Light for the Last Days

Israel Desk – February 2019

Israel discovers tunnels built by Hezbollah in Lebanon.  

Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to uncover and destroy tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory. At least two cross-border attack tunnels built by the group into Israeli territory have been discovered by the IDF along the northern border, including one outside the northern community of Metula.  A senior IDF officer told reporters that the tunnel, which infiltrated only 40 metres into Israeli territory, was not yet operational. It would have been used by the group’s elite Radwan unit to infiltrate into Metula in an attempt to take control of the community and cut it off from Route 90 and kill as many civilians and troops as possible.

In our last edition I said that Netanyahu had held back from going into Gaza after the sustained rocket attack on southern Israel because he was in possession of ‘sensitive information’ which he could not divulge now.  That information probably had to do with the planned action on Hezbollah. Israel would not want to find itself in action on two fronts, one in the south and one in the north at the same time.

At the moment Israel has confined itself to action on its side of the border, but hinted that this action is not over and may involve crossing over into Lebanon to finish the work of destroying the tunnels.  The Lebanese army has begun moving towards the border and Hezbollah has warned Israel of its ability to hit Israel with its missiles.

“There is not a single point in the occupied territories (i.e. Israel) out of reach of Hezbollah’s missiles,” Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem said.  “The Zionists cannot tolerate such a high level of threats in confrontation with Hezbollah, which is why they have no motive for entering another war with Lebanon.”

The stakes in Lebanon have been raised by the news that for the first time, the Iranian airline affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards conducted a direct flight from Tehran to Beirut. The aircraft was reportedly carrying advanced weapon systems meant to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles.   Only hours after the Iranian airliner was reported to have landed in the Lebanese capital, Syrian state media claimed the country’s defence forces had intercepted several “hostile targets” during an alleged IAF attack near Damascus.

Israel has warned of a massive attack on Lebanon if any missiles from Hezbollah are launched against Israel.  They say they know where all their missiles are situated including in Beirut and have said they will not hesitate to destroy them.  This would bring damage to civilians among whom Hezbollah has placed the missiles. This is a dangerous situation, which could drag in Iran and Russia.

Mr Netanyahu has held phone talks with Mr Putin to brief him on the operation held by the Israeli forces along the Lebanese border, while Putin stressed the importance to ensure stability in the area under the UN Security Council resolution 1701. Putin also mentioned the necessity to maintain the Russian-Israeli military cooperation, the Kremlin added. “In this connection, urgency of the upcoming contacts between military experts from the defence ministries has been stressed,” the statement read. Putin and Netanyahu also agreed to continue discussions on holding another bilateral meeting, the statement concluded.

UN censures Israel on Jerusalem.  

The UN General Assembly approved six anti-Israel resolutions including two that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount. The primary resolution that passed 148-11 with 14 abstentions disavowed Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. Both that text and a second more global one on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which passed 156-8, with 12 abstentions, spoke of the Temple Mount – solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres demanded that Israel give up the eastern part of Jerusalem, so it can serve as the capital of Palestine.  He said that the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people served to “remind us of our collective and unfinished task” to create a Palestinian State.  Guterres criticised Israel for “demolitions, continued settlement construction, and evictions” and stated that eastern Jerusalem must be the capital of a Palestinian Arab state.

Israeli general speaks out on Israeli attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.

Israel has changed its strategy over talking about its activities in Syria.  Up to recently its policy was to neither confirm nor deny that it has attacked hostile targets in Syria.  But now both PM Netanyahu and retiring IDF chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, have given details of the secret war Israel has been waging on Iran’s Quds Force in Syria, confirming that Israel has carried out “thousands” of attacks against Iranian targets in Syria.  These attacks were authorised, according to Eisenkot, by the cabinet in January 2017. It followed attacks which had previously been carried out by Israel on Hezbollah convoys and targets since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011, but which had not directly targeted Iranian assets.

Eisenkot decided to also attack Iranians in Syria following a perceived change in Iranian strategy. “We noticed a significant change in Iran’s strategy. Their vision was to have significant influence in Syria by building a force of up to 100,000 Shi’ite fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They built intelligence bases and an air force base within each Syrian air base.  We struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit.”

