Light for the Last Days

Israel Desk – October 2020

1. Israel makes peace with Arab countries

The Israel – UAE peace agreement, known as the Abraham Accord, was agreed on August 13.  The agreement made the UAE the third Arab nation in the world to have active diplomatic ties with Israel, joining Egypt and Jordan.  On September 15 Bahrain joined with the UAE and Israel in signing a peace agreement in Washington in the presence of President Trump. 

Israeli PM Netanyahu said this agreement would bring ‘a new era of peace’ and would inject “billions of dollars” into the Israeli economy.  Donald Trump said more Arab states are ready to join Bahrain and the UAE in recognising Israel, including possibly Saudi Arabia.  Those in advanced talks with the US over Israeli relations are thought to include Oman, Sudan and Morocco.

In recent years, Netanyahu has been attempting to unite as much of the Middle East as possible against Iran.  Many Sunni governments in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, have long been hostile toward the radical Shiite regime in Tehran and have a strategic interest in working with Israel toward the goal of removing Iranian interference in the region. 

Could this create an environment that will eventually lead to an agreement to create a Palestinian state?  In order to get this deal, Netanyahu had to agree not to annex any land in the West Bank.  He had previously pledged to do this, although he did say afterwards that he had agreed only to delay, not cancel, the annexations, and that he would “never give up our rights to our land.”  If Netanyahu is willing to sacrifice annexing portions of Judea and Samaria for a peace agreement with the UAE, what would he be willing to do for a comprehensive peace agreement with all of the Sunni governments in the region? 

The Palestinians reacted angrily to the agreement, claiming that no agreement should be made between the Arab world and Israel until a Palestinian State is in place with Jerusalem as its capital.  French President Emmanuel Macron urged fresh Middle East peace talks after Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise ties.  He told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that he was determined to work for peace in the Middle East and urged the resumption of talks towards a two-state solution, which he called “the only option to enable a just and lasting peace”. 

In another development Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority signed the charter of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in a virtual ceremony hosted by Cairo on 20th September.  Natural gas exploration and the massive reserves found in the Eastern Mediterranean over the past several years mean that what began as an informal forum of Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Greece is now a formal intergovernmental organization based in Cairo. Egypt is positioning itself as an energy and exporter hub in the region.  The bloc seeks to promote gas exports at a time when Israel has established new ties with Arab states.  The group unites regional rivals of Turkey, which has been locked in a bitter dispute with European Union members Greece and Cyprus over gas drilling rights in the sea. France wants to join, and the United States and European Union have requested observer status.  For Israel, the forum “brings regional cooperation with Arab and European countries, the first of its kind in history, with contracts to export Israeli gas to Jordan and Egypt worth $30 billion, and that is just the beginning,” Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz says.  Exports to Europe would help the EU to lessen its dependence on Russia for its energy needs.

2. Bible prophecy and Middle East developments.

All of this raises a number of relevant concerns for Bible prophecy. 

Firstly there is the question of Israeli annexation of territories in the West Bank or the division of the land with a Palestinian State arising. Netanyahu agreed not to annex the territories in this area to make the deal, but their status remains central to progress on it.  The peace deal with the Palestinians proposed by US President Trump’s peace envoy, Gerard Kushner, involves some kind of division of this territory but leaves Israel in possession of almost all of Jerusalem, the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan valley.  Bible prophecy indicates that this area of land, Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, the heartland of biblical Israel, will be the source of controversy in the last days of this age (Zechariah 12.2-3), involving ‘all nations’, by implication the United Nations and world religions.  What happens in US elections will make a difference as a victory of the Democrats would probably mean pressure on Israel to give up territories in the West Bank, Judea and Samaria, in return for peace.

Secondly the signing raises questions about Daniel 9:27, an agreement between Israel and “many” for a period of seven years, which will introduce the final 7 year period laid out in Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy.  This corresponds to the Great Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19).  There are many things still missing from this, not least the lack of common ground between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Nevertheless if other Arab countries do join in the peace process it could certainly be seen as a step along the way.  Until recent times there was no question of these Arab countries making an agreement with Israel, but now it seems that several Arab countries could do so. 

The fact that the agreement is called ‘the Abraham Accord’ is interesting.  The UAE was the scene of the meeting in 2019 between the Pope and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar University, Cairo, a leading figure in the Sunni Muslim world.  They signed the human fraternity document, which seeks to promote shared values, tolerance and good interfaith relations in the search of peace.  The Pope spoke of his great desire to work for peace in the Middle East.  UAE’s ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed was very supportive of all this.  He subsequently announced that the ‘Abrahamic Family House’ was to be built, dedicated to inter-faith harmony and bringing together the religions said to have come out of Abraham, namely Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  He said this would “herald a new era of rapprochement and amity among the different peoples, communities and religions.”

