by Riyadh Mohammed
The war against ISIS is taking a dangerous, perhaps inevitable turn. The terror organization has been keen to expand to southern Syria and the Syrian capital of Damascus. Now it says it has recruited three Syrian rebel groups operating in the south of the country in an area bordering the Israeli Golan Heights — that have switched their loyalties to ISIS.
This switch means that Israel, the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East, could be threatened from the southwest by the Egyptian ISIS group of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis in Sinai and by ISIS in southern Syria.
The ISIS war is not going well at all for the US-led alliance in Syria. ISIS and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, are still the dominant rebel groups in the country. The U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army is still not a reliable fighting force.
The three rebel groups that just joined ISIS could make that situation even worse. Two of the groups are small in number, but the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has hundreds of fighters. The Yarmouk Brigades has been at odds with al-Nusra Front and switched now to join what leaders of all thrwee groups believe is the future of Islam.
“If Israel was attacked by ISIS, America would expect a proportionate response by Israel, which is militarily capable of defending itself,” said Geoffrey Levin, a professor at New York University. “America would counsel against sustained Israeli involvement because it could threaten the tacit alliance between America, Iran, Turkey, and several Arab states against ISIS.”
“More recent reports indicated a closer alliance with [the Islamic State] due to tensions with JN [al-Nusra Front],” said Jasmine Opperman, a researcher at Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC). She said al-Nusra attacked the headquarters of the Yarmouk Brigade in southern Syria in early December 2014 following clashes between the two groups.
Al-Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade controlled an area near the Jordan-Israel border in March 2013. That same month, the brigade took as hostages some of the United Nations peacekeeping mission soldiers. Even so, Israel reportedly allowed the brigade to have its wounded fighters treated in Israeli hospitals.
ISIS has been known for launching surprise attacks and opening new battlefronts when it seems to be losing. ISIS also has been criticized by many Arabs and Muslims for not taking its fight to Israel and instead fighting fellow Arabs and Muslims. An attack aimed at Israel may boost ISIS’s popularity in the Arab world and refresh its recruitment and funding efforts.
On the other hand, some of ISIS’s top military commanders were former officers in Saddam Hussein’s army, and they may resort to what Saddam did in the 1991 Gulf War when he attacked Israel with mid-range rockets, hoping to drag the Israelis into a conflict that he was losing.
An Israeli retaliation in 1991 could have jeopardized the U.S-led coalition that then included Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The same is true now.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Despite some recent tensions between the countries, Israel remains America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Attacks on Israel by ISIS or affiliated groups could further escalate war in the region, or they could further strain ties between the Obama administration and the Israeli government.
“It would be more likely a sign of desperation, as were Saddam’s attempts to lure Israel into the 1991 war as a way of breaking the Arab coalition against him,” said NYU’s Levin. At that time, continuous pressure from the first Bush administration and the installation of the Patriot anti-rocket system convinced the Israelis to refrain from reacting to Saddam’s attack.
Israel could launch a preemptive attack to destroy or significantly damage these ISIS-affiliated units whether by air or by ground forces. Israel used its advanced air force to launch attacks in Syria several times since the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011.
Meanwhile, Israel has recently boosted its defenses in the Golan Heights, saying its main concern was to prevent any major weapon transfer from Syria to Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla organization that has engaged in several rounds of war with the Israelis since the 1980s.
by Pete Garcia
Given that the United States, or any semblance thereof, is not mentioned in Bible prophecy, one has to take into account the how, why, and ‘so what’ of that particular implication.
If the US is not here, who then fills that vacuum? Who sets the precedence for a global order? What is the reserve currency the whole world leans upon for stability in the global markets? Logic and history tells us, that if the US isn’t filling that role, someone will. How and when does the world get from the current status quo, to one in which it isn’t?
