Stories that have made headlines over the past two weeks, from a Christian perspective

ISSUE 226 | 5 SEPTEMBER 2019

ALSO IN THIS EDITION

ISRAEL ESCALATES ITS SHADOW WAR WITH IRAN

By Andrew Richards

Israel has carried out a series of attacks across the Middle East in recent weeks to prevent Iran from equipping its Arab allies with precision-guided missiles, drones and other sophisticated weapons that could challenge Israel’s defences. The attacks represent a new escalation in the shadow war between Iran and Israel, which has broken into the open and threatens to set off a wider confrontation. (New York Times)

Why the recent attacks?

Enmity between Israel and Iran is nothing new, nor is the Israeli-Palestinian issue, yet both are often thought of as ‘forever conflicts’ that have no real hope of ever being resolved. And this is what it can feel like when we hear of another flare in hostilities between these role players, claiming more lives.

In the most recent spate of violence, Israel hit targets in three separate countries – Syria, Lebanon and Iraq – in a period of only 18 hours. Lebanese president Michel Aoun called the strikes “equal to a declaration of war”. So why would Israel make such dramatic moves if an expected outcome would be angering its Arab neighbours even more?

Israel is accusing Iran of trying to establish a secret supply route from Iran to the borders of Israel, through which it can funnel weapons to its ‘proxies’ that include Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian forces and Iraqi Shia militias. It is Hezbollah in particular that threatens Israel most, as the political-militant group is able to strike Israel while hiding in Lebanon, ensuring limited response from Israel. The last time Israel confronted Hezbollah directly was in 2006 – the 34-day conflict lead to the eventual deaths of 121 Israel soldiers and an estimated 800 Hezbollah fighters. That war also claimed the lives of more than 1,200 civilians, before ending in a stalemate with both sides claiming victory.

Hezbollah’s command posts and missile development platforms are seen as threats to Israel, not only because Hezbollah is supported by Iran but also because it is believed that Hezbollah may be providing various Palestinian jihadist groups (including Hamas) with weapons meant to inflict harm on Israel. How far these supposed arms supply lines stretch and to what extent Israel is actually threatened is unknown. What is known is that Israel is willing to risk much in order to protect itself.

Who is Hezbollah?

The Shia Islamist political party and militant group, which is based in Lebanon, is a known ‘proxy’ of the Iranian government (a sworn enemy of Israel). Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem has declared that “there is not a single point in the occupied territories [Israel] out of reach of Hezbollah’s missiles.” The Jerusalem Post reports that the group has amassed between 130,000 and 150,000 short-to-long-range rockets and missiles intended for attacking Israel, and some analysts suggest that the experience gained from fighting in Syria with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces would give Hezbollah some advantage in conventional warfare against Israel.

But Hezbollah does not act alone, and without the proper infrastructure to manufacture weapons arsenals, the real threat comes from Iran. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated publicly in June 2016: “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Israel’s position

INcontext International asked Dr Daniel Shayesteh, a former leading member of the Iranian Hezbollah, about the extent to which Israel has the right to defend itself against aggression from Iran and Hezbollah. Dr Shayesteh suggested two key reasons why Israel is bold enough to risk war even while the world is watching.

“I think it was in the 1990s that Israel bombed a nuclear facility in Iraq, and the Western world was happy that they did. Also, it was before the Syria-Iraq terrorist attack that Israel again bombed a nuclear facility in Syria, and no serious complaint [was made against] Israel by Western powers. It might be because there were many attacks by Iranian terrorists on Israeli and American buildings in Argentina, Brazil, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon during the 90s.

“On the other hand, the Western authorities know that Iran is behind Hamas and Hezbollah, who have made it clear that their goal is the destruction of Israel. Israel knows that Iran’s military improvement in the area results in the destruction of Israel. For this reason, Israel also, in a sense, does not care what others think. Of course, America’s support for Israel has also made her bold in her approach to her enemies – in particular, Iran.

“Another reason can also be the ‘green light’ that countries like Egypt and others in the Gulf show to Israel concerning Iran. Most Sunni Islamic countries are not happy with the progress of Iran in the area, and are happy that Israel is doing something.”

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

It has been seen multiple times that conflicts in the Middle East have brought thousands to the point of finding inner peace in Christ. Physical wars, which displaced millions, have been a vessel God has used (and continues to use) to bring people into relationship with Him. In a similar way, the current tension between Israel, Iran and proxy groups could be part of God’s answer to the prayers of those who “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).

