Israel’s Darkening Horizon :: By Matt Ward

Relations between Israel and Russia are on a knife edge. Events in the Middle East are moving at a very fast pace. With the downing of a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance plane on September 17th, it would seem that Russia, sensing an opportunity, is trying to both reset relations with Israel as well as redraw the operational limits of their own involvement in Syria and the Middle Eastern theatre. They are doing this whilst at the same time drastically curtailing Israel’s ability to act against her ever-more-entrenched regional enemies in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

Events began on September 17th with an Israeli Defense Force attack on a Syrian military facility located in Latakia. It was believed by Israel to be housing a lethal, high precision weapons systems bound for use by Hezbollah in Lebanon, something that has always been a very clear red line for the Jewish State.

After the successful airstrikes, the Israeli F-16 warplanes were engaged by Syrian air defenses. As a direct consequence of Syria’s wide-ranging and highly imprecise anti-air fire, a Russian IL-20 military plane with 15 Russian servicemen on board was shot down over the Mediterranean. All Russian servicemen died. This has created a firestorm for Israel, one which has the potential to severely impede her operational capabilities, not only in Syria but also in her ability to successfully defend her own homeland.

Immediately following the downing of the Russian IL-20 plane, Israel dispatched senior IDF commanders to Russia with the aim of clarifying that the responsibility for this unforeseen tragedy lay squarely at the door of the Syrian government. To that end, Major General Amikam Nurkin travelled to Moscow to brief senior Russia officers personally, presenting them with the data and findings from the IDF’s own investigation.

To be blunt, the IDF’s conclusions were rebuffed. That is an understatement. After concluding its own investigation, the Russian military came to the conclusion that it was in fact Israel that was solely to blame for the downing of the Russian IL-20, not Syria, and that Israel was exclusively to blame for the loss of the 15 Russian servicemen.

This accusation has rocked the IDF, and the shock felt within the Israeli military has been exacerbated by the increasingly bellicose accusations and charges laid against the IDF from the Russian military and its Defense Ministry.

On Sunday, 23rd September, the Russian Defense Ministry publically gave its own account of what happened on September 17th. The Russian Defence Ministry lays the entire blame for the incident squarely with the IDF. Worse still, Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov has openly claimed that the IDF has actively misled Russia about the location of its planned airstrikes in Syria, and that because of this the Russian IL-20 was prevented from being moved to a safe zone. Russia is declaring this as a direct breach of the 2015 Russian-Israeli agreements made to try to prevent clashes in Syria between Russian armed forces and Israel’s.

But Major General Igor Konashenkov wasn’t finished there. He went further. General Konashenkov continued by asserting that Israeli F-16 fighter jets had used the IL-20 as a “shield” against Syrian air defense systems, thereby purposely endangering the aircraft and all the Russian personnel on board. In so declaring, he has directly contradicted the IDF’s claim that the Israeli F-16’s were already home in Israeli airspace when the IL-20 was hit and shot down. He is publically asserting that Israel lied to them.

The Russian briefing concluded ominously by claiming that Israeli military personnel have acted with “criminal negligence,” and that they are exclusively to blame for the loss of Russian life.

The Russians, as a consequence, have now declared electronic war on Israel over the skies of both Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean. In quick time, the Russian military has armed Syria with the S-300 air defense system and will also immediately start jamming all “enemy” navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Syrian electronic air defense capabilities will now be increased to the same levels as the Russian forces currently operating within Syria.

Shoigu continued, “Russia will jam satellite navigation, on-board radars and communications systems of combat aircraft which attack targets in the Syrian territory, in the regions over the Mediterranean Sea bordering with Syria.”

Shoigu then concluded with a thinly veiled threat to Israel, stating that if these new measures “fail to cool hotheads, we will have to respond in line with the current situation.”

This is certainly a huge blow to Israel and will severely impede Israel’s ability to act within the Syrian theatre. The temperature in the Middle East has just shot up a number of notches. This is the first time in history that one nation has openly declared electronic warfare against another nation-state.

To this end, the first deliveries of Russian Krasukha-4 electronic warfare units have now been delivered to Syria. As well as neutralizing ground and airborne radars, these units can also jam and severely disrupt spy satellites. This system can jam all forms of communications systems, disable guided missiles, aircraft and radars, and be used as a platform to attack enemy electronic warfare capable units. These combined Russian measures will have the result of significantly hampering Israel’s ability to operate successfully within Syria, or even to monitor at least to the same degree, what is actually going on there “on the ground.”

