What's Behind the Mideast Crisis?

By Melvin Rhodes

Throughout the Arab world, Israel is seen as the biggest threat to peace

Oil Burning

IT'S BEEN A FEW YEARS since I took my youngest daughter to see the movie "The Flintstones," a movie I am reluctant to mention let alone recommend. But I still remember a scene in there with great amusement. It was supposedly set hundreds-of-thousands of years ago when cave-men lived. The scene showed the headline in the newspaper when the paper was thrown by the delivery boy onto the Flintstones' lawn. It read: MIDEAST PEACE TALKS FAIL. Somebody had a great sense of humor. There is also great truth in this statement, although the timing is wrong for any serious student of the Bible.

Problems in the Middle East go back to the time of Abraham (and before if you remember the incident with the kings in Genesis 14). Genesis 16 recounts the story of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham's other wife and child. It


Problems in the Middle East go back to the time of Abraham

was Sarai's lack of faith, her impatience, which contributed to this problem. Failing to see how God could fulfill His promise of making Abraham the father of many nations, Sarai gave Abraham her hand maid. Hagar then conceived and gave birth to Ishmael.

Following Ishmael's birth, the animosity between the two women increased until Hagar and her son had to leave the household. God heard Hagar's heartfelt prayer (Ishmael means "God hears"), and made the following promise in verses 11 and 12: "Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction.

"He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."

The Arab peoples today claim descent from Ishmael. The prophet Mohammed (c. 570-632 A.D.) traced his descent directly from Ishmael. In a part of the world were lineage is extremely important and where some today claim direct descent over 1,400 years from the prophet himself, there is no reason to question this deeply held conviction. Ishmael lived about 2,000 years before Mohammed, but the Biblical description of Ishmael's descendants fits. Ishmael's descendants are in constant conflict with Abraham's children through Isaac, but are also in constant conflict amongst themselves ("his hand shall be against every man").

The word Arab probably has its roots in the Arabic word for "nomad." The people of Mohammed's day were nomadic. They divided into clans-tribes that fought each other continually in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed was the founder of a religion that today claims almost one billion adherents. It was a combination of the traditional pagan beliefs of his nomadic ancestors, with some Judaism and a little of traditional Christianity (itself partly pagan) thrown in. At first, Mohammed's followers were told to bow down toward Jerusalem when praying. Friday was chosen as their sabbath because it was the Jewish preparation day. None of this impressed the Jews who were hostile to the new religion. Subsequently, Mohammed's believers were told to bow down toward Mecca (a holy place in the old pagan religion), instead of Jerusalem. Mohammed's new religion was named Islam, which means "submission." Following his death, his followers spread their beliefs through conquest throughout the Middle East and North Africa, even into the Iberian peninsula and into France. It was Charles Martel who defeated them before they reached Paris in the year 732.

There were continual struggles between Catholic Europe and Islam throughout the centuries. The Crusaders pitted Catholic against Moslem for control of the "holy places" in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Orthodox Byzantium's capital, Constantinople, founded by the Roman Empire's first Catholic Emperor in the fourth century, was captured by Moslems in 1453, one of those pivotal dates in history. Islam seemed invincible and set to expand further. It finally reached the gates of Vienna, right at the heart of Europe, in 1688-and was defeated by an alliance of Catholic powers. (The present pope was present for the tercentenary celebrations of that victory in which Polish troops played a part.)

By this time, the Arab nations were dominated by the Ottoman Turks, fellow Moslems but not Arabs. This domination was to continue right up until this century. The Middle East has been turned on its head this century too.

It is interesting to note that many Biblical prophecies about the end-time, and about the Middle East in particular, could not have been fulfilled until well into this century. It is important to understand why.

There are three major reasons for this sudden change in the region.

First and foremost is the establishment of the modern state of Israel in the Middle East.

The second major reason is the importance of oil to twentieth-century economies-and the fact that roughly half of all the world's oil reserves are in this area.