In this context, the root of the word “peace” does not only refer to a state of absence of war – it also implies “being complete”.  In essence, the word embodies the concept of wellbeing and the notion of “being paid for”. Praying for the peace of Jerusalem is therefore not primarily a prayer for the avoidance of war but rather for God’s intervention that will ensure eternity for the people He calls His own. Prayer is not only to be focused on the absence of conflict, but also for the people of Israel to be moved to seek inner peace with God through Christ Jesus. This relationship with Jesus will then stir people to seek peace with one another, rather than division and war. And it is in times of conflict that this peace with God might be found.

 

PRAY 

  • For a de-escalation of tensions
  • For wisdom for the leadership of Israel and neighbouring countries
  • For believers to be peace-makers

DID YOU KNOW?

Syrian neighbours (below) hosting Syrian refugees (some for the entire war of 8+ years)

Lebanon has been a key nation where many Syrians have been exposed to the Gospel and accepted Christ as their Saviour

“If it had not been for the war I would not have met Jesus!” (Syrian refugee hosted in Lebanon)

DEFORESTATION FUELS THE AMAZON FIRES

A record number of fires in the Amazon this month have raised concerns both locally and internationally about the sustainable use of vital resources. While fires are regular and natural in the Amazon during the dry season there has been a worrying upward trend in the rate of deforestation and its close link to the increase in fires. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s support of agri-business and economic development has been seen by some as a catalyst for the noted escalation in deforestation.

From a Christian Perspective

The incredible diversity of the Amazon testifies to the Lord’s amazing creativity and marvellous design. However, there remains the challenge to manage and balance the needs of a nation while not compromising and jeopardising the integrity of its environment. The Lord has solutions, but unfortunately, in the modern age of ‘instant everything’, humans tend to seek the easiest, quickest solutions, which often lead to unfortunate compromises.

SLOW AND STEADY PROGRESS TOWARDS A NEW SUDAN

In recent days, there has been a collective ‘sigh of relief’ in Sudan after several months of political upheaval, protests and violence. A new ruling body and prime minister have been appointed. Ousted former president, Omar al-Bashir has also been charged and his trial has begun. Much progress has already been made in establishing an agreed way forward for Sudan’s ruling authority until elections can be held. Some key challenges remain, such as the resolution of internal conflicts and the revitalisation of a struggling economy. Despite the enormous challenges, Sudanese are eyeing the new government with cautious optimism.

From a Christian Perspective

The decision to include a Christian woman in the newly established ruling council is viewed by many believers as an acknowledgement of the role Christians played in the protest movement, as well as their positive presence in Sudanese society.  The constitution adopted for the three-year transition notably omits Islam as one of the characteristics defining the state. That, and the wind of democratic change in Sudan, have given Christians and other minorities hope that religious plurality would be better protected in the future.

IN OTHER NEWS

Greek officials and aid workers began an emergency operation to evacuate 1,400 migrants from a dangerously  overcrowded camp on Lesbos as numbers of arrivals on the island continue to climb. Six hundred and forty people were bussed away from Moria camp, which has become notorious for violence and poor hygiene, with 800 more following. Lesbos saw 3,000 new arrivals in August, with around 650 arriving in just one day last week, and another 400 over the weekend. The emergency transfer from Moria was agreed by the government at an emergency meeting on Saturday, with unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people given priority.

Rescuers have begun to reach areas of the northern Bahamas devastated by Hurricane Dorian, with aerial images showing a trail of destruction. PM Hubert Minnis said some areas had been “decimated” and expected the current death toll of seven would rise. The hurricane winds that hit the Abaco Islands equalled the highest ever recorded at landfall, and Grand Bahama also suffered severe damage and floods. Dorian has moved off north but still threatens the eastern US seaboard. Aerial images over the Abacos showed mile upon mile of destruction, with roofs torn off, scattered debris, overturned cars, shipping containers and boats, and high water levels.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam formally committed to withdrawing an extradition bill on 4 September that has sparked month of protests and plunged the territory into its biggest political crisis in decades. In a five-minute television address, the chief executive said: “The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns.” Lam said her government would introduce measures to address the cause of the last three months of mass protests, including appointing two new members of a police watchdog agency, holding a series of dialogues, and investigating social problems.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the wave of looting and violence that was centred in Johannesburg and believed to be xenophobic in nature. The unrest started on 1 September and involved urban rioting, looting and setting cars and buildings alight. Foreign-owned businesses were reportedly targeted. There has also been a wave of protests in the transport industry, as locals have objected to the employment of foreign drivers. South Africa is a favourite destination for economic migrants from other African countries, but leaders of African governments as well as the African Union have condemned the recent unrest and warned foreigners in South Africa to be careful.

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