This is the Bible in the News brought to you this week by Paul Billington. While many of us are wondering how far the current Middle East War might spread Britain's Tony Blair pressed a few buttons in a speech given in Los Angeles this week. He connected to the Middle East crisis--to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to the much wider issue of Islamic fundamentalism versus democracy. Mr Blair pressed a few sensitive buttons--and some of them were right, while others were decidedly off the mark and unworkable.
He had adopted a position which many will see as pro-Israel, and in line with President Bush's ‘Fight Terrorism with Democracy' policy. "Terrorism," says the British Prime Minister, "is based on religious extremism. That is the fact." He says; "And not any religious extremism, but a specifically Muslim version." This extremism, says Blair, seeks to prevent Palestine living side by side with Israel--and we would have to say that he is correct in that statement. As he said, the religious fanatics are not merely fighting for the coming into being of a Palestinian state, but for the going out of being of an Israeli state.
What we are seeing, says Mr. Blair, is a global fight about global values. It is clear from his remarks that, in the short term, the war on Islamic militant ideology--the war on Terror-- is not being won by the western democracies. He sees hope in the long-term, but for now the world is facing a crisis which is splitting the whole Middle East. Iraq is heading for civil war, say two U.S. senior generals at the Pentagon, and the whole Arab world could soon be dragged in as moderates, like King Abdullah of Jordan warn that the Israel war in Lebanon is weakening them.
We have commented in the past--both on this programme as well as in THE BIBLE MAGAZINE Vol. 11 issue No. 4, page 16, where a map showing a divided Muslim world appeared (we reproduce it here in the print edition of the Bible in the News). That was published in the summer of 1998; that is eight years ago. In that editorial we wrote:
"What Scripture does tell us however, is that the Arab world as we know it today will become divided. Some "Arab" nations will come under the influence and guardianship of Ezekiel's Gog (Ezekiel 38:5), whilst others will be grouped with the trading powers associated with Tarshish (38:13). This is not new insight gained recently--it is a situation that has been expected for well over a century. In the geographical terminology of 1849, John Thomas described the territory to be controlled by Gog as: "Assyria proper, Persia, Asia Minor, Armenia, and Mesopotamia..." etc. (Elpis Israel). To this is added Libya and Ethiopia, or Northern Africa. This picture, taken largely from Ezekiel's prophecy is supplemented by Daniel 11:40-43."
So this situation has been foreseen for a long time. Last March, when visiting Israel, we spoke with a Jewish settler in the West Bank. Nir Lavi, a Bible (Old Testament) believer, lives in Mount Gerizim, and he told us of the crisis that he then saw developing for Israel:
"The worse case that will come in Israel will be a war with the Palestinian state, or maybe with several other Arab states, because of interacting in a war crisis; if we will have our back to the wall I guess then we will have to open up a war. But until our back won't be to the wall, the land of Israel is not looking for war. We know that the Russians are with the Hamas. We know that there are a lot of weapons coming in from the Gaza Strip all the time from Egypt to the Gaza Strip--to the "freed" Gaza Strip. There's no United Nations over there, overlooking what's happening there. Even from Hebron, I think, the Hamas when they won the elections, they (the U.N.) fled out of there. The people overlooking there.
"The world is coming to a crisis. The Iranians are becoming nuclear weaponed, and going to a phase that they can't go back from, they are enriching the uranium, and every knows about it. The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said already several times about the Land of Israel and about the Zionists, and about the Holocaust. We recognise and we know Haman and Amalek when we see one. We know that, but God is in control, of course. As believers we know that God is in control. And what we know is that the Land of Israel is called (Hebrew name) "The Land that will be higher" and held higher than all the other nations--and all the other lands, and if something occurs in the world around; in Israel there will be like a place--a bunker--to come and to be quiet. The opposite of what people think. That here it is like a barrel of explosives inside the Middle East. But it's really in our neighbour's land--the Arabs that are around us. But Israel is a peace seeking nation. Everybody recognises, everybody knows it. We have the problem of the Palestinian state, but still, we let them be a Palestinian state, and if they will not act as they were supposed to act then they will become emigrants."
