HEATING UP IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By Carol Rushton
Things in the Middle East never stay quiet for very long. In the past year the following important events have taken place in the region:
Moving America’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Turkey
President Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory
The withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 nuclear agreement President Obama had made with Iran
The escalation of the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran’s proxies, the Houthis, in Yemen
Israel trading rocket attacks with Syria and Hamas in the Gaza Strip
Iran’s expansion of military assets in Syria and for all practical purposes, the takeover of Iraq
The latest salvo in the escalation of tensions is the attack on two Saudi oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, one of which was about to leave for the U.S. Saudi government officials declined to give many details about the attack, only stating that although “significant damage” to the tankers occurred during the attack, no oil leaked or spilled out of the tankers (Associated Press, Saudi Arabia Says 2 Oil Tankers Damaged By Sabotage Attacks,” May 13, Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/world/saudi-arabia-says-2-oil-tankers-damaged-by-sabotage-attacks, accessed June 10, 2019).
The Trump administration had warned its allies in the Middle East for several months of increased threats by Iran, prompting it to dispatch the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the region. The Trump administration has refused so far to specify the reasons for warning of an escalation of tensions and threats by Iran but Middle East experts suspect that Iran was behind the attacks on the Saudi tankers (though Iran denies this).
Saudi Arabia was already deeply concerned about the Houthis’ control of Yemen and using Yemen to launch rocket attacks into their country from their southern border. The Houthis are Iranian proxies and are used by Iran to create havoc and chaos within Saudi Arabia. Iran also moves freely through Iraq and has built military installations in Syria, which Israel bombs from time to time.
Iran is trying to surround Saudi Arabia. The Iranians would love nothing more than to topple the Saudi royal family and replace them with a puppet regime as they did in Yemen. The Saudis recognize this, and this is why they respond to the rocket attacks from the Houthis by sending their warplanes to bomb Yemen, although this usually results in the killing of innocent Yemeni men, women, and children. The U.N. has no problem with promptly condemning Saudi Arabia for bombing Yemen and blames the Saudis for the suffering and humanitarian crisis in that country and the U.S. as well since our country supports the Saudis in this conflict. However, the U.N. is silent about the Houthis attacking Saudi Arabia, refusing to hold either the Houthis or Iran accountable for their responsibility for the situation in Yemen.
Although it is clear that President Trump and his administration are aware of these moves by Iran, which is probably one of the reasons for their warnings to our Middle East allies, it doesn’t help Saudi Arabia very much. Very few countries will now come to the Saudis’ defense. Their murder of Jamal Khashoggi has not helped their image around the world. The Saudi royal family is not popular with their citizens and because of the unrest in their country, the royal family felt that Khashoggi’s criticism of them, which was well known, posed a significant threat to their rule. That’s why they murdered him.
Westerners need to take off their rose-colored glasses and be realistic about the shifting alliances in the Middle East. In the 1990’s, Turkey and Israel held joint air force military exercises together every year, but not anymore. Turkey has become a radical Islamic country, with their current President Erdogan allying himself with Iran. If Iran had murdered and dismembered anyone in their embassy in Turkey, Turkey would not only be OK with that but would defend Iran and come up with the most implausible scenarios to explain what had happened. Turkey doesn’t care that Khashoggi was murdered. They just care that Saudi Arabia did it.
Westerners must also realize that Russia is supporting Iran and the development of their nuclear weapons program. If anyone thinks Iran wants to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, they need to have their head examined. Iran’s leaders continue to threaten to destroy Israel and the U.S. almost every day. If Iran ever successfully develops a nuclear weapons program, it won’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons against Israel.
This situation has created some strange bedfellows in the Middle East. Although the Saudis have officially denied any contacts with Israel, official or unofficial, leaks continue to surface about cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis may not like the Israelis very much – I promise you they are still teaching children in Saudi schools that Jews are descended from apes and pigs – but they know as long as they don’t directly attack Israel, Israel will leave them alone. The Saudis know that Israel is committed to protecting not only their own country but the peace and stability of the entire Middle East. They know that Israel will never use their nuclear weapons unless they forced to do so and there is no other alternative while the Iranians won’t bat an eye about using nukes. A nuclear attack on Israel by Iran will directly affect Saudi Arabia as well as every other country in the Middle East, and that is not something the Saudi royal family can allow.
American congressmen who have condemned any new weapons sales to the Saudis because of the Khashoggi murder are playing into the hands of the Iranians. Yes, the Saudi royal family is not the greatest (I realize this is an understatement!), but if the Saudi royal family is successfully toppled by a coup and replaced by an Iranian regime, the situation in the Middle East will be a hundred times worse. As bad as the Saudi royal family is, the alternative is unthinkable. Unless, of course, the United States sent troops into Saudi Arabia to prop up their government, and I don’t think any American, even our military, would support that.
We also have to remember that many of the current tensions in the Middle East are the result of how the allies after World War I carved up the Middle East, creating new countries and installing regimes and rulers for those countries without consulting the peoples in the region what they wanted. The world is now experiencing the bitter fruits of the seeds planted one hundred years ago by people who are now dead and cannot be held to account for their arbitrary decisions.
No one wants another major war in the Middle East, me most of all. However, only the Lord knows the future, and it is possible that we are currently seeing the setting of the stage for another major war in the Middle East, perhaps one of the wars that Bill Salus points to in Psalm 83, or even the war of Ezekiel 38-39. While I am thankful the United States has in President Trump the best friend that Israel and the Jews has ever had in American history, we also must recognize that the Bible predicted over two thousand years ago the time when the whole world would viciously turn against Israel and the Jews. Let us be ever vigilant in our support of Israel and the Jews as we and they face an increasingly perilous and dangerous world in these last days.
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. – Zechariah 12:2-3