Israel continues to be a focal point in the Middle East. Turmoil within and surrounding dangers make for a challenging environment.
According to data compiled by the Israeli Shin Bet Security Agency, 2015 was the deadliest year for terrorism there since 2008. Twenty-eight people were killed in attacks: two foreigners, one Palestinian, three members of Israeli security services, and twenty-two civilians. Although no mass casualties have occurred thus far in 2016, random attacks on individual Jews or groups have continued, many at the hands of young Palestinians.
In the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, long-awaited Palestinian elections scheduled for October 8 were postponed because “the (Palestinian) administration must deal with the homeland as one unit, and with the faltering measures in Jerusalem and in Gaza, the decision was taken to postpone,” according to Palestinian news agency, Ma’an.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, proposed new Israel-Palestinian peace talks brokered by Moscow. Netanyahu said in a press release that face-to-face meetings hosted by Putin could take place in early November.
Failing institutions and a divided population have jeopardized the future for Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president and head of Fatah. Multiple possibilities have emerged for replacing the 81-year-old power-hungry leader. Putin sees a clear opportunity for greater influence given the US administration’s openly critical stance of Israel and the uncertainty about the eventual winner in the November election. If peace talks occur in early November, American representation will likely be absent for the first time.
God’s Warning to Israel
God warned Moses in Exodus 23:31-33 NAS, “I will fix your boundary from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them or with their gods. They shall not live in your land, because they will make you sin against Me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Italics added).
Current attempts to create two states within Israel have been unsuccessful to date for a reason. Man’s intention is not God’s intention. World leaders unitedly demand Israel give up land within the area which Jehovah “fixed” as belonging to the heirs of Jacob. Arab citizens now living in Judea, Samaria (West Bank), and the Gaza Strip say they want shared status for Jerusalem, but in reality Palestinian leadership wants nothing less than the removal of Jews from the entire area recovered in the war of 1967, including the Old City where the Temple stood. Many want Israel out of the land entirely. However, God will prevail as He has promised the entire area only to the descendants of Jacob. Any world moves toward dividing Israel will ultimately fail at the end of the time known as Jacob’s Trouble (Ezekiel 38, 39).
Continued upheaval in Syria has turned that country into a bloody battlefield. A five-year war has created opportunity for Salafi jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to gain a foothold in the Yarmouk Valley on the Syrian Golan Heights, according to the Jerusalem Post, just a few miles from the northern edge of Israel. The Yarmouk Valley is an especially strategic spot, located at the triple border of Israel, Syria and Jordan. The group’s possession of both tanks and chemical weapons raises concern, although the group’s focus currently appears to be the Syrian civil war.
Israeli President Netanyahu held a cabinet meeting recently at the Golan Heights for the first time. Addressing Israeli lawmakers via teleconference, he said the region is vital to Israeli security and “will remain under Israel’s sovereignty permanently.’ In September (as of this writing), the Israel Air Force had struck Syrian regime targets twice after mortar fire from the country’s military spilled into the northern Golan Heights. An Israeli plane fired at least three missiles into the northern Queintra countryside, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Earlier, Israeli forces attacked artillery belonging to the Syrian government in response to a shell that exploded in the Israeli section of the Golan Heights.
A Brief History
Israeli conflict with Syria is not new. In July, 1951, King Abdullah of Jordan was assassinated by a lone gunman while attending Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. This began a hostile 14-year period of fighting, including with Israel. Eventually, Syria, Egypt and Jordan signed a three-way peace treaty. That left Israel in the middle of a powder keg. Israeli Intelligence learned of an imminent attack by the new trilateral alliance. It supervised a preemptive air strike against Egyptian military bases on June 5, 1967. When the six-day war was over, Israeli fighters had captured the Sinai Peninsula (later returned to Egypt), the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the Jordan River, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
In their book, The Six Day War, Randolph and Winston Churchill marvel, “By a feat of arms unparalleled in modern times, the Israelis, surrounded by enemies superior in quantity and quality of equipment and overwhelming superiority in numbers … fought a war on three fronts and not only survived, but had won a resounding victory” (page 191). Seven years later on Yom Kippur, shocked Israeli border guards watched as hundreds of Syrian tanks tore past their positions in plumes of white powder. To the south, just over 400 Israeli soldiers faced 80,000 Egyptian troops as they stormed across the Suez Canal. Israel ultimately won the war and pushed Syria from the Golan Heights, but it discovered the vulnerability of defending multiple borders and multiple enemies. When Egypt’s early victories gave it a new credibility amongst its peer Arab neighbors and the Western world, Israeli leaders agreed to meet with Egyptian leaders, agreed to the Camp David Accords in 1978 and signed a formal peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Prior to the current civil war in Syria, President Basher Assad clearly stated that he would not sever ties with Iran nor shut down the Hamas and Jihad bureaus. He had begun an effort to get Israel to return the Golan Heights. In Numbers 34:7-12, God apparently puts Israel’s ultimate northern border at Mt. Hor in Lebanon and likely the entire Golan Heights now claimed by Syria. There its ultimate Eastern border is to include some parts of current Jordan.
During the past nearly 70 years, Israel has sought genuine peace with its neighbors and the right to determine its own destiny, only to discover new enemies from within and interference from without. Under pressure it has given up land it fought to defend. Today even Jerusalem is being split and negotiated away.
The population of 8.5 million in Israel today is composed of 6.4 million Jews (74.8%). When the state was established, there were only 600,000 Jews among the 806,000 residents. Since 2006, and for the first time since 135 AD, there are more Jews in Israel than in any other country in the world.
Amidst the trouble we see throughout the Middle East, let us remember the admonition, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good” (Psalm 122:6-9).