So it is with the outline of Bible prophecy, I am 100% certain. It’s when we get into the subsections of the outline that my certainty drops to between 60-75%. IOW, I’m certain on the order of things, not so certain on the specifics of how those things come to pass. Here is the order:
The imminent Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-55) The 70th Week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27, particularly vs. 27; Jeremiah 30:7-11) The Second Coming (Matt. 24:29-31; Rev. 19:11-21) The Millennium (Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 20) The Eternal State (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22)
Now, there are other events which must take place, to which I am 100% certain on their fulfillment, but not 100% on the when. These are:
The utter destruction of the city of Damascus (Isaiah 17) The temporary desolation of Egypt (Isaiah 19) The Gog-Magog War (Ezekiel 38-39) The signing of a peace covenant (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6:1-2)
So where on God’s timeline are we, seems to be the reoccurring question that gets so often asked? So here is what we know as of now (December 2014):
The United States is in an increasingly rapid state of decline, particularly in three areas: spiritually, culturally, and economically
The economic decline appear to be intrinsically linked to the spiritual and cultural decline as the US embraces its national, post-Christian statu
The US economic decline is having a weakening effect on the US military, and our ability to project our force, and a strong image around the world
Paganism, secular humanism, and the normalization of aberrant sexual, cultural lifestyles and belief systems, appear to be filling the void of a declining Christian worldview (Days of Noah and Lot; Luke 17:25-30)
The revival of cultural paganism (Neopaganism) is in conjunction with trans-humanism, which is fast becoming a reality due to advancements in technology
The US Dollar is currently the world’s reserve currency for fiat systems. Factors that are negatively and positively impacting that standing are:
1.$18T in US debt (negative)
3.Rapid changes in currency technology challenging the current fiat system (both)
4.Instability in other currencies (positive)
5.Busts, booms, and general fickleness of the markets (both)
6.Increasing polarity in the US government (negative)
7.Economists and heads of state are currently planning for, and/or prepositioning themselves for the collapse of the US economy.
8.Global interconnectedness has reached an all-time high, and is partly due to the dependency on the US Dollar system, and the rise of the Internet age.
9.The EU is continuing in its growing pains. Economic woes and a rise in nationalism seem to be equally as troubling, as its burgeoning Muslim population. Either way, it’s not looking good like a good place to retire if you’re a Jew
Here is what I expect to occur due to the aforementioned realities:
10. The collapsing of the US Dollar (due to the global dependence on it for economic stability) presents the ‘perfect storm’ crisis that globalists need, in order to bring about a new order
11. Saudi Arabia will continue its oil output in order to:
– Weaken its enemies who rely on oil revenues – Destroy the US fracking industry
- Events are continuing to drive the world’s attention back to the Middle East in respects to Iraq, Iran, and Israel. Despite President Obama’s best efforts, events are compelling US forces to return to Iraq.
I think there are two powerful forces currently fighting it out on earth right now. One group wants things to stay the way they are, because they are making money and living fat and happy. This would be groups like the Saudi’s, major energy providers, and anyone tied up with and making a healthy living under the current Petro-Dollar/fiat system. They want things to stay the same and they use oil and other energies, as an economic weapon.
The other group, has grander plans, and sees the US Dollar dominance, as a hindrance to their globalist agenda. So they are actively working to debase the Dollar, and by so doing, can get the world onto a new, global, digital currency in which they control. I imagine that these are the movers and shakers in new technologies and multinational corporations, politicians of all stripes, those in the central banking industries, and the like. And seeing, as we are $18T in debt, one can guess which side is currently winning.
Then of course, there is God, who has the first and final say in all things. (Isaiah 46:9-10)
My best guess, all things considered, is that we are in a five year window awaiting major, radical, global realignments. If you’d have asked me that five years ago, I would have told you about the same…and yet, here we still are. But I’m no prophet. I’m only a man armed with an informed opinion. But unknown to us five years ago, was that certain things had to transpire that I think will make things significantly different in the days, weeks, months ahead. These ‘black swan’ events will have to play out in the next few years:
Israel is no longer interested or invested in playing the ‘two-state’ solution game. They’ve been trying this for the past 21 years, and it has utterly failed each time
Israel realizes it can no longer depend on the US for its ‘Iranian Problem’ and realizes that their window for stopping Iran’s ambitious, nuclear program is quickly coming to a close and even with the 2016 elections, that may be too late. Events are going to force Israel to act unilaterally
If Russia risked military incursions into Georgia, Ukraine and Crimea before their financial woes, imagine what President Putin will do when his country’s economy is in a freefall
The US is significantly weaker than it was during the last financial crisis of 2008. Echoes of 1928-29 keep being rehashed in the news, and it is possible that another stock market collapse will effectively do, what 2008 could not
President Obama has/is continuing to rule through executive legislation that seems intent on dividing and weakening the US
The upcoming 2016 elections may prove the most contentious yet, depending on whether President Obama and the Democrats intend to go quietly into the night, or have a few tricks left up their sleeve. They can’t be too thrilled at the prospect of a Republican triumvirate
The last 100 years has seen more transition, tragedy, and change than the rest of recorded history. Pagans insist on all things continuing on cyclically. But according to Scripture, there was a beginning, and there will also be an end. Logically speaking, if the United States is the lone economic and military superpower in the world, and we do not warrant a mention by either name or type in the pages of Holy Writ whenever that end may be, then that means that something happens to us that makes us a non-factor in the final outline of things to come.