Well, the crisis has come and Israel is at war as we all know. What first began with an incident in Gaza has spread so that now Israel is calling up reservists and making its way into Lebanon. Whatever course this war now takes, it is becoming clear that the after-effects look like changing the Middle East.
For one thing, it is difficult to see how the plan to withdraw from the West Bank can just go ahead. However determined Olmert and his ruling Kadima party might be, there is now less logic than ever to such a move. Unilateral withdrawal by Israel from Lebanon in 2000 merely provided an opportunity for terrorists to prepare themselves for war. Disengagement from Gaza did nothing for Israel's security--in fact it shattered the shaky security that previously existed. There is every reason to think that withdrawal from the West Bank could have even worse effects. After all, this is the area that has produced most suicide bombers who have gone forth from there to kill and maim the people of Israel.
Yet world leaders insist upon this idea of a two-state solution: An Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace. Most Israelis of course, would like nothing better--they would do almost anything to have peace, but if you look at the history you soon find that it has been tried many times before with disastrous results. When Britain took over the Mandate of Palestine after the First World War, it was not long before Jewish-Arab hostility brought them to the idea of a two-state solution. So the territory was divided in two, the smaller Palestine west of the Jordan river and Transjordan to the east of it. The violence did not stop--it continued until Britain gave up the Mandate and the UN divided up the smaller Palestine, west of Jordan, in 1947. The Partition plan, as it was called was a two state solution giving a part to the Arabs and a part to the Jews--but that didn't work either. The Arabs attacked the Jewish homeland and initiated the 1948-49 War of Independence.
More recently, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, giving Palestinians an opportunity to begin a small state, it resulted in the terror organisation Hamas coming to power, declaring that the war against Israel would continue. Again, any idea of two states living side by side in peace, was not going to work--and it didn't. Israeli soldiers are again operating in Gaza today in order to fight terrorists and stop them firing Kassams into Israel. Then the situation in Lebanon erupted, with Hezbollah taking over Lebanon and turning it into a terrorist base.
If this dream (President Bush once called it his vision) of a two state solution is pursued and tried with the West Bank, it will be less successful than any of the previous attempts. It simply WILL NOT WORK, and the reason is that Islamic ideology referred to by Tony Blair in his Los Angeles speech. If you think about what he has said, it interprets into saying that there will be no lasting Israeli-Palestinian settlement, until the "global fight about values" is won.
So this leads us back to the wider view of the Middle East. Tony Blair has said that there are many reasons for long-term optimism:
"Across the Middle East, there is a process of modernisation as well as reaction. It is unnoticed but it is there: in the UAE (United Arab Emirates); in Bahrain; in Kuwait; in Qatar. In Egypt, there is debate about the speed of change but not about its direction. In Libya and Algeria, there is both greater stability and a gradual but significant opening up."
Well--that may be over-optimistic in some areas, but compare that remark with our map of eight years ago. This division in the Arab (Islamic) world is inevitable. States like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt will have to fight extremism and fanaticism harder than ever in order to preserve their own sovereignty and power. This division is what the civil war in Iraq is all about--and it is the purpose of the United States and Britain to encourage those moderate states along this road.
When Ezekiel 38 is fulfilled, we see from verse 13 that Sheba and Dedan are in alliance, with the trading powers of Tarshish (the United States and Britain etc). This is also the time when the people gathered out of the nations will be dwelling safely upon the mountains of Israel (the West Bank). It suggests that some form of accommodation will have been reached--and that is what we now look for.
There is the scene laid out before us in the Bible--but how is it achieved? This may be a puzzle to us right now, but it will all fall into place. Perhaps the present war will move events in that direction. Whether they want it or not, the United States and Britain face a challenge today which is every bit as daunting as the one facing the world in 1939.
We hold our breath--and we keep our eye on the Bible in the News.
Hope to be with you again next week, God willing.