Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets Egyptian interim President Adly Mansour at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on Monday, July 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Mohammed Samah, Egyptian Presidency/Times of Israel)
(Washington, D.C.) — “Even as talks for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace got off to a cautious start in Washington Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Egypt that no Israelis would be allowed to remain in a future Palestinian state,” reports the Times of Israel.
“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said following a meeting with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour in Cairo.
“Abbas was in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and discuss relations between the Palestinian Authority and Cairo as well as to negotiate a relaxing of border restrictions between Egypt and the Gaza Strip,” noted the Times. “The Palestinian leader also reiterated that he wants a total freeze on settlement construction, and that he will not agree to any compromise solution that would halt projects in smaller outlying Jewish communities in the West Bank while allowing continued building in the larger settlement blocs
“There was a request, ‘We’ll only build here, what do you think?’ If I agreed, I would legitimize all the rest (of the settlements). I said no. I said out loud and in writing that, to us, settlements in their entirety are illegitimate,” said Abbas.
Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, left, and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, after the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at the State Department in Washington. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak/Times of Israel)
(Washington, D.C.) — UPDATED: The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are underway. A preliminary meeting was held Monday evening at Secretary John Kerry’s home. Formal discussions occurred Tuesday evening at the State Department. The next round of talks are likely to be held in mid-August in Jerusalem and/or Ramallah.
For me, the most interesting development so far is the news that Kerry is pushing for a comprehensive final peace treaty between the two sides within nine months.
“The parties have agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation,” said Kerry at a press conference. “And they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims. Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months. The parties also agreed that the two sides will keep the content of the negotiations confidential. The only announcement you will hear about meetings is the one that I just made. And I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks, in consultation, obviously, with the parties. That means that no one should consider any reports, articles, or other — or even rumors — reliable, unless they come directly from me, and I guarantee you they won’t.”
“The American government had written letters of assurance to the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, in order to make the renewal of talks possible,” Haaretz reported. “The letters reinforced the American positions regarding the 1967 borders, Palestinian refugees, and Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. The text of the letters remains classified and will not be published. A senior White House official present during the briefing said that the general atmosphere of the talks that were held in Washington on Monday and Tuesday was ‘excellent,’ despite the disagreements that remain between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“Fears of fierce battle within the United Nations General Assembly between Israelis and Palestinians in September was one of the primary reasons for the sense of urgency to renew negotiations between the two sides, a senior White House official said during a press briefing on Wednesday,” reported Barak Ravid of Haaretz.
“The Palestinians throughout the course of this year have been making clear that if they couldn’t see progress on the peace front, that their intention would be to seek other elevations of their status, whether at the UN or other international organizations,” said the official.
“It is something that could have created a significant amount of friction and really interrupted the progress we want to see in the region. So it’s no secret that one of the motivating factors, I think for everybody, was to avoid that sort of train wreck that would have happened, if we weren’t able to get negotiations started.”
“With this process moving forward, the risk of clash at the UN or elsewhere is reduced or eliminated,” the official said.
(Washington, D.C.) — A new round of Middle East peace talks are set to begin Monday and Tuesday evenings here in D.C. That’s a hopeful sign. There haven’t been face-to-face negotiations between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in years.
But why are they beginning with the Israelis agreeing to release 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists?
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas refused to agree to the talks unless Israel made a big concession. Abbas pressed hard for the release of convicted terrorists as one of those concessions. But why? Do you convince your interlocutors — or the rest of the world — that you really want peace by insisting on the release of Arabs who have murdered Israelis? Hardly.
That said, it’s bad enough that Abbas insisted on such a thing, but why exactly did the Israeli government say yes? These are hardened criminals. These are convicted criminals. These are criminals with blood on their hands. Why not agree to a different Abbas demand, like freezing settlement construction for a few months? Or not agree to any preconditions, like Netanyahu has been saying for the last three years? If you’re going to give some ground (and sometimes making a goodwill gesture is wise), why then make the release of 104 terrorists your first priority?
It makes no sense to me.
I want to see Israelis and Palestinians make peace. I want them to make goodwill gestures towards each other. I want the ice to thaw. But I don’t want to see murderers released. That won’t lead to peace, only to more terrorism.
But that’s what Israel just did. Here are the details.