A third reason is the proliferation of new nations in the area since World Wars I and II.

Before we examine the background to these three major developments in the


...many Biblical prophecies about the end-time, and about the Middle East in particular, could not have been fulfilled until well into this century

Mideast, let us look at some scriptures to fully appreciate the importance of the area in apocalyptic events.

Revelation 16:16 prophecies the battle of Armageddon (literally Mount Megiddo), the final battle for mastery of the earth. This site is in the Middle East and has seen many battles fought there through history.

Daniel chapter 11 also highlights end time events in the Mideast. Verse 40 says, "At the time of the end..." and goes on to prophecy a king of the north, provoked by a king of the south, sending massive military forces into the region. "The Glorious Land" itself will be invaded (verse 41), while "the land of Egypt shall not escape" (verse 42).

Interestingly, the book of Hosea talks in chapter five of an impending judgment on Israel and Judah. In verse five we see Israel, Ephraim and Judah mentioned separately. At the end of verse seven we also read that all three will fall together within the period of a new moon, which is thirty days. This has never been fulfilled before.

Unger's Bible Dictionary has this to say about the captivity of the ten-tribed Northern Kingdom of Israel: "The removal of the ten tribes, though often spoken of as a single event, was a complex process.... The period during which their removal was gradually effected was not less than 150 years." The process began in 732 B.C., and was not completed until the reign of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.).

And this was just Israel. Judah's captivity "was not accomplished at once either." The first captives were taken in 701 B.C., the last almost one hundred years later in 607 B.C.

Also it should be noted that there is no reference to Ephraim being taken separately from Israel, as is mentioned here in Hosea 5.

This passage is revealing because it shows Israel, Ephraim and Judah all separate, but all in crisis at the same time.

What must be remembered is that the modern state of Israel is only the tribe of Judah. Prophetically, although a part of Israel at this time, it is not all of Israel. It would be more accurately named Judah as it is the home of the Jewish people. Judah and Benjamin formed the kingdom of Judah, remaining loyal to David's descendants. The other ten tribes formed the kingdom of Israel. After their captivity, they disappeared.

As these passages refer to events that have never been fulfilled and lead into a final captivity and national repentance in verse 15, they are end time events. And these end time events could not have taken place except for the creation of the modern state of Israel (Judah) in 1948. Biblically, prophetically, an independent Jewish state had to exist again.

A New Nation is Born

THE STORY OF THIS MODERN JEWISH STATE is an incredible one. All logic says it should not exist.

At the turn of this century hardly any Jews lived in this area at all. There were some, certainly, but for roughly 1,900 years, a Jewish presence in the area had been minimal and of no consequence historically. Suddenly, toward the end of the last century, following hundreds of years of persecution throughout Europe, the idea of a Jewish homeland began to take hold in the form of the Zionist movement.

It wasn't until 1917, when British forces took Jerusalem from the collapsing Ottoman Turks, that there was ever a serious possibility of a Jewish homeland. Even then the prospects looked bleak. The British Foreign Secretary at the time, a man called Arthur Balfour, issued what became known as the "Balfour Declaration," promising the Jews their own homeland.

In between this century's two world wars, Jews immigrated into Palestine while the British ruled the territory. So many came that there were riots between Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the late 20s. In 1937, a British Commission, under Lord Peel, recommended the division of Palestine into predominantly Jewish and Arab areas, with Jerusalem under international control.

The United Nations recommended the same ten years later, and a few months after that the independent nation of Israel was proclaimed. Even with the U.N.'s recommendation it wouldn't have happened, except for the fact that both the Soviet Union and the United States were in agreement (this happened again in 1991 when the Persian Gulf war started). The Soviets saw


After each defeat, Arab frustration increases and violence only gets worse.

Israel as a potential foot-hold in the area, while President Truman needed the Jewish vote in a U.S. election year.

So Israel came into existence and was immediately attacked by the combined forces of five Arab nations, all determined to destroy her.

