these trends are heading!