“The [Israeli] cabinet paved the way on Sunday for negotiations with the Palestinians to start informally in Washington on Monday, as it voted 13-7 to approve the talks and empower a ministerial committee to release 104 Palestinian prisoners over the next nine months,” reports the Jerusalem Post.
“Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho left Sunday evening for the U.S.,” notes the Post. “They were expected to hold a preliminary meeting Monday at US Secretary of State John Kerry’s home with Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh, and then begin the negotiations in earnest on Tuesday. Kerry phoned Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday evening to extend a formal invitation to the talks. According to a statement put out by the State Department, the meetings will ‘serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.'”
“The decision to approve in principle the release of prisoners — and to set up a ministerial committee empowered to determine when and which prisoners will be released — came at the end of a nearly six-hour, sometimes emotional, cabinet meeting.:
Cabinet Ministers who voted against releasing the Palestinian terrorists:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that approving the releases was a deeply painful decision, but one that served the wider interests of the state. Underlining the anguish and divisions over the move, two ministers from Netanyahu’s own Likud party voted against it, and two more abstained.
The list approved by the Cabinet did not include any Israeli-Arab pre-Oslo convicts. Palestinian officials quoted on Israel’s Channel 10 news said Sunday night that this was a problem, since they said Netanyahu had pledged to release more than a dozen Israeli-Arabs.
The committee that will handle the process of four phased releases as the talks continue will be made up of Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Science Minister Yaakov Peri and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. It will decide which prisoners on the list of 104 will go free at what stage, determine whether they will be allowed to return to their homes or be sent into exile, and oversee the implementation.
Peri, a former Shin Bet head who belongs to the centrist Yesh Atid party, was a last-minute addition meant to ensure Netanyahu a majority in the small panel in the event that Ya’alon and Aharonovitch decided to torpedo aspects of the deal.
Peri confirmed after the vote that the list of 104 names did not include any Israeli Arab citizens, more than a dozen of whom have been held since for pre-Oslo terrorist crimes. If their releases were sought, he said, that would require further debate. Ya’alon had objected particularly strenuously to freeing Israeli Arabs since, he said, the Palestinian leadership did not represent them.
YouVersion Bible app now has 100 million downloads.
Wow — amazing — the YouVersion Bible app now has more than 100 million downloads worldwide. I’m one of them. I love reading the Bible on my iPhone. And this is a cool story in theNew York Timesin how a hunger for the Bible is spreading across the world!
(Edmonton, Oklahoma) — More than 500 years after Gutenberg, the Bible is having its i-moment.
For millions of readers around the world, a wildly successful free Bible app, YouVersion, is changing how, where and when they read the Bible.
Built by LifeChurch.tv, one of the nation’s largest and most technologically advanced evangelical churches, YouVersion is part of what the church calls its “digital missions.” They include a platform for online church services and prepackaged worship videos that the church distributes free. A digital tithing system and an interactive children’s Bible are in the works.
It’s all part of the church’s aspiration to be a kind of I.T. department for churches everywhere. YouVersion, with over 600 Bible translations in more than 400 languages, is by far the church’s biggest success. The app is nondenominational, including versions embraced by Catholics, Russian Orthodox and Messianic Jews. This month, the app reached 100 million downloads, placing it in the company of technology start-ups like Instagram and Dropbox.
“They have defined what it means to access God’s word on a mobile device,” said Geoff Dennis, an executive vice president of Crossway, one of many Bible publishers — from small presses to global Bible societies to News Corporation’s Thomas Nelson imprint — that have licensed their translations, free, to the church….
The Gutenberg behind YouVersion is the church’s 36-year-old “innovation pastor,” Bobby Gruenewald, whose training was in business, not religion.
Mr. Gruenewald grew up in Decatur, Ill., in an evangelical church, where as a teenager he started a Christian rap ministry. Later, he moved to Oklahoma to join his sixth-grade crush, now his wife, who left Illinois to study at Southern Nazarene University.
Here at the church’s headquarters, Mr. Gruenewald wears the same tennis shoes, slouchy jeans and T-shirts that suited him as a Christian rapper and small-time entrepreneur who bluffed his way into building Web sites, then ran a Web hosting company out of his dorm room and later sold a pro-wrestling fan Web site for $7 million….
(Washington, D.C.) — Is Prime Minister Netanyahu preparing to give away 86% of the West Bank to create a sovereign Palestinian state? That’s what Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister says. Israel’s Intelligence Minister is also telling the media that Netanyahu is willing to make “serious territorial concessions.”
