On Monday 14 May the US embassy in Jerusalem was opened as President Trump fulfilled his promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “What a glorious day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Remember this moment. Today, the embassy of the most powerful nation on earth, our greatest ally, the United States of America, today its embassy opened here. You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state.”
Jared Kushner, the presidential adviser tasked with helping secure a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, said the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli’s capital, would help the peace process, rather than hinder it. He said the US remains committed to brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. However the Palestinians denounced the move, describing it as a war crime and a theft of Jerusalem.
On the Gaza border Hamas sent thousands of its supporters to demonstrate against Israel in what it termed ‘The March of Return’. The violence that ensued resulted in 60 deaths and around 2,200 injured by gunfire or tear gas, with pictures of dead and wounded Palestinians being beamed around the world and Israel castigated in the world’s media and the UN for alleged war crimes. Israel responded by showing that the Hamas-led riots, which had originally been described as non-violent, involved rioters attempting to tear down the border fence with Israel, with the aim of invading Israel and killing or capturing Israelis.
The United Nations showed its usual bias against Israel when the General Assembly voted on 13th June overwhelmingly in favour of condemning Israel for the violence on the Gaza border, but refused to do the same for Hamas. The resolution slammed Israel for “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate” use of force in dealing with the mass infiltration attempts along the Israel-Gaza border. The motion passed with 120 nations in favour, 8 opposed and 45 abstaining. Just before the vote, US Ambassador Nikki Haley proposed an amendment that would have also held Hamas responsible for the volatile situation, which was rejected.
Following this the US announced that it was withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) while citing its virulent anti-Israel activism. Nikki Haley called the UNHRC “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” Haley noted that the US had given the UNHRC “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes, having warned repeatedly that it would leave the UN body if it did not make reforms and stop its attacks on Israel. She lambasted the council for “its chronic bias against Israel,” calling it a “cesspool of political bias,” and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UNHRC is infamously biased against Israel, with nearly half of its resolutions focused solely on Israel, while it ignores war, strife and atrocities committed around the globe.
The crisis on Israel’s border with Gaza continues as the Palestinians launch incendiary kites into southern Israel. These have destroyed several thousand acres of fields, forests and farmland, endangering the lives of Israeli residents. On 20th June Gaza-based terrorists fired some 45 rockets at Israeli communities, causing damage to cars and buildings, and sending thousands of civilians running for cover. There are fears that the current escalation could lead to another round of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
While conditions in Gaza deteriorate, Jared Kushner has met with Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem and leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, to provide details of the US-sponsored peace plan. The Palestinians have refused to refuse to talk to the Americans about peace since the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and declared Kushner’s plan was “a waste of time and is destined to fail.”
Details of the peace plan have not been published, but a leaked report in the Israeli newspaper Maariv said it would give Israel continued control of most of the settlements (towns in the West Bank / Judea and Samaria). Israel would hand over control to the Palestinian Authority of four Arab majority districts in the east of Jerusalem where they could set up their capital. Under this plan the Old City of Jerusalem would be recognised as ‘international territory.’ This would be too little for the Palestinians, who want Israel to withdraw to the pre 1967 borders (i.e. remove all the settlements and hand over all of East Jerusalem as its capital). It would also be too much for the Israelis who have declared Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel.
On its northern front, Israel and Iran lurched closer to an all out war on May 10th after Iranian forces in Syria fired rockets at Israeli held positions in the Golan Heights and Israel responded by striking around 50 Iranian military bases as well as Syrian regime air defence batteries. Israel claims Iran’s war assets in Syria have been knocked out and its ability to launch an attack on Israel set back by one year. However Iran has supplied around 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel to its proxy Hezbollah, which won victory in parliamentary elections in Lebanon in June.
Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman accused Iran of seeking to wipe out Israel and said they will continue to respond to this threat. Iran’s Defence Minister Amir Khatami threatened Israel, saying it should stop its “dangerous behaviour” and vowing that the “Iranian response will be surprising and you will regret it.” To date there has been no Iranian response, which has pleased Israel.
