A Pro-Israel Sunni alliance emerging?

Christadelphians have long expected to see the emergence of two basic camps in the Middle East at the time of the end – a coalition led by Gog which invades the Middle East and attacks Israel which will be opposed, seemingly half-heartedly, by a group which objects to the actions of Gog and his allies.  While this broad outline was enunciated clearly in 1849 in Elpis Israel there have been times since then when the vicissitudes of international diplomacy and national politics have made it hard to see the groupings as described in Ezekiel 38 might coalesce, especially with regard to those players based in the Middle East.

After the proclamation of Israeli independence in 1948 the Middle East endured decades of instability, although in the early decades of Israel’s existence one thing did remain stable and constant – the fact that Israel was essentially alone in the Middle East, surrounded by more or less hostile regimes intent on her destruction.  This started to change in the 1970’s when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt.  That treaty was followed in the 1990’s by one with Jordan.  At about the same time Israel entered into formal negotiations with the Palestinians with the seemingly illusive objective of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement.

Arab spring – or should that be winter?

An incisive essay titled “Battle Lines – the great conflict now reshaping the Middle East” was published in the May 2015 issue of the Australia Israel Review.  The author, Dr Jonathan Spyer, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Centre.  He opened his essay with these words:

In the last decade, the Middle East has been living through a political convulsion of historic proportions.  Regimes that once appeared immovable have been destroyed or have receded.  New forces have risen up and are making war over the ruins.

The result of the effective eclipse in recent years of the states of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has been the emergence of a large and chaotic conflict in the contiguous area once covered by those states.  The failure to develop coherent state-loyal national identities in the areas in question has meant that once central authorities disappears, a political-military competition based on forces assembled according to ethnic and sectarian identity emerges. (emphasis added)

The concepts in these paragraphs will resonate with many students of Bible student because they pick up themes that the prophets would lead us to expect to see at the time of the end.  All the nations listed by Dr Spyer were included within the territory of the Ottoman Empire before its drying up under the sixth vial of Revelation 16.  “Chaotic conflict” is a perfect description of the outworking of the frog-like spirits which have a destabilising influence in particular in the area formerly occupied by the Ottoman Empire.  The end result of that instability will be the gathering of all nations to Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).

The picture that emerges when we view the chaos that has engulfed Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which has brought so much suffering to Gaza and which is now convulsing Yemen, is of warring factions such as Isis, Hamas and the Houthis justifying on religious grounds their aggressive promotion of their own interests without regard to the suffering inflicted on others.  The terms of another passage which describes the events leading up to Armageddon come to mind:

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.  Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” (Joel 3:9-10, ESV)

Much of Dr Spyer’s essay is devoted to the growing influence and reach of Iran – the Persia of Ezekiel 38:5.  Notwithstanding the fact that Iran is not an Arab state and its language is not Arabic, Teheran has worked tirelessly to spread its tentacles across the Arab world.  It actively supports the Assad Syrian regime, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.  It is also providing practical and moral support to the Houthi rebels who seem to be on the verge of assuming control in Yemen.

Opposing Iran

In recent years more moderate, more pro-western Middle Eastern states such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other states along the Persian Gulf have become increasingly concerned about Iran’s aggressive policies.  In part their concern is political and national – they recognise the threat Iran poses to their internal stability and even sovereignty.  At another level, their concern is religiously motivated.  The Sunni Moslem powers in these states are opposed to the Shiah version of Islam that the Iranians and the forces the Iranians support.

Although they have been slow to respond, in recent years these Sunni powers have become more assertive in their opposition to the tactics and policies of Iran.  As Dr Spyer remarks:

A Sunni coalition which seeks to mobilise to challenge the Iranian advance towards regional domination is now in the process of being established.  Saudi Arabia stands at the head of this effort.

Emergence of this Sunni coalition was helped by the military coup in Egypt in July 2013 and has been further assisted by the ascension of a new monarch in Saudi Arabia.  A Riyadh-Cairo led axis of powers opposed to Iran is developing.  Under its new King Salman, Saudi Arabia has stepped up its opposition to the Houthis in Yemen.  Saudi has good reason to be worried about the civil war in her neighbour given that she shares a poorly-guarded 1,500km border with Yemen.  That there are much more serious and broad strategic issues at stake, however, is reflected in the fact that this campaign is actively supported by nine other Sunni states – Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Pakistan, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, none of whom are contiguous with Yemen.  Of these nine nations, all but Pakistan and Sudan were once part of the Ottoman Empire, as was Yemen.

Dr Spyer sums up the situation now developing in the region with these words:

The emerging strategic picture in the Middle East is defined by the coming together of a number of factors:

  • The collapse of authoritarian regimes, resulting in the opening up of chaotic political spaces as would-be successors do battle over the ruins. These successor entities, in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya (incidentally also mentioned in Ezekiel 38:5 as an ally of Gog), Lebanon and Gaza, are usually based on local ethnic, tribal and sectarian (emphasis added)
  • The Iranian ambition for hegemony in the Middle East, underlying Teheran’s attempt to benefit from the burgeoning regional chaos. Iran controls a tight, centralised alliance of client organisations.  Its clients control Lebanon, and play a dominant role in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Gaza.
  • The Sunni reaction, deriving precisely from the fear of a rampant Iran inheriting the regional order. The Sunni interest is preventing overall Iranian victory in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, but is not sufficiently strong to entirely defeat or push back the clients of Iran.
  • Lastly, the absence of the United States from this picture. Washington is working according to an erroneous reading of the regional map.  It imagines that Teheran is amenable to “engagement”.  The result of this is to encourage Iranian expansionism, and also to encourage the independent Sunni organisation to resist Iran which is now under way.

Dr Spyer concludes his essay with words which, with only minor rebalancing, could summarise the picture painted by the prophets of the time of the end with regard to the Middle East:

So the direction of events in the Middle East is towards an ongoing conflict in several fronts between a bloc of mainly Shi’ite forces led by Iran, and a looser, more disparate gathering of Sunni forces in which Saudi Arabia, (and probably also Turkey and Qatar) are set to play central roles.

This conflict is set to define the next chapter of the troubled history of our region.

The next chapter of the history of this region was set forth long ago in the Bible.  Our reading of Ezekiel 38 would lead us to substitute as leaders of the two opposing blocs Gog (Russia) and Tarshish, but the conflict as described by Dr Spyer is broadly consistent with that picture.  The nations he identifies – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – all have a part to play in the drama that will usher in the kingdom of God and the reign of Christ.

Perhaps we have wondered why Sheba and Dedan should come to Israel’s support when Gog invades, as Ezekiel 38:13 says they will.  The scenario emerging today suggests their support might be motivated by own self-interest rather than friendship for the Jewish state.  If they have little else in common it looks likely they will share a common enemy!  Such is the way God’s angels sometimes work in bringing about outcomes men would not expect.  It is encouraging to those who are watching and waiting to see signs of the emergence of the scenario they have long expected.  “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus!”

Geoff Henstock

Re-produced here with the kind permission of Bro Henstock and the Testimony Magazine

http://testimonymagazine.com/

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