Last year we looked at the situation in Israel with her growing wealth potential from the incredible gas finds off her shores and oil shale on land. Gas from Tamar, the first of the new gas fields, started to flow ashore at the end of  March. We can see another piece of the prophetic jigsaw dropping into place for Israel is to be rich and prosperous and a desirable prey to Gog (Ezek  38:12–13). This is what is unfolding before our eyes, surely one of the great signs for this generation. The closer we get to the Master’s return, the more significance we can see in little phrases which are beginning to jump off the prophetic page.

What Scripture guides us to expect

In our readings in Deuteronomy we have read of  God, through Moses, telling of Israel’s future history  in chapter 28. It is an absolutely compelling  chapter, showing that God is in control and that  all that has happened to Israel has been under His  direction. God knows that at the end of this period of 2,000 years of the nation’s punishment, there  will be a faithful remnant that cries out for help in  the extremity of their position when conquered by  Gog. God will have His saviours on hand; Christ  with his now immortalised saints will be ready to save Israel, His people. We know from Zechariah  12 and other passages that they will have their eyes opened as to who this Saviour is when they see the  marks of crucifixion in his hands and feet. As on  the day of Pentecost, they will cry out as they realise  the enormity of their nation’s sin in rejecting their  Messiah and their own blindness. As on Pentecost, they will be baptised into Christ. God will have  already made preparation for this, for a river will  be flowing from Jerusalem down to the now Living  Sea, through the newly formed valley caused by the  Mount of Olives being torn asunder. With their sins  washed away, they will be an all righteous nation and  they will reflect praise and honour to their Saviour  and to his heavenly Father.

We know from Zechariah 13 that only one third  will be part of this remnant that will repent and  be saved. With the number of Jews in Israel now  standing at 6 million, this points to another terrible  holocaust for those who form the two thirds who  are cut off. There are several indications that hearts  of the majority in Israel will be in the wrong place. The nation has to learn the hard way not to trust  in man but to trust in God: what an exhortation  this is for us too.

There are clear references to Israel’s misplaced  trust in the period leading up to the Gogian invasion  and, so, anticipating our nearness to these  things, we look for these signs. We have referred to  Deuteronomy 28; in chapter 30 we know the matters  of chapter 28 are continued, for it opens with:

“And it shall come to pass, when all these things  are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse,  which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call  them to mind among all the nations, whither  the LORD thy God hath driven thee …” (v1).

We know how it speaks of God showing His  mercy and restoring these faithful Jews to their  inheritance. God makes it abundantly clear that  punishment came because of their lack of faith  in Him:

“But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt  not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship  other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto  you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that  ye shall not prolong your days upon the land,  whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess  it” (v17–18).

Turning to other gods is to trust in them to be  able to sustain and deliver you. Isaiah 10 confirms  that this will be the case. Speaking in the context of  the Assyrian power, which was the great northern  power in Isaiah’s day, he makes this comment:

“And it shall come to pass in that day, that the  remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the  house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon  him that smote them; but shall stay upon the  LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth” (v20).

It clearly is an echo of Deuteronomy 30 for it  continues:

“The remnant shall return, even the remnant of  Jacob, unto the mighty God. For though thy people  Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant  of them shall return: the consumption decreed  shall overflow with righteousness” (v21–22).

Thus verse 20 tells us that the time will come  when Israel will “stay upon” or lean upon Yahweh,  in truth. What is so interesting is the contrast in  this verse. Before this change of heart they were  staying or leaning upon those who smote them!  This is clearly telling us that Israel is to be trusting  in some treacherous friends in the last days, whose  friendship will prove so hollow that they will be  attacked and overcome by these so called friends!

