New Military Might in the Middle East

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New Military Might in the Middle East

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Several years ago, six nations joined their economic forces for the sake of creating a free trade zone that would mutually benefit all members. Their combined economic force is an undisputed powerhouse in the world economy. As time progressed, the member states realized that they also needed to give serious consideration to forming a joint military force due to potentially hostile neighbors that threatened the prosperity of their economic community.

Like many regions of the world, the member states of this common market depended upon the U.S. military might for protection. However, it became increasingly necessary that the market members invest in developing their own modern military with a focus on becoming independent of the U.S.

So far this could appear to be the story of the European Union and a description of the evolution of a European defense force. But this article is not about the politically hot topic of the development of a European army.

In actual fact, it refers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a common market in the Persian Gulf consisting of Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). GCC Secretary-General Jamil I. Alhejailan explains its history and purpose:

"The GCC was created in 1981 for many of the same reasons that the European Union was formed. The objective was not to form a military or security alliance aimed at specific external threats, but to create a political and economic community that would strengthen GCC institutions and foster economic growth and development.

"Like the European Union (EU), the GCC area has become a single market in which goods, capital, and people can move freely. The creation of common external tariffs and free trade agreements with other economic communities are our next goals. The GCC countries have also achieved a high degree of economic coordination and convergence. Exchange rates between the six member states have remained fixed for more than a decade; inflation rates have converged and the economies follow similar economic cycles" (Middle East Insight Magazine, May-June 1999, "Can the GCC Control Oil Production?").

A military alliance

Although a military alliance was not within the initial parameters of the GCC's foundation, circumstances have changed.

The GCC's 20th summit opened in Saudi Arabia on November 27, 1999, with one of its main objectives the increased integration of the militaries of its member states. Stratfor, the intelligence analysis group, reports that the GCC members are "striving for an unprecedented level of integration between their militaries" ("Gulf Militaries Make a Big Move," November 17, 1999, emphasis added throughout).

The summit follows on the heels of a meeting of the defense ministers of the GCC while attending an international air show in Dubai, U.A.E., in mid-November. "Military cooperation between Gulf states has passed some important stages…with a view to coming to an agreement and bringing them closer together" said Secretary-General Alhejailan (AFP, "Gulf Arab States Meet to Set Up Mutual Defence [sic] Pact," November 16, 1999).

The pact, signed by all GCC defense ministers, presents an image of firm resolve, stipulating, "all outside aggression against a GCC member state is considered an aggression against all the members," said Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheikh Salem Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah (ibid. AFP).

Bahrain's defense minister reported to his government "the [Dubai] meeting discussed a number of issues aimed at fostering military co-operation and coordination among GCC states to serve the strategies and objectives of the states in bolstering security and stability in the region…" (Bahrain Tribune Daily, November 23, 1999, "High Hopes From GCC Summit").

This all comes on the heels of a recently sealed $6 billion deal by which the U.A.E. will obtain 80 sophisticated fighter aircraft-F-16s-from the U.S. An increase in armaments in the Gulf is a sensitive issue, as the U.S. seeks to maintain a tactical balance between regional states, especially with Israel.

Peninsula Shield reinforced

Military allegiances are not new to the GCC, but the proposed level of materiel, technology and financial commitment is unprecedented. "Peninsula Shield," a Gulf defense force established in 1986, proved woefully inadequate to counter the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Nonetheless, in the words of Secretary-General Alhejailan, it remains "a symbol of military cooperation" (Kuwaiti Times, "Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait Most Dangerous Gulf Challenge," November 21, 1999).

That cooperation thus far has produced a relatively small standing army of 4,000 men currently based in Hafar al-Batin in Saudi Arabia. Jolted by the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, the GCC has significantly increased its air power since the Gulf War. Prior to the war, the GCC was virtually without air power with the exception of the Saudi air force of 62 F-15s.

"Today, nearly all of these nations have advanced fighter aircraft, including F-16s in Bahrain, Mirage 2000s in the U.A.E. and Qatar, and Tornadoes, plus more F-15s, in Saudi Arabia. Oman and Kuwait still lag behind, as Oman is still using the British-made Hawks it had 10 years ago and Kuwait only maintains a few Mirage F1s" (ibid. Stratfor).

Note that as arms merchants, the Americans (F-15s and F-16s), French (Mirage 2000s) and the British (Tornadoes) recoup some of their considerable expenditures on oil.

The lack of hardware was only part of the weakness of the GCC defenses. Equally important was the lack of coordinated command and control facilities that could manage a joint operation. U.A.E. chief of staff General Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayan called on the GCC to overcome these obstacles, telling GCC chiefs of staff in October, "We must increase joint manoeuvres [sic], exchange expertise and step up our capacities so as to build a unified air defence [sic] system for the GCC countries to rely on ourselves" (ibid. AFP).

Key to integrating forces is telecommunications, for which the GCC committed $70 million at their 1997 summit. In addition, $88 million was approved for purchasing a radar network (from U.S.-based Hughes) at the Dubai meeting of GCC defense ministers. "While earlier GCC meetings had discussed integration, this meeting is one of the few instances where concrete steps may actually be taken. Integrating radar systems is a significant step and will likely lead to combining others" (ibid. Stratfor).

Oil revenues help pay the tab

Paying for all of this has been aided by surging oil revenues. Oil prices are now at a nine-year high-the highest since the Gulf War-and more than double what they were at the beginning of 1999. Michael Young of Deutsche Bank forecasts that the trend will continue, based upon the ever-increasing demand for oil and "the expectation that OPEC will keep production below 27 million barrels per day through March of 2000" (BBC, "Business: The Economy, Oil Prices at Three-year High," November 11, 1999).

