ASK Commentary
January 16, 2006 

ARIEL SHARON'S POLITICAL DEATH
AND OTHER EVENTS

Commentary for January 16, 2006 — Changes in Mid-East Politics 

The incapacitation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continues the change of long-term world leaders that have an impact on events in the Middle East. While individuals are not as important on the world stage as the world press seems to believe, several major players in Middle East international politics have died in the past 15 months.  

(1) In November 2004 Yasser Arafat the leader of the PLO and elected leader of the designated Palestinian state died. He was replaced by leaders who are attempting to consolidate power among various factions. (See my Commentary for November 11, 2004, “The Death of Yasser Arafat.”) They have not been successful and no single leader has appeared among the Palestinian groups. Succession could continue to be violent.

(2) The following April 2005 Pope John Paul II died and was replaced by a German Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) who will continue the international policies of his predecessor in his push for increased Vatican influence in Jerusalem. (See my Commentary for June 1, 2005, “Pope John Paul II Is in Hell.” The new Pope will attempt to “hold the line” against liberalism within the Catholic Church. He will attempt to recover Europe for the Catholic Church. He will attempt to increase the influence of the Vatican in Israel and particularly within Jerusalem. The Catholic Church will try to become a power broker. In my humble opinion they will fail at every endeavor. See my article, “The Decline of the Churches.” 

(3) In August 2005 King Fahd of Saudi Arabia died and was succeeded by Abdullah, his half-brother. In reality Abdullah had been ruling since 1995 when Fahd had a debilitating stroke, but when Fahd actually died, the official transfer of power occurred peacefully. King Abdullah consolidated his power and is very active in regional international politics. Slowly but surely Saudi Arabia is increasing participation by its citizens in the decision-making process of the country. Although active, King Abdullah is himself at least 80 years old. His designated successor is in his late 70s. Rapid turnover in the rulers of this oil-rich country is a possibility. 

(4) Recently Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister of Israel, suffered a major stroke. The prognosis is that he will never recover sufficiently to wield future political power. Although he may survive and even thrive medically, it appears that politically Prime Minister Sharon is dead. A political void exists that will cause current policies to continue vis-à-vis Palestinian autonomy and Israel’s relations with its neighbors. 

Continuation of those policies may cause great problems within Israel. Sharon’s policies of withdrawal from Gaza and proposals to withdraw from other territories have been very unpopular and led to an extremely emotional reaction by a large percentage of Israel’s population. Only by the force of his political will and personality was he able to promote those policies, and do so without violence leading to deaths of Israelis. 

The nature of Israeli domestic politics has always been chaotic under its parliamentary system. The political vacuum caused by the sudden removal of Sharon’s personal influence, both in the government and in politics, has increased the chaos considerably. Long standing and relatively stable political alliances suddenly need to be totally redrawn. Old enemies will become grudging new partners. Old friends will become new political opponents. Sharon’s new political party, called Kadima, formed just weeks before his stroke, is suddenly without a leader. This new political party, without Sharon, is considerably weakened. Whether it is weak unto death (like Sharon) is unclear. 

Those politicians who left other political parties to join and support the new Kadima party have difficult choices to make. They can stay with a new, very weak Kadima party. They can attempt to reconcile with older established parties, likely with reduced personal power and influence. Or, they can switch allegiance to a different political party from their old party, again likely with diminished political power and influence. The bottom line is that many Israeli politicians who went with Sharon to the Kadima Party are politically adrift without the power or influence they previously held. 

Chaos caused by a vacuum in the Israeli political system is important because it can lead to political unrest by the people that could spill into violent action, or worse. See my article “Civil Wars.” The points I made in that article are still valid. The next confrontation of citizens with the Israeli military may not be peaceful. In other words, any attempt to continue Sharon’s policies — without Sharon — may not be possible without bloodshed.

The emergence of a strong leader in Israel may change the chaos scenario. Even so, it took a long time before Sharon himself, a powerful leader of the major Likud Party, was able to create the alliances necessary with other political parties to become Prime Minister. It is doubtful that a strong leader will appear from, “out of the blue,” from nowhere. This may be a time of “weak” leaders in Israeli politics, which is an inherent and long-term problem in some countries with democratic parliamentary systems. It will be interesting to see if the orthodox Jewish religious parties gain or lose power in any new government structure. 

Further Changes on the International Political Horizon?  