Peace talks are set to begin here in Washington next week, possibly as early as Tuesday.
“However, Elkin, who opposes Palestinian statehood, went on to note that the Palestinians had rejected Ariel Sharon’s idea, and had always indicated that they insisted on attaining 100% of the West Bank, with very limited land swaps on a one-for-one basis, to enable Israel to maintain only what he called ‘settlement strings’ rather than settlement blocs,” reported the Times. “The Orthodox Elkin, who lives at the Kfar Eldad settlement in the Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem, said that, thus far, ‘the Lord…has solved our problems via the Arabs. [Yasser] Arafat didn’t accept [former prime minister Ehud] Barak’s offers,’ and Abbas didn’t accept former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s proposals, he said. ‘But if the Palestinians, heaven forbid, were to show flexibility and come toward us, we’d get a lousy deal….On the 86% of the territory they’d get, they would build a terror state…But the fact is that the Palestinians haven’t budged a millimeter’ in their demands for 100% of the West Bank.”
“We are prepared to make considerable concessions and it’s not going to be easy,” said Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs, in an interview with the UK Telegraph. “Both sides will have to make very significant concessions and very difficult concessions. We will probably have to make very serious territorial concessions. And the Palestinians will have to make also both territorial concessions — because there will be settlement blocks — but more important still they will have to recognise the very existence of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
Other stories worth tracking on the peace process:
(Washington, D.C.) — Amidst the terrible geopolitical crises in Syria and Egypt — and the nuclear threat growing from Iran — the Middle East faces a far greater crisis: the absolute disconnect between the people and the Word of God.
Israel and the Middle East is the land where the Bible was written. Yet most of the people in the epicenter have never read the Word of God.
Only 16% of Israeli Jews say they ever read the Hebrew Bible known as the Tanakh (the five books of Moses, the prophets and the writings), according to a sweeping survey of Israeli attitudes towards faith conducted by the Guttmann Institute and the Israel Democracy Institute in 2009.
The vast majority of Arab Muslims have never even seen a Bible, much less read one.
Is there really any wonder then that if the half billion people in this region don’t know God’s Word, that they are not experiencing His peace, much less peace between nations and ethnic groups?
We recently gathered in Jerusalem, at a time of war, uprisings and revolution, for the 2013 Epicenter Conference. Our theme this year was, “The Power of the Word.” Some people have asked, “Why wasn’t the Epicenter Conference this year focused on analyzing the geopolitical threats facing Israel and her neighbors?”
Is the U.S. making Israeli strike on Iran in ’13 more likely?
(Washington, D.C.) — Readers of this column will recall on July 15 I wrote that “over the past several weeks, I have been hearing from current and former senior Israeli officials and advisors at the highest possible levels, that the showdown with Iran is entering the critical ‘end game’ phase. I’m hearing from people with direct knowledge of the plans that war could come in 2013.”
Specifically, I noted that Israeli officials “want the U.S. and other world powers to intensify economic sanctions and all other measures necessary to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear plans, give up its enriched uranium, and shut down its enrichment facilities. But they are deeply concerned that the so-called ‘election’ of Hassan Rouhani — widely but wrongly perceived to be a ‘moderate’ and a ‘reformer’ — will cause officials in Washington and elsewhere to lower their guard and actually ease up pressure on the Khamenei regime, rather than crack down harder.” If that happens, I noted, such easing up on Iran is exactly what could lead Israel to feel forced to go it alone and launch a massive preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2013, in a scenario not unlike what I wrote about in my novels, The Tehran Initiative and Damascus Countdown.
Less than two weeks later, we are seeing evidence that the Obama administration is moving in exactly the wrong direction. While Congress wants to ratchet up the Iran sanctions and make them tougher, the White House is actually strongly resisting such efforts. The President wants to ease up on the sanctions in hopes of engaging with Iran’s new regime. In other words, President Obama is taking Iran’s bait. And this could push the Israelis to war sooner rather than later.
The Obama administration, seeking to improve relations with Iranian President-elect Hasan Rouhani, eased restrictions on medical supplies, agricultural products and humanitarian aid entering the heavily sanctioned country.
The Treasury Department’s announcement Thursday was viewed by many Iran-watchers as a gesture of good will from Washington as it seeks to restart talks with Tehran over its nuclear program once Mr. Rouhani enters office next month.
