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Showdown with Iran: Nuclear Iran and the Future of Israel, the Middle East, and the United States in Bible Prophecy
by Mark Hitchcock
Learn More | Meet Mark Hitchcock
Countdown to Crisis
War with Iran is the mother of all wars.
—Iranian president Hassan Rouhani,
New York Times, August 6, 2019
[The US] may have to get in wars. . . . If Iran does something, they’ll be hit like they’ve never been hit before. I mean, we have things that we’re looking at.
—President Donald J. Trump
The showdown between the United States and Iran became a shooting war that spiraled out of control on June 20, 2019. . . . Almost.
In response to Iran shooting down an American drone, the United States was ten minutes away from striking three Iranian bases with air-and sea-launched missiles. The United States and Iran were on the brink of war—on the verge of US bombs raining down on Iranian soil. As zero hour was imminent, in the nick of time, President Trump aborted the attack.1 Yet it appears that war was only suspended to a later date. It could break out at any moment. Iran and the United States remain locked in a serious showdown.
The threat level was so serious that “the Pentagon presented the White House with plans for deploying up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to respond to Iranian attacks on US forces or the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”2 According to Foreign Policy magazine, “since May , the Pentagon has dispatched 14,000 additional US troops, an aircraft carrier, and tens of thousands of pounds of military equipment to the Middle East to respond to what it says are alarming new threats from Iran.”3 An ominous ABC News headline tells the story: “The Shootdown Showdown Between US and Iran.”4
Adding to the tense standoff, Iranian limpet mines exploded on two oil tankers in June 2019, leaving them crippled and burning in the Gulf of Oman. In response, President Trump sent 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East. Iran is the reason for the reinforcements.
Later in the troubled summer of 2019, an American warship in the Persian Gulf, the USS Boxer, shot down an Iranian drone. As the standoff intensified and the tension mounted, on November 2, 2019, President Trump issued a warning against Iran in a tweet based on the HBO show Game of Thrones. The tweet contained a picture of the president with a caption in the show’s recognizable font, “Sanctions are Coming November 5.” Within hours, Iran responded with its own Game of Thrones–inspired tweet against an eerie background that read, “I will stand against you.” On his Instagram page an Iranian commander posted, “Come! We are waiting. I can stop you. . . . You start this war, but we will finish it.”5
The Middle East game of thrones is a modern Game of Drones.
On the nuclear front, which carries the greatest potential for disaster, the United States unilaterally backed out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran in a campaign of “maximum pressure.” Iran’s reaction was swift. Tehran boldly escalated its nuclear pursuits, quadrupling its uranium production. Iranian centrifuges are spinning at a record pace. The nuclear breakout time span is shrinking every day. As of the writing of this book, Iran could have a fully functional nuclear weapon in seven to eleven months. More and more, this looks like a pivotal year. Tectonic shifts are transpiring in the Middle East.
Iran has threatened to treat any nation as an aggressor that even cooperates with the United States.6 Many experts maintain that Iran will keep escalating its aggression in the Persian Gulf and Middle East until the United States hits them back hard or folds.
The United States and Iran have been at war with each other for more than forty years, but the cold war threatened to become a hot war at the advent of 2020. Iran orchestrated an attack against the US embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq. Iranian-backed Shiite militants stormed the massive 104-acre embassy, chanting “Death to America” while setting fires and destroying property. The siege came in response to US strikes in Iraq against Iranian proxies that had killed a US contractor and injured others.7 One hundred US Marines were immediately dispatched to Baghdad to increase security.8 An additional 750 paratroopers from the US Army’s Eighty Second Airborne Division’s alert brigade were deployed to Kuwait.9
This was the second time a US embassy came under attack by Iranian terrorists. The first time was in Tehran in 1979 during the Islamic Revolution, which precipitated the Iran hostage crisis. Both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Iran would be held accountable, and that accountability came swiftly. An American drone attack ordered by the president killed Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force. Soleimani was responsible for planning and executing extra-territorial military activity for Iran and enjoyed near-celebrity status in Iran. He was arguably the most powerful military leader in the Middle East and—with the exception of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—was the most important person in Iran.
Iran immediately threatened revenge. President Trump warned that any loss of US lives would bring swift and devastating reprisal. Headlines across the country announced that President Trump had declared war on Iran.10 The world held its collective breath. The words “World War III” were trending. In an effort to save face, but not further arouse the ire of the United States, Iran fired a few missiles at an Iraqi base that housed Americans, but there were no casualties. However, fifty US soldiers required medical treatment for traumatic brain injury. Again, war was averted at the last minute. The tension was temporarily released.
But what will happen next time?
Unquestionably, there’s a growing sense of urgency. The clock is ticking. The crisis continues to brew. Major conflict looms in the Middle East. American sentiment is not optimistic. The American public expects the United States and Iran to go to war in the near future. According to a national opinion poll, 41 percent of adults in the United States consider Iran to be an “imminent threat,” up 17 points from a similar poll in May 2019. The poll also found “that 71 percent of Americans believe that the US will be at war with Iran within the next few years, up 20 points from May’s poll,” and that 27 percent of Americans are in favor of a “preemptive attack” or first strike on Iran’s military.11
Prophetic Flash Points
The United States and Iran, however, are far from alone in the surging showdown. The Middle East neighborhood has become very crowded in the last few years, increasing the chances and raising the stakes for a major regional conflict as nations and terror groups stake out their turf and jockey for position.
Saudi Arabia and Iran, close neighbors across the Persian Gulf, are mortal enemies and are at each other’s throats. They narrowly avoided war in September 2019 when twenty Iranian drones and cruise missiles obliterated the Saudi Aramco oil processing facility, the world’s largest, in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. The attack cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production in half, shaking global oil markets. Some Israeli strategists call this surprise attack the Middle East’s “Pearl Harbor.”12 Saudi Arabia seriously contemplated a military response but decided against it. For now.