Israel is making representations to Russia to curb Iranian activity in Syria. Prime Minister Netanyahu informed the Israeli cabinet that he had held a telephone conference with President Putin, in which he said, ‘Iran must leave the territory of Syria. Secondly, we will be taking measures and we are already taking action against efforts to establish the military presence of Iran and its satellites close to the border with Israel and deep in Syria. We will act against these efforts in any part of Syria.’
So far Russia has been surprisingly accommodating to Israel. The Kremlin news service described this telephone conference as cordial, saying, ‘The two leaders “expressed readiness to bolster coordination on Syria, including the issues of countering international terrorism.” Commenting on this, the Jewish News Service wrote, ‘As long as Russia’s assets in Syria are not threatened, Moscow will likely continue to take a backseat in the ongoing confrontation between Iran and Israel.’ One thing which could change this would be a devastating attack by Israel, which does material damage to Russian assets or the Syrian regime itself. Amir Tsafarti, an Israeli Messianic Jew put forward the possibility in one of his updates that an Israeli raid causes massive destruction in Damascus, as prophesied in Isaiah 17.1, which then sets off the War of Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38-9.
There is a view that it is Turkey, not Russia, that will be the leading force in the War of Gog and Magog. Turkey’s Islamist leading President Erdogan has just won the election in Turkey giving him another term of five years in office with greatly increased powers which make him a virtual dictator. He has already moved Turkey from being relatively friendly to Israel, to becoming extremely hostile. On the day of the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem and the riots in Gaza, he accused Israel of genocide and being a terrorist state. He said, ‘We will not allow today to be the day the Muslim world loses Jerusalem.’ He has had a meeting with the Pope to discuss their joint opposition to Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
He ordered the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Turkey and held a meeting of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul. This meeting called “for the international protection of the Palestinian population, including through dispatching of international protection force”. Such a force would be an extreme danger to Israel. According to Israeli security sources, SADAT, a Turkish military company, is already involved in aiding Hamas, and seeks to assist – with funds and military gear – the creation of a “Palestine Army” to fight Israel.
The Turkish daily Yeni Şafak, which is close to President Erdoğan and his ruling AKP party, published an article calling for the formation of ‘an Army of Islam against Israel.’ The article urged the 57 member states of the OIC to form a joint Army of Islam to ‘besiege and attack’ the state of Israel. An interactive map on its website provides information on military forces stationed in various locations and the role they can play in the potential joint Muslim attack on Israel.
So what chance of peace?
At the moment the strength of Israel’s armed forces and its deterrent capability is keeping its enemies at bay. The conflicts within the Arab Muslim world also make it difficult to form a ‘joint army of Islam’ to attack Israel. Israel’s main enemy today, the Islamic regime in Iran, is in deep trouble, with protesters on the streets demanding that the government stops its military adventures in Syria and Lebanon and uses its money to help the Iranian people, suffering from poverty and food shortages. Senior officials in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have expressed interest in the US sponsored peace deal, even if Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will not cooperate.
So could it all work for peace?
According to some, one of the reasons why there is no way to peace, is the support of Israel and the Trump administration by evangelical Christians who believe that the establishment of the State of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital city is a fulfilment of Bible prophecy. At the time of the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem there was much criticism of ‘Christian Zionists’ who supported the move to Jerusalem.
At the opening of the embassy Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, prayed, thanking God ‘for President Donald Trump’s courage in acknowledging to the world a truth that was established 3,000 years ago — that Jerusalem is and always shall be the eternal capital of the Jewish people.’ Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist, prayed: ‘I believe I speak for everyone of us when I say I thank you every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history but more importantly stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.’
Tom Leonard wrote in the Daily Mail (16/5/18): ‘Why on earth should these Texan evangelical preachers make such a song and dance about the U.S. acknowledging Jerusalem as the Israeli capital? Strange as it may seem, the reason is that they — and millions of evangelical Americans like them — believe it will help bring about the fulfilment of fire and brimstone prophesies from the Bible that are central to their very literal interpretation of Christianity. … Some evangelicals believe war between Jews and Arabs is part of God’s plan, involving a period of destruction called the Great Tribulation. … They hold that Jesus Christ will return to Earth when all the Jews are reunited in Israel and it becomes an exclusively Jewish state. According to Revelation, once the Jews are reunited, an epic battle between good and evil will break out in Israel and good will finally triumph.’
