Temperatures are rising in the Middle East

Gazan protestors carrying burning tires near Karni border crossing, May 4 2018 (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

After several years of relative quiet on Israel’s borders, things are heating up. There are three separate issues that are converging now that could lead to serious violence or possibly war.

The first is Iran’s continued involvement in Syria. As bad as Syrian President Assad is, until Iran inserted itself into Syria’s civil war, beginning around three years ago, Israel’s northern border with Syria was quiet. As Assad seemed to be on the verge of losing, Iran arranged for its surrogate terrorist organization in Lebanon, Hezbollah, to intervene in the civil war to bolster the Assad regime. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to supply Hezbollah with sophisticated missiles that could reach most of Israel. Israel, realizing the danger, has sought to stop this weapons transfer by bombing convoys and warehouses containing these missiles.

Until recently, most of Israel’s attacks killed Hezbollah operatives accompanying the weapons. However, as the Assad regime has reconquered much of the country from rebel forces, Iran has been building bases in Syria, some close to Israel’s border in the Golan Heights. Recently, Iran sent a weaponized drone into Israeli airspace that was shot down by Israel’s military. In turn, Israel began attacking Iranian bases in Syria, killing several Iranian solders. Just the other day, in response, Iran fired 20 missiles at an Israeli military base in the north. Israel successfully blocked all the missiles, and in response, attacked almost 50 Iranian and Syrian military installations, destroying much of Iranian military infrastructure in Syria. Whether Iran responds to this military humiliation remains to be seen.

President Trump’s decision to revoke the nuclear arms agreement with Iran further aggravated the situation. This could likely fuel the hardliners in the Iranian government to restart its nuclear program. If they do this, this could lead to war. Israel will never accept Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu urged President Trump to rescind the Iranian agreement, most Israeli military and intelligence officials supported continuing it. While most regard the agreement as flawed, the reality is that Iran was complying with the agreement, halted the nuclear program and rid itself of much of the nuclear materials.

The second issue is the continuing confrontations with Hamas and the Palestinians on the Gaza border. Several weeks ago Hamas instigated demonstrations at the security fence on the border. Many Palestinians have been killed or injured by the Israeli military because of attempts to vandalize the security fence, breach the border and send types of fire bombs into Israel agricultural fields, destroying many. Hamas’ goal has been to build support for a final huge and possibly violent demonstration on Nakba (May 15), which commemorates the “catastrophe” of Israel’s Independence Day (celebrated outside of Israel on May 14). Hamas is hoping to gather 100,000 demonstrators at the border next week. If they’re successful, there could be a catastrophe for the Palestinians if attempts are made to breach the border.

The final issue is the formal transfer of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, also occurring on May 14. Since the early 1980’s no foreign government has located its embassy in Jerusalem. This is because under international law Jerusalem’s final status of national sovereignty remains to be determined through the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Regardless, Israel has considered Jerusalem to be its capital since 1949. Israel’s government, the Knesset, the Supreme Court and most government agencies are located in Jerusalem. In 1995 the US Congress passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and provided that the US embassy be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by 1999. However, the law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver of the transfer of the embassy based on national security grounds. Until very recently, every President continually invoked the six-month waiver.

As I wrote several months ago when this decision to transfer the embassy was initially made, while I fully accept Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, both in law, fact and Biblical law, the actual transfer of the embassy is symbolic only and could well lead to huge uprisings among the Palestinians and in Muslim countries throughout the world. For many years the US has had a Consulate in Jerusalem, which is only slightly smaller than the embassy in Tel Aviv. The Consulate is located in West Jerusalem, which is undisputed Israeli territory. In fact, the only things that will differ after the formal transfer is the name of the Consulate (embassy), and the Ambassador and his secretary will now have an office in the old Jerusalem Consulate, now embassy. There is a plan to add-on to the existing Jerusalem Consulate/Embassy in the years to come.

In light of all the other things agitating this region of the world, is it really worth throwing more fuel on the fire with a solely symbolic gesture? Yeshua said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.” We should be advocating acts of peace, especially during this tumultuous time. As the Psalmist declares, “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”