The concept of the Abraham Accord and the connection to the Pope and Sunni Muslim leaders brings in the dimension of world religious leaders involved.  Some have suggested that the last days Temple in Jerusalem will be some kind of inter-faith structure built in the name of peace with the approval of the Antichrist who validates the final peace treaty.  Then he will desecrate it with his image which is the abomination of desolation.  (Daniel 11.31, Matthew 24.15).

Thirdly there is a connection to the Gog and Magog war of Ezekiel 38, where ‘Sheba and Dedan’ (Arabian Peninsula region) appear to be on Israel’s side in the invasion that comes from the north.  It is significant that the Gulf Arab nations and Saudi Arabia are now opposed to interference in their region from Turkey and Iran, two of the countries involved in the alliance against Israel in Ezekiel 38.  In particular they fear Iran as an aggressor and an unwelcome influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.  They see Israel as an ally against Iranian intrusion into their region.  Ezekiel 38 describes a protest against this invasion by “Sheba and Dedan” (Ezekiel 38.13) – the current day areas of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.   

Fourthly the ‘Gas Forum’ agreement brings into being a coalition of Israel, Egypt and Greece through to Europe, excluding Turkey and Russia, who have their own interests in trading gas to Europe and beyond.  Turkey in particular is hostile to this development and is issuing threats to Israel along with its new ally in the region, Iran.  This lines up with the hostile alliance coming against Israel from the north while the countries to the south are friendly to Israel, and Europe seeks a mediating role.  France in particular is interested in involvement in this situation.  France’s President Macron wants to play a role in saving Lebanon from its present crisis, and also to mediate in a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.  Russia is not happy about the prospect of a rival supply of gas to the EU, since much of Russia’s revenue comes from its energy export, especially to Europe.§

Some prophecy teachers believe, the Gog and Magog conflict comes before the Daniel 9 peace treaty.  After the defeat of the Gog Magog alliance in a supernatural act of God, it would not be surprising to see a larger peace treaty come into being (Daniel 9.27) that involves a limited time (7 years) and the rebuilding of a temple, especially if the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques are destroyed in the earthquake which will happen at this time (Ezekiel 38.19).   The world would demand that an agreement be ratified / guaranteed by an outside power.  This one has yet to be revealed on the world stage but he will find his place as the ‘prince to come’ of Daniel 9, who is also the Antichrist of Revelation 13.

Exactly how these as yet future prophecies will be played out remains to be seen.  However we can see things moving in a way which ties in with Bible prophecies and which point us to the ultimate solution of the Middle East problem, the return of the Messiah Jesus to take up His position of rulership from Jerusalem bringing real peace to Israel and the world.

3. The Middle East dividing into two camps around IsraelRole of Iran and Turkey.

One bloc consists of mainly Sunni Arab states together with a Jewish state and is led by Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. The other bloc consists of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and to a lesser degree Turkey, which is increasingly cooperating with Iran despite the fact that Turkey is led by the Sunni Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran by a Shiite clerical regime.  Both Turkey and Iran have regional aspirations and seek to dominate the Middle East. 

Iran is involved in an ideological and tactical war with the ‘great Satan’ of the United States and the ‘little Satan’ of Israel, in order to realize the goal of the 1979 Islamic Revolution: turning the world into an Islamic imperium.

Iran is actively working to increase its sway over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, where it supports the Houthi militia, Ansar Allah, in its battle with the central government. Ansar Allah gets advanced missiles and other weaponry from Iran, and uses these arms to attack Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s battle with Saudi Arabia is, in fact, over control of the holy Muslim sites Mecca and Medina, because the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Khamenei sees itself as the true custodian of these holy places and regards the regime of King Salman and his son Mohammed Bin Salman as apostates.  Israel must disappear from the Middle East in the eyes of Iran and its many proxies. There simply can’t be a Jewish state on the territory of Dar al Islam, the House of Islam.

“Israel and states across the Arab world not only stand together in advancing peace. We stand together in confronting the greatest enemy of peace in the Middle East-Iran,” Netanyahu told the General Assembly of the United Nations. 

At the same time Turkey is playing an increasingly belligerent role in the Middle East. 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan touted the Ottoman legacy in the Holy Land in a speech to Turkish lawmakers, saying “Jerusalem is ours, Jerusalem is from us.”  Erdogan’s speech regarding the influence of the Turkish people over Israel’s capital of Jerusalem came at the opening of a new legislative session at the Turkish parliament.

“In this city that we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance,” the Turkish leader proclaimed.  The speech included a segment on the plights of the Palestinians, who, as Erdogan charged, were now “occupied” despite living in Jerusalem for “thousands of years.”