However, the White House is clashing with Congress, where a bilateral group of lawmakers is seeking to tighten the sanctions, say U.S. officials and Capitol Hill staffers. Their proposed legislation would significantly toughen financial penalties on Iran by targeting the country’s oil exports, ships and banks by October, in an effort to convince Tehran to halt its nuclear program.
Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have been advising Congress to give the administration more time to pursue negotiations with Mr. Rouhani before further tightening the financial noose on Iran. Mr. Rouhani, who succeeds President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is seen as a relative moderate and has pledged to try to improve relations with the West.
“We don’t think new sanctions would be helpful at this stage,” said a senior administration official involved in the sanctions debate. “We’ve proven that the sanctions are working.”
This is a serious and potentially tragic mistake by the President and his team. But this is exactly what Israeli leaders have feared, and expected.
As I noted on July 15, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to prepare the public in Israel and around the world for a ‘military option.’ This is why he appeared on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday (see excerpt of transcript). The PM called the Iranian a ‘messianic, apocalyptic’ regime bent on genocide, a reference to the Shia eschatology Khamenei holds that Iran must annihilate Israel and the U.S. to usher in the reign of the Twelfth Imam. Netanyahu also called the incoming Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, a ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ who has bragged in the past about negotiating with the West while secretly advancing nuclear enrichment. What’s more, Netanyahu vowed not to ‘wait too long’ to stop Iran.”
To be clear: I’m not saying war will definitely come in 2013. For my part, I continue to pray for peace, even as I — and my colleagues at The Joshua Fund — prepare for war and other national crises in the epicenter. We should be grateful a major regional war between Israel and Iran hasn’t occurred yet. It could be devastating. Hopefully, the regime in Iran will fall. Perhaps sanctions and/or diplomacy and/or covert operations will make war unnecessary. But I believe it is important to be honest with you about what I’m hearing and keep you informed.
Please pray for peace in Syria, and in Egypt, and in Israel.
Please pray for U.S., Israeli and other leaders to have wisdom to know just what to do.
Please pray for Christian leaders in the region to have courage and wisdom.
Please pray that all the people of the epicenter develop a deep hunger to read the Bible and discover the power of God’s Word, as we discussed in the recent Epicenter Conference.
Please pray for The Joshua Fund team and me to be able to keep providing food, medical equipment, and other humanitarian relief supplies for the poor and needy now, while also preparing for the crises that may lie ahead.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah kissing the hand of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei. Together, they are plotting a takeover of Syria says a new Israeli report.
(Washington, D.C.) — A new analysis by an Israeli national security think tank argues that Iran not only sees Syria as strategically vital to the mission of the Islamic Revolution in the Middle East, and is determined not to let it fall into enemy hands, but is thus actively planning to take over the nation of Syria and effectively make it part of sovereign Iranian territory.
The report, “Iran’s Plans To Take Over Syria,” suggests upwards of 150,000 troops from Iran, the Hezbollah terrorist movement in Lebanon, and some Shia forces from the Gulf states, are involved in the take over. The report was written by retired IDF Brigadier General Dr. Shimon Shapira and was recently published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
In mid-April, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah paid a secret visit to Tehran where he met with the top Iranian officials headed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qasem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Suleimani prepared an operational plan named after him based upon the establishment of a 150,000-man force for Syria, the majority of whom will come from Iran, Iraq, and a smaller number from Hizbullah and the Gulf states.
Suleimani’s involvement was significant. He has been the spearhead of Iranian military activism in the Middle East. In January 2012, he declared that the Islamic Republic controlled “one way or another” Iraq and South Lebanon. Even before recent events in Syria, observers in the Arab world have been warning for years about growing evidence of “Iranian expansionism.”
An important expression of Syria’s centrality in Iranian strategy was voiced by Mehdi Taaib, who heads Khamenei’s think tank. He recently stated that “Syria is the 35th district of Iran and it has greater strategic importance for Iran than Khuzestan [an Arab-populated district inside Iran].” Significantly, Taaib was drawing a comparison between Syria and a district that is under full Iranian sovereignty.