GCC's secretary-general keeps a practiced eye on the oil market. His forecast mirrors that of the Deutsche Bank. "The revival of oil demand growth in the next year or two is now widely expected. The combination of low prices and the recovery of the Asian economies will stimulate demand. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts an increase in global oil demand of 1.4 [million] barrels per day (mbd) in 1999. More importantly, in its December 1998 World Energy Outlook, the IEA forecasts world oil demand to increase from 72 mbd in 1996 to 94.8 mbd in 2010. This represents an increase of 22.8 mbd" (ibid. Middle East Insight).

Where this may be heading

What is the future for the GCC military? In the short term, it will most likely continue to coordinate with U.S. interests in the Gulf. More significant is the long-term trend.

"[A] Gulf alliance may ultimately become less beholden to the U.S. military presence. As a result [of the threat posed by Iraq and Iran], the U.S. presence is appreciated and even encouraged, for now. But U.S. strategy in the region is drifting. And if the belief that the United States can be counted on diminishes, the GCC states may wish to be able to provide for a significant portion of their own defense…. But if the regional balance of power changes, the GCC may step out on its own" (ibid. Stratfor).

Without doubt, that is an "if" that's bound to find its way to reality. Given the volatility of Middle East politics, it's a virtual certainty that the balance of power in the Gulf will change.

What does Bible prophecy indicate for the Gulf region? As most readers of World News and Prophecy realize, prophecy pivots on the nation of Israel (not the same as the nation-state called Israel), with an end time emphasis on the correlation between a revitalized modern resurrection of the Roman Empire and the descendants of the ancient tribes of Israel. Rome's Empire was seated in Europe, the likely site of its reconstitution. The predominant descendants of Israel, who have inherited both benefits and bane foretold by God's prophets, are the United States, Britain and its former colonies. Some of the descendants of another of the ancient tribes, Judah, occupy and govern the nation-state of Israel.

These regions and nations all currently play major roles in the modern world. They affect and are affected by events in the Persian Gulf region. Without doubt, the seeds are already being sown for more dramatic changes, which are precursors of the pre-Armageddon alignment of the world's nations.

Daniel foretold Middle East geopolitics

Daniel was stirred to write in detail of Middle Eastern geopolitics. One of his visions foretold the clash between Alexander's army and that of the Medo-Persians, which resulted in the young Greek's dominance of the known world (Daniel 8). Crucial to this article is what happened after Alexander the Great died a premature death.

"Therefore the male goat [symbolic of Alexander of Macedon] grew very great; but when he became strong [at the peak of his empire and in his 30s], the large horn was broken [he died a premature death], and in place of it four notable ones [generals of his army] came up toward the four winds of heaven [each ruled a segment of the former empire, divided into east, west, north and south]" (Daniel 8:8 Daniel 8:8Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.
American King James Version×

Later, at the hand of the angel Gabriel, Daniel was told that at the time of the end there would be conflict between two powers respectively called "the king of the North" and "the king of the South." Palestine and Jerusalem will be the geographical focal point of this conflict (Daniel 11:40-45 Daniel 11:40-45 [40] And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. [41] He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. [42] He shall stretch forth his hand also on the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. [43] But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. [44] But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. [45] And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
American King James Version×

Some commentators in an attempt to explain Daniel's writings as historical rather than prophetic interpret this to refer to "the end of Antiochus Epiphanes." Many also interpret these writings as relating to the Jewish peoples, viewing the prophecy in the narrow context of the Middle East alone.

However, examining the rest of the book of Daniel clearly reveals that he was indeed inspired with a vision of the world's powers from his day through to and including the return of Jesus Christ to establish the kingdom of God on earth. It's therefore consistent with the entire book to understand the final verses of chapter 11 as a reference to the end of the age of man-shortly before Christ's return.

The "king of the South"

However, who is "the king of the South"? Clearly this is also an end time power. As the final "king of the North" is not yet fully configured, so also "the king of the South" remains obscure. At the peak of his power, some have speculated that the Shah of Iran might fulfill this role, as he surged towards his objective to create a modern Persian military power. With his demise, watchers of Middle Eastern affairs considered the possibility that the religious government that succeeded him would emerge as a contender for this provocative role in the end time.

Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq took on a warlike profile that appeared more likely to be the principal protagonist. Because of Daniel's prophecy, many Bible students looked at the Gulf War (Desert Storm) as a catalyst that would begin a domino action of events leading to the denouement of the age of man. Based upon the same thinking, some predicted disaster for the United States' continuing military actions against Iraq.

Iraq and its bellicose leader still pose a serious threat to world security-although intelligence analysts speak of an expected change of government in Iraq. It is in response to the threat from Iraq and Iran that the GCC member states realized their need for a security force. Their members are peaceful-not to be compared with the radical elements in the region. The GCC is intent on strengthening and protecting the economies and territories of its member states.

So another significant military force is evolving.

Geographically, they are south of Jerusalem, the focal point for relative directions in prophecy to north, south, east or west. That's in contrast to Iraq and Iran, which lie to the northeast. Of course World News and Prophecy is not making a prediction that the GCC will evolve into the "king of the South" of Daniel 11:40 Daniel 11:40And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
American King James Version×
, as we do not make predictions. However, we do watch for significant trends in world news, comparing them with the Bible's predictions.

The Persian Gulf and the GCC's greatly increased commitment to military strength in concert with its formidable economic capability bear watching. WNP