For over a year it has been obvious Iraq has become a quagmire for the “coalition of the willing”. The military forces spearheaded by the United States and the United Kingdom, that overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein and whose stated objective is to bring democracy to Iraq, appear to face insurmountable challenges. As 2006 closed the United States announced its 3,000th casualty and the toll continues to rise. Other nations have lost much smaller numbers of military personnel, but the toll on local civilians has been appalling; over 12,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by forces opposing the western-backed government during 2006 alone. In early January 2007 the United Nations estimated that approximately 100 Iraqi civilians were being killed in sectarian violence every day.

Mounting American and Iraqi casualties are the most visible and most publicly demoralising evidence of the ineffectiveness of current strategies in Iraq. The United States administration has pledged it will not ‘cut and run’ but knows new strategies must be found for the campaign in Iraq. Last year the President appointed a bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG) to review the situation and propose solutions to the challenges faced in Iraq. The group comprised senior former public officials with widely divergent views on the President personally and the war in Iraq and yet it was expected to produce a consensus view on the way forward. It spent a mere four days in Iraq, during which only one of the group ventured beyond the secure ‘Green Zone’ in the centre of Baghdad which is completely unlike the rest of the country.

Poor Advice No Remedy for Poor Strategy

The ISG reported its findings on 6 December 2006. Not surprisingly, given the dynamics and circumstances of its authors, the report is riddled with clichés, euphemism, imprecision and sweeping assumptions unsupported by evidence. Haziness about ends and means are a hallmark of the report. This is a mark of strategic ineptitude, of which there has already been more than enough in Iraq.

The report included fifty pages of detailed recommendations. Two broad themes amongst these recommendations have attracted particular criticism. Firstly, the ISG called for a ‘New Diplomatic Offensive’ under which the United States would engage in meaningful and productive dialogue with Iran and Syria to enlist their support in the stabilisation of Iraq. The naivety of this advice is breathtaking. Iran has repeatedly stated it is unwilling to engage in negotiations with the United States about Iraq. Iran refuses to accept the legitimacy of the United States’ role in Iraq: Iranian interests are in fact best served by continuing instability in Iraq. The same is true of Syria. Why would either of these nations be willing to assist in stabilising Iraq and thereby entrenching a democratic, pro-western administration in Baghdad?

The second theme which has been widely criticised is the report’s attempt to link the intractable nature of the conflict in Iraq with the Arab-Israeli conflict. In summary, the report concluded in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that:

  • the Arab-Israeli conflict is inextricably linked to Iraq
  • the most important thing right now is for both parties in that conflict to negotiate, since it was the breakdown
  • of earlier talks that led to the current violence emanating from Gaza, the West Bank and southern Lebanon
  • a negotiated peace would strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
  • a Palestinian national unity government would be beneficial and
  • the key to moderating Syrian policy in Lebanon is giving Syria the Golan Heights.

A number of media commentators, especially those sympathetic to Israel, have ridiculed suggestions the conflict in Iraq is linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They point to the struggle for power and influence by competing ethnic and religious groups in Iraq as evidence the problems are domestically based. They also point out that violence in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is promoted by extremists who have no interest in compromise with Israel, and that a negotiated peace would destroy Mahmoud Abbas, not entrench him in power. These commentators hardly need to point out that any hope for a workable Palestinian national unity government is delusional at best. Finally, it is clear to any observer that while Syria would be pleased to regain the Golan Heights it is much more interested in controlling Lebanon.

There is considerable truth in all these arguments, but they ignore the fact that extremist elements, in particular in Syria and Iran, are implacably opposed to rapprochement with the West. They use proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine to fight the infidels. In Iran’s case, the nation is led by President Ahmadinejad who is committed to an apocalyptic worldview under which the so-called ‘hidden Imam’ will appear in the next two years. Continued provocation of violence in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine is seen as a means of encouraging the ‘hidden Imam’ to manifest himself. He has made several declarations about his determination to eliminate Israel and in December hosted a conference where Holocaust deniers could peddle anti-Semitic propaganda.

Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was under no illusion about the link between conflict in Iraq and the Arab-Israeli dispute. On his way to the gallows on 30 December 2006 he declared “Palestine is Arab”. Why is it that even when the protagonists openly acknowledge the link between wider conflicts in the Middle East and conflict in Palestine some commentators refuse to accept the fact?