Tehran has had political ambitions with respect to Syria for years and has indeed invested huge resources in making Syria a Shiite state. The Syrian regime let Iranian missionaries work freely to strengthen the Shiite faith in Damascus and the cities of the Alawite coast, as well as the smaller towns and villages. In both urban and rural parts of Syria, Sunnis and others who adopted the Shiite faith received privileges and preferential treatment in the disbursement of Iranian aid money.
Iran is also recruiting Shiite forces in Iraq for the warfare in Syria. These are organized in a sister framework of Lebanese Hizbullah. Known as the League of the Righteous People and Kateeb Hizbullah, its mission is to defend the Shiite centers in Damascus. It is likely that Tehran will make every effort to recruit additional Shiite elements from Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and even from Pakistan….[to read the rest of the report, please click here]
(Washington, D.C.) — On August 3rd, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will officially step down as the President of Iran. He will be replaced by Hassan Rouhani, though the Islamic Republic will still ultimately be ruled by the so-called “Supreme Leader,” the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A few days later, the leader of Russia will arrive in Tehran on a formal state visit. He will come to discuss the Iranian nuclear program and to strengthen the Russian-Iranian alliance. It will likely be the first state visit of the new Rouhani regime and it will be interesting to see what comes of it.
“Russian leader Vladimir Putin will meet Iran’s newly elected president in Tehran next month to discuss restarting talks on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program,” reports Reuters, based on Russian and Iranian media reports. “The Russian newspaper Kommersant quoted a source close to the Iranian Foreign Ministry as saying President Putin would visit on August 12, days after Hassan Rouhani is inaugurated. Iran’s Mehr news agency said Putin would travel to Iran on August 16, without citing a source. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined comment on the reports.”
This will be the second time Putin has traveled to Iran. The first was a two day trip on October 16-17, 2007. I wrote about the historic nature of that trip at the time. It was, after all, the first time a Russian leader had made a state visit to Tehran for the purpose of meeting with Iranian leaders in modern history. It thus raised many questions, including whether we were approaching the fulfillment of the prophecies of Ezekiel 38-39 in which Russia and Iran form an alliance in the “last days” of history to attack Israel. It so happened that I was speaking about such prophecies to officials at the Pentagon and to Members of Congress just days after Putin’s visit. Below I include a reprint of the column I wrote at the time.
WHAT PUTIN’S HISTORIC VISIT TO IRAN MEANS
By Joel C. Rosenberg, October 19, 2007
Washington leaders are asking if unfolding events in the Mideast were foretold in the Bible.
Here is an excerpt from the official transcript: “I believe that if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace. We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”
As the President was speaking to reporters at the White House, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of military leaders at the Pentagon on what Putin’s historicand unprecedented trip to Iran means, and how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s eschatology is driving Iranian foreign policy.
The event was off-the-record, meaning I’m not at liberty to share who was in the meeting or any of the specific details. But I can tell you that I gave a condensed version of the same information I’ve been speaking about publicly in recent weeks. I will be speaking on the same topic on Capitol Hill today with a group of Congressmen who have invited me to discuss the latest events with Putin and Ahmadinejad and what they might mean.
Here’s an executive summary:
* To misunderstand the nature and threat of evil is to risk being blindsided by it. A new evil is rising in the world. Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. Putin is a new Czar. Yet the West seems to be asleep to the implications of this dangerous new alliance.
* Ahmadinejad is a devout Shia Muslim. He began telling colleagues when he was first elected in the summer of 2005 that the end of the world was just two or three years away. He said the way to hasten the coming of the Islamic Messiah known as the “Mahdi” or the “Twelfth Imam” or the “Hidden Imam” is to annihilate two countries — Israel, which he says is the “little Satan,” and the United States, which he says is the “Great Satan.”
* In September 2005, Ahmadinejad concluded his address to the U.N. by praying that Allah would hasten the coming of the Mahdi.
* Ahmadinejad returned to Iran after that speech and told Shia clerics that as he had spoken at the U.N. he had been surrounded by a halo of light, and that for 27 or 28 minutes not a single person in the General Assembly hall had even blinked, so mesmerized were they — he said — but what Allah was saying through him.
* In October 2005, Ahmadinejad gave his famous speech vowing to wipe Israel off the map. In the same speech, he urged the Muslim world to envision a world without the United States, and said this is possible — a world without America and Zionism — “when our holy hatred strikes like a wave.”
* In December 2005, Russia signed a $1 billion arms deal with Iran, selling high-speed missiles to the Ahmadinejad regime, on top of billions of dollars worth of other arms, submarines, and nuclear technology in recent years.