The Quds Force, commanded by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, tried to retaliate in May 2018 with a failed rocket attack on northern Israel.  Eisenkot explains that Soleimani made a strategic mistake by choosing Syria as a base for operations against Israel. “His error was choosing a playground where he is relatively weak. We have complete intelligence superiority in this area. We enjoy complete aerial superiority. We have strong deterrence and we have the justification to act.”

As a result of Israel’s operations over the last two years, Iran is now “transferring their efforts to Iraq,” says Eisenkot, who in his interview also detailed Israel’s operations against Hezbollah attempts to build up its forces in Lebanon, with Iranian help.  “I can say with confidence that as we speak Hezbollah does not possess accurate [missile] capabilities except for small and negligible ones,” he said. “They were hoping to have hundreds of missiles in the mid- and long-range.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Iran that Israel will intensify its military campaign against Iranian forces in Syria, advising the Islamic republic to withdraw from the war-torn country immediately.  He said, “Let me advise them — get out of there fast, because we’ll continue our forceful policy of attacking, as we promised and are doing, fearlessly and relentlessly.”

Christmas Day saw a large scale Israeli attack on Damascus airport after an Iranian plane flew in to Damascus with missiles on board for use against Israel.  The IDF destroyed a cache of Iranian Fajr-5 missiles stored in a weapons depot near Damascus that had the potential to threaten the area surrounding the Galilee.

Russia accused Israel of reckless behaviour after the air strikes saying they put two civilian airlines in “immediate danger.”   The following day Russia threatened that if there are any more such air strikes, then Syria’s SA-5 air defence missiles will be fired deep into Israel.  In fact one such missile was fired on the night of the raid, shaking several towns in northern Israel. It exploded harmlessly in an unpopulated part of Mt. Carmel. Despite the Russian threat Israel launched another attack on 9th January attacking the bases of Iranian militias and Assad’s regime forces southwest of Damascus.

Jewish Orthodox group claims Biblical Prophecies were fulfilled in 2018.

Breaking Israel News, an Orthodox Jewish website, published an article claiming that events in 2018 line up with the signs that we are living in prophetic times preceding the Messiah, a view confirmed by many rabbis and experts.  The signs included strange weather events, the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the birth of a red heifer required for Israel to become ritually pure and reinstate the Temple Service (Numbers 19).

They saw five significant events, some of which may surprise Christian readers.  Firstly the development of the high speed train linking Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport and Jerusalem is a significant event enabling pilgrims to get speedily to Jerusalem to fulfil Jewish festivals.  They linked this to Isaiah 57.14 about ‘building up a highway’ for the Lord. Secondly they believe that the increasing number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is a sign that the reign of the ‘sons of Ishmael’ (Arabs) is coming to an end and the Temple will be rebuilt to fulfil its prophetic role as a ‘House of Prayer for all nations’.  

Thirdly the opening of the US Embassy in May 2018 is a sign that the world is coming closer to the Messiah, which they describe as the ‘Tikkun  (fixing) of Esau,” meaning that Esau (embodied in part by Donald Trump’s paradigm shift) will be restored by helping Israel. Others have paralleled Donald Trump to Cyrus, the Persian King who ended the Babylonian exile and paved the way for the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Fourthly they saw the opposition to this move from the Arab world, western media and even Christian leaders as the ‘alliance of prophetic Esau with Ishmael’.  Rabbi Pinchas Winston said that in the end of days, those who are at war with Israel will come together to condemn Israel. He quoted the Vilna Gaon (the leading rabbi of the 18th century), to say that these two forces are the Catholic Church and Ishmael (the Arab world).

Fifthly they believe that the War of Gog and Magog is being prepared for in Iranian-Backed Syria.  They quote Ezekiel 38 and say the army coming against Israel is Persia and allies as ‘an end-of-days foe of Israel’. Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Rabbi Yosef Berger, equated this confrontation to the prophesied war of Gog and Magog – the second part of a two stage process for the returning of the divine presence to Israel – beginning in the North (with Russia, perhaps) and Iran.  Rabbinic authorities look to prophecy to find clear answers for a developing situation that Winston describes as “about to get Biblical.” Probably this is the one sign we would find most agreement with.

