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The Peace Before the Storm
The Middle East: A History of Searching for Peace
Part 5 of 5 Articles

From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine in September/October, 1993

Samson defeated the enemies of Israel, but, in the doing, he forfeited his own life. Unlike Samson, Israel, by God’s grace, will triumph over her enemies, and a remnant will survive in the end to experience God’s glorious peace.

On September 13, 1993, in a White House ceremony, America’s President and Secretary of State hosted an historic ceremony. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, representing Israel, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, representing the Palestinians, signed a Declaration of Principles on interim Palestinian self-government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The world looked on and, with few exceptions, called it a great triumph, a break-through after years of conflict, a courageous move toward peace.

Only a month earlier, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were not even recognized by the United States. And, if Israel had the opportunity, her Mossad (the equivalent of our CIA) would have assassinated him or, at the least, tried him as a war criminal, guilty of the most heinous of crimes. Now, before the world, he was being extolled as a great leader, a national hero, a peacemaker. It would not be surprising if he were nominated for Man of the Year or the Nobel Peace Prize in this topsy-turvy age.

Perhaps the prophet Isaiah had a time like this in mind when he wrote: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

What events brought the Palestine Liberation Organization into existence? What “strange” set of circumstances forced them to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel, a people who were their mortal enemy for almost thirty years? Why did the present Israeli administration agree to negotiate with a terrorist group responsible for the deaths of countless thousands, and its leader, the greatest adversary of Israel since Adolph Hitler? And perhaps most importantly, will these negotiations result in the hoped-for enduring peace?

In the months preceding Israel’s May of 1948 declaration of nationhood, many Palestinian Arabs chose, of their own volition, to abandon their homes and lands in what was to become the State of Israel. Under the United Nations partition plan, they had the right of full citizenship in the new emerging State of Israel. However, under the influence of surrounding Arab nations, they were urged to leave their homes and travel the short distance to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. The Arab armies, the Palestinians were told, would invade Israel on the day she declared herself a nation. It would take a week, perhaps two, and the Jews would be driven into the Mediterranean Sea. The Arab victory was a foregone conclusion. The Palestinians could return to their homes and, as a bonus, possess their former Jewish neighbors’ homes as well.

But those who chose to leave and place themselves in opposition to the newly-born State of Israel soon found themselves in a situation they had not anticipated. The war was not over in a week or two. A cease-fire with all invading armies was not reached until July 20, 1949 – more than a year after it had begun. And Israel, not the invading Arab nations, emerged victorious. Those who chose to remain in Israel are there to this day, enjoying the benefits of citizenship and a standard of living far higher than that of the surrounding Arab nations.

Two refugee populations arose as a result of the 1948-49 War of Independence, one Jewish and one Palestinian. About 800,000 Jews, who had lived for centuries within the surrounding Arab nations, found themselves following the war in what was now, for a Jew, a hostile and dangerous environment. Notwithstanding the tremendous burden on the young nation, Israel somehow managed to absorb these disenfranchised Jews and weave them into the fabric of the Jewish state in the shortest possible time.

But, for the approximately equal number of 800,000 Arabs, who had fled Israel to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the situation was far different. They were neither welcomed nor allowed to enter the surrounding Arab nations. Rather, they were kept in refugee camps (most frequently mud huts) in poverty, for what would ultimately amount to 19 years (1948-1967). These former Palestinians were deliberately used as a political pawn by the Arabs at the United Nations. The Arab nations placed the cause of the Palestinian dislocation, difficulties, and poverty at the feet of the Jewish state. And these oft-repeated false accusations played well before third-world nations and those with anti-Semitic leanings. It has been calculated that one day’s oil revenue from the wealthy Middle East nations, who were not hesitant to spend billions on weapons of warfare, could have covered the cost of resettling all 800,000 of the dislocated Palestinians. But not one penny was forthcoming in all of the 19 years – not from Saudi Arabia, not from Kuwait, not from any oil-rich Arab country. Genuine concern for their brethren was nonexistent. Israel absorbed its sons and daughters – the Arab countries did not.

It was the United Nations which provided humanitarian relief to the Palestinian refugees through all of those years, and about ninety percent of the tab was actually paid by the United States. For a people languishing in poverty and squalor – a people totally disenfranchised – it was easy to blame the Jews and the State of Israel for all of their problems.

Out of these circumstances, the Palestine Liberation Organization was born in 1964. It was Yasser Arafat who vowed to destroy the Jewish state through terrorism and war. Attacks by the PLO from the West Bank against Jewish settlements began in the mid-sixties and were directed almost exclusively against schools, children, and the defenseless.

