Syria, Small but Significant

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Syria, Small but Significant

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The United States attacked a strategic target in the Sukkiraya Farms near the Syrian town of Abu Kamal late on Oct. 26. A U.S. counterterrorism official said the target was the head of a network that funneled fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq. Syria claimed that the Americans attacked the occupants of a civilian building, killing a man, his four children and another husband and wife. (An eyewitness to the funeral the next day said that there were seven adult males and no young children.)

With the world's financial markets in meltdown, should we be concerned with what happens in faraway Syria? This event must seem unworthy of a second thought for most people. Perhaps you haven't even read or heard of this attack.

Abu Kamal is only about 5 miles from the border of Iraq. U.S. intelligence believes that 90 percent of the foreign fighters entering Iraq do so through Syria; many of them through this difficult-to- defend region. Frustrated with a lack of cooperation from Syria in shutting down this terrorist pipeline, the Americans took matters into their own hands.

Obama administration will continue policy

There are reports of a new executive order from the U.S. president, authorizing American troops to cross international borders for the sake of self-defense and protecting American lives. Already, the incoming Obama administration has indicated that it will not reverse this or related executive orders.

The U.S. mission in Abu Kamal ignited a diplomatic furor on several fronts. Syria's relationship with Washington had actually been improving of late, but this caused a furious anti-American backlash. Thousands of Syrian citizens demonstrated angrily throughout the country. The BBC reported that, while the protests were government organized, an "angry mood...seems to have seized the whole nation."

In the interest of regional stability, the fledgling Iraqi government is seeking to build a good relationship with neighboring Syria. Yet Iraq just signed an agreement for American forces to remain in the country until 2011. The anti-American feeling in Syria makes for awkward times between Damascus and Baghdad.

There are also possible ramifications with Iraq's eastern neighbor, Iran, which is closely allied with Syria. Iran vigorously protested the American raid.

The difference Syria can make

Still, you might wonder, why should you care about what happens in Syria? Even though it is a military-dominated regime, it is relatively weak. When Israel recently bombed a suspected nuclear facility in Syria, Damascus lacked the ability and/or the will to do more than protest.

Syria is a poor country, and therefore its economy is not a crucial factor in the world market. And despite its Middle Eastern location, it is not a significant oil producer.

So why should anyone outside the region be concerned with Syria?

Another nation that voiced angry protests over the U.S. attack was Russia. It has probably not escaped your notice that Russia has all but publicly declared a return to the Cold War against the United States and U.S. interests. Stratfor, an independent intelligence organization, warns that there are many signs that Russia is beginning again to launch "proxy wars"—striking at the United States and American interests through any willing antagonist.

As it did decades ago, Russia is renewing military ties with Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad traveled to Moscow in August to discuss how to expand weapon purchases and the sharing of military technology, including having Russian missiles on Syrian soil.

For its part, Moscow hopes to establish a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea. It's possible that a Russian warship fleet will soon be stationed in the Mediterranean!

The Russians are likely to seize upon the recent American raid as an excuse to further the course they've already embarked upon with Damascus.

Syria's strategic past, present and future

Centuries ago, Syria's location was strategic, as it was on the main land route between Asia, Europe and Egypt. It partially fulfilled a major biblical prophecy as a king of the North, mentioned in Daniel 11. (A king of the North will come on the scene again at the end of the age.)

Later, it figured prominently in Islamic conquests, becoming part of the Ottoman Empire. Of course, Syria's present geographical boundaries didn't exist until created by the victorious allies after World War I. (All of this history, including an explanation of Daniel 11 and the kings of the North and South, is presented in our booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.)

With the increasing dominance of sea and later air travel, Syria's location is no longer pivotal to commerce. Even so, it remains strategically important today, bordering Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

The infamous Bekaa Valley lies just across the Syrian border in Lebanon, which is the principal training area for Hezbollah. Syria helps finance and protect this Iranian-backed terrorist group, as well as allowing itself to be a virtual pipeline through which Iran pumps additional arms and funds to Hezbollah.