Consider these verses in Isaiah 2, which must be  speaking of the same time, just prior to their saving  at the hands of Christ. As is so typical of Bible  prophecies, it opens with a wonderful Kingdom  picture in the first 5 verses. The rest of the chapter  explains how we arrive at this state, and thus we see  that these verses are describing the situation prior  to this change:

“Therefore thou hast forsaken thy people the  house of Jacob, because they be replenished from  the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines,  and they please themselves in the children of  strangers. Their land also is full of silver and  gold, neither is there any end of their treasures;  their land is also full of horses, neither is there  any end of their chariots: Their land also is full  of idols; they worship the work of their own  hands, that which their own fingers have made”  (Isa 2:6–8).

This is a picture of a rich, prosperous Israel, with  the modern equivalent of war horses and chariots,  trusting in what they have designed and made,  rather than in their God. Their defensive weapons  are their idols which they look to to save them.  They are associating with the east – Sheba and  Dedan – and please themselves with the children  of strangers, people not of their nation. This phrase  in translated in other versions as: “are friends with”,  “ally themselves” and “strike hands with”.

No wonder God treats the time of peace and  safety prior to Israel’s invasion as a time of particular  sinfulness on Israel’s part. God says that He will  save them:

“After that they have borne their shame, and all  their trespasses whereby they have trespassed  against me, when they dwelt safely in their  land, and none made them afraid” (Ezek 39:26).  So what can we see?

Israel making the wrong “friends”

Following President Putin’s re-election, he paid  a State visit to Israel in June 2012; among the  many things discussed was how Russia, through  Gazprom, could help Israel exploit her great energy  wealth. Gazprom, in fact, submitted the highest bid  to become the 4th partner with the 3 companies (1  American, 2 Israeli) that are developing the Tamar  and Leviathan gas fields. It was not to be, for the  Australian company, Woodside, were chosen after  influence from the American partners. However, a  few months later Gazprom was back and signed a  partnership deal to handle the distribution of the  surplus gas from the Tamar field.

Russia muscles in on East Med gas boom

“A new deal by Russia’s Gazprom energy giant to  market Israeli liquefied natural gas puts Moscow  firmly in the burgeoning and contentious east  Mediterranean energy sector, and shows that it’s  again emerging as a player in the strategic region.

The 20-year LNG contract between Gazprom  subsidiary Gazprom Marketing and Trading  Switzerland and Levant LNG Marketing Corp.  also provides a major boost for Russia’s drive to  rebuild its Cold War influence in the Middle East  that collapsed with the demise of the Soviet Union.

The deal, signed February 26, is a direct consequence  of a ground-breaking visit to Israel, the  United States’ most valuable strategic ally in the  region, by Russian President Vladimir Putin last  June” UPI, 08-Mar-13.

In actual fact, the matter is not quite finalised, as  the Israeli government has still to agree as to what  percentage of gas they will allow to be exported, but  whatever happens, it will put Russia, via Gazprom,  in a favourable position. Bear in mind that one  million of Israel’s six million Jews have Russian  connections; Israel is home to the biggest diaspora  of Russians in the world.

Just last night, as I was scanning the first lines of  the multitudes of emails that wing their way from  around the world into my inbox, there was one that  caused me to sit up. One is searching for ‘needles in  haystacks’ but this one jumped out: Russians arrive  to cozy up to Israel. It told of the first ever visit of  a Russian warship to an Israeli port.

For the first time since the establishment of the  State of Israel, a Russian warship docked at the port  city of Haifa early in May. The Azov of Russia’s  Black Sea Fleet came to Israel at the request of the  Association of Russian War Veterans to help celebrate  the anniversary of the victory over Nazi  Germany.

Jewish veterans of the Red Army who later  immigrated to Israel were invited to participate in  a ceremony aboard the massive ship.

However, there was another even more important,  even historical, reason for the visit: with  the looming collapse of the Assad regime in Syria,  Russia is on the lookout for new Middle East alliances:

“… Recent reports are that Moscow is searching  for a new Mediterranean seaport to maintain  strategic balance in the region … Israeli officials  say that the Arab Spring has changed Russia’s  view of Israel, and Moscow now understands  that in this volatile and unpredictable region,  the Jewish state is an anchor of stability … The  Russians realize now more than ever that you  can rely on Israel.”