* In September 2006, Ahmadinejad returned to the U.N. and again concluded his address by praying for Allah to hasten the coming of the Mahdi. Throughout 2006 and 2007, he has continued to give regular speeches denouncing Israel and assuring Muslims that the Jewish State will soon “vanish.”
* In August 2007, Ahmadinejad began shifting gears. He was no longer saying that the end of the world was two or three years away. Now he was saying the return of the Mahdi was “imminent.”
* In September 2007, Ahmadinejad again spoke at the U.N., as well as at Columbia University in New York City. This time, rather than ending his speeches with a prayer, he began both speeches by asking Allah to hasten the coming of the Mahdi.
* For the past two years, Ahmadinejad has been feverishly trying to build, buy or steal nuclear weapons. He has specifically been building alliances with three nuclear powers, Russia, China and North Korea, in pursuit of his genocidal objectives.
* Despite the apocalyptic rhetoric coming out of Tehran, the military, political and economic relationship between Russia and Iran has intensified dramatically over the past two years. Putin doesn’t seem bothered by the talk of genocide. Putin and Ahmadinejad have met regularly. Putin’s visit this week to Iran was the first by a Russian leader since 1943.
* Putin didn’t meet only with Ahmadinejad in Iran. He also held a summit with the leaders of several Central Asian/Caspian Sea nations and issued a threat to the U.S. not to intervene militarily to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
* No one is entirely certain why Putin is building an alliance with such radical Islamic regimes. Russia is certainly making billions of dollars from their arms and nuclear deals. Putin clearly wants to rebuild the glory of Mother Russia. He is becoming a Czar, centralizing power to himself and now saying he will step down as president in 2008 but stay in power as prime minister.
* As an emerging Czar, Putin wants to expand Russia’s borders and influence. But he can’t go West, because NATO is moving East. Putin can’t go East because he borders a nuclear China. He recently claimed sovereignty over the North Pole. But his real opportunity to build a global, anti-Western empire lies to the South. So Putin is feverishly working to build alliances with Islamic and Arab powers, including Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, and several Central Asian states, as well as Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.
* Still, given Russia’s experience in Chechnya, it doesn’t really make sense that Russia would arm radical Islamic nations, or help them go nuclear.
* The Bible offers an intriguing clue to what could be happening. In Ezekiel 38-39, the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel foretold a Russian-Iranian alliance that would form with a group of other North African, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian states in what the Bible calls “the last days.” For most of the past 2,500 years since the prophecy was written, this had never happened. But it seems to be happening now.
* No one knows exactly when these prophecies will be fulfilled in their entirely. I certainly do not. My 2005 political thriller, The Ezekiel Option, was a fictional look at how these prophecies might play out, if they were to play in my lifetime. Epicenter is a non-fiction look (both the book and the documentary film) at these prophecies and the current dynamics in Russia, Iran and the rest of the region. It considers the possibility that we might actually be closer to the fulfillment of these prophecies that anyone in the political, business or media worlds has expected.
* One curious development worth noting: Ezekiel 36 and 37 have already come true in our lifetime. These are the famous prophecies that say that in the end times, Israel will be reborn as a nation, Jews will pour back into the Holy Land after centuries of exile, they will make the deserts bloom, they will rebuild the ancient ruins, and have an “exceedingly great army.” Since these dramatic events have already happened, it begs the question: Could Ezekiel 38-39 — what Bible scholars call the “War of Gog and Magog” — also come true in our lifetime? This remains to be seen. But current events are raising lots of intriguing questions.
As I write in Epicenter, I am not trying to persuade people that these events are coming to pass soon. I’m trying to raise awareness of the threats we face as Americans, the threats our friends in Israel face, and the threats that everyone in the “epicenter” faces — Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. I’m trying to make people aware of prophecies that intrigue me personally, and that may have relevance for our time. And I’m trying to motivate people to do more to care for the needs of the suffering and threatened people of the epicenter, specifically through the work of The Joshua Fund, the non-profit group that Lynn and I launched last year.
While I cannot say whether people in the Pentagon or Congress or the White House share my views, I am both intrigued and grateful that they are interested and have invited me to share my perspective.