Netanyahu has declared that, irrelevant of these new measures, Israel will continue to take the action necessary to prevent the embedding of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. Such grand statements are meaningless though as even Netanyahu himself, speaking on the sidelines of the recent UN summit, openly acknowledged that this “accident with the IL-20 may have serious consequences” – many of which may be as yet unforeseen. Netanyahu’s comments are an explicit acknowledgement that the dynamic in Syria may have changed significantly.

The delivery of these new S-300 missiles, whilst not the most cutting edge weaponry available, will certainly complicate Israel’s ability to act unimpeded in Syria. As Israeli journalist Barak Ravid observed, the move “could limit the Israeli air force’s freedom of operation in Syria.” (1).

The delivery of these missiles and Russia’s declaration that they will interfere electronically with Israeli electronic warfare capabilities matter. They matter because, short of the obvious military impediment Israel now faces, the move also threatens to unravel a military and political alliance between Israel and Russia that has thus far kept them, and more importantly the other major world powers, backing up both sides from coming into direct conflict in Syria.

Israel will now have to be exceptionally careful and will need to calculate each and every potential intervention against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria in a way it has not had to before. Given that Israel has already conducted hundreds of operations in Syria and will likely continue to do so in the future, the likelihood of an Israeli jet being shot down by enhanced Syrian air defense systems has now significantly risen. If such an eventuality does arise and Israeli planes are shot down, or pilots injured or captured, then the likelihood that this may in turn provoke a wider regional flare-up increases dramatically. Israel, Iran, Syria, Russia and the United States could all be dragged into open and direct confrontation.

The bottom line for how this crisis concludes rests with Putin, although at this stage it appears that the outcome will be a severe restriction of Israel’s freedom of action over Syria. Amongst all the uncertainty though, one thing does however remain unchanged; Iran is still, without question, absolutely determined to continue transferring arms to Hezbollah.

The real test will be when Israeli intelligence, at some point in the near future, suggests that Iran is once again attempting to smuggle sophisticated arms and weaponry into Lebanon. What happens then, when Israel feels absolutely obliged to act? Will they? And if they do, what will Russia do? And will this be containable?

Only time will tell.

  1. https://www.axios.com/russia-supply-syria-syria-missiles-rebuke-israel-d2603edf-c35a-48b1-a61a-ad8d647c52f8.html

wardmatt1977@gmail.com

 

Schism :: By Matt Ward

Modern-day Christianity seems to be approaching a point of no return. There appears to be a concerted effort, long since underway but now rapidly speeding up, which has the very specific aim of delegitimizing biblical Christianity. Much of these efforts are coming from within the church. Men and women we once perceived as being Christian brothers and sisters, now seem to view themselves as traditional Christianity’s greatest enemy. Evangelical Christianity, as we have known it, would seem to be on the brink of schism.

If you are an Evangelical Christian who holds a literal view of the interpretation of scripture, and especially if you hold to a futurist, pre-tribulation view of eschatology, then you find yourself dead center in the crosshairs of a movement that is becoming increasingly vitriolic. You are also very much in the minority. The acrimony, the bitter and caustic attacks, are not even hidden or shrouded anymore; they are out in the open for all to see.

These are, I know, harsh words. Yet I have stood back and watched patiently over the last two years; and what I have seen has with equal measure surprised and shocked me. I waited and waited before writing this article, as I wanted to be absolutely sure that what I was witnessing was not just a momentary spasm of anger or frustration. I wanted to be sure that what was emerging was a new fixed pattern of behavior.

It all seemed to begin, or at least enter a new and more hostile phase, immediately following the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States. It was immediately after Trump’s election that the overt fracture lines that already existed within evangelical Christianity were quickly opening up into yawning chasms.

I believe that the election of Trump to the Presidency of the United States acted as the catalyst for these fractures to become what we may one day recognize as the beginning point of a full schism in the Body of Christ.

After the election, it seemed that all the tethers of decency and brotherly communion were pulled down; and open warfare, at least from one side, has ensued ever since.

Think that I am over-reacting or misjudging this situation? After the election I spent quite a lot of time looking at, in detail, the public responses to Trump’s election victory by Christian leaders in America. The results shocked me.

No momentary spasm of anger or frustration, the reaction that manifested itself post-election has sustained itself. It has now become an entrenched pattern of behavior and seems to have morphed into open season on evangelical, futurist, biblical Christianity.

What makes this shocking is that the most vociferous attacks are not coming from the rank and file of Christianity, but from those esteemed as “leaders,” men and women who hold sway over, in some cases, millions of people.

First amongst them, and what initially grabbed my attention, was an article I came across in the immediate wake of Trump’s victory. The article was written by a very prominent church leader, who has a following on Twitter of close to one hundred thousand people, which was entitled, “…did US evangelical leaders exult Donald Trump over Jesus?”