The Ottoman Empire controlled Jerusalem from 1516 to 1917, when it was overrun by British troops. From then on, the UK managed the city under the mandate of the League of Nations for several decades, until in 1948, British troops pulled out of the capital of the nascent Jewish state. Jews, for their part, are linked with the city with a history dating thousands of years back, confirmed by troves of archeological and textual evidence

Turkey’s Islamist President Erdogan wants to revive the old Ottoman Empire.  Turkey is in conflict with Greece in Eastern Mediterranean and continues its occupation of northern Cyprus. It has sent troops into Syria, taking territory from the Kurds and committing shocking human rights abuses.  Its troops have been raping and torturing Kurdish women fighters who were heroines in the fight against ISIS in Syria.  Turkey is also intervening in the Libyan civil war, bolstering the Islamist government against the secular forces opposing it.  Erdogan wants to claim jurisdiction over Mediterranean between Turkey and Libya and thereby shut down the Israel / Greece / Cyprus pipeline to the. It is accused of sending forces into Azerbaijan to help the war against Armenia, reminding us that the first holocaust of the 20th century was the Turkish massacre of 1 ½ million Armenians.  Erdogan is a demonically possessed man, under the very strong delusion of Islamic fundamentalism.

Will Turkey end up in conflict or alliance with Russia?  It is technically an ally of Russia in Syria, although it is on the opposite side to Russia in the Syrian civil war.  It is also on the opposite side to Russia in the conflicts in Libya and Armenia.  Will Turkey play a leading role in Gog and Magog?  In alliance with Russia?  Or in opposition to Russia?

A lot of things up in the air at present in the Middle East, but we can be sure that this area will remain in the eye of the storm until Jesus returns and brings real peace to Israel.  Also that the issue is central to end time prophecy and will remain so.  And that despite the many enemies of Israel coming into play, Israel lives, ‘am Israel chai’.  When the Lord shall build up Zion He shall appear in His glory.  Psalm 102.

4. Israel’s painful 2nd national lockdown. 

The first lockdown in Israel due to Covid 19 co-incided with the Spring Passover holiday.  The second started on Rosh ha Shanah, the beginning of the Autumn Feasts of Israel.

Israelis welcomed the Jewish New Year on Friday 18th September with a new deeply unpopular national coronavirus lockdown.  The Health Ministry released data showing that infection rates remained sky-high for Israel’s population size, with 5,238 cases identified — keeping the country near the top of the global list of daily infections per capita.

Some 7,000 policemen and soldiers, backed up by local municipality personnel, were deployed throughout the country to enforce the closure, setting up road blocks on main roads.  Schools and most shops were shut, and large gatherings and all leisure activity banned. Travel between cities is limited.

The new sweeping restrictions have faced widespread opposition by the public: from religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, because they impact public prayer services during the High Holidays; from business owners, because of the loss in trade; and from the general public, because the closure of the education system forced many parents to miss work as they stay home to care for young children.

The lockdown took in the whole period of the autumn feasts, from New Year, through the Day of Atonement to the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth).   Jewish people generally gather at this time in their thousands in synagogues and at the Western Wall.  They also gather in homes for special meals and events.  This has been forbidden with restrictions on how many people may gather in one place and how far you can travel from your home (not more than one kilometre).  Only ten people are allowed in a synagogue building at one time and only up to 20 should gather outside for prayer. 

I have received pictures of the Western Wall almost deserted at the time of Tabernacles. This is unheard of since the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967.  Virus cases have been high amongst the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) groups, some of whom have reacted strongly against the restrictions and clashed with police enforcing them.  This has also been the case in Jewish areas of New York.

This situation is leading to increased tension between secular and Haredi Jews in Israel. Secular Israelis blame the ultra religious for spreading the virus by breaking the rules.  There have been battles with police. Here is an article from Ha’aretz newspaper (admittedly a left wing anti-religious paper):

‘A father holding his baby is pushed by a policeman. An officer in uniform throws a bucket at a child’s head, while another law enforcer is pouncing on a person walking by and taking pictures of the violent events. There was shoving too, with a knee thrust in a Haredi student’s face, brutal arrests and widespread commotion. Videos coming out of ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods this week cried out one word: Chaos.  The violence, which took place in the ultra-Orthodox cities of Betar Ilit, Modi’in Ilit, and even in the “city of Torah and Hasidism” Bnei Brak, was severe, say the people who witnessed it. The general feeling is of a loss of control, not just on the part of the police. Thousands thronged the streets, objects flew in the air, garbage cans were lit on fire and harsh words were spoken (“Nazis,” they called policemen). These weren’t extremists, not the usual rebellious “Jerusalem faction” of zealots. These were people from the Haredi mainstream.  The violation of coronavirus restrictions among the ultra-Orthodox community was only part of the chaotic picture. Another part being the massively-attended events, such as Hasidic gatherings around their rabbis, held unhindered in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Mea She’arim, where it seems like they have not heard about the lockdown (or didn’t accept its importance).’ 

Some rabbis have been saying the crisis is heralding the coming of the Messiah as the birth pangs of the last days come to pass.  But others are disillusioned with religion and God as the crisis brings more trouble to Israel.  There is also large-scale discontent with the government’s handling of the crisis. Demonstrations take place daily against Prime Minister Netanyahu by opposition figures wanting the fall of his government.  Let us remember our friends in Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem and that Messianic Jews may be able to get the truth about the Messiah Yeshua out into the land. 

Tony Pearce