Concerning the second sign given here, the idea that the ‘reign of the sons of Ishmael’ is coming to an end on the Temple Mount sounds a bit like wishful thinking.  There is great opposition from the Arab side to any Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. On a PA TV programme the commentator said: ‘The series of invasions by the settlers into the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque is still continuing. Since the start of their Jewish holidays, thousands of extremists have defiled its plazas while under intensive police protection. They have carried out their Talmudic (i.e., Jewish) ceremonies and attacked the [Muslim] worshippers.  These invasions constitute preparation for a dangerous stage and for imposing a new reality that will lead to a division of the Al-Aqsa Mosque according to time and place.” In fact there were no Jewish attacks on Muslims, but there were attacks on Jews by Muslims.  

In December 2018, the PA “presidential office” stressed that Mahmoud Abbas was to have “urgent conversations” with Arab and international bodies about “the dangerous Israeli escalation,” which among other things Abbas’ office said is being expressed by “the defilement of the holy sites.”  Official PA radio broadcast a song which included the lyrics: “The Zionist” has “defiled the mosques and churches” in the cities of “Haifa, Ramallah, Gaza, Jaffa, Ramle, Acre, and occupied Jerusalem.”  (Palestinian Media Watch).

Why It’s Complicated Being a Messianic Jew During Election Season

As Israel prepares for elections in April, ‘Israel Today’ published this interesting article by Arthur Schwartzman, highlighting the issues for believers in Yeshua:

‘The political fabric of the State of Israel is more complicated than many may realize, and it becomes more so if you’re a believer in Yeshua.

With the upcoming elections, a lot of questions have popped up for Messianic voters in the Land. One might assume that if you’re a Believer, you must support the conservative party, but then you must ask, which conservative party? Unlike in America, there are multiple conservative and liberal parties, each representing their own ideological, religious and ethnic groups with their own unique needs and interests.  Let’s take a look at the Likud party, for example; the most popular political party in recent years. The Likud party is considered to be right on the political spectrum, as evident from their support for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and a general rejection of a Palestinian state. Economically, the party advocates for free trade, privatising government-owned companies, and the dismantlement of monopolies.

With the above said, the party also has a less conservative side; for example, taking a positive stance on gay marriage and the ability of same-sex couples to adopt. The party even has its own LGBT branch, “Pride in the Likud,” which participates in public events and gay parades throughout the country.

The ones who dare disagree with this definition of marriage and family are the Jewish Orthodox parties. Similar disagreements arise over laws regarding abortion, as the Likud and other “secular” right-wing parties generally hold liberal views on these issues. The religious blocs usually sit together in the right wing coalition, as they seek to propel their agendas in the Knesset.  They are the only stronghold against an atheistic and liberal worldview, but they are also big advocates against everything Messianic.

Marriage for Messianic couples, or mixed couples who may not be Jewish by birth on their mother’s side, is impossible here. Believers are forced to fly out the country in order to become legally married, only then being permitted to register with the Ministry of Interior. The Rabbinate holds monopoly over marriage, burial, and perhaps one of the most controversial things for Believers – immigration. Even if you are Jewish on both sides of your family if the government finds out that you have put your trust in Yeshua, you will be met with closed doors. In essence, more power to the right-wing bloc equals less freedom for the body of Messiah here in the Land.

In contrast, some left-wing parties have a tendency to embrace a more pluralistic approach towards Believers, but we also must take into consideration what they stand for as liberals. The leftist parties are opposed to the settlements in the West Bank and want to loosen the grip of Judaism on the character of the nation.  If they could change the Rabbinic party from being able to define who is Jewish, it would give greater freedom to Jewish believers in Yeshua and give them the right of return.