In the article, the author went on to explain how he wished to speak out against Christian leaders in the United States whom he claims have, in electing Donald Trump, effectively chosen to exalt a man over Jesus Christ. He is effectively arguing that, in voting for Trump, evangelical Christians have sinned – that they have, in effect, committed idolatry.

Harsh words, but the author wasn’t finished. He continued by denouncing modern Christian evangelicalism itself, arguing that in his opinion the election of Donald Trump means that “many Christians in the United States are now spiritually homeless.”

Continuing, he therefore called upon Christians in the United States to abandon the term “evangelicalism” and instead reclaim their true identity as “a follower of Jesus,” stating that many Christians now need a new spiritual home as a consequence of Donald Trump’s election.

Evangelicalism, it would seem, just doesn’t cut it anymore; it is flawed, compromised and broken. He bemoaned the fact that in his view so many white Christians in America voted for a president that he believes rejects “many of the core values of evangelicalism.”

He then concluded by explaining how the term “evangelical” has now become “toxic,” concluding that “many are now done with the word ‘evangelicalism’, which has come to represent white self-interest.”

Wow. Harsh words. But it didn’t end there. It seemed like, across the board, from one prominent Christian leader to another, there was a tidal wave of incendiary reaction. It soon became equally clear that these views were not held in isolation, but were widely echoed within the more mainstream Christian community itself, by many of the rank and file.

At the time of the election, one of the best platforms for viewing this attitude shift within the American church was Twitter. It was and is an ideal way of catching a real glimpse into people’s minds. In one statement, often written instinctively and as a reaction to an event or a rapid-fire judgement, volumes can be revealed about the true intent of the heart.

The election of Trump provoked an avalanche of responses from very prominent church leaders all across America. Whilst I have redacted the names of the individuals below, each is a prominent church leader in America. Collectively, they influence the thought processes of millions of followers, in their pews, through television outreach and through their social media platforms.

On 09/11/16, one very influential pastor tweeted, “In #Election2016 Evangelicals lost credibility voting for Trump…”

Another highly prominent and influential church leader, and founder of various Christian magazine publications, spent considerable time and effort tweeting links to articles with titles such as, “10 commitments to resistance in the Trump era” and, “what progressive Christians need to do to take their faith back.”

This same man then tweeted the following: “Time for healing. And resistance,” before concluding with the following piece of advice: “the religious right leaders showed once and for all that they should never be taken as ‘religious’ again.”

Let me repeat what this church leader wrote, so that it sinks in: “the religious right leaders showed once and for all that they should never be taken as ‘religious’ again.”

Remember, the men that write these words are esteemed as the leaders of Christianity today, and some have followings of literally hundreds of thousands, even millions worldwide. These aren’t the random tweets from lone individuals with a handful of followers; these individuals have huge influence over vast numbers of people.

Another prominent religious leader, at the same time, tweeted, “We have never witnessed such religious hypocrisy as we saw in this election.” He then added, “Most white evangelicals sold their souls to a man who embodies the worship of money… and power.”

Most white evangelicals sold their souls to a man who embodies the worship of money… and power. These are not the words of a man trying to find any kind of common ground. These are the words of war.

This leader then concluded that, “I just want you to know that I AM IN for whatever this will require of us.”

Yet another man esteemed as a pillar of the modern church worldwide, around the time of Trump’s election victory, retweeted an article which detailed “…what progressive Christians need to do to take back their faith.”

Take back their faith? Clearly the insinuation is that “the faith” has been hijacked and now needs to be forcefully retaken. Is the silent, unstated implication of this that those from whom it needs to be “taken back” are not brothers and sisters in the faith, but enemies and usurpers? Otherwise, why would it need to be “taken back” from them?

He then continued by linking an article from a former evangelical titled, “I was an evangelical magazine editor. But now I can’t defend my evangelicalism.” He concluded, “… at some point you have to get up and leave the table.”

This man, this hugely influential church leader with a worldwide following, then wrote that “Every single principled conservative should be speaking out against this decision (the election of President Trump). Every single one. There is no middle ground here.”

There is no middle ground here.” We are being told openly by one of the most prominent Church leaders in America today that you are effectively for us, or you are against us. You are either a Bible- believing evangelical, who by implication has “sold their souls” to this man Trump, or you are a real Christian, now in need of a new home away from the “toxic” legacy of traditional evangelicalism.

Now, almost two years later, and after the dust should have settled, the attacks remain but have morphed somewhat. They have become subtler, but no less dangerous for it. The attacks we see today are not merely aimed at evangelicalism generally, but are at specific evangelical doctrine.