“… There was a general understanding that the  Azov’s visit was not a one-time event, and that  other Russian warships would come calling in the  near future. Israeli officials did not deny that they  are open to further cooperation with Moscow”  Israel Today, 13-May-13.

There have been several articles indicating that  having Russia working on Israel’s side would be a  regional game-changer. No longer would Israel’s  neighbours seek to attack Israel if Russian assets  were involved in Israel’s gas fields. If Russia can  work with Israel, why not the Gulf States?

The changing Middle East

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is, apparently,  an old Arabic and Chinese proverb. Israel and  the Gulf States share a common enemy in Iran and  we have been aware of considerable secret cooperation  between Israel and Jordan and some of the Gulf  States. This seems to be coming more into the open  with Obama’s latest round of military support to  strengthen America’s friends in the Middle East  against Iran:

Mideast: Arms buys soar with $10 billion US deal

“The United States unveiled plans Friday to sell $10  billion worth of advanced missiles and aircraft to  Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia  in a bid to counter the threat posed by Iran.

It was highly unusual for the Pentagon to announce  an arms deal covering three countries and  the move seemed to be designed to send a warning  to Iran that Washington’s partners in the region  were beefing up their military power.

“This is one of the most complex and carefully  orchestrated arms packages in American history,”  said the defence official.

This time there have been no apparent objections  from Israel, as there were none when  Washington announced a whopping $29.5 billion  arms package to Saudi Arabia two years ago.

There was a time when such deals elicited  diplomatic broadsides from the Jewish state but  the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East has  changed dramatically in recent years, with Israel  now watching Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s  development of intermediate-range ballistic missiles  that are becoming a serious conventional  threat” UPI, 19-Apr-13.

A return to East of Suez? UK military deployment to the Gulf

This was another of those spine-tingling headlines.  This was the title of a Briefing Paper issued  in April by the Royal United Services Institute,  the government’s military think-tank that guides  government military policies. It was a matter that  had been raised last December when General Sir  David Richards, the UK’s top military man, gave  a speech to the RUSI, where, this leading expert  was saying, for the first time since the Suez Crisis  in 1956, Britain had to concentrate on the Middle East, using a reshaped combat force, combining  the three forces (army, navy and air force) to give a  “Joint Expeditionary Force”:

“Britain’s JEF will be capable of projecting power  with global effect and influence. Nowhere  is more important to us than our friends in  the Middle East and Gulf and in line with  clear political intent we would expect, with  other initiatives, for JEF elements to spend more  time reassuring and deterring in that region”  ThinkDefense, 18-Dec-12.

The BBC reviewed the Briefing Paper:

“Is Britain quietly re-establishing a permanent,  strategic military presence in the Middle East,  reversing a 1960s decision to withdraw UK forces  from ‘east of Suez’?

It is a question posed and addressed in a detailed  report published on Monday by Whitehall thinktank,  the Royal United Services Institute.

‘It may not yet be declared government policy,’  says RUSI director Prof Michael Clarke, in the  foreword, ‘but the UK appears to be approaching a  decision point where a significant strategic reorientation  of its defence and security towards the Gulf  is both plausible and logical.’” BBC, 29-Apr-13.

In practice this has already begun.

The BBC then listed bases which are quietly  being enlarged and refurbished in the United Arab  Emirates and Bahrain. Britain is also stepping up  training facilities in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar  and Kuwait:

“The idea is to pre-position forces and equipment  in the Gulf before they are needed, while  simultaneously showing support for countries  considered allies.

For Arab Gulf governments, unnerved both by  the Arab Spring upheavals of 2011 and by Iran’s  growing regional ambitions, Britain’s renewed  military commitment, however small, offers  some reassurance at a time when the Pentagon  is focusing increasingly on the Pacific.

Their paper argues that ‘it is of considerable  economic benefit to the UK to be the leading  European – and indeed, Western – player in  the Gulf’” ibid.

