The peace deal signed at the White House this week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates (now also involving Bahrain, with talk of others joining the queue) is truly historic, and wonderfully welcome.
The UAE is only the third Arab state (after Egypt and Jordan) to agree to normalization of diplomatic ties with the Jewish state and it’s highly significant, coming at a time of increasing tension in the Middle East.
It also coincides with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which appropriately inaugurates a time of repentance and putting things right with neighbours, leading up to the Day of Atonement, ultimately fulfilled by Jesus in reconciling man to God and to each other.
There are of course pragmatic reasons for this new deal, such as the growing threat to Sunni-led Muslim countries of Iran and its proxies. There was also a caveat behind the deal – that Israel would shelve its proposed ‘annexation’ of Judea, Samaria and parts of the Jordan Valley. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees this as delay, not cancellation).
But it is a sign of peace nonetheless, demonstrating realism among Arab leaders who basically want to live in harmony with their neighbours, though fully aware that the Palestinian narrative is something of a sacrifice in the process.
The latter see recognition of a Palestinian state as a precondition to any such deal. But the more obvious reality in the region is that the Jewish state has emerged as a major player on the world scene – in the high-tech, military, agricultural and other realms – and the conclusion has clearly been drawn that it is safer to be friends than enemies.
This kind of peace was prophesied by Isaiah (chapter 19.23-25) who wrote of a time when the nations to the north and south of Israel would join the Jews in forming a highway of reconciliation, though at a deeper level than mere political manoeuvring.
This has already been increasingly experienced in recent years as Arab and Jew have seen barriers between them broken down when their hearts open up to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, which is also a fulfilment of Paul’s message to the Ephesians (2.14).
Congregations of believers in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) have sprung up all over Israel where in many cases Jews and Arabs are seen worshipping together. At a conference in Jerusalem held to extend this reality to the wider Middle East, I have personally witnessed former natural enemies embracing one another as they share communion, remembering how the ‘Prince of Peace’ spilled his blood for them both.
Hearts thus knit together as both honour the King who will rule forever (Isaiah 9.7) clearly represent a permanent peace. Political peace, meanwhile, may well be only temporary, as belligerent insults and threats from Iran and elsewhere suggest.
The trouble is, they are not taken seriously by most national leaders, who can’t believe they really mean to blast Tel Aviv with nuclear bombs, just as many British politicians thought Hitler was all mouth back in the 1930s.
Besides, the darkening clouds have extended beyond Iran to Turkey, rapidly morphing from a secular Muslim state to a strident religious one, with President Erdogan turning the iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque and threatening to reclaim Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for a revived Ottoman Empire.
An unpredictable Russia is also rearing its ugly head as we teeter on the brink of another Cold War possibly warming up into something rather more fearsome.
Then came the Beirut explosion, with Iran’s terrorist-proxy Hezbollah widely held responsible due to malicious neglect of chemicals being stored for making weapons with which to blast Israel, who had repeatedly warned international bodies about this. But did they take any notice?
Tragically, Lebanon’s harbouring of this evil organisation has backfired on its own people. But the Iranian ayatollahs are not finished with their deadly plans.
However, there are around a million Christians meeting in secret all over Iran, praying for their brothers in Israel in accordance with the command of Scripture (Psalm 122.6) which has led them to a living faith in Jesus.
Nevertheless, the spectre of war is never far away, which does also point to further signs of the soon return of Christ. Among these, as Tony Pearce points out in Prophetic Witness, is the connection of the new peace deal to the Gog and Magog war of Ezekiel 38, where ‘Sheba and Dedan’ (the Arabian Peninsula region) appear to be on Israel’s side in the end-time invasion that comes from the north, led by Russia and involving Iran, Turkey and other nations.
Of course peace agreements are not always what they seem, as Neville Chamberlain found out in 1938, and there is a very significant seven-year peace treaty spoken of by Daniel (9.27) that will have apocalyptic consequences.
Particularly noteworthy is that the UAE-Israel agreement is known as the Abraham Accord, which raises another interesting connection, says Pearce. For the UAE was the scene last year of an interfaith agreement ‘in search of peace’ involving the Pope and a leading mullah.
If this comes to anything, it will be a false peace, because it will not be built on the ‘Rock of Israel’ (Gen 49.24). As Jeremiah warned long ago, there are false prophets who cry ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace (Jer 6.14, 8.11).
Yet the Bible clearly indicates that the land of Israel will be a source of great controversy in the last days (see Zechariah 12-14), leading to a conflict involving all nations. All of which points to the ultimate solution of the Middle East question, and indeed of the world itself – the promised return to Jerusalem, in power and great glory, of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose perfect peace will extend from there to all the earth.
In the context of his return, Jesus repeatedly warned that false prophets would appear and deceive many. But his coming would be visible to all the world (Matthew 24.27), and when the signs of its imminence proliferate, we are to lift up our heads, because it means our redemption is drawing near (Luke 21.28).
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.