At this moment in history, let us pray faithfully and earnestly for our political and military leaders, as well for the leaders in Israel, Russia, Iran and the epicenter. As the Apostle Paul wrote in I Timothy 2:1-4: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
(Washington, D.C.) — The countdown to U.S. intervention in the mess in Damascus appears to be nearing the zero hour.
The Obama administration is actively considering using military force to bring down the Assad regime in Syria. Specifically, the White House and Pentagon are analyzing the idea of running a 24/7 “no-fly zone” over Syria, as well as training and arming rebel forces to defeat the Assad forces. But the costs would be high — upwards of $1 billion a month — and might not even be successful.
In my view, active U.S. military involvement in Syria would be a catastrophic mistake. I feel terrible for the bloodshed and carnage going on inside Syria. But tragically I see very little that the West can do to actually make the situation better.
Who exactly would we arm and assist? We’re talking about a civil war that is pitting Shia radicals (Assad’s regime, Iran and Hezbollah) against “the rebels,” most of whom are Sunni radicals (including al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood forces). I don’t want any of them to win. Are there small numbers of rebels who might be better if they could really come to power? Perhaps. But the fact is they have very limited chances of getting to the top of the greasy pole. Indeed, if the wrong people seize control of Syria, the situation for the Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the West could actually become much worse.
Syria is imploding. It is increasingly possible that the geopolitical state we call the Syrian Arab Republic will cease to exist in the not-too-distant future. We can and should help with humanitarian relief. We can and should show mercy to those fleeing for their lives. We can and should help the persecuted Christians, and pray actively and consistently for peace and stability. But I don’t think the U.S. government or any Western power should stick its hand into that hornet’s nest.
Our highest priority should be stopping Iran from building nuclear weapons. Period.
Still, the White Houseappears to be readying the military for U.S. intervention, and some Republicans in Congress are encouraging them along these lines.
“The Pentagon has provided Congress with its first detailed list of military options to stem the bloody civil war in Syria, suggesting that a campaign to tilt the balance from President Bashar al-Assad to the opposition would be a vast undertaking, costing billions of dollars, and could backfire on the United States,” reports the New York Times.
Excerpts from the story:
The list of options — laid out in a letter from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan — was the first time the military has explicitly described what it sees as the formidable challenge of intervening in the war.
It came as the White House, which has limited its military involvement to supplying the rebels with small arms and other weaponry, has begun implicitly acknowledging that Mr. Assad may not be forced out of power anytime soon.
The options, which range from training opposition troops to conducting airstrikes and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria, are not new. But General Dempsey provided details about the logistics and the costs of each. He noted that long-range strikes on the Syrian government’s military targets would require “hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers,” and cost “in the billions.”
General Dempsey, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, provided the unclassified, three-page letter at the request of Mr. Levin, a Democrat, after testifying last week that he believed it was likely that Mr. Assad would be in power a year from now.
On that day, the White House began publicly hedging its bets about Mr. Assad. After saying for nearly two years that Mr. Assad’s days were numbered, the press secretary, Jay Carney, said, “While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.”
Those last four words represent a subtle but significant shift in the White House’s wording: an implicit acknowledgment that after recent gains by the government’s forces against an increasingly chaotic opposition, Mr. Assad now seems likely to cling to power for the foreseeable future, if only over a rump portion of a divided Syria.
That prospect has angered advocates of intervention, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had a testy exchange with General Dempsey when the general testified before the Armed Services Committee about why the administration was not doing more to help the rebels. The plan to supply the rebels with small arms and other weaponry is being run as a covert operation by the Central Intelligence Agency, and General Dempsey made no mention of it in his letter.
On Monday, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said that despite “very strong concerns about the strength of the administration’s plans in Syria and its chances for success,” the panel had reached a consensus to move ahead with the White House’s strategy, without specifically mentioning the covert arms program. Senate Intelligence Committee officials said last week that they had reached a similar position….
In his letter, General Dempsey assessed the risks and benefits of different military options. But his tone was cautionary, suggesting that the Pentagon views all of these options with trepidation.
Training, advising and assisting opposition troops, he wrote, could require anywhere from several hundred to several thousand troops, and cost about $500 million a year. An offensive of limited long-range strikes against Syrian military targets would require hundreds of aircraft and warships and could cost billions of dollars over time. Imposing a no-fly zone would require shooting down government warplanes and destroying airfields and hangars. It would also require hundreds of aircraft. The cost could reach $1 billion a month.