With a population of only half a million at the time, surrounded by hostile peoples numbering approximately 100 million, who would have thought that Israel would survive? But it did. During the next twenty-five years Israel was to fight four major wars with its Arab neighbors, leading it to become the most powerful military power in the region-but at an incredible cost to all, not just the Jewish state itself.

By 1948, rapid industrialization had made many countries heavily dependent upon oil, most of which at that time was in the Middle East. Today there are new reserves in a number of different regions of the world, but Mideast reserves are still substantial. So the whole world is easily effected by events in this area and the region is of crucial military and economic importance to the western democracies, led by the United States.

A Proliferation of Nations

COMPLICATING THINGS EVEN FURTHER is the fact that Israel is not the only new country in the Middle East. Following World War I, the Ottoman Empire was divided into a number of new Arab states. Egypt had been under British domination from 1882. Iraq and Palestine came under British control between the two world wars. Syria and Lebanon were under France. Most of the Gulf sheikhdoms were British influenced to one degree or another. Kuwait was a British protectorate. Great Britain was the major power in the region until the late 1950s.

The defeat of the Arab alliance in 1948 spread revolution throughout the Middle East. In 1952, Egypt's King Farouk was overthrown and replaced by Egypt's first native ruler for 2,000 years, Gamel Abdul Nasser. Nasser was determined to rid the region of the British and soon seized control of the Suez Canal. A resultant conflict led to U.S. intervention. The Eisenhower administration called on the British and French to leave the area, an act which contributed to the final fall of their respective empires and to American domination of the area.

Nasser's radical revolutionary government tried to unite the Arabs throughout the area. In the following years, conservative monarchies were overthrown and replaced by radical young military rulers, rabidly anti-western and anti-Israel. Further attempts to destroy the nation of Israel also failed, resulting in Palestinian frustration and the growth of international terrorism.

After each defeat, Arab frustration increases and violence only gets worse. This could happen again if the U.S. and Britain attack Iraq sometime in the next few weeks. The war of 1948 directly led to the radicalization of Arab politics; the war of 1956 ended the influence of the colonial powers; the Six Day War of 1967 led to international terrorism; and the 1973 war led to greater division in the Arab world as Egypt sought a separate peace with Israel. Ultimately, this led to the Palestinian uprising on the West Bank (the intifada) and also to the rise of Moslem fundamentalist violence in Egypt itself, and in some of the other countries in the region, notably Iran, which had a major anti-American revolution in 1979.

After the next defeat, will we see another significant change? Perhaps domestic terrorism in the U.S. and Britain?

How does the current crisis in Iraq fit into this?

Iraq, remember, is one of those new nations that was created after World War I. All the nations in the region are new. This means that their borders are still flexible (remember the U.S. in its first century?). There are border disputes all over. Iraq claims Kuwait as a part of its territory because they were one administrative area during the 400 year rule of the Ottomans. The British altered the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the 1920s, so Saddam is simply following in their footsteps.

But Kuwait is not all that Saddam is after. He also sees himself as Nasser's successor, the man who can unite all the Arab peoples. Nasser failed to accomplish this, thereby also failing to rid the world of the Jewish homeland. Saddam is determined to accomplish both.

Complications

SEVEN YEARS AGO, most Arab states were concerned enough about Saddam's ambitions to ally themselves with the U.S. in the Persian Gulf War. President Bush's diplomacy was able to line up 37 nations in military alliance, with a further twenty providing financial support. Today, only the U.S. and Britain are militarily involved. By any stretch of the imagination, this is a major diplomatic set-back for American foreign policy.

What has gone wrong?

Partly it's that number-one problem again-Israel. Israel has been told by the U.N. to withdraw from the West Bank. The U.S., Israel's major backer, has not forced Israel out of the West Bank, so is seen as hypocritical in


Throughout the Arab world, Israel is seen as the biggest threat to peace, not Saddam.

trying to force Saddam to comply with U.N. resolutions. Throughout the Arab world, Israel is seen as the biggest threat to peace, not Saddam.