However, in 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel captured the West Bank in a counter-attack against an invasion by the forces of King Hussein of Jordan. Those who had been engaged in terrorist activity against the Jewish state from within the West Bank now crossed the Jordan River and set up their base of operation in Jordan. From this new location they stepped up their activity, crossed into Israel to kill and terrorize, and then fled back across the Jordan River border for safety. However, the Jordanian border would provide no sanctuary. Israeli forces, carefully picking their time and methods, would enter Jordan to locate and destroy the terrorists’ bases of operation.

As attacks against Israel continued to increase and as the PLO grew stronger, King Hussein realized that the PLO posed a grave threat to his kingdom and sovereign rule. In 1970, he sent his army of highly trained and fiercely loyal legionnaires against the PLO bases in his land. More than 20,000 Palestinians were killed, and the rest were driven from Jordan. Because it was Muslim against Muslim, Arab against Arab, brother against brother, with Israel uninvolved, the massacre became known as “Black September.”

These terrorists – some of whom had lived within what became the boundaries of Israel and had fled to the West Bank in 1948 and then crossed into Jordan in 1967 – now made their way to Lebanon in 1970. Lebanon was a small country with a small army, composed of a number of differing ethnic groups, with a Moslem majority and a wealthy and influential “Christian” minority. Friction among these various groups had long festered. Nonetheless, Beirut had been a prosperous and beautiful city, the banking capital of the Arab world, and a favorite Middle East vacation destination on the Mediterranean Sea Coast.

Egypt and Syria pressured the Lebanese government to allow entrance of the PLO into their country once they had been driven from Jordan, because it served their purpose. And Saudi Arabia, said to be a “moderate” Arab nation, gladly provided the funds needed by Yasser Arafat to pay the salaries of his soldiers, purchase weapons, propagandize his cause through the liberal press, and launch terrorist raids into Israel and elsewhere. Arafat was also substantially aided by the former Soviet Union, both in terms of equipment and military advisers. Helping to put pressure on Israel and hence increasing instability in the Middle East could, the U.S.S.R. concluded, diminish America’s influence in that part of the world.

The PLO moved troops into southern Lebanon as a strategic jump-off point for attacks against Israel’s northern populations. The attacks came via small boats along the Mediterranean coast, through infiltration across Israel’s northern border, and from within Lebanon itself, with Russian-made, Katyusha rocket launchers which had a range of almost twenty miles and could reach population centers. After each attack, Israel would retaliate, exacting double payment from the perpetrators and pressing home the fact that they could not murder citizens of the sovereign State of Israel with impunity.

Nonetheless, by the mid-1970s, the PLO had become so powerful that it became its own nation within the nation of Lebanon. The PLO, feeling invincible and unaccountable, brutally killed moderate Lebanese leaders, raped young women, and kidnapped those who would not cooperate with their policy. They thought nothing of forcibly using Lebanese people for blood transfusions for wounded PLO fighters until the “donor” died from lack of blood. Fanatical terrorist groups from all over the world began to train their operatives in Lebanon because of its favorable environment. And what remained of the Lebanese government and army were impotent to prevent it. Terrorism, anarchy, and confusion reigned supreme. In 1975-76, the PLO became the direct catalyst for a civil war in Lebanon.

In the civil war, upwards of 80,000 Lebanese people were killed. The world looked on and did nothing. France did nothing, even though Lebanon had been a protectorate of France and had enjoyed a close relationship, lest she upset the Arab world and jeopardize her access to oil. The papacy did nothing, although many of those who were being systematically killed were Roman Catholic, lest they incur the anger of the Muslim world. The United Nations did nothing, strongly influenced as it was by third-world nations who supported the PLO. The surrounding Arab nations did nothing, endorsing as they did the activity of the PLO. In fact, Syria had stationed troops in the Bekaa Valley of southeast Lebanon and contributed to much of the bloodshed, hoping to acquire a large portion of Lebanon for herself and open up a new military front against Israel. Even the press said relatively little about this massacre, always, however, finding occasions to condemn Israel for retaliatory raids directed against terrorists who had murdered her citizens.

Few in America realize that only Israel – largely for her own security purposes but also out of genuine humanitarianism – opened her borders to the sizeable “Christian” community of southern Lebanon who were trapped, cut-off from the Christian community in Beirut, and in danger of massacre. The Israeli army provided doctors and medical care for the wounded, food for the hungry, jobs in northern Israel for the unemployed, military equipment for the Free Lebanese Army which had been formed by Major Saad Haddad (a former Lebanese army officer), and things as basic as phones to call family, and gasoline for their cars. These activities were carried on through an opening in a fence at the border, which the Lebanese Christians appropriately called “The Good Fence.”