And if the US isn’t taking the lead, than someone has too because nature abhors a vacuum. We know according to Scriptures, that someone comes out of a revived Roman Empire who ends up controlling the whole earth. (Daniel 2:40-44, 9:26-27; Revelation 13)
The Terminal Generation
The Holy Spirit moved Moses to contribute one psalm to the collection we have in our Old Testament. Moses, who lived to be 120 years old still vigorous in mind, sight and strength said this in Psalm 90:10;
The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
In context, Moses was speaking to the brevity and frailty of a man’s life. When answering the question the disciples put forth to Jesus about the last days, Jesus’s caps off the numerous indicators with the Parable of the Fig Tree. Yet, the point of the parable isn’t an attempt to define the length of a generation, but to pin that generation who sees the aforementioned signs (Matt. 24:3-28) to the length of the average man’s life.
“Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. Matthew 24:32-35
Is it coincidence that Israel is alluded to in numerous places in the Old Testament as figs, or as a fig tree? [Judges 9:7-15; Song of Solomon 2:13; Jeremiah 24; Hosea 9:10; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10; Luke 13:6-8; Mark 11:12-14] Is it coincidence that Jesus links the budding of a tree associated with national Israel, as being the one sign that some future generation would see and not pass away? Is it coincidence that Jesus states Jerusalem will be trampled on by Gentiles until the ‘age of the Gentiles’ has come to an end? Is it coincidence that the only Psalm Moses pens, happens to discuss the lifespan of a man being 70 to 80 years, when he himself lived to be 120? Is it coincidence that Jesus, being God, would know that we would come to these same conclusions some 2,000 years later, right about the time of all their fulfillments?
I do not believe in coincidence, and according to Scripture, God doesn’t either. God orchestrates kings and kingdoms to accomplish His will and in His time. (Dan. 2:27-45; Romans 13:1-3)
At the current rate, things cannot remain status quo. I don’t believe that all the signs and events listed above prove a Rapture. What I do believe is that they point to the signs of the coming seven year period of time commonly referred to as The Tribulation. I believe that due to the increasing geo-political and economic turmoil we are seeing in the world that we are exactly in the final moments (death throes) of the ‘times of the Gentiles’…hence the uptick in global turmoil. (Luke 21:24)
The final moments of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ has to coincide with Israel already being back in her land, which occurred in May of 1948. May is significant because that is when the early fruit (good fruit) first buds. Because the Jews had to have Israel back as a nation, before they could be attacked in the Six Day War, which resulted in them recapturing Jerusalem. The Jews have to be in control of Jerusalem again, in order to one day rebuild a future Jewish temple. (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4) All of that is colliding with the fact that they have been back as a nation going on 67 years. Coincidence?
The Bible is clear that we will not know the day or the hour of the Lord’s return. (Mark 13:32) But the Apostle Paul did say we would recognize the season. And just like one can know by looking at a calendar when roughly winter or summer should begin, we don’t know exactly until we start seeing and feeling the changes. I believe that over the last 100 years, we are increasingly seeing the signs and we can know with a 100% confidence that we are in the season of our Lord’s return.
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. 1 Thess. 5:1-6
There may be an inherent mistake in the question – “where is the USA in Bible prophecy?” It’s the presupposition that the USA meets the biblical criteria for a nation. It may not! It started life as a European colony. And as such, may share its prophetic future with the rest of Europe.
by Tom Olago
The age-old battle between surveillance and privacy continues unabated, as police across the United States increasingly use sophisticated surveillance systems to monitor daily life in their communities. Average citizens and privacy advocates say the ability to monitor and record public activity at such an extraordinary level is a threat to personal privacy.
Privacy advocates also say people could become more cautious about exercising their rights of free speech, association and assembly if they think they are under constant surveillance. Privacy advocates span the broad spectrum of society and include such strange bedfellows as the ACLU and tea party groups, all with strong common objections about the growing surveillance networks.
On the other hand, law enforcement and security agencies argue that public safety is the overriding and more important concern, and that comparatively, personal privacy sacrifices that may be made towards that end pale in significance. A recent analysis of this seemingly unending stand-off was made by Kevin Haas of GateHouse Media, and published in the McPherson Sentinel.com.
The latest surveillance technologies sparking privacy debates are reported to include:
1.Ultra-high-definition, high-speed cameras capable of capturing photos of passing license plates, paired with software that compares plate numbers with lists of wanted suspects, missing persons or stolen vehicles.
2.Networks of high-definition cameras that can be coupled with software that recognizes faces or sends alerts on suspicious activities. For example, Seattle police have new facial recognition software that matches images captured on surveillance video or other cameras with mug shot databases.