The withdrawal of British troops from  Afghanistan provides an ideal opportunity to move  military equipment to the Middle East, rather than  shipping it all the way back to Britain.

Cabinet ministers call for withdrawal from EU

This comes at a time when there is an increasingly  shrill call, even from within David Cameron’s own  cabinet, for Britain to take the bold step of withdrawing  from the EU:

“A second Cabinet minister has admitted he  would vote for Britain to leave the EU if the  current relationship doesn’t change.

The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond agreed  with Education Secretary Michael Gove, who  said earlier that life outside the EU would be  ‘perfectly tolerable.’” Itv.com, 13-May-13.

The pressure is growing for Britain to renegotiate  her position. According to the rules, such a  matter is not possible. The only way to renegotiate  is to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which  states that the EU will only seek renegotiation with  a country when it says it is leaving:

“A Member State which decides to withdraw  shall notify the European Council of its intention.  In the light of the guidelines provided by  the European Council, the Union shall negotiate  and conclude an agreement with that State,  setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal,  taking account of the framework for its future  relationship with the Union” Lisbon Treaty,  Section 50 (extract).

If it wishes to still be a member but on revised  terms, it has to leave and apply to re-join – and starts  off as if a new applicant. So if Britain is unhappy  with the EU, as clearly the opinion polls show, all  the talk of renegotiation is just hot air. Her only  option is to get out and rebuild her trade links with  America and the Commonwealth. In addition, the  government has made increasing trade with Israel  a top priority! Who can deny that we are living in  thrilling times? Our long held views are now being  vindicated by current events.

Another power that wants to be friends with Israel

We have seen how Russia is keen to befriend Israel,  in order to assist her in the development of her  energy, but the phrase in Ezekiel 38:10 is of Gog  thinking an evil thought, which shows us that she  is going to turn out to be a treacherous friend. So,  too, will the Vatican prove to be. The new Pope has  a history of friendship with the Jewish community  (in contrast to his predecessor, Benedict). The Chief  Rabbi in Rome was one of the first to congratulate Francis on his new role. President Peres, too, was  quick to send his congratulations and added an  invitation to the Pope to come and visit Israel. A  few weeks later, Peres was in Rome and was among  the first leaders to make a visit to Pope Francis. He  reiterated his invitation and assured him of the  support he has for making this invitation:

“‘I am expecting you in Jerusalem, not just me  but the whole country of Israel. Your arrival will  be welcomed with enthusiasm and love by all of  the nation’s residents.’

Pope Francis gave the President three Vatican  medals and Peres gave the Pope a leather-bound  copy of the Scriptures in Hebrew and English.  The President had written a dedication: ‘To His  Holiness Pope Francis, so that “you may prosper  in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:3).  With deep esteem, Shimon Peres, president of  the State of Israel’” Reuters and Times of Israel,  30-Apr-13.

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the  historic meeting between the then Pope and the  Greek Orthodox leader, which marked the first  main step since the 1054 Schism, in a long road  to reconciliation between the two churches. For  the first time in 1,000 years, the Greek Patriarch  attended a papal inauguration.

The Vatican has long been dismayed at the  growing power of Israel and has been co-operating  with the Arabs in efforts to undermine Israel. The  Roman Church would like to regain her control of  the ‘Christian sites’ in Israel. This is a matter that  has been discussed with the Israeli government for  a long time. An increase in the Vatican’s control of  religious sites in Israel may prove to be an attractive  bargain for Israel, in return for lessening the  Vatican’s support of Arab hostility. After all, if the  Vatican can be seen working with Israel, then the  Arabs might be persuaded to lessen their hostility.

We can but pray for the day to come when Israel  will have learnt that her trust in these ‘friends’ is  misplaced and abhorrent to their God; when the veil  that prevents them seeing their Messiah is removed  and they turn in faith to “stay”/trust in their God  and His Beloved Son.