Also, Arab leaders recognize that after the U.S. has gone, they will have to come to terms with Saddam. And Saddam is quite popular amongst the more radical elements in their countries. He is seen as a hero for standing up to the greatest nation in the world.

So, even though Iraq is an aside to the main problem, it is an integral part of it. If the U.S. and Britain make a mistake in their dealings with Saddam, it could ignite the seventh war in fifty years between the Jewish state and the Arabs. Indications are this is a part of Saddam Hussein's grand scheme and the U.S. may inadvertently help him see the fulfillment of his dream.

To put it in one simple sentence, We may win the war, but lose the peace.

Possible Scenario

THIS BRINGS US BACK TO HOSEA, chapter five. Here, Israel, Ephraim and Judah are all involved.

The dominant nation of Israel today is the United States. Before America it was Ephraim, the multitude of nations called the British Commonwealth. Only in the last forty years has Ephraim not been the dominant power in the Mideast. But today it is the U.S. This could explain why Israel and Ephraim are mentioned separately here. Again, this could not have taken place before 1948 when Judah came into existence.

In verse 13, Ephraim sees his sickness and Judah his wound. What could this mean? Israel is not mentioned in this verse.

Ephraim's sickness means his strength has gone. His strength was the "multitude of nations" (Genesis 48:19). Because the Commonwealth still exists and the Queen is still its head, many British people fail to realize how weakened their nation is compared to what it once was. The multitude of nations preserved Britain's freedoms in two world wars, and a number of other conflicts. For some reason, Ephraim suddenly realizes that his strength has gone.

Judah meanwhile is suffering a "wound." Whereas a sickness is internal, a wound is external. This is a military set-back of some kind.

Consider this scenario which would fulfill this passage.

In verse five we see Israel (the U.S.), Ephraim (Britain), and Judah (Israel today), mentioned. They all are wounded within thirty days of each other (verse 7). In verse 13 we see Ephraim and Judah going to King Jareb for help, "yet he could not heal you nor cure you of your wound."

What would lead to this?

We have a clue in the fact that Israel (the United States), is not mentioned here.

For some reason the United States is out of the picture at this moment. Maybe this is the result of problems at home, or simply isolationism brought on by defeat abroad. Either of these would lead to Britain realizing its isolation. It could no longer look to the United States, its major ally, and would soon realize that its former allies, the multitude of nations, now composed of fully independent nations, is no longer a unified force. Judah, meanwhile, would have lost its biggest source of financial and military support.

What would Britain and Judah do? Will they go to this new super power for help-King Jareb (the Great King)? Is this the Beast (Revelation 17:13)? He is either not able or not willing to help (Hosea 5:13). Soon, seeing the weakened state of Great Britain, the United States and Judah (Israel), this European super-power invades the Middle East (Daniel 11:40-44) to impose peace upon the area. We then see the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy about gentile armies treading down the city of Jerusalem. We would also see the fall of the Jewish homeland, and the U.S. and Britain, within that period of a new moon.

Events culminate in three major powers (Europe, Islam and the Far East) converging on Armageddon.

This is, of course, speculative, but consider this: since 1956, when Britain, France and Israel were united in a war against Egypt to keep the Suez Canal in western hands, Britain (Ephraim) and Israel (the Jews) have had a cold and distant relationship.(Note Isaiah 11:13 in this context). It would be difficult to describe a circumstance where all three are together in some way, yet Hosea does that in chapter five, verse five.

Whatever happens in the Middle East in the near future, keep your eyes on this part of the world. The Arab-Jewish problem cannot be resolved because both sides want the same territory, particularly the city of Jerusalem.

This article is extracted from Perspectives, a new magazine devoted to examining Bible prophecy in the light of Matthew 24. You may obtain a copy may be obtained by writing to: Perspectives, P.O.Box 153, Okemos, MI 48805-0153.


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