3.Aerial drones with high-definition and night-vision cameras. Used in everything from law enforcement and rescue operations to wildlife tracking and commercial photography, drones pose concerns because of their ability to fly over areas where people may expect privacy.
4.Wide-area aerial surveillance capable of recording every movement across the scope of a small city for hours. An example is Dayton-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, which collects wide-area surveillance images in designated areas for police from cameras mounted on a Cessna airplane.
Haas’ analysis goes on to demonstrate how surveillance technology is a booming industry, with estimates that it will grow globally by almost 11 percent this year. Falling prices for equipment and access to hundreds of millions of federal anti-terrorism dollars have further contributed to this growth. The overall effect of these trends is that more of the nation’s police departments will be able to record and store thousands of hours of video and data on public activity. For instance, Houston police have bolstered their network of cameras from 37 in 2009 to 650 today. So far, Chicago has the nation’s most extensive and connected network of cameras, estimated at 25,000.
A major issue for privacy advocates is that few laws exist to govern how that information can be used. Further compounding this fundamental flaw in information control is that technology is advancing at a pace that far outstrips legislation, regulation and policy formulation. There are also great disparities in some of the laws governing surveillance practice and related data usage and retention in different states.
One such example given by Haas in the McPherson Sentinel is that just nine states have laws that regulate how long information can be stored or used from automatic license plate readers. This particular surveillance tool is used in all 50 states that records a vehicle’s time, date and GPS location along with a photo as it moves through the city. The lack of regulation leaves police departments or local officials to enact their own rules.
But fewer than half of police departments surveyed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2009 (the most recent policy survey) had a policy for the use of license plate readers. Among departments that did have a policy, less than half addressed how long data should be retained or how it should be shared. Police departments across the country are reported to hold varied internal policies on how long they keep surveillance footage, ranging from several days to several years.
Crime analysts say data gathered from surveillance can be useful in predictive policing strategies and so would prefer to keep the data forever, while privacy groups want strict limits on retention – just days or weeks, rather than months or years. The ACLU has called for legislation to limit data retention for license plate readers and provide other oversight, such as mandatory public reports on use of the systems.
Another primary concern of privacy advocates is that this wide-scale collection of data could be used to build a detailed picture of someone’s private comings and goings — medical appointments, religious affiliations, social and political activity. In the wrong hands, someone could track a boss, spouse, friend or enemy, political rival or anyone else with a car. They also fear the information could be used for fishing expeditions, random investigations or searches that have no clear target. An ACLU study in Maryland showed that for every 1 million license plates stored in a police database, only 47 were connected to a serious crime.
In the words of Jeramie Scott, national security counsel and privacy coalition coordinator for the Electronic Privacy Information Center: “Without proper transparency, oversight and accountability, the collection of video footage is opened up to secondary uses beyond a specific initial purpose and has a potential chilling effect on First Amendment protected activities”.
Jim Bueermann, president of the nonprofit Police Foundation, which works to improve policing in America said police can alleviate privacy concerns by making surveillance practices more transparent, as “Ninety-nine percent of what we do in policing isn’t really secret.” In Bueermann’s 13-year career as chief in Redlands, California, a Citizens’ Privacy Council to provide input for camera use and data access was created. The group was given open access to the police dispatch center to observe officers monitoring live surveillance feeds. They also could request records of who accessed recorded footage and audit the footage that police viewed.
Privacy advocates also want public notice of new surveillance technology so citizens can decide whether the technology is warranted. For example, this year Compton, California, residents learned of a secret nine-day test of an aerial surveillance program conducted by the L.A. County Sheriff’s office in 2012. Compton Mayor Aja Brown responded with a proposed policy that would require authorities to notify the public before installing surveillance equipment.
It has been proposed that policies that can strike a balance between public safety and privacy, while keeping up with fast-evolving technology, are required as an overall strategy. “You may have had policies in place that covered the initial use, but you may not have expanded those policies to appropriately address the expansive use of the technology,” said David Roberts, senior program manager at the Technology Center for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Virginia Delegate Rich Anderson is co-chair of a new bipartisan caucus of Virginia lawmakers formed to address privacy issues created by evolving technology. He hopes to pass a license plate reader law in early 2015, but expects new technology to keep lawmakers busy for years to come. Says Anderson: “This is a tricky thing to do because, let’s face it, the rule set never keeps up with the technology…as this technology expands exponentially, we need to figure out a way to come up with rule sets that govern it so that we find the right balance between legitimate needs of law enforcement and civil liberties.”
by Yaakov Lappin
More than three months have passed since the end of the fifty-day conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel this past summer, yet all of the catalysts that helped spark that war remain in place and are pushing the sides into their next clash.