In addition to Israel, there are powerful indications that political changes in other Middle East countries may soon take place. As I pointed out in my Commentary for October 15, 2003 “Changes of World Leaders,” several long-term leaders of countries with influence in the Middle East were quite old and would pass from the world stage in the near future. As I pointed out in the Commentary, God rules in the affairs of men and He decides who will be the leaders of the various nations. 

Some of the aging leaders continue to keep their post. Hosni Mubarik, the President of Egypt since 1981 is in his 70s and in increasingly failing health, although he is still active in international relations. 

Changes in Syria?  

Reports are that the young dictatorial President of Syria, Bashar Assad, has been directly threatened by Saudi Arabia and Egypt to withdraw support from Assad to back a change of government in favor of former Syrian vice president Abdul Khalim Haddam who days ago publicly called for the overthrow of Assad. Such a change of government would have the support of all of Syria’s neighbors, most countries in Europe (except Russia), and the United States (http://debka.com/article.php?aid=1133). In other words, no one much cares what happens to the Syrian government. It seems that everyone wants Assad deposed and another leader to replace him.  

Haddam is actively working for the overthrow of his former political boss, Bashar Assad (http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/974D1891-1807-4575-B843-763F20DBD4A0.htm). The event prompting this turn of events is the strong evidence that high-level Syrian and Lebanese officials, and possibly Assad himself, ordered the assassination of the former Lebanonese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a billionaire (which shows that no one is safe in this world). Hariri was expected to run for election again, and was favored to win. He was an opponent of Syrian influence over Lebanese affairs.

Although God determines such things, indications are that Assad’s days are numbered as the ruler of Syria. A change of regime in Syria would likely decrease the infiltration of insurgents across the Syrian border into Iraq and further strengthen the newly elected regime in Iraq. A change of regime in Syria may be another step toward another Arab and Muslim democratic country. Such a move toward democracy would promote other democratic trends in the Middle East. Syria would benefit greatly and be transformed from being a “sick” country with little trade outside its borders (except with Russia), into a productive and energetic country at peace with its neighbors and benefiting greatly from trade and an open society. 

Strange Happenings in Iran?  

Iran is said to be ruled by an elected Islamic republic, but is in fact ruled by a small group of unelected religious leaders who choose the slates of “acceptable” candidates for high political office according to political and religious reliability. 

At present a coalition is forming that wishes to take action against Iran to forestall its desire to obtain nuclear weapons. That coalition may involve nations of Europe (primarily Britain, France and Germany), along with the United States and Israel, acting in concert to militarily “take out” the nuclear facilities in Iran and to halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. I am not expecting such an event. 

In fact there are extremely difficult logistical problems such as Iran’s nuclear facilities being dispersed around the country and underground, lack of intelligence about the location of the important nuclear facilities, the defense posture of the Iranian military and possible Iranian retaliation against oil shipping routes. Nothing short of an invasion of Iran could destroy the nuclear facilities completely. Iran is slightly larger than Alaska. A military option in the near future is doubtful. In fact, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said that military options are not being considered. 

World leaders are increasingly frustrated by irrational and threatening actions and statements by the Iranian government, apparently sanctioned by the unelected and increasingly unpopular religious leadership, which rules with an iron hand.

Historical note: In 1956 Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt for the purpose of seizing control of the Suez Canal which was nationalized by Egypt. Egypt raised shipping rates and closed shipping to certain countries, notably Israel. World opinion reacted sharply to the invasion in favor of Egypt and the three allies were forced to withdraw from Egyptian territory and release control of the Suez Canal back to Egypt.
Such a move against Iran may be desired, but it is unlikely to happen. A quick look at any map of the Middle East would show that the small Gulf States and Saudi Arabia are geographically threatened should Iran choose to close the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance to the narrow Persian Gulf. It would take only a few missiles destroying one or two tankers to cause an extreme financial, commercial, and political crisis around the world. Military resupply by the United States to Iraq would also be threatened and vulnerable, as would U.S. warships. Geopolitically, Iran is in a very strong position. 

It must be remembered that Iranians are Muslims, but they are not Arabs. They are Persians and they have considerable cultural differences with Arab countries, although they are linked through Islam and an oil-rich status common with several Middle Eastern Arabic countries. They interact only where they have common religious and economic interests.

Economically Iran must act cautiously. A closure of the Straits of Hormuz would also cripple Iran’s oil exports and a lack of imports would quickly and severely damage Iran’s economy. The Iranian leaders would be playing a dangerous game. It is a game which presumes support by other Islamic countries and by people “in the Islamic street.” That support may not be forthcoming as expected. No one in the neighborhood likes the bully and troublemaker who threatens everyone else’s economic livelihood — and actively seeks nuclear weapons to later threaten its neighbors. 

