Despite a ceasefire, Israel, Gaza and the entire Middle East remain far from lasting peace—and one step from all-out war.
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After eight days, 1,506 Hamas rockets, and roughly 1,500 Israeli airstrikes, a truce was ordered in a conflict centered in the Gaza Strip. On November 21, Palestinians and Israelis returned to a strained stalemate—the status quo for the region since the 1948 creation of the Jewish state.
Since the ceasefire began, a dozen or so rockets have shot across the border from Gaza. The Weekly Standard reported that a television station run by Islamist Hamas, the ruling political party in Gaza, aired a “Death to Israel” music video. A short time later, the Israel Defense Forces successfully tested “David’s Sling,” a missile defense system capable of intercepting mid- to long-range missiles.
Yet what can be lost in the heated rhetoric and political/media biases is the human toll—the mounting deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians. And citizens on both sides of the conflict continue to live with the daily possibility of a full-scale war.
To launch what was labeled Operation Pillar of Cloud, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ordered a pinpoint missile strike that killed Ahmed Jabri, the head of the Hamas military wing. The move was in response to continued rocket fire from Gaza—with 451 rocket attacks from January to October 2012, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The strikes were aimed at destroying Hamas caches of advanced weaponry and hindering the organization’s ability to carry out terrorist attacks.
Gaza responded with Operation Stones of Baked Clay, upping its steady stream of rocket fire and employing Fajr-5 missiles, which could strike at the heart of the Jewish state, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
The IDF’s new Iron Dome missile defense system limited Israeli casualties to five—yet there were still 252 people wounded. Airstrikes and stray “friendly fire” rockets killed more than 140 in the Gaza Strip, some of whom were Hamas militants.
Ultimately, the eight-day clash punctuated an increasingly unstable Middle East. During Operation Pillar of Cloud, a handful of the rockets shot at Israel originated from terrorist groups in Egypt and Syria.
As a sign of his increasing political clout in the region, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi helped facilitate a truce, bringing praise from the United States and United Nations alike. On the following day, however, Mr. Morsi made a grab for sweeping power in his nation. The move drew criticism that the president had set himself up as a modern-day “pharaoh.” His declaration spawned mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, reminiscent of the Arab Spring movement that ousted strong-arm President Hosni Mubarak.
Also, since the ceasefire, the United Nations upgraded Palestine to a “non-member observer state,” which means it now has the same status within the organization as the Vatican.
While Israeli military strikes may have hindered Hamas’ ability to strike at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel and its neighbors remain at an impasse, the peace process stalled. A New York Times article title summed it up: “A Fragile Cease-Fire Achieved by Leaving Thorny Issues Unresolved.”
Arabs and Israelis are engaged in a seemingly habitual blood feud. The two sides fought in 2008’s Gaza War following regular clashes after Hamas rose to power in 2006. The Arab League, with Egypt, Syria and Jordan taking starring roles, mounted the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Six-Day War in 1967, and Arab-Israeli War in 1956.
Given the track record, these periods of “peace” and “ceasefire” were, in a sense, code words for a lull in a war that has continued throughout Israel’s history.
Conflict has raged in Israel for millennia. Look at the Crusades. Greece and Rome conquered it, as did Babylon and Assyria. Year after year, century after century, nations have lifted swords against Jerusalem—often with Arab/Israeli involvement.
Religion on either side of Arab-Israeli violence plays a huge factor in both cultures.
Notice Hamas’ mission title: Operation Stones of Baked Clay. To most Westerners, this name seems a bit strange, even odd. What does “baked clay” have to do with anything?
To Muslims, however, the message is loud and clear. The phrase comes from the 105th chapter of the Quran. For Hamas, the reference alludes to Ethiopians attacking Islam’s holiest site, Mecca, in AD 570. The chapter tells a story of Allah intervening to destroy an invading army.
The five-verse chapter reads, “Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the Companions of the Elephant? Did He not make their treacherous plan go astray? And He sent against them Flights of Birds, striking them with stones of baked clay. Then did He make them like an empty field of stalks and straw, (of which the corn) has been eaten up” (translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali).
The story goes that the Ethiopian army with greater military strength (including war elephants) threatened to destroy the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Allah’s intervention left the stronger force decimated like “eaten up” chaff. This echoes the regular calls from Muslim extremists who desire nothing more than the complete destruction of Israel by whatever means necessary.
IDF’s Operation Pillar of Cloud is also a reference to divine intervention. In the Old Testament, after Israel (led by Moses) left Egypt, it states that “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night” (Ex. 13:21).
This “pillar of cloud” protected Israel when Pharaoh’s army caught up with the former slaves along the banks of the Red Sea.
Notice: “And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians [who were on the floor of the parted Red Sea] through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot wheels, that they drove them heavily…And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen” (14:24-26).
Verse 28 states, “And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.”
How can the conflict between these two peoples end when both sides earnestly believe they have God (or Allah) on their side?
More than just preserving the history and religion of Israel, the Bible also reveals the genesis of modern Arab-Israeli tensions.
It all goes back to a sibling rivalry between two half brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, who were both sons of the patriarch Abraham. For Muslims, Ishmael is a prominent figure and a prophet. In the Bible, God states that Isaac would carry on birthright blessings given to Abraham.
Ishmael was born to Hagar the Egyptian, who was a servant in Abraham’s house. The patriarch had a child with Hagar because his wife, Sarah, felt she could not conceive. Fourteen years later, however, Isaac was born to Sarah and became “the son of promise” (Rom. 9:9).
This news did not sit well with Ishmael and Hagar.
The account in the book of Genesis demonstrates this resentment: “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian…mocking [his younger brother]” (Gen. 21:9).
From the original Hebrew, “mocking” can be translated “to make sport of, to jest” (Gesenius’ Lexicon).