The terrorists’ raids, frequently thwarted by the Israeli defense forces or the Free Lebanese Army, continued to escalate in number. The situation became intolerable for Israel. In March of 1978, the government launched operation “Litani,” a major military expedition into the south of Lebanon. Its limited objective was to wipe out PLO bases in that area and to restore security and normal life to Israel’s northern district.

Having quickly achieved its objective, Israel was pressured by the United Nations to withdraw from Lebanon with the promise that a limited “United Nations Interim Force” would be established in Lebanon to: (1) ensure Israel’s withdrawal, (2) restore peace and security to the area, and (3) ensure that no hostile activities were launched by the PLO against Israel. Only Israel’s withdrawal was accomplished. The United Nations’ forces failed completely in bringing peace and security to the region. And far from halting terrorist activity against Israel, they often “looked the other way” or absented themselves from an area to be infiltrated, allowing PLO terrorists to enter Israel to kill and to maim. Some United Nations’ forces from third-world nations actually aided the terrorists in their activity. Astoundingly, more than 700 terrorists were actually permitted to launch attacks against Israel from within the United Nations’ security zone itself. On May 15, 1981, the PLO shelled Israeli villages and settlements along the northern border. A total of 1,230 salvoes fell on twenty-six settlements. In addition to the considerable damage, six civilians were killed and fifty-nine were wounded.

Four times Israel amassed its troops for a full-scale attack against the PLO in Lebanon, and four times they withdrew because of political issues and concern for world opinion. However, between July 24, 1981, and June 4, 1982, the PLO launched 290 attacks against Israel and Jewish interests abroad. The Israeli government could no longer forbear. At 11 a.m. on June 6, 1982, Israel launched a combined land and sea assault against the PLO in Lebanon. About 70,000 troops, 1,240 tanks, 1,500 armored personnel carriers – a force roughly equivalent to six and one-half divisions – participated in the invasion, including Israel’s navy and air force. The invasion was called “Peace for Galilee.”

Israel knew that the PLO was well-armed, highly trained, anticipating the attack, and ready to launch ambushes all along the way. Israel did not know how the Syrians and other Arab nations might respond. The Syrian forces were deeply entrenched in Lebanon. They had committed large numbers of infantry, a formidable tank force and armored vehicles, hundreds of the most up-to-date Russian Mig fighter planes, and, in the Bekaa Valley, one of the most impressive ground-to-air missile defenses ever built.

In six historic days, the Israeli forces advanced an astounding sixty miles in the face of blistering heavy fire of every possible kind and across terrain much of which had been thought militarily impassable. Beirut was surrounded and placed under siege. Because of treatment by the PLO in Christian East and North Beirut, the Israeli soldiers were literally welcomed as a liberating army much like the Americans were when they entered Paris during the Second World War. And western Beirut became the final defensive enclave of the PLO in Lebanon.

In the surrounding areas, Israeli recovery and salvage units located 413 massive PLO underground ammunition and storage facilities. In them they found more than 5,000 tons of ammunition – enough to fill more than 1,500 military trucks. They also found 764 vehicles, including tanks and personnel carriers; 26,900 light weapons; 424 artillery and rocket launchers; 1,295 communication devices; and 1,404 periscopes and field glasses. There was enough stored equipment to outfit a 30,000 man force, ten times the figure estimated by Israeli intelligence. It took the army more than a month, around the clock, to relocate the weaponry to Israel.

The Syrians had decided to enter the battle on June 7, the second day of the conflict. They hoped to engage in a limited war and recapture the Golan Heights, which had been lost to Israel exactly 15 years earlier in the Six-Day War of June 6, 1967. They would pay dearly for their miscalculation. In five days of fierce fighting, they lost 385 tanks, including 9 Russian T-72s, thought to be the most powerful tank in the world, and unstoppable. In three days of super-sophisticated aerial dog fights, the Syrians lost 90 planes without a single Israeli plane downed. Not since the Second World War had so many planes engaged in a dog fight in such a short period of time, and within such a restricted area. And in no other battle in aviation history has such a loss been borne entirely by one side.