One of the reasons Hamas launched a war in July this year was to try to end its strategic isolation, which became severe after the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in next-door Egypt. Hamas also sought to improve its crumbling economic situation as the ruler of the Gaza Strip; its dire situation was illustrated by Hamas’s inability to pay 40,000 of its Gazan employees their monthly salaries.
Hamas could, with a fair amount of ease, cause Israel to end its security blockade by accepting the terms of the international Quartet. These would include recognizing the state of Israel, renouncing violence and abiding by previous diplomatic agreements. Of course, those would contravene Hamas’s ideology of Islamist jihad and move it away from its current trajectory of organized violence and religious hatred, the foundations upon which it was established in the 1980s by Palestinian members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Today, however, the same problems that plagued Hamas prior to the summer war have become worse. Gaza is hemmed in to the south by a hostile Egypt under the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Egypt is systematically cutting off the smuggling tunnels that linked Sinai to the Gaza Strip. This means that Hamas is no longer easily able to smuggle either weapons or goods it can tax before they enter Gaza’s market.
Israel’s naval security blockade, designed to prevent the smuggling of arms or materiel that can be used to build weapons, remains in place, as does Israel’s tight security control of its border crossings with the Gaza Strip. Israel has in recent months begun permitting the entry of construction materials to encourage Gaza’s reconstruction efforts, and assisted in the export of Gazan agricultural goods to places such as the West Bank.
Most critically, however, Hamas’s hopes for $5.4 billion of international aid money, pledged by donor states for Gaza’s post-war recovery, remain unrealized. The money has barely begun to trickle in, due to an ongoing crisis with the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority [PA] in Ramallah.
Under the terms set by the international community, the money must enter Gaza through a joint PA-Hamas mechanism. Due to ongoing Fatah-Hamas divisions, such a mechanism appears far from being built.
The latest illustration of these intra-Palestinian tensions can be found in the coordinated, multiple bomb attacks in November on the homes of Fatah officials in Gaza — attacks carried out by Hamas’s military wing.
Meanwhile, the approximately 100,000 Gazans whose homes were destroyed by the fighting in the summer remain without a fixed roof over their heads in the winter, creating another source of pressure on Hamas.
These factors have led Hamas’s military wing to warn publicly that a new explosion of violence against Israel is imminent. “We are saying to all sides — if the siege on Gaza and the obstacles for reconstruction remain, there will be a new explosion,” stated Abu Obeida, the spokesman of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
The warning was answered this week by Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, who said, “We now base the quiet in the Gaza Strip on deterrence. At this stage they are deterred, but we must be ready at any given time for the possibility that we will have to again act with full force.”
While it would not be in Hamas’s interests to spark a new destructive conflict so soon after a bruising one, if faced with the possibility that its regime in Gaza might collapse, it may decide to do so.
Hamas has, since the moment that hostilities ended in August, resumed rocket production in Gazan plants, albeit at a slower rate than before the conflict. Hamas has also most likely restarted work to dig more tunnels from Gaza into Israel, which are designed to inject guerrilla squads into Israel to commit terrorist kidnappings and murders.
The Israel Defense Forces, too, has spent recent months preparing to respond if there is a fresh round of hostilities. It assesses that Israeli deterrence has been fully replenished; it is also reluctantly prepared should the volatile situation in Gaza push deterrence aside.
For now, it seems, Hamas in Gaza will try, as it has been doing in recent months, to orchestrate terrorism in the West Bank, on the opposite side of Israel, while upholding its truce in Gaza. If Hamas’s standoff with Fatah continues, however, and the host of factors that pushed Hamas into the last war do not change, the countdown to the next war may be shorter than many think.
by Aaron Klein
Ezekiel 38:10 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme”
Russia is preparing a contingency plan to prompt Hezbollah and possibly the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a direct military conflict with Israel, according to a French official who has been apprised of the situation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the contingency was meant to be used as a card against the West, particularly the U.S. and European Union, which has been engaged in efforts to isolate Moscow.
This past week, the U.S. and E.U. adopted tighter sanctions on the Russian economy, including restrictions on investments in the Crimea, with emphasis on Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration and tourism.
The official said there is information Russia in recent weeks successfully shipped to Hezbollah a large convoy of Iskandar ballistic missiles and surface-to-air missiles. The missiles were received, despite Israel’s alleged airstrikes in Syria targeting Russian-shipped weapons earlier this month, the official said.
The official said Russia has not made any decision about agitating a Hezbollah attack on Israel, but views a possible conflict in the Mideast as a card it can play in its confrontation with the West, particularly in Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem traveled to Russia to meet with the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.