The next verse shows that Ishmael’s harsh mocking was because he, as the oldest son, felt entitled to a share of the family inheritance, perhaps even a larger portion than Isaac. Due to this animosity, Sarah told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away.
Continuing the account, “And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son [Ishmael]. And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in your sight because of the lad, and because of your bondwoman; in all that Sarah has said unto you, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall your seed be called” (vs. 11-12).
Yet Ishmael would not be left out completely. God continued, “And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is your seed” (vs. 13).
Earlier, God had promised Hagar that her son would become a world power: “And as for Ishmael…I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (17:20).
This is a similar promise made to Isaac who carried the promise of Abraham: “And I [God] will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).
These two men have become great nations. They have spawned three of the world’s largest religions. The Bible is undoubtedly the most influential book of all time. And the Arabs have pushed forward fields such as architecture and mathematics (developing algebra and the use of irrational numbers).
Yet the sibling rivalry between these two nations and religions has persisted throughout millennia. Nowhere is this more evident today than on the Temple Mount. Those of Jewish descent claim the site is the place Isaac was bound and ready to be sacrificed by Abraham before God intervened (Gen. 22), while many Muslims claim it was Ishmael under his father’s blade. The Old Testament states that two temples stood on the hill. For Muslims, Muhammad landed there on his “night journey.”
Today, Israel faces persistent rocket fire from Ishmael’s descendants—who surround the tiny nation.
This brings to life another Bible passage written about Hagar’s son: “…his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Gen. 16:12).
Think. What other people fit the description of Ishmael? His “hand against every man, and every man’s hand against him”—dwelling “in the presence of all his brethren”?
While there is historical insight found throughout the Bible, most overlook approximately one-third of its text—prophecy. Thirty-three percent of this Book contains details about the future—in effect history written in advance. This text reveals definitely and explicitly what the coming years will bring for the Middle East.
Most scoff at this notion. Many professing Christians get confused by prophecy and skip over it or read through it the best they can—gaining little understanding. Others attempt to put things together using their own pet theories and misinformed insights.
What is missing in all of these approaches are the keys to properly handling the subject of prophecy.
First, you must know whether the Bible is absolutely true. Fulfilled prophecy is a crucial way to prove that it is in fact God’s Word. A small example of this was already seen in the verse showing that Ishmael’s descendants “will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” (There are many other towering examples of this. Some of these can be found in the booklet Bible Authority...Can It Be Proven? God does not leave the answer up to blind faith!)
Once biblical validity is confirmed, the next step is understanding the modern identities of nations named throughout the Bible. Especially important is where the United States and British Isles fit into the proverbial Rubik’s Cube that is prophecy. Read David C. Pack’s book America and Britain in Prophecy to learn the exciting answer—which is backed by the Bible and extensive historical facts.
Another critical principle is that prophecy is often dual, meaning that many foretold events may have smaller fulfillments before a final major fulfillment in the near future. Duality is the missing piece to “solving” dozens of prophecies.
Using these keys to study prophecy reveals what will soon befall modern Israel and the Arab world. It also shows who will rule the Middle East and what nations will rally against Israel.
The Bible speaks of three soon-coming power players that will vie for influence in the Middle East—especially over Jerusalem. Two are symbolically known as the “king of the north” and the “king of the south” (Dan. 11). The third is detailed in the New Testament book of Revelation as “the kings of the east” (16:12). (Note that the compass directions “north,” “south” and “east” are from the vantage point of Jerusalem.)
These coming power blocs will include multinational alliances. All of them will want to take a starring role in the Middle East.
Today, Arab nations tend to stick together against the common adversary of Israel. Yet the Bible reveals that there will be a split among Islamic nations.
Notice: “For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against you [meaning modern Israel]” (Psa. 83:5).
The nations making up this confederation are listed in verses 6-8: “The tabernacles of Edom [modern Turkey], and the Ishmaelites [Saudi Arabia]; of Moab [southern Jordan], and the Hagarenes [Syria]; Gebal [Lebanon], and Ammon [northern Jordan], and Amalek [scattered in the Middle East]; the Philistines [Palestinian Arabs, including Gaza] with the inhabitants of Tyre [Lebanon]; Assur [Assyria, whose descendants now live in Germany] also is joined with them: they have helped the children of Lot [Jordan and western Iraq].”
These Arab nations align themselves with Germany, who will be the military arm for the “king of the north.” As mentioned many times before in The Real Truth, this civil leader will be given power by 10 European nations (Rev. 17:8-9, 12). (Read the article Germany’s Renewed Nationalism, for more on this modern nation’s connection with ancient Assyria.)
Egypt is conspicuously missing from this list, as it will lead a separate confederation of nations as the king of the south.
Daniel 11 reveals that north and south will clash when the king of the north brings his army to Jerusalem, most likely as a peace-keeping force: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him [the European army]: 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” (vs. 40).
The king of the north “shall enter also into the glorious land [modern Israel], 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” (vs. 41). Recall that these three nations will be allies of Europe.
Verses 43-45 show that the king of the north will subdue Egypt, Libya and Ethiopia.
After this, “…tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble” the European power bloc (vs. 44). These “tidings” are from the aforementioned “kings of the east,” which will be an eastern coalition led by Russia and China. This group of Asiatic countries will enter the Middle East likely to cut off oil supplies from a rapidly expanding European empire.
Soon the armies in the region will take part in a climactic battle for world power, popularly known as Armageddon. (Read the article What Is Armageddon? to learn more.)
The recent clash and ceasefire in Israel and the Gaza Strip are but tiny birth pangs of what is coming for the Middle East.
Watch Europe as it morphs into a tight-knit group of 10 nations. Watch as Russia and China grow more vocal on the world stage. Watch as Egypt coalesces power.
Watch the Middle East!