For anyone following developments in the Middle East, it’s nothing new to see rival Muslim factions in conflict. The Sunni-Shia divide has been an issue in the Muslim world since the first Caliph replaced Muhammed as leader of the Muslim umma. In fact, Shi’ites derive their name from the conflict.
Certain followers of Muhammed believed the successor should have been his cousin ‛Ali, but a leadership council called the council of companions chose Muhammad’s father-in-law, Abū Bakr. Those who wanted ‛Ali became known as shi’at’ ‛Ali, which means partisans of ‛Ali.
‛Ali eventually became the fourth Caliph in succession after Muhammad, but by then the fracture was set. Despite the internal discord, the Caliphs were able to vastly expand the Caliphate by force, eventually controlling territory as far as India and China westward into Europe and the entirety of northern Africa.
Along the way, the fracture continued to splinter, culminating in WWI when a secret society of Arabs sided with the Allied Forces (Russia, Britain, France, and the United States) against the Islamic (Turkish) Ottoman Empire and the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), as they negotiated terms for their own autonomous rule. After the Central Powers were defeated, the Islamic Ottoman Caliphate was dissolved, and the entire Middle East was slowly restructured into the countries we witness today.
The transition of powers in the new provinces proved less than peaceful and the impact remains.
Today, the most visible power struggle is between the wealthy Sunni Kingdom of Saud and Shia-led Iran.
As the struggle continues, the Saudi’s are busy strengthening alliances with their Sunni neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, and beyond.
Meanwhile, Iran has used ISIS and the Syrian civil war to its advantage, trying to finally attain a long-desired Shi’ite “crescent” alliance between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon that would provide Iran access to the Mediterranean.
At the same time, Iran has been exerting an irritating influence in Gaza, the West Bank, and Yemen, provoking terrorist factions to mount resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey is the odd man out. Once the (Ottoman) leader of the Muslim umma, Turkey seems to have conflicting ambitions. As a member of NATO, it has certain obligations to its European neighbors and the United States, but they have been shunned from acceptance into the European Union, causing a very strained relationship.
At the same time, President Erdogan has been leading Turkey back toward its strict Sharia-compliant Islamic heritage, which is in direct conflict with western ideals. To be successful in regaining preeminence in the Muslim world, Erdogan knows he must shed his western alliances. Since Erdogan is decidedly Sunni, the most natural Muslim alliance would be with other Sunni nations, but that is not what seems to be happening. Instead, Erdogan has been seen forging pragmatic ties with Shia-led Iran and Russia rather than joining the Sunni coalition to the South. Otherwise, he would be landlocked from his Sunni counterparts by a growing Shi’ite alliance directly on his southern border.
Then, there’s Israel. Everyone in the Middle East hates Israel. Or, do they?
Recently, there has been a clandestine alliance forming between Israel and Saudi Arabia against their mutual enemy in Iran. In fact, after President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel (and Israel’s Muslim neighbors appeared to lose their collective minds), Saudi leadership backed Abu Dis, a small East Jerusalem suburb, as an alternative for the Palestinian capital.
What’s going on?
Sunnis are aligning with Shi’ites against other Sunnis. Muslims are working with Jews against other Muslims.
Could it have anything to do with NEOM, the 26,500 square kilometer multi-national utopian 2030 vision of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS)?
NEOM is promoted as the pinnacle of civilization in just about every area of life, with the specific purpose of unifying the human race.
Pulling it together, MBS has situated NEOM strategically on the Red Sea at the intersection of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, further strengthening their alliance.
To make the overarching vision of NEOM a true multi-cultural, multi-national success, however, MBS needs Israel, because the greater NEOM region will need to consider the impact of excluding the southern Israeli port of Eilat.
Besides, including Israel makes sense for two additional reasons: First, due to the logistics of Israel’s strategic location between Egypt and Jordan on the Mediterranean; Second, due to the appearance of religious tolerance it will provide to the international community if they are going to foster the all-inclusive environment they promote.
Maybe that’s why CBN, quotes a senior White House official traveling with Vice President Pence in Israel as saying the Trump administration is working on a peace plan that will “spill over into the broader region and benefit Jordan, benefit Egypt, and will also create ties… between the region and Israel.”
“If we are lucky enough to achieve the ultimate deal, the ultimate deal would be one in which Israel and all of its neighbors have a deep, close and effective relationship.” ~ Senior White House Official
Technological, investment, and industrial giants are already being courted and committing to the project. In recent articles, you can read about Apple and Amazon, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Blackstone and Softbank, Microsoft and Uber. Russia has already committed billions to the project. The NEOM project is even endorsed by the IMF.
To keep current on NEOM developments, Arab News has the latest with NEOM-tagged articles all compiled on one page.
None of this should come as a surprise to students of the Bible. Daniel 11 speaks about the ongoing animosity between the King of the North (Seleucid Dynasty and successors) and the King of the South (Ptolemaic Dynasty) that culminates with the fulfillment of all prophecy. Ezekiel 38 and 39 also fit today’s headlines.
Today, that biblical narrative would be exemplified by the unification of Turkey and Iran against a united Saudi Arabia and Egypt, along with the inevitable attack against Israel.
Revelation 13 depicts two beasts that will rule the world, one with ultimate power and the other forcing the citizens of the world into subjection to the first beast. I detail the entire history of Middle Eastern conflict and the fulfillment of scripture in Israel in the Middle.
The short version is that the first beast is a reconstituted Islamic Caliphate, as opposed to Rome or the Roman Catholic Church, and the second beast who subjects the world to worship the first beast is the United Nations. Before that claim mounts a cacophony of protest, please read Israel in the Middle or my less comprehensive Roots of Bitterness Series, specifically, Ishmael Asserts His Birthright. A Muslim beast has both biblical and historical support, including the destruction of the Temple, as referenced in Daniel 9:26.
More than that, and not included in my previous work, there is a distinct possibility that NEOM could be the fulfillment of Mystery Babylon from Revelation chapters 14, 17-18. I discuss the possibilities at length in the two studies below, including how the rise of digital cryptocurrencies and RFID technology fits into the biblical narrative.
Somewhat unrelated, but an interesting side note, nonetheless, the New American Standard Bible is correcting the errant inclusion of the term Palestine in future revisions to adhere more accurately to biblical history and regional names applicable at the time. That is a huge step!