WND reported at the time that according to a source in Assad’s regime, Putin and Lavrov assured Moualem that Russia “won’t stand for” any Western attack on Assad and that the Russians pledged “support” and “protection” to the Assad regime.
That pledge came amid pressure from Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the Obama administration to expand the fight against ISIS in Syria to also target Assad’s forces.
Atrocities by the Islamic State (ISIS) are softening the hearts of Muslims to Christianity, and evangelistic techniques and technologies are proving effective, but locally-based missionaries say the main reason for the spike in conversions in the Middle East is simply that former Muslims are finding God is real.
In war-torn areas of Syria and Iraq where ISIS is fighting to establish a caliphate, Muslim refugees to neighboring countries, Internally Displaced People and people remaining at home are learning about Christ from native aid workers, podcasts and broadcasts.
Tent churches among refugees are sprouting like mushrooms. For people who have suffered such deep loss, seeing that they can pray to a personal God whom they can call Father has been the critical factor.
“You can see the tears in their eyes when we pray – that God would care,” said the director of one ministry working in the region. “It’s the connection that makes a huge difference.” Muslims who were previously taught to pray by rote to Allah, who by Koranic definition was unknowable, can feel the difference of having a relationship with God through Christ.
“They see that God can give you strength, can heal you,” said the director. “They say that things have changed, that they have a peaceful attitude towards those ‘who have done this to my kids, wife, or husband – I can pray about it and give it to God.’”
Former Muslims, who once prayed five times a day as a duty, say they don’t quite know how to describe the difference.
“They say, ‘Now with our relationship with God, we see a huge difference; something has changed in our life,’” he said. “You can see it on their faces. They say, ‘Every time we pray, there’s a difference.’”
The soul-crushing loss of loved ones, home and country that people have suffered at the hands of ISIS has helped open Muslims to the gospel. Another ministry director said Syrian and Iraqi refugees are more open to the gospel than at any time in history because of atrocities by ISIS.
“Absolutely,” he said, “because ISIS is saying that the things they are doing come from the Koran.”
Tailoring evangelism to the Muslim worldview has also played a part, and one way of contextualizing the gospel for Muslims, ironically, involves the Hebrew Scripture. Middle Eastern Muslims are familiar with the blood sacrifice and prophets of the Old Testament, and Christian workers build bridges with those references.
They talk about why Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, animal sacrifice, and the meaning of blood in ancient times, Moses and the saving blood smeared on doorposts in Egypt, and then Jesus’ shed blood.
“So we go from the Old Testament to the blood of Jesus that saves us; 99 percent of the people I know will use this method,” the ministry director said.
The deity of Jesus and the Trinity, by contrast, are the most problematic issues for Muslims. Imparting these doctrines takes time, and although the director and his teams teach the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he said earthly teachers have little success.
“How do you convince them?” he said. “We were never able to convince them. Only when they read the Bible does it come, and then suddenly they say, ‘Now I understand, I get it.’”
Many of those reached are illiterate and receive the Bible and message of salvation by radio – FM, medium wave, shortwave, satellite and internet radio stations – and by digitally stored media on MP3 players.
The cost of one MP3 player distributed by the ministry that is assisted by Christian Aid Mission is $30, and they are solar powered, eliminating the need for electricity or batteries.
Arriving in Turkey after an Islamic State offensive drove them from Syria, families in search of food and shelter are more open to an encounter with Christ.
The gospel is best presented one-on-one rather than in large groups, in order to head off security problems, though witnessing Christ to families of three to five members is also effective. Security, of course, is a huge issue. Last month a ministry director lost one of his team leaders in Syria, a convert from Islam who is survived by his wife and three children. He was beheaded by other relatives.
In Iraq another of his team members was beheaded after ISIS found out a member of a church had visited him. He left a wife and four children. Yet another Christian in Mosul, Iraq, was killed after ISIS learned that a U.S. photographer had visited him.
Christian Aid Mission’s Middle East director said the ministry directors and their workers are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances who need prayers for safety and endurance, both emotionally and physically. The ministry director who lost team members last month spoke of their human frailty, even as they exercise immense faith.
“There are still workers there [in Iraq],” the director said. “They seem down. They are asking why is this happening to them when they’re doing what God is asking them to do? They seem depressed. The same in Syria. The main leader in Syria was crying on the phone. He could not speak. ‘I don’t know how people can do this,’ he said.”
One reason they’re killing is that they wish to stop the rapid spread of Christianity. There has never been a time when a greater percentage of Syrian Muslims, in-country and refugees, have believed in Christ than in the past three years of civil war.
“We all agree that it’s the greatest awakening happening since the beginning of Islam,” he said.