There are, however, many indications that the people of Iran do not support their Shiite religious leadership, Sharia law, or the mystic Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a “chosen” candidate of the current religious leaders in the last parliamentary election that saw him promoted to the position of President. Young people in particular desire a western lifestyle and largely oppose Sharia Islamic law that rules their everyday lives and forcing social conventions upon them. An unusually high percentage of the population is under 25 years of age, having lived most of their lives under what is seen to be an oppressive regime. They want a change. 

I have heard from several visitors to Iran within the last two years that the young people largely ignore the government and its rulings, dealing with it only when necessary or when confronted with it. It is a rule that governments can deal with opposition. It is extremely difficult for a government to deal with opposition that ignores it. That passive ignoring of government control can rapidly turn to active popular opposition without leaders, and without a target for the government to strike at. This has been seen in the past few years. It could happen in Iran very quickly. 

It is my opinion (and only a guess) that the western nations of Europe and the United States will place an economic embargo on Iran to selectively cripple its economy without war. While an embargo in most instances is an “act of war,” there are various kinds of economic embargoes short of war. While such embargoes are mostly not successful, one that hurts the young people the most could cause a sudden backlash against the Iranian government. 

Given this internal unrest seething below the surface, the current government may act in a provocative manner designed to provoke a response from the international community. The government can present this as an external threat to the nation requiring the unity of all Iranians in a time of crisis. Of course this would be done by Iran’s leaders to maintain their own power. (Iran would not be the first nation to purposely provoke external threats in order to maintain or increase their own power.) 

Reading Ahmadinejad’s speech before the United Nations on September 17, 2005 at http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/60/statements/iran050917eng.pdf, he correctly stated some obvious truths:

“With the passing of the era of agnostic philosophies [meaning Soviet communism], today humanity is once again joined in celebrating monotheism and belief in the Creator as the originator of existence. This is the common thread which binds us all.” 

Ahmadinejad UN speech, September 17, 2005

Unfortunately, the President of Iran in recent weeks called for the elimination of Israel as a country and proposed that Jews be given a “state” in Germany or other countries that have oppressed them in the past. He also repeated the common idea in the Middle East that the Jewish holocaust during World War II did not occur. 

The leaders of Iran, whether consciously or unconsciously, seem to be arranging events to foment such a united reaction, in spite of the policy that Ahmadinejad indicated in his UN speech, “in accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited.” We shall see what transpires, perhaps in the near future. Ahmadinejad stated an exception to its self-imposed prohibition against nuclear weapons:

“However, if some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue.” 

Ahmadinejad UN speech

This means that if Iran develops nuclear weapons it will do so because of external threats. Ahmadinejad ended his speech with unusual and disturbing words, speaking of a day when:
“… justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world … When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace. 
 
O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace. O Lord, include us among his companions, followers and those who serve his cause.” 

Ahmadinejad UN speech

President Ahmadinejad is not speaking of the return of Jesus Christ. He is speaking about the coming of a “Mahdi,” a militant religious leader, unique to Muslim Shiite beliefs (not held by Sunni Muslims, who hold to less militant views about the Mahdi) that a world leader will arise, a type of Shiite Muslim Messiah. Combined with his declaration that Israel should be eliminated as a state, most of the world’s diplomats are stunned and disturbed by his statements and the implications that the religious rulers of Iran have messianic expectations which they must help bring to pass. 

Elsewhere, Ahmadinejad has stated that he expects events surrounding the appearance of the Mahdi to be occurring within the next few years. Part of that messianic agenda is the destruction of Israel. The fear is that Iran’s nuclear weapons may be used to accomplish that goal. See the article “‘Divine Mission’ Driving Iran’s New Leader.”  

Months after Ahmadinejad’s UN speech, Iran announced on January 10, 2006, it would resume production of nuclear fuel, a necessary component in the manufacture of nuclear bombs. 

In the Bible Iran is prophesied to be a very powerful Middle East nation. What is interesting is that Iran is prophesied to reconcile with Israel to an extent that they will assist in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This is brought out in Isaiah 44:21–45:25 which discusses events that have not yet occurred in history. Let us all pray that this reconciliation takes place before a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran. 