He is saying that Christian support for Israel is based on the belief in Bible prophecies concerning Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ and is helping to bring about conflict in the Middle East. Speaking as an evangelical Christian, I do believe that the restoration of Israel is a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. I also believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and that He is coming back again to Jerusalem. As a Christian concerned for the welfare of Jews and Arabs, I would like to see a genuine peace settlement so they can live together in the land, but I do not believe it will happen before the return of Jesus. Instead there will be a time of trouble, not because of the actions of evangelical Christians, but because of the refusal of Muslim and Arab nationalist forces to accept the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland with Jerusalem as its capital. There will be a continued opposition to Israel’s existence until the return of the Messiah, who will finally bring peace to Israel, the Middle East and the whole world.
Here are some of the scriptures that support the view that God is behind the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the events that follow:
‘Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.” Jeremiah 31.10.
‘For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries and bring you into your own land (Israel). Ezekiel 36.24.
The status of Jerusalem will be an issue not just for Jews and Arabs, but also engaging the whole world:
‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; and all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.’ (Zechariah 12.2-3)
The Bible speaks of a continual hostility to the existence of Israel from the surrounding nations:
‘They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones. They have said, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”’ Psalm 83.3-4.
Despite this God will preserve Israel even when they are attacked by more numerous forces, as He has already done in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973. He will do this once again in the War of Gog and Magog, when a force will come down from the north against Israel. Present day developments in Syria, where Russian, Iranian and Turkish forces are stationed could well be preparing the way for this event:
‘Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army … Persia, Ethiopia (Hebrew = Cush), and Libya (Hebrew = Put) are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you. … In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.’ (Ezekiel 38.1-9)
This army will be supernaturally defeated by the Lord on the mountains of Israel, with ‘a great earthquake … flooding rain, great hailstones, fire and brimstone.’ As a result the nations will know that the Lord has done it. Ezekiel 38.18-23
At some stage in all of this, the Bible prophecies indicate that a world leader will make a ‘covenant’ involving Israel. In Daniel 9 we read about a seven-year covenant made with Israel which breaks down halfway through the seven years and leads to the final time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30, Daniel 12). At the present time we do see the attempt to make a peace covenant with Israel and the Palestinians, which is continually failing. The end time scriptures indicate that the successful peace covenant will take place when the one known as the Antichrist or the Man of Sin reaches his seat of power. The peace agreement will break down halfway through the seven-year Great Tribulation period (Matthew 24.15-31) and lead eventually to the final battle for Jerusalem, which will be the occasion for the return of the Lord Jesus to the earth.
The final conflict will be the gathering together of the armies of the world (Armageddon) which leads to the physical return of Yeshua / Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords:
‘And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon.’ (Revelation 16.14-16)
This time Jesus will not come as a Suffering Servant but as King of kings and Lord of lords, with all power at His disposal to rule and reign over the earth. When the armies of the world gather together against Jerusalem to battle, God will reveal Yeshua, Jesus as the Messiah of Israel:
‘And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son.’ (Zechariah 12.10)
Following this, Zechariah says:
‘Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. … And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.’ (Zechariah 14.3-4, 9).
These scriptures point to one who has been ‘pierced’ as the one who saves Israel in the last days. Who could this be? Yeshua / Jesus, the One who is revealed in the Gospel as the only Son who has been ‘pierced’, dying by crucifixion, in order to redeem the world, and who will come the second time to judge the world according to how we have responded to His message. He will then set up His Messianic kingdom, bringing peace to Israel, the Middle East and the world and fulfilling the words of Isaiah 2.1-4:
‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2.2-4)
Then there will really be peace for Israel, the Middle East and the whole world.