The ministries also distribute food, medicine and clothing, among other items – tangible evidence of the God of love. The gospel message of love is the greatest evangelistic tool that Christian workers have, the director said, concurring that the love of Christ compared with the hatred of Muhammad in the Koran is shocking to Muslims.
“When a Muslim reads about the unconditional love of Christ in the gospel and how He forgave the adulteress, compared with the stoning of an adulteress by Muhammad, for example, the Muslim sees that God is not vengeful, but a loving God,” one of the directors said.
The first ministry leader added that the New Testament is about love, God giving Himself, and God wanting to be with you.
“That’s not something that makes sense in Islam, he said. “They’re shocked that God can be that good. They say it cannot be that God is so loving, so caring. It’s the love message that hits them the most.”
Practicing any religion other than Islam has long been illegal in the desert kingdom, and that includes rules against foreigners bringing in any type of religious material that does not conform to the royal family’s strict Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam. Foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia are often detained for purely religious reasons, sometimes resulting in deportation.
But applying capital punishment, which in Saudi Arabia often means death by beheading, to Bible smugglers would signal a new level of persecution even for the Saudis.
Several Christian missionaries said they were seeking to confirm a recent report by the Virginia-based Heart Cry Missionary Society that a new death penalty law has been adopted citing an “official statement” in Arabic on a Coptic Christian website called CoptsToday.
The law reportedly extends to the importing of all illegal drugs and “all publications that have a prejudice to any other religious beliefs other than Islam.”
No response from Saudi embassy
WND made three requests via phone and email to Saudi Arabia’s U.S. Embassy press officer in Washington asking for confirmation or denial of the report. A woman at the Saudi Embassy who identified herself only by her first name, Cecelia, said she made sure all three emails were received by press officer Nail al-Jubeir. He has not responded.
“Sometimes they don’t want to say anything (to the media),” Cecelia told WND.
Saudi sources at the United Nations also refused to confirm or deny the report.
According to the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, cited on the U.S. State Department’s website, Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records in the world on religious liberty.
The Saudi regime, considered an important ally of the United States, which annually showers the Islamic country with billions of dollars worth of military aid, allows no churches to function as independent Christian entities on its soil. The kingdom also persecutes foreign workers living in the country who are not of the Islamic faith. Up to 1 million Christians, many of them from the Philippines, Ethiopia and Egypt, live in Saudi Arabia as guest workers.
The 2005 report cited the following facts with regard to possession of Bibles or other “illegal contraband” in the Saudi kingdom:
“Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including Sunni printed material deemed incompatible with the Salafi tradition of Islam, Shi’a religious materials, and non-Muslim materials, such as Bibles and religious videotapes. Such materials are subject to confiscation, although rules appear to be applied arbitrarily.
“Sunni Islamic religious education is mandatory in public schools at all levels. Regardless of which Islamic tradition their families adhere to, all public school children receive religious instruction that conforms to the Salafi tradition of Islam. Non-Muslim students in private schools are not required to study Islam. Private religious schools are not permitted for non-Muslims or for Muslims adhering to non-Salafi traditions of Islam.”
Raids on churches
Raids on underground churches are a continuous threat in Saudi Arabia, and only some of the raids get leaked to the Western religious press.
As recently as September, Saudi officials detained 30 Christians for worshiping in an underground house church, reported BosNewsLife.
The same news agency reported that 53 Ethiopian Christians, mostly women, were detained in 2013 after attending a worship service in a private home.
And in August 2012, the Saudi kingdom deported 35 Ethiopian Christians after they had been jailed for nearly nine months for holding a private prayer vigil, BosNewsLife reported.
WND reported last year that Saudi Arabian Airlines refused to sell tickets to Jewish passengers because Jews are not allowed in the country.
World Watch List, published by Open Doors Ministry, ranks Saudi Arabia as the world’s sixth most repressive country for Christians in its 2014 report. The only countries listed as more hostile to Christianity are Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and North Korea. Syria and Iraq surpassed Saudi Arabia on the list this year because of the rise of the Islamic State, also called ISIS. Of the world’s 14 most repressive nations, 13 of them are Islamic regimes or have major territories controlled by Muslim rebels. North Korea is the lone exception with its communist dictatorship.
“The open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden here, and conversion to another faith is punishable by death,” says the Open Doors in its description of Saudi Arabia. “Most Christians are ex-pats from Asia or Africa. Muslim-background believers run the risk of honor killing if their faith is discovered. Yet a small but growing number of Muslims are coming to Christ and sharing their faith on the internet and satellite TV.”