It is possible that Iran could moderate once it obtains nuclear weapons. There seems to be a maturity that is achieved when nations acquire nuclear weapons. Every nation possessing nuclear weapons finds the value in having them. There is no value in using the weapons. Therefore, although there are great fears about rogue states like North Korea and Iran gaining possession of nuclear weapons, normally it is unlikely that countries would use nuclear weapons. 

Nuclear Deterrence Policy 

The standard political and military doctrine of response is that the 1st user of nuclear weapons would be annihilated in retaliation. Although guided by each unique situation, that has been the basic nuclear deterrence policy of the United States for over 50 years. It is to be expected that the policy and response would be the same for other nations such as Israel. Only with that presumed response (call it a “promise” in every day terms) does the concept of nuclear deterrence have any credibility. 

The first rule and goal of any political regime is its own continued survival, even at the sacrifice of many of its own people. Therefore any 1st user of nuclear weapons, such as North Korea or Iran, must make sure that their use is untraceable to their regimes. Today, the regime that first uses nuclear weapons directly risks the death of its political leadership. (As a result of that risk, governments dig underground bunkers. See my article “Into the Holes of Rocks and Caves.”) 

This understood rule of deterrence has helped prevent nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union for over 40 years, between the Soviet Union and China in the 1970s and 1980s, and lately between Pakistan and India. 

However, any one of three scenarios can change that understanding among nations: (1) a religiously driven agenda combined with nuclear weapons (like Iran); (2) a mad ruler with nuclear weapons (like North Korea); or (3) a nuclear strike from an unidentifiable source, whether a rogue state or terrorists (“we don’t know who did it”). Any of these may change the current mode of thinking and force victims of a nuclear attack to attack their enemies first. 

The nations of Europe, the United States and Iran’s neighbors are hoping a peaceful change of government will occur in Iran, ideally by a peaceful and popular uprising against the current and increasingly oppressive religious regime. This will hopefully occur before Iran develops nuclear weapons. The nations of the world are hesitating to take overt action against the religious leaders of Iran. Military options such as air strikes against nuclear targets or invasion of the nuclear production facilities in Iran, offer very slim chances of success. Events in Iran will be very interesting in the future, and they may move quickly. 

Problems for Saudi Arabia?  

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a hereditary monarchy, with input by tribal leaders. Interestingly the Saudi government is expanding governmental participation to its citizens, even to eventually allow women to vote in local and regional elections. 

In recent years the Saudi Government has been under heavy threat of terrorist attack by various internal and external Islamic groups. Their population is comprised of 20 million citizens with an additional 5 million foreigners hired to run the Saudi economic infrastructure. 

Saudi Arabia has a problem in that it must allow foreigners into their country every year to participate in the Haj, a religious pilgrimage to Mecca during Dhu’l Hijja. This is a major objective in the religious life of a Moslem. Saudi Arabia has always allowed foreigners to register and come to the Haj. About 2 million people participate in the Haj every year. This means many, many people travel to and through Saudi Arabia every year. 

A collapse of the Saudi governmental structure would cause an immediate reaction by the United States, Britain, and European countries to seize the oil fields. This has long been U.S. policy since the 1970s. Therefore it is in the interest of the Saudis to do everything necessary to maintain the sovereignty of their government and country. Perceived threats to that sovereignty are harshly dealt with by the Saudi regime. 

The current Saudi King Abdullah is aging and his proposed successor is also elderly. If a fight arises among the various tribal factions over the next king, then an internal crisis within Saudi Arabia could quickly develop to have a major international impact. 

Biblically Predicted Changes 

Changes of long-term national leaders usually result in a period of political disruption that sees little alteration of domestic or international policy until strong new leaders come on the scene. However, major internal or external events requiring rapid decisions could quickly cause new leaders to emerge. 

Read (or reread) Dr. Ernest Martin’s article “The Prophesied State of Palestine.” See particularly the map at the bottom of the article which approximates what Dr. Martin understood as the future political situation around Israel just prior to events of the end times. It is the scenario put forth in the prophecy of Palm 83. We know, somewhat, the “end from the beginning.” What we do not know is the path to that end to be taken by the various nations in the region surrounding Israel. 

Changes in political leadership in the recent past, today, and in the near future are further steps toward that biblically predicted situation of Psalm 83. They will be “good” steps that will bring surprising economic prosperity and even peace to a troubled region. Reconciliation of surrounding peoples and countries with Israel will occur. This will bring about changes in international boundaries and internal political structures to Israel and to most of the nations surrounding Israel. All events move us closer to the Second Coming of Christ back to this earth. Interesting times are ahead.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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