Resistance Rather Than Victory

Extremist elements opposed to Israel (and to the coalition forces in Iraq) operate under a doctrine known as ‘Maqawama’, which literally translates as resistance. In this context it refers to a doctrine of persistent combat. Taliban forces in Afghanistan have adopted this approach. Under this doctrine proponents do not seek victory on the battlefield. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, has been quoted as saying “it is not my obligation to liberate Jerusalem. This is for a generation, two, three, four, five down the road.” Under ‘Maqawama’ the objective is not so much to secure victory as to deny it to your adversary. It is not possible to make peace with an enemy that adopts this doctrine because peace is not their objective. Only elimination of all forces they regard as hostile, in this case the coalition forces in Iraq, the pro-western regime of Prime Minister Fouad in Beirut and of course Israel, will satisfy such extremists.

This philosophy is at the heart of the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Speaking at Teheran (Iran) University in December Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said: “[America and Israel] want us to recognise the usurpation of the Palestinian lands and stop jihad and resistance and accept the agreements reached with the Zionist enemies in the past… we will never recognise the usurper Zionist government and will continue our jihadlike movement until the liberation of Jerusalem.” (USA Today, 8 December 2006). The references to Jerusalem by both Hassan Nasrallah and Ismail Haniyeh are significant.

Israel – Cause of all Arab Problems!

The Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche on 23 November 2006 printed an interview with Ahmad Sheikh, editor-in-chief of the English language version of the al-Jazeera newsagency (described as ‘The CNN of the Muslim world’). This is arguably the most influential media source in the Middle East. The comments of the editor-in-chief are a staggering expose of the centrality of the Arab- Israeli conflict in the Arab worldview.

Ahmad Sheikh: “In many Arab states, the middle class is disappearing. The rich get richer and the poor get still poorer. Look at the schools in Jordan, Egypt or Morocco: you have up to 70 youngsters crammed together in a single classroom … The public hospitals are also in a hopeless condition. These are just examples. They show how hopeless the situation is for us in the Middle East.”

Die Weltwoche: “Who is responsible for the situation?”

Ahmad Sheikh: “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most important reasons why these crises and problems continue to simmer. The day when Israel was founded created the basis for our problems. The West should finally come to understand this…”

Die Weltwoche: “Do you mean to say that if Israel did not exist, there would suddenly be democracy in Egypt, that the schools in Morocco would be better, that the public hospitals in Jordan would function better?”

Ahmad Sheikh: “I think so.”

Die Weltwoche: “Can you please explain to me what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with these problems.”

Ahmad Sheikh: “The Palestinian cause is central for Arab thinking.”

Die Weltwoche: “In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self esteem?”

Ahmad Sheikh: “Exactly. It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab.”

It is hard to believe such a powerful opinion leader could be so deluded. Ahmad Sheikh’s comments and those of the ISG, Hassan Nasrallah and Ismail Haniyeh, however, confirm that regardless of the arguments of some commentators, Israel and Jerusalem remain at the heart of conflict in the Middle East.

Man Proposes, God Disposes

On 10 January 2007 President Bush addressed the American people and proposed a new strategy designed to bring stability to Iraq. That new strategy includes deployment of an additional 21,500 additional US troops, all but 4,000 of them to be based in Baghdad. The President’s speech pointedly ignored the ISG’s recommendation to seek support from Iran and Syria but it did seek support from other regional powers: “Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States need to understand that an American defeat in Iraq would create a new sanctuary for extremists… and a strategic threat to their survival” (quoted in The Age, 12 January 2007).

The ISG’s recommendations about Iran and Syria and its advice for achieving resolution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and President Bush’s response to the group’s report and the deteriorating situation in Iraq might be naïve but they are (unwittingly) consistent with the clear teaching of Bible prophecy that in the last days conflict in the Middle East will:

  • involve nations from across the globe (Joel 3:1; Zech 14:2; Rev 16:14–16), including the United States, the
  • United Kingdom and their allies (Ezek 38:13). Those nations in particular are now entrenched in the Middle
  • East and appear to have little hope of extricating themselves in the near future
  • see Iran playing a key role in the forces opposing Israel (Ezek 38:5)
  • embrace Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (Sheba and Dedan Ezek 38:13), Egypt and Jordan (Dan 11:40–42;
  • Isaiah 16:4) as allies of the Tarshish powers in resisting Gog and his allies
  • be centred on Israel and Jerusalem in particular (Joel 3:1; Zech 12:1–3; Zech 14:2) and
  • defy solution by man (Luke 21:25–26), and only be resolved by divine intervention (Ezek 38:18–23; Joel 3:16; Zech 12:8; Zech 14:3).

So the road to Baghdad really does run through Jerusalem, especially if your journey commences in Gaza!