Much is happening in the areas of prophetic interest, largely unreported by the Australian media which seems to be too preoccupied with their love of sport to notice. The following is just some of the recent developments.

Israel / United States Defence Pact

The Jerusalem daily Haaretz reported during Febru­ary that the United States and Israel were discussing a joint defence pact under which the US would be obliged to defend Israel in the event of attack. The intent of the proposed pact is to encourage Israel to reach resolution in the Israeli–Syrian peace process. Commentators have noted that: “US ambassador Martin Indyk has reportedly proposed that the United States commit to defend Israel, particularly in case of an attack involving weapons of mass destruction and long range ballistic missiles…The agreement would also reportedly place US logistical bases on Israeli soil to expedite US military opera­tions in the event of attack”.

Isn’t this a development to watch with interest! Certainly this is just a proposal and may not eventu­ate in the form outlined, but that it is being actively discussed is significant, as we see a consolidation of the relationship between Israel and “the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof”.

Oil and Gas Reserves in Israel

Israeli exploration company, Avner Oil and Gas Ltd, “… said yesterday that initial findings at its Mary 1 drilling site off Ashkelon point to substantial quanti­ties of oil, enough to provide for all of the country’s natural gas needs”, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post of 28 February. “Gideon Tadmor, Avner’s managing director, told Israel Radio that the discovery is further evidence that Israel does not need to import large quantities of natural gas from Egypt as the government is planning.

‘We can tell the country that there is enough gas to provide for all its immediate… and longterm needs,’ he said. Israel has to assume that it has huge amounts of natural gas that can be relied on.”

Whether the eventual results match the Stock Exchange announcement rhetoric remains to be seen. It is certainly true that Israel has been actively engaged in oil and gas exploration to reduce its dependence on outside supplies with some success.

Confirmation of self sufficiency in this area is yet another element in the picture of wealth and confidence presented to us by the prophet in Ezekiel 38:8–13, reminding us that we live in the very days of which he spoke.

Russia and NATO

On 5 March, Vladimir Putin, acting Russian Presi­dent, in a BBC interview stated that he would not rule out the possibility of Russia joining NATO. Of course NATO and the US immediately rejected the suggestion. Putin’s suggestion was a calculated ploy. One commentator put it this way: “Domesti­cally, this incident allows Putin to portray Russia as an accommodating nation, eager to be an ally and asking only to be treated with respect. Putin can argue that NATO, a military alliance, has rebuffed the possibility of partnership—thus defining Russia as foe by refusing to consider it as a friend.

Putin can argue that the alliance, not Russia, is restarting the Cold War. It has challenged Russia by holding a NATO meeting in Kiev. It is interfer­ing in Russia’s handling of Chechnya. It is setting up spy bases near Russia’s border. And now it has rejected Russia’s olive branch.

Putin is emerging day by day as a far more formidable Russian leader than Boris Yeltsin. A man to watch, especially, as he is now confirmed as Russian President.

Middle East—Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Russia

Stratfor in its Global Intelligence Update of 29 February noted the re-establishment after twenty years of diplomatic ties between Syria and Iraq. Their comment: “These first tentative steps toward rapprochement between Damascus and Baghdad are initially driven by concerns over petroleum and water. But ultimately this new relationship will kick off a larger, strategic dynamic—one that draws in Turkey, Russia and Iran”.

The article goes on: “Russia has recently begun to reactivate old Cold War relationships with coun­tries such as Iraq and Syria”. For example, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of Russia’s ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, announced 7 February that he reached an agreement with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on the stationing of Russian war­ships at Iraqi naval bases.

As Russia continues to expand its own influence further in to the Caucasus, it will continue to meet Turkish resistance. Russia appears likely to pro­mote Syrian-Iraqi ties, hoping that the two will ally against Ankara. In that case, Turkey, an emerging regional player, will be forced to shift its attention closer to home—and away from the Caucasus.”

Turkey

Unnoticed almost, certainly in Australia, Turkey is emerging as a key power in the Middle East and at the strategic hub of Europe and Asia. One analyst describes the developments: “Throughout the 1990s, Turkey has steadily gained influence throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, most recently focusing on Georgia and Azerbaijan, the two former Soviet states with the closest historical, political and economic ties to Turkey. But Russia’s four month old war with Chechnya complicates Turkey’s hope of carving a sphere of influence in the Caucasus. Despite the proximity of the war and the threat it poses to Turkish interests, the govern­ment in Ankara is unwilling to confront Russia. But Turkey is well positioned to be an effective spoiler to Russia’s ambitions in the South Caucasus”.

Turkey has been improving its military over recent years, buying excess NATO equipment, while Russia’s military has been in relative decline. It is even suggested that if demographic trends hold, Turks will outnumber Russians by 2035. The Turkish economy has produced a standard of living better than that of the average Russian.

It is doubtful that Russia under an aggressive leader such as Vladimir Putin will watch from the sidelines as Turkish power grows. And we know that “the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands” will be part of the confederacy of Ezekiel 38. Let’s be alert to developments in this area.

Russia and Vladimir Putin

Putin is emerging as a potentially formidable Rus­sian leader. The former spymaster is young and fit (a martial arts exponent), and an aggressive, ruthless but calculating man. He has crushed Chechnya, willing to accept the atrocities there to cow the former Soviet States, as well as securing oil pipeline routes. He is turning the screws on the Ukraine and Georgia. But at the same time he appears to court the West by overtures to NATO, by limiting the transfer of military technology to China, releasing imprisoned Radio Free Europe journalist, Andrei Babitsky and openly courting UK Prime Minister Tony Blair at their meeting on 11 March.

Putin is walking this tightrope with a two fold purpose. He wants to at least somewhat placate the Russian liberals/reformers, and he desperately needs further Western economic assistance. He is equally determined to advance Russian national­ism, to expand very aggressively Russia’s sphere of influence and rebuild its demoralised military.

As one article put it: “Putin’s support base consists of the military and intelligence services, covered with a mantle of nationalism. This will certainly grant Putin the presidency and allow him to carry on the war in Chechnya, yet neither Putin nor his advisors have managed to produce a coherent economic plan. Without continued confrontation and a target for Russian anger, Putin cannot placate the nationalists. Without economic recovery primed by foreign investment, he cannot disarm them. Eventually, the nationalist avalanche Putin started will overtake him, possibly even bury him, and the West can do nothing to help. The af­termath will feature an embittered Russia that the West spurned—and a leader with a very large stick”.

European Union

Romano Prodi, the European Commission Presi­dent, has proposed several reforms giving the European Union greater federal authority over its member states. He seeks faster integration for se­lected new member states, abolition of the national veto system (where one country’s objection can overturn a proposal) and a limit on the number of commissioners.

Prodi’s proposals, commentators suggest, will be welcomed by states such as Germany as efforts to streamline the EU processes. Others such as the United Kingdom “will react violently. The United Kingdom is the most serious concern. Many in the United Kingdom are already displeased with the amount of power exercised by the Commission. A row over outright federalisation of the EU could be enough to convince the UK that not only is the Euro not in its best interests—but neither is EU membership”.

All these developments remind us anew “that the most high ruleth in the kingdom of men”; that the angelic watchers are active among the nations; that the day when there will be “time no longer” is rapidly approaching. Let us respond then to the words that our Lord directed particularly to this gen­eration living at the end of the times of the Gentiles: “Take heed to yourselves… Watch ye therefore and pray always” (Luke 21:34,36).