Update on the Middle East

Jul 2nd, 2011 | By | Category: End Times, Featured Issues

I believe strongly that God desires we keep our focus on the Middle East.  No matter what your position on eschatology, the end of history will occur in this region.  The campaign of Armageddon will be in the Jezreel Valley of Israel and that campaign will involve all major world powers.  So, it matters to us what is occurring in this region.  In this Perspective, I want to review recent developments in the region.

  • First is the contrast between how President Obama is treating Israel and how he is treating Syria.  By and large, Obama’s response to the so-called Arab Spring has been rather timid.  No one could argue that he is taking the lead among world leaders in promoting democratic change in the Middle East.  Further, Obama remains cautious in condemning Bashar al-Assad, the current dictator of Syria.  Assad has been using tanks and helicopter gunships against his own people to hold on to power.  The slaughter of his own people should have produced a blistering condemnation from the US government.  It has not.  This timidity informs even how the US responds to Syria!  But there is one exception to this timidity—Israel!  Obama is relentlessly tough on Israel.  Listen to columnist Jackson Diehl:  “[Obama] has spoken in public on Syria just twice since its massacres began [over] three months ago.  But he chose to spell out US terms for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without the agreement of Israel’s prime minister, on the eve of meeting him at the White House and with only a few hours’ notice—arguably the most high-handed presidential act in US-Israeli relations since the Eisenhower administration.  Now, with prodding from the European Union, Obama is attempting to strong-arm Israelis and Palestinians into beginning negotiations on the parameters he set.  The talks must be agreed to this month, says Washington; they should begin by September.”  Consider the two parties to these negotiations: (1)  Benjamin Netanyahu:  He leads an Israeli right-wing coalition that would collapse should he agree to Obama’s terms.  No Israeli leader could survive negotiations where the 1967 lines are the basis for negotiations.  (2)  Mahmoud Abbas:  He is 76 years old, planning to retire.  Diehl writes that “he has committed himself to spending the next year seeing through reconciliation with the Hamas movement, arranging elections for his successor and seeking recognition for Palestine at the United Nations.  For two years, he has refused to negotiate with Netanyahu, whom he despises.  Even Yasser Arafat appeared more disposed that this Palestinian leader to make the wrenching concessions needed for a deal.  And who would guarantee that the Palestinian president elected next May would pick up where Abbas left off?”  What is astonishing about our current president is that he is so tough and, in his words, “speaks truth” to Israel, but has no stomach for speaking “truth” to Assad of Syria.  Israel is our friend and partner in the Middle East.  Engaging “the moderate” (Obama’s words) Assad of Syria is absolutely fruitless and naive.  Such engagement has only produced more terror for the people of Syria.  I find all of this quite perplexing—and I am rather ashamed of our current government because of it.
  • Second, a few thoughts on the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.  Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for the Atlantic, writes that the Brotherhood “believes, generally, in the primacy of Muslim law; in the supremacy of Islam; and in the idea that women and men should play their traditional roles in society.  They also tend to believe that the West (and Israel, the country they consider a Western outpost in the Middle East) seeks, through conspiracy, to undermine their way of life.”  Goldberg reports that he had an extensive interview with one of the key leaders of the Egyptian Brotherhood, who absolutely refused to respond to the two most sensitive questions facing them:  Would the Brotherhood support a Christian for the Egyptian presidency?  Could it support a woman?  (The Brotherhood’s 2007 draft party platform, from which the organization is now trying to distance itself, makes clear that a Christian could not serve as president of Egypt.)  Furthermore, the creed of the Brotherhood is rather categorical:  “Allah is our objective.  The Prophet is our leader.  Quran is our law.  Jihad is our way.  Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”  Over the last few weeks, news reports have detailed the formation of an offshoot of the Brotherhood of younger Muslims, who do not want to restrict women’s rights and resist the integration of Shariah law into Egyptian society.  But this splinter group is smaller and younger than the seasoned Brotherhood leaders.  In short, it is difficult to be positive about the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.  Should they attain any degree of power in the upcoming elections in Egypt, it would not be a positive development.
  • Third, a word about Pakistan.  Since the US killed Osama bin Laden, the US-Pakistani relationship is at an all-time low.  There is little doubt that the Pakistani military is undergoing a deep internal crisis of identity.  Traditionally, the Pakistani military has been viewed as a secular and disciplined organization.  However, as Fareed Zakaria argues, “the evidence is now overwhelming that it has been infiltrated at all levels by violent Islamists, including Taliban and al Qaeda sympathizers.”  It appears that Islamist ideology is replacing strategy.  Zakaria writes that “For 60 years, Pakistan’s military has focused obsessively on its rivalry with India.  Large elements within that military appear to be switching obsessions, and the United States is replacing India as the organizing principle around which Pakistan’s military understands its national security interests.  If this happens, not only is the Afghan war lost but Pakistan is also lost.”  Pakistan is drifting into a strategic black hole.  Does it really wish to become an enemy of the United States, currying favor with Islamic militants?  Or does it want to join the family of nations and seek to destroy the jihadist militants that are destroying Pakistan?  Because the United States has poured over $20 billion into Pakistan, how these questions are answered is critical for America as well.
  • Finally, a brief word about Turkey.  Since World War II, Turkey has been a reliable ally of the West.  As a member of NATO, it was on the front-line of the Cold War.  But, by 2000, Turkey was a feeble nation, both in terms of its regional influence and its economy.  But now in 2011, things have changed.  Turkey stands absolutely transformed as a nation.  Unlike all the other Mediterranean nations (e.g., Greece, Spain and Portugal), Turkey has an economy that is robust, with an investment-grade credit rating, low inflation and no pressure from the International Monetary Fund.  It is now a vocal member of the G-20 club of important economies and some forecasters predict that during the next decade it will grow faster than any country except China and India.  In short, Turkey has a flourishing economy and a young population.  As The Economist argues, [Turkey] has become a pivotal [nation].  Its geographical position, wedged between the European landmass, Russia and the Middle East, has given it a new strategic importance, especially in the energy-pipeline business.  And its new assertive foreign policy is making it count not just in neighboring countries but as far afield as China and Africa.”  Turkey is also a critically important nation in the Muslim world:  It is a Muslim nation functioning as a secular democracy.  Compared with much of the Arab world, it has been hugely successful in economic, diplomatic and military terms.  Membership in the European Union, which was Turkey’s goal for years, no longer seems as important.  In fact, the way the EU treated Turkey, with the list of demands for changing its culture, is it any wonder that Turkey now sees the EU as superfluous?  Turkey was once an ally of Israel but no longer.  It sees itself as the resurgent leader of the Muslim world.

As this Perspective has shown, the Middle East is a region in the middle of enormous change.  These changes overall do not bode well for the US and certainly not for Israel.

See The Economist (23 October 2010 and 21 May 2011); Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post (22 June 2011); Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic (June 2011), pp 50-51; and Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post (19 June 2011). PRINT PDF

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One Comment to “Update on the Middle East”

  1. sister Grace says:

    yes, all eyes, (the wise eyes of bible students) should be focused on the middle east and especially on Gods timeclock which is Israel.
    Then all of Gods people should pray and support support Israel in any and every way possible.
    I named my first son Israel, so that whenever i call him, i would be reminded of the Nation of God and he loves that name so much. I always as Psalms say pray for Israel, its peace, security and wisdom like a tongue in the midst of sharp teeth!
    But one thing that encourages me is that whether three quarters of Israel will be destroyed, a third, a remnant will be saved! Lets all pray for Israel, and “see you in Jerusalem next year”