Syria gives safe harbor to additional terrorist groups, including Hamas and lesser-known militant groups operating in Israel.

A massive al-Qaeda terrorist attack on Jordan was planned and launched from Syria a few years ago. Thankfully, it was discovered and thwarted. Jordanian intelligence estimated it could have killed 60,000 people with chemical weapons that are believed to be part of Saddam Hussein's weapon stockpiles now hidden in Syria.

Turkey, just north of Syria, is presently seeking membership in the European Union. Turkey would also like to extend its influence in the Middle East after the United States withdraws from Iraq. A stable Syria is greatly in Turkey's interest.

Syria and the prophet Amos

God speaks through the ancient prophet Amos about Syria's significance in the end time. Amos is called a "minor prophet" not because of importance, but simply because it is a shorter book than others. Amos's warning to Damascus (Amos 1:3-5) was one of eight prophecies given to tribes or countries in the region of Syria and Israel.

Damascus was one of Israel's long-term rivals. Verse 3 says Damascus has "threshed Gilead with implements of iron." It is likely that the threshing attack is the same incident referred to in 2 Kings 13:7. "The metaphor Amos used is that of a threshing sledge, an agricultural implement made of parallel boards fitted with sharp points of iron or stone...The intensity of the metaphor, however, implies the most extreme decimation and may hint at especially cruel or inhuman treatment" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on Amos 1:3).

Verse 4 mentions Hazael and Ben-Hadad. They were father and son, both kings of Syria , noted for their cruel treatment of Israel (see 2 Kings 8:12-13).

The reference in verse 5 to Aven (Awn in Hebrew) "may the valley between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, called El-Bekaa, where are the ruins of the Baalbek temple of the sun; so the LXX [i.e., Septuagint] renders it On, the same name as the city in Egypt bears, dedicated to the sun-worship (Gen. 41:45; Margin, Ezek. 30:17, Heliopolis, 'the city of the sun'). It is termed by Amos 'the valley of Aven,' or 'vanity,' from the worship of idols in it" (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary, note on Amos 1:5).

The possible detailed mention of the Bekaa Valley is startling, given its position today in Middle Eastern geopolitics. Specifically, the prophecy says, "I [God] will also break the gate bar of Damascus , and cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven" (verse 5).

"A cosmic holocaust"

Throughout this short prophecy is the repeated theme that God's punishment is to send "fire" that will "devour." Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary explains this as "flames of war (Ps. 78:63)," and explains that it "occurs also in vss. 7, 10, 12, 14, and 2:2, 5" (note on verse 4). In addition, Amos 4:11 speaks of an actual conflagration, such as destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

This "fire" is much more than one of the countless cross-border wars between Syria and Israel. After introducing fiery destruction in the prophecy, Amos later refers to this war as "it" in Amos 1:14 and Amos 2:2, 5. The Anchor Bible Commentary states: "All eight oracles refer to the same 'it', which will not be retracted or reversed. There was a single decree covering them all...declaring judgment on the entire region as a unit...This unity suggests one cosmic holocaust, not just several invasions that would pick these countries off one by one" (note on Amos 1).

In its somewhat difficult-to-follow language, Amos warns of a great end-time destruction that is tied in with the nation of Syria and that will engulf many nations.

Jesus spoke of such an ultimate catastrophe, which will threaten the continued existence of the world: "For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive" (Matthew 24:21-22, New International Version).

Therefore, the future of seemingly insignificant Syria is crucial to the entire world! We need to keep a watchful eye on what happens there, for it is a trigger point, leading to a cascade of events that will change the world forever.

To understand events as they unfold, continue reading World News and Prophecy. And in addition to the booklet mentioned earlier in this article, request or download You Can Understand Bible Prophecy and Are We Living in the Time of the End?