Today in Prophecy

Iran and the Middle East

“For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people, and conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Psalm 83:2-4 NASB).

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The Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great, the king who was used by Jehovah God to return the Jewish people from decades of exile in Babylon. The Book of Daniel reveals the power and influence of the Persian Empire in its heyday.

In his essay, “Satrapy Fishing in Yemen,” Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contends that Iran is attempting to rebuild the Persian Empire. The conflict in Yemen recently reached a cease fire when Saudi Arabia declared an end of its operation on April 21. May ponders whether the Yemen conflict was a “smokescreen” being used by Iran as a step toward its goal of attaining superpower status. According to May, only two world leaders have deciphered Iran’s true intent: Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

It is widely known that Israel believes Iran is not to be trusted in its negotiations for nuclear capability and fears that nuclear weapons would be used against Israel without hesitation. Saudi Arabia, however, is threatened economically by Iranian efforts to gain power.

With only the Red Sea on its west, Saudi Arabia depends on shipping more than one-third of its large repository of oil and gas reserves through the 24-mile wide Straits of Hormuz. (Please see map, next page.) Iran’s leaders continually claim the Straits of Hormuz as “territorial waters.” The Bab al-Mandab, the strait on the west coast of Yemen, serves as the gateway to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Iran’s Shiite allies in Yemen, the Ansarullah, or Houthis, took control of Sanaa and handed the key to Tehran.

This makes Iran the gatekeeper of the Middle East’s strategic waterways. This gives that country a potential chokehold on oil supplies going to Asia and Europe.

Iran Not The Only Problem

The Iran-Iraq War between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq lasted from September 1980 to August 1988, making it the 20th century’s longest conventional war. Over half a million soldiers were killed. The end of the war did not, however, bring peace to the Middle East region. It remains engulfed in sectarian, ethnic and geopolitical rivalries and terrorism.

When mass protests broke out in the Arab world in late 2010 — the Arab Spring — the Obama administration helped push longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak to step down from the Egyptian presidency. Four years later, “people power” has not taken hold in the Middle East. Some countries, such as Libya and Syria, hemorrhage from civil wars that started as peaceful protests.

In Egypt, elections produced a government so exclusionary that after a year in power, much of the public supported a return to military rule. Three and a half years after the death of Osama bin Laden, jihadis are resurgent in the region.

Gulf countries have bought US missile defense systems such as the Patriot system built by Raytheon Co and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system built by Lockheed Martin Corp. The region’s two most ambitious countries — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — are fighting for influence and power.

The Middle East is taking a different shape, along far older lines than those the western powers imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. The large dividing point today is between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shiite), and also between ISIS (Sunni) and Iraq (population largely Shiite, unlike the former Saddam Hussein). What does it mean?

Israel in a Difficult Situation

On March 31, 2015, Times of Israel reported that commander Naqdi of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said, “erasing Israel off the map” is “nonnegotiable.” Naqdi said Iran was stepping up efforts to arm West Bank Palestinians for battle against Israel, adding that the move would lead to Israel’s annihilation, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.

The prophet Joel describes a time in which a great confederacy of nations will gather against Israel and be brought to their final end in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Prominent among those nations, the prophet Ezekiel says, is Persia (Ezekiel 38:5). Since Persia was only beginning to come into prominence in the days of Ezekiel, he must have been referring to the time preceding the final battle of the Gospel Age, Armageddon. Perhaps not coincidentally, Israeli president Netanyahu has referred to Iran’s current negotiations for nuclear development as a “pincer movement” that represents “a threat to the Gulf and the entire world.” World attention is once again fixed on the Middle East.

The reestablishment of Israel in the Land promised to Abraham and his descendants is one of the most important events in what the Bible describes as the time of the end (see Luke 21:24).

The first recorded promise made to Abraham reads, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). In the 7th verse, after Abram had obeyed God’s instructions to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, God stated, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.”

Israel was expelled from its land the second time in 70 AD. The people were dispersed among all nations for over 1800 years. Then, just prior to World War 1, Jews were given an opportunity to once again live in what was then called Palestine. When the Ottoman Empire was overthrown, the doors of return were opened further. Today, over six million Jews live in Israel. Never before has a nation been resurrected in such a way and after such a long time. Surely this came at the hand of Jehovah. The time since restoration, however, has not been peaceful. Israel has fought four major wars and continues to experience threats from neighbors such as Iran.

Ezekiel 38, 39, describe a final cataclysmic assault against Israel during which time divine intervention will be necessary in order to save Israel. When this deliverance comes by the power of God, it will be recognized as such by Israel and by all nations. After the destruction of the invading hosts, the prophecy says: “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Jehovah” (Ezekiel 38:23).

The miraculous deliverance of Israel will mark the beginning of kingdom blessings flowing out to Israel and the world. From then on, Christ’s kingdom will function on the earth, in full control of the affairs in Israel, and will quickly spread its sphere of influence and control throughout the world. It will be then that the Ancient Worthies — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others — will be recognized as the human representatives of God’s kingdom on earth. As Israel comes into harmony with the righteous laws of the kingdom, and those laws become a part of them, they will have opportunity to cooperate with the Ancient Worthies in the great project of restitution. Peace will then come to the Middle East and the whole world.

“There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before Jehovah, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before Jehovah. … In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you” (Zechariah 8:20-23).