Ultimately, whoever ends up taking a seat this year, among the 120 available, will require the frequent and fervent prayers of Believers both in Israel and around the world. As the political war rages on and the politicians’ decisions, both on the right and left, encumber the Body of Messiah, I would like to suggest that we ought not merely stand with Israel, but rather, stand with God in Israel.’

Massive financial windfall for Israel.

An agreement has been reached to lay a gas pipeline connecting Israel and European countries.  The agreement has been signed by Israel, Greece, Italy and Cyprus, with the backing of the European Union, according to the report.  The pipeline would be the world’s longest and deepest underground gas pipeline, 2,000 kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres deep, and will connect these four countries and allow Israel to export gas to the Balkans and Central Europe.

The EU agreed to invest $100 million in a feasibility study before the agreement was reached. Now, after two years of intensive contacts, the parties have reached an agreement that will be submitted this week for consideration by the member states. It is estimated that work on the gas pipeline will begin within a few months.

New alliances for Israel as a result of gas finds in Mediterranean.

The European Union and the UN were shocked as Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Romania invited the Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to a historic summit at the Evksinograd Palace in Varna, Bulgaria. This is the first time that they have invited a leader outside these four countries to participate with them.  Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov, Romanian PM Viorica Dăncilă, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Greek PM Alexis Tsipras strengthened their ties with Israel as they declared their opposition to the anti-Israel stand of the European Union and the United Nations and their rejection of radical Islam.

One reason for the link with Israel from the east European and Balkan nations is the development of the gas resources in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel.  Mr Netanyahu said “Everyone wants to promote the pipeline from Leviathan to Europe and the Balkans.”  This is the pipeline from the waters off Israel through Cyprus, and Greece to transport Israel’s offshore gas find to Europe.

After the historic summit, Mr Netanyahu released the following statement: “I am here at the summit of four countries – Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Romania.  Specifically each one of them promised me that they would improve their voting on issues that concern us both in the European Union and in the UN. We uncovered recently several attempts to launch terrorist attacks on the soil of Europe, and we stand together in this battle against terrorism and against militant Islam.  This is not merely a battle for the future of our countries, but for the future of our common values and our common civilisation, and by cooperating, we are stronger. We are stronger together.”

At the same time Israel is at the centre of the newly formed Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, a multilateral group composed of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Greece and Italy. Its purpose is, in the words of the announcement issued by Egypt’s Petroleum Ministry, to, “create a regional gas market that serves the interests of its members by ensuring supply and demand, optimising resource development, rationalising the cost of infrastructure, offering competitive prices and improving trade relations, among other goals.”

The forum is part of an effort to harness the enormous bounty of offshore gas reserves in order to make the group a regional energy hub.  The plans reflect changes in the global economy that have the potential to enrich countries that used to be thought of as lacking natural resources.  

Even more significantly it demonstrates that the integration of the Jewish state into a regional and global network didn’t have to wait until the Palestinians finally decided to make peace.  The forum and pipeline fulfil what Israel’s founding generation considered its ultimate goal. The Jewish state is now an economic and strategic partner for neighbours that once sought its destruction.

Pontius Pilate ring discovered.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz is reporting that a bronze ring found 50 years ago at the Herodion excavation near Bethlehem has been discovered to bear the name of Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Jerusalem and the man who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the New Testament.  Ha’aretz reports that the name was discovered on the ring with the use of a special camera at the Israel Antiquities Authority labs. The letters on the ring spelled out in Greek writing “Pilatus.” The words surrounded a picture of a wine vessel.

Hebrew University Professor Danny Schwartz told Ha’aretz that Pilatus was a rare name in Israel. “I don’t know of any other Pilatus from the period and the ring shows he was a person of stature and wealth,” Schwartz said, according to the article.  The ring is a sealing ring, common in ancient times, and used to seal letters and stamp official documents using molten wax. “Researchers believe it was used by the governor in day to day work, or belonged to one of his officials or someone in his court, who would use it to sign in his name,” Ha’aretz reports.

Adding weight to the possibility that this ring belonged to the Pontius Pilate of the New Testament is the fact that this type of ring was a “hallmark” of the cavalry in the Roman era, to which Pilate belonged, Ha’aretz reports.

Tony Pearce