How did conflict in the volatile Middle East begin? Will peace eventually prevail? If so, when and how will this elusive state finally come about?
The Middle East is one of the world’s continual hotbeds for conflict. In recent years Middle East conflicts have seriously impacted the Western world. The Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States and subsequent disturbances in European capitals were spawned by tensions in the Middle East.
Nations today realize that a major Middle East war could easily escalate far beyond that region. As a result, many countries watch what is happening in the Middle East with serious concern. It seems only a matter of time before the next conflict breaks out.
Why is the Middle East so volatile, and why are the tensions there so difficult to resolve?
A brief history of modern Middle East conflict
The modern history of the Middle East began after the end of World War I. Following “the war to end all wars,” the Ottoman Empire that had ruled the Middle East for 400 years came to an end. The Ottoman Empire of the Turks had, at various times, ruled from the Middle East to Persia and from North Africa to southeastern Europe. The empire was in decline by 1914, and its defeat came at the end of World War I in 1918.
With the breakup of the old empire, a number of new nations were created by Britain and France and approved by the newly formed League of Nations. These nations included Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Transjordan and Turkey. Egypt was a British protectorate that became independent in 1922.
Political conflicts within these nations did not spill over into major international conflicts as has occurred in recent decades. These internal conflicts continued off and on up to the beginning of World War II. There are still major conflicts among Arab states today, but when we consider the subject of the Middle East conflict, the most serious conflict is the one between Israel and her neighbors.
The beginning of the modern nation of Israel
On May 14, 1948, the Jewish people in Palestine declared their independence and called their new nation the State of Israel. It was formed when the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13 in November of 1947 to equally divide the region of the British mandate for Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
The Jewish people had been seeking a place to live in this historic part of the world for over 300 years. In October 1917 the British cabinet authorized the foreign secretary to issue the Balfour Declaration, which granted the Jewish people a national homeland in the Middle East. It was named after Arthur James Balfour, the former foreign secretary and prime minister of Britain.
Even though the Jewish people had been promised a national homeland, the majority in the British government at that time were not in favor of it. Many worked to prevent and undermine the Jewish attempts to settle in Israel. These leaders supported the Arabs’ desire to keep the Jews out of Palestine.
The Jews felt betrayed by the British for going back on their promise. After the Holocaust—the annihilation of 6 million Jews during World War II—became widely known, a national homeland for the Jewish people could no longer be ignored. It was not long after the formation of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1946 that the modern nation of Israel came into existence.
A Jewish nation prophesied thousands of years in advance
Surprising to many people today, the Bible predicted long ago that the Jewish people would return to be a nation in their ancient homeland. It was over 2,500 years from the time of their national defeat and captivity in 586 B.C. until they became a nation after World War II.
God, through the prophet Zechariah, had foretold this development over two millennia prior. Addressing conditions in the world before the return of Jesus Christ, God said, “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; 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).
True to what God said, Israel has been a center of Middle East conflict, and her enemies have not prevailed. Even though the newly formed State of Israel was immediately attacked by her neighboring countries, the small, poorly armed nation survived against overwhelming odds. It has survived many close calls since it became a nation over 60 years ago. Israel has been greatly outnumbered, but as the prophecy said, “All who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.”
Why are the Jewish people and the nation of Israel so hated by their Middle Eastern neighbors and by much of the world? Many people do not want to even acknowledge that Israel exists or that it has the right to exist. Arabs and Jews acknowledge in both the Bible and the Koran that they have a common heritage and relationship that goes back to Abraham. Why are these peoples who are related from the past unable to come to peace today? See “Jerusalem: Why Three Major Religions Claim It” for answers.
One reason for the Middle East conflict lies in the past. Abraham had a son Isaac, who, in turn, had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentils (Genesis 25:34). A little later, Jacob deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him the firstborn blessing of Esau by an oath that could not be taken back (Genesis 27:33, 36). Because of these actions by Jacob, Esau hated his brother.
Over 1,300 years later the prophet Ezekiel spoke of the everlasting hatred the descendant peoples of Esau (also called Edom, Genesis 36:8) would continue to have for Jacob, whose name had been changed to Israel. He said, “Because you have had an ancient [everlasting, center margin] hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword at the time of their calamity … since you have not hated blood, therefore blood shall pursue you” (Ezekiel 35:5-6).
This hatred today by many Middle Eastern peoples for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel originated in the hatred Esau had for his brother Jacob.
Israel today has grown into a regional superpower in an area the size of the state of New Jersey in the United States. Peace treaties have been reached with Egypt and Jordan, but that is not the case with the Palestinians and other nations of the region. As a result, the tensions are always high in this tiny country because of the many threats being made against it.
Where is this ongoing conflict leading the Middle East and the world?
Future prophecies concerning the Middle East
The prophecies of the Bible predict the Middle East conflict will escalate, with the Middle East becoming a center of war and violence that will end with the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The book of Daniel speaks of a “king of the South” coming out of the Middle East and attacking the “king of the North,” meaning Europe (Daniel 11:40-41). This leader from the north will counterattack very swiftly and take the battle a step further by entering the “Glorious Land” (Israel).
The prophet Zechariah speaks of this time just before the coming of the Messiah. He says, “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken” (Zechariah 14:2).
This will not be just another Middle East conflict. It will be a time of world conflict. As Jesus Christ predicted in His famous Olivet Prophecy, “For then there will be great tribulation [widespread war and suffering], such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21). This time of world war, invasion of the Middle East, and the fall of Jerusalem will precede Christ’s second coming.
Peace will bring an end to Middle East conflict
Man has tried by all his known methods to bring peace to the Middle East but without any real success. It will take a higher power to resolve all the issues and bring peace to this region and the entire world. Zechariah went on to say, “And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one” (Zechariah 14:9).
The immediate future does not look very good for the Middle East, but the prophecies of the Bible predict that in the long term there will be an age of peace and prosperity. Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem to resolve the conflict there and establish peace for all nations.