Remote Piloted Vehicles (RPVs), twelve feet long and mounted with high magnification cameras, relayed pictures to ground stations and special electronically equipped aircraft. The Syrians could keep no secrets from the Israeli “spy in the sky” reconnaissance. Jamming the Syrian radar screens electronically once they were located and launching laser-guided missiles from both planes and surface batteries, the “impregnable” Syrian defense system was totally annihilated. This included the 700 anti-aircraft batteries whose purpose was to protect the missiles. (Of course, it was far more complex than it sounds.) This devastated the Russians, for this was their system, designed to protect their cities from the U.S. Israel had, in effect, “chewed up and spit out” Russia’s most advanced ground-to-air missile defense system. As a result, on June 11, Syria accepted a cease-fire, hastily prepared by Philip Habib, special envoy from the United States.

The PLO continued to fight on, protected by the human civilian shields they forcibly kept around them in West Beirut. When Lebanese civilians tried to flee, they were shot. Finally, on August 12, knowing that all was lost, the PLO sent a message accepting the offer to withdraw to Arab nations, under Israeli conditions. They began their withdrawal from Lebanon on August 21, 1982. As they left Beirut, in a final gesture of defiance, they fired their automatic rifles and machine guns into the air. These literally thousands of rounds of ammunition had to come down somewhere – when they did, they killed 17 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and wounded 42.

The PLO was defeated, other terrorist groups packed up and went home, and the Syrian army was shocked and devastated. But in short order, PLO operatives infiltrated back from the Arab nations to which they had retreated, into positions from which they could once again launch acts of terror against Israel. Eleven years later they were still engaged in terrorism on Israel’s borders, and the intifida (rebellion, rock throwing, and killing) was a regular event in the occupied territories.

And then on September 13, 1993, to the surprise of the world, the PLO and Israel, having been secretly negotiating, signed a “Declaration of Principles” intended to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was done with the hopeful expectation that Jordan and Syria would soon after come to terms with Israel, and bring peace to the area at long last.

What changed to bring Chairman Yasser Arafat to the peace table; to acknowledge Israel’s existence; to renounce his rhetoric calling for the destruction of the Jewish state? For those with eyes to see, his words will not be viewed as honorable or noble. There were four major reasons he chose to negotiate with Israel.

FIRST: He had lost all credibility and relevance among the Arab nations whose support he desperately needed.

SECOND: Other terrorist groups like Hamas were arising, even more radical than the PLO, to whom Arafat was losing many of his leaders.

THIRD: Before the unraveling of the Soviet Union, Russians trained many of Arafat’s officers in the U.S.S.R., equipped his forces, and placed instructors in the field. That assistance was now gone.

FOURTH: And perhaps most significantly, Arafat made a crucial tactical error. In the Gulf War of January/February 1990, he aggressively backed Saddam Hussein in the invasion of Kuwait, which had preceded Hussein’s intended invasion of Saudi Arabia, only the United Nations’ military intervention defeated Hussein’s plan. Saudi Arabia had for years provided most of the funds for the PLO’s terrorist activity. Rightly feeling betrayed by Arafat, those funds dried up overnight. Chairman Arafat backed the wrong horse, and bit the hand that literally fed him. He came to the peace table motivated by one impulse – self-survival. He is a thug and a murderer, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. The world, guided by pragmatic humanism, looked the other way, embraced him, and conferred upon him the attributes of “Peacemaker.”

But how did it come about that Israel, under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, came to negotiate with such a vile person? For however distasteful they found it (and they must have been beyond sick at heart), they did in fact come to the negotiation table. How is that to be understood?

First, it was the Labor Party of Yitzhak Rabin which was in power. This is the more liberal of the two major political parties in Israel. Of the 120 members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), only sixty-one voted in support of the agreement with the PLO (one vote over 50 percent). And of the sixty-one, five were Arab-Israeli votes. Fifty-one voted against and eight abstained. By no measuring standard could it be said that the support ran deep or wide within the nation for the agreement.

Second, recognizing that Yasser Arafat was in a position of weakness, holding onto power by his fingernails, and observing an increase in extreme fundamentalism within the Arab world that would one day erupt into a holy war if the Arab/Israeli conflict were not ended, Israeli leaders viewed negotiations with Arafat as the lesser of two evils.

Third, Israel has been worn down. Not so much physically, but emotionally and psychologically. In her modern history of forty-five years, she has had to fight five wars and persistent, unending terrorism directed against her people. Many of her young men have been killed, her treasury disproportionately used for military purposes, her intellect channeled into national security projects, and her very existence sometimes in the balance. Constantly opposed by the United Nations, economically boycotted by nations and corporations, frequently attacked and misrepresented in the world press, she just grew tired.