In 2012, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, the nation’s highest official of religious law, declared that all churches across the Middle East should be destroyed. The Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage asked Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah to clarify his controversial statement and he reportedly replied that it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”
He cited the prophet Muhammad, who said the Arabian Peninsula is to exist under only one religion.
President Obama met with Saudi King Abdullah on March 28 at the king’s desert camp 35 miles northeast of Riyadh. Following that meeting, Obama took heat from human rights activists for not bringing up the persecution of Christians and other minorities during his talks with the Saudi leader, despite a letter from members of Congress urging him to do so.
Todd Nettleton, director of public relations for Voice of the Martyrs, said that ministry, which ministers to persecuted Christians worldwide, had heard that a death penalty law had been proposed for Bible smuggling, but he was still trying to confirm whether it had been approved by the king.
“We did have some information come to us about 10 days ago that this was in the process,” Nettleton said. “We just have not been able to confirm if the proposed law has become the law of the land.”
Joel Richardson, author of “The Islamic Antichrist” and a documentary filmmaker who has recently spent a lot of time in the Middle East filming “End Times Eyewitness,” said it would not be surprising if such a decree were enacted in the Saudi Kingdom, which has a history of brutal treatment of religious dissidents.
“This is evidence of the fact that the Saudi government is afraid of the impact of Christianity,” Richardson said. “If Muslims were truly confident that their religion was true, they wouldn’t be afraid of people reading the Bible.”
Muhammad instructed Muslims to read Bible
Muhammad, to the surprise of many Christians, instructed his followers that, if they have doubts about the validity of his teachings, they should compare them to the teachings found in the Bible (see Surah 10:94-95; 16:43).
And many Muslims may be taking him up on that challenge, Richardson said.
His new documentary film, “End Times Eyewitness,” explores recent reports of revival in several Middle Eastern Muslim nations.
“For the past 10 years, we’ve seen one of the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world going on in the country of Iran, and in Egyptend_times_eyewitness we’re getting profound testimonies about revivals as we are in the north of Iraq,” he said.
The prophecy of Isaiah 19 speaks of revival breaking out in large parts of the Muslim world including Egypt and the larger Middle East. The fact that it is now occurring is significant, Richardson believes.
“You’ve got Chaldean Catholics, Orthodox Assyrians, and obviously those are the largest numbers of Christians. And, of course, in Egypt they have the Coptic Christians,” he said. “What we’re seeing in Egypt, however, is the Catholics and Orthodox and Evangelicals coming together to pray together. Under persecution, a lot of the Christians are coming together. The Coptic priests are coming together and praying for the greater body of believers.”
Besides being staunch enemies of Christianity in all its forms, Richardson said members of the Saudi royal family are among the most hypocritical Muslim leaders in the Middle East.
Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a wealthy jet-setter who owns a significant stake in Fox News among many other Western companies, came to the United States about five years ago with a message that more tolerance of Islam was needed in the U.S.
“He lectured us that we need to be more tolerant of Islam,” Richardson said. “We always get these lectures by Muslim leaders, yet here we are in the heart of Islam, in Mecca and Medina, and they’re making it illegal simply to bring a Bible into the country. Again, the hypocrisy of the Muslim world is on full display, and people need to know this.”
No quid pro quo on interfaith prayer
WND reported last month that the Washington National Cathedral hosted its first-ever Muslim-led prayer service, a gesture that many American Christians are still waiting to see reciprocated.
“They always welcome our overtures, but they never reciprocate,” Richardson said.
WND contacted the imam, Ebrahim Rasool, who led the Nov. 14 jummah service at the National Cathedral and asked him if he would work to reciprocate with a Christian-led prayer service in a mosque. Rasool did not respond to WND’s repeated phone calls and emails.
Richardson’s film also explores the historical and prophetic significance of Christian martyrdom. He sees the blood of the martyrs as the seed of the Christian church.
“And even if the Saudis make it illegal to bring in a Bible, the new technologies make it impossible to be stopped, and people will continue to smuggle Bibles,” he said. “And with addition by subtraction, i.e. martyrdom, it becomes multiplication. Through martyrdom, the church grows, and that’s how it’s always been, and we’re not afraid of losing our lives. The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword.”
Saudi Arabia has beheaded more people than ISIS over the last two years, most of them for criminal offenses, in what’s known as “chop-chop square,” a public space in Riyadh. A minor theft charge can result in the amputation of one’s hand, according to Saudi Arabia’s strict adherence to Shariah law. A 2013 article in London’s Daily Express reported that a man was scheduled to have his spinal cord severed for paralyzing a friend when he was 14 years old.
“If they’re going to execute people now for smuggling Bibles, then there you have the fulfillment of Revelation 6:9,” Richardson said.