The attacks have morphed from opposition to Trump and those who voted for him, to opposition of evangelical belief and doctrine itself. These attacks now also include highly personal attacks on prominent evangelical leaders such as, for example, Franklin Graham, who was recently described as “unhinged” by a hugely popular emergent church leader for his promotion of traditional biblical values.

Equally, men like Robert Jeffress, who is a bold proponent of both Israel and solid biblical truths and realities, has been castigated far and wide within the Christian community recently as being a “bigot.” All for quoting and relying upon the bible as the basis for the moral judgements he makes. Is that not what all of us “Christians” are supposed to do? Rely upon the Bible? Or have I missed something?

This attempt to discredit evangelical beliefs is obviously ongoing, but now the pillars that hold it up, both people as well as biblical doctrine, are under attack.

To illustrate this point, consider this tweet that I stumbled across last Sunday from another very prominent American Church leader, a man also with a vast social media presence. He was responding to a question, and I quote the tweet exactly:

“…I am a recovering lifelong Futurist (grew up in the Bible Belt), so I am still learning about this stuff. So do you still affirm a future (to us) coming of Jesus? Or do you think that was fulfilled in 70AD?”

This young, well-known Christian leader who, remember, boasts a huge following, replied,

“Def a future return of Jesus to judge, purge, renew and resurrect (1 Cor 15; Rom 8:18-28, Rev 21-22) …But no 7-year tribulation, rapture or destruction of the planet. This world will be restored for a restored humanity!”

I was speechless. On so many levels, this is plain wrong; it is false teaching—not least of which, apart from the poor theology, is the sheer audacity of it. Notwithstanding his completely selective use of scripture, ignoring totally the plethora of places in the Bible that clearly signpost a future rapture of believers, a tribulation and a judgment, he chooses instead to focus exclusively upon those scriptural verses that only agree with his sensibilities – ignoring or marginalizing all the others that don’t, and leading people astray in the act.

The aim at this point is to redraw the boundary lines of Christianity itself piece by piece, doctrine by doctrine. Thus we reach a point where Christian leaders are openly discussing how they can “redefine Christianity” for today’s widely biblically illiterate, church-going generation. Evidently the way it has been “defined” for the last two thousand years of church history just doesn’t quite cut the mustard anymore.

Treating the Bible like a great theological buffet, taking the parts they like and ignoring everything else, these men and women are attempting to redraw the boundaries that have held the faith together since Jesus Christ walked the shores of Galilee two thousand years ago.

The pertinent issues now are not salvation issues, or issues related to sin or repentance, and certainly not anything to do with eschatology or the imminent end times, but LGBTQ+ issues, immigration issues and family border-separation issues. It is about the “evils” of white-dominated evangelical Protestantism; it is about helping the poor. It is about social justice, the feel-good gospel of salvation through works, not faith. These are the issues that count – not sin, repentance, the love of God for a desperately lost world, or the quite obviously approaching time of His wrath.

Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency of the United States has acted as the catalyst for real and rapid change. Political affiliation is now being intrinsically linked to one’s religious persuasion, and an attack on one has become a de-facto attack on the other.

There is a highly polarized political environment currently in America which has permeated deep into the Church. Indeed, it threatens to tear it apart. Partisan political affiliations now rule and have become the launching pad for quite brutal attacks upon the faith system many still hold so dear. And upon basic biblical doctrine.

The battle lines seem to have been drawn, and we are increasingly witness to brothers and sisters using the election of Trump to continue the effort to castigate others within the fold of the church, and to characterize their faith as being racist, xenophobic, uncompassionate and un-American. Worse, they are even now considered as being un-Christian.

It would seem increasingly the case that whom you voted for has come to determine the type, and quality, of Christian you are. And these attacks will only become more vitriolic with the passage of time.

It is my belief that the Christian Church faces a growing and menacing threat both from without and from within. The period of unity that we have known for so long would seem, to me at least, to be fast approaching its end. Whether the election of Trump created the chasm or merely revealed it is irrelevant. What matters is that this divide, this schism, is there and it seems to be growing wider and more pronounced daily.

The apostasy and “falling away” prophesied by Paul as a distinct characteristic of the last days is in full flow right now, and it has penetrated deeply into the church. If Jesus tarries much longer, and He may well, persecution cannot be far around the corner.

In the early chapters of Revelation, Jesus gives a very specific warning to the churches of Asia: that unless they focus upon God and what He is and requires of them, then He would remove His Spirit from the church.

With the exception of His remnant and one or two outstanding examples of churches and pastors that do teach faithfully the whole council of God, including Bible prophecy and the evident signs of the times, it seems to me that what is described in the first few chapters of Revelation is exactly what is happening to the modern church today.

wardmatt1977@gmail.com