Worn down and exhausted, some became willing to give land for peace, to gamble with the nation’s future, to recognize the PLO and negotiate with Yasser Arafat. I believe that history will one day record that her gamble was a singularly tragic error.

The conflict between Islam and Israel is not economic, political, or geographical; the conflict is spiritual. The fact that a Jewish state exists in a land area which from the seventh century until the nineteenth (with but a brief and partial interlude during the Crusades) belonged to Islam is like a bone in the throat that cannot be extricated. Compromising, by giving land for peace, will be seen as weakness, and returning all or part of the Golan Heights to Syria will be viewed as foolishness. The collective Arab armies could not defeat the army of Israel on the battlefield; but having worn Israel down, they are winning a major campaign through negotiation – a platform to better launch an attack against her during a more opportune day.

The Palestinians are being given the West Bank and Gaza in increments, a little at a time over a five-year period. First, the Gaza Strip and the area of Jericho. After a brief period of time, a second area, and then a third will be surrendered. And in due course, probably in two to three years (about 1996), the status of Jerusalem will come up. Israel calls Jerusalem her “Eternal Capital.” The lieutenants of Yasser Arafat are already claiming East Jerusalem (which is part of the West Bank), to be the capital of the emerging Palestinian state. At the time of this writing, Palestinian flags have already been seen flying in East Jerusalem. Those who suggest that Israel will never allow Jerusalem to be divided need to be reminded that a few weeks ago no one in Israel would ever have believed that the PLO would be recognized or negotiations carried on with Yasser Arafat. The pressure placed on Israel by the nations of the world to keep the peace process moving ahead will be irresistible. And inseparably connected to the Jerusalem issue, like a newborn connected by an umbilical cord to its mother, will be the issue of the Temple Mount. For Muhammadanism, the Mount is her third most holy site after only Mecca and Medina. On the Mount is the Dome of the Rock, which, according to Muslim tradition, is the spot from which Muhammad ascended into Heaven lest he be outdone by the nearby “actual” ascension of Christ. Nearby stands the Al Aqsa Mosque, holy place of worship.

For the Jews, the Temple Mount is revered as the spot to which Father Abraham came to offer Isaac; the place where King David defeated the wicked Jebusites, built his capital, and called it Jerusalem (the City of Peace); and the place where his son, Solomon, built the Temple (house) for God; the place where the priests of Israel performed their tasks as mandated in the Mosaic Law, and sinners found acceptance before God; the place where Jews worshipped for 1,500 years, long before Muhammadanism was born in the deserts of Arabia.

Astoundingly, man’s quest for peace (apart from God) will take him to the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem, and a seventeen-acre plateau called the Temple Mount, just north of the Sinai Desert, along the ancient Patriarchal Highway that leads from Egypt to Assyria. It is here that I can only speculate. I believe that, like the city, the Temple Mount will be divided, perhaps with a wall running east and west. The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque will remain places of Islamic worship. To the north, on the other side of the wall, perhaps in line with the Eastern Gate, a modest temple – already being designed by the Temple Institute in the Old City – will be hastily erected. Animal sacrifices, halted by the Romans more than nineteen hundred years ago, will be reinstituted. I believe all of this may come about by tremendous pressure being placed on Israel to make concessions and powerful promises given to her of security and peace – all by one who will govern a coalition of ten nations.

Is Yasser Arafat the Antichrist as some have suggested? He doesn’t come close to the biblical pattern. Are the agreements being hammered out between the Palestinians and Israelis the covenant referred to by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27)? I think not. Does what is happening at present between Israel and her neighbors have importance prophetically? I strongly believe it does. It is helping to put the pieces into place for the commencement of the climactic events of history. This will include a major invasion of Israel by the surrounding nations to whom Israel is now giving strategic militarily significant land areas.

Soon, I believe, the curtain will go up and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will gallop onto the stage of human history. Only, it will not be a drama – it will be real life! Through the prophet Zechariah, God said: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it” (Zechariah 12:2-3).

The Lord Jesus Christ is the still point in a changing world. Only through faith in Him and obedience to His Word can men be prepared to face the events soon to explode in Jerusalem like an atomic bomb. The fallout will cover the earth until the Son of Righteousness appears with healing in His wings. Only then will Israel’s long search for shalom (peace) become a reality in the earth.

The Peace Before the Storm
The Middle East: A History of Searching for Peace
Part 5 of 5 Articles

From the Writings of Marvin J. Rosenthal
Published in Zion's Fire Magazine in September/October, 1993