In response to the attack, President Trump said, “Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, [and] are locked and loaded. . . . I’m not looking for war, and if there is, it’ll be obliteration like you’ve never seen before.”13 The United States deployed troops to Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2003, putting them in harm’s way of Iranian missiles. One careless move on either side could spark a response that sets the region aflame.
Iran is the puppet master for a growing list of loyal proxies, contracting out much of its dirty work to these surrogates who are entrenched all over the Middle East. Iran activates these insurgents when needed. Iran provides essential training, funds, and arms to its growing list of militias. Hezbollah, Iran’s most prominent proxy, is the tip of the spear for Iran. Hezbollah and Israel have traded blows and been on the verge of war for years, but one more reckless move on either side could ignite the tinder box. Iran’s other main proxy, Islamic Jihad in Gaza, fires rockets into Israel daily and stands ready to escalate its aggression at any time.
Underlying all of Iran’s aggression is a dark, apocalyptic religious ideology that’s deeply held by the mullahcracy that runs the nation. Their messianic belief in the return of the Mahdi, who they believe will come in time of warfare and bloodshed, fuels their reckless desire to spark a confrontation with the United States and Israel, activating the apocalypse.
Syria’s brutal civil war, raging since 2011, has pitted government loyalists against rebels. Iran has taken advantage of the conflict in Syria to move into the chaos. As the Syrian civil war rages on, Iran has leveraged instability there and in the rest of the Middle East to expand its footprint in the region.14 Iran has moved in and is constructing a huge military base in Syria, entrenching its presence and spreading its arc of influence to Israel’s northern doorstep.15 This presence affirms Iran’s long-term strategy remains unchanged—the destruction of the Jewish state.
Russian influence in the Middle East is deepening and expanding at the same time US influence is waning. Moscow seems to have its fingerprints in every Middle East nation to one degree or another. Most importantly, Russia has joined Iran in Syria, raising the anxiety level and potential danger for Israel.
Even Turkey, in alliance with Iran and Russia, has moved into Syria to attack the Kurds in an offensive called Operation Peace Spring. Russian and Turkish troops, working in concert, control a broad corridor in northeastern Syria. Turkey is also involved in Libya and Iraq, expanding its footprint.
As you can see, potential, prophetic flashpoints abound. The drumbeat of war reverberates through the Middle East. One wrong move could set off a firestorm. All signs point to an imminent conflict. A buildup is brewing. At the center of the showdown stands Iran. Tehran’s fingerprints can be found in the Strait of Hormuz, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Syria. Everyone knows war is coming to the Middle East. The showdown could become a shootout at any moment.
Israel in the Crosshairs
Meanwhile, Israel sits at the epicenter of the region watching alarming events unfold around them as Iran steadily besieges and encircles Israel in what’s called the “ring of fire.”16
Israel and Iran are squared off in a death struggle that threatens to spiral out of control. The noose is tightening around Israel as Iran is developing sophisticated missile technology and racing toward the nuclear finish line. An Israeli think tank warned that there’s a “growing risk of a large scale war along Israel’s northern border in the next year.”17
In Israel, the normal attitude of preparedness is quickly shifting to alarm. Israel knows it must act against Iran. Israel can’t let a nation that daily calls for its destruction get its hands on a nuclear missile. The winds of war are swirling. Storm clouds are gathering. Rumors of wars abound. Israel and Iran are on a collision course. War is coming. It’s not a matter of if but when. Referring to Iran and Israel, Seth Cropsey, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, says it bluntly, “War will come—if not now, then soon.”18
A steady stream of ominous world headlines underscores the snowballing showdown with Iran.
“The US-Iran Showdown,” Washington Post, June 21, 2019
“The Israel-Iran War Is Here,” Wall Street Journal, August 27, 2019
“Waist Deep and Sinking in the Middle East: We’re Now at War with Iran,” The Hill, January 4, 2020
“The Coming Middle East Conflagration,” Atlantic, November 4, 2019
“Trump and Iran May Be on a Collision Course, and It Could Get Scarier,” New York Times, June 19, 2019
“The Israel-Iran Shadow War Escalates and Breaks into the Open,” New York Times, August 29, 2019
“US and Iran on the Brink of War,” ABC News, January 5, 2020
“US-Iran Crisis: Pompeo Sends Chilling Warning to Iran—‘Time Is Running Out,’ ” Daily Express, August 13, 2019
“Iran Entrenches Its ‘Axis of Resistance’ Across the Middle East,” New Yorker, September 19, 2019
As New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman says, “Everyone is recalculating: The Iranians are emboldened, the Arabs are frightened, and Israel and Iran are one miscalculation away from a war of precision missiles that neither can afford.19 World leaders talk about restraint, diplomacy, and avoiding confrontation, but that can shift suddenly to a rush to war. A regional conflict can erupt at any moment. The countdown has begun. The countdown to conflict for sure . . . but could it also be a countdown to something even greater? A countdown to the prophesied apocalypse? Could what’s unfolding point toward the fulfillment of ancient prophecies found in the Bible?
What 's Next
What will happen next time the United States and Iran find themselves at the brink of war? Will war be postponed or pursued? Will the United States stand down again when the next Iranian provocation occurs, or will the United States unleash fury? In a US presidential election year, will Iran sense American reluctance to go to war?
Will an emboldened Iran interrupt the world’s oil supply by shutting down the narrow chokepoint known as the Strait of Hormuz through which 15 percent of the world’s oil supply moves every day, touching off a US military response? Will Iran use Hezbollah or Hamas (which occupies land situated on Israel’s southwest border) to provoke a confrontation with Israel?
Feeling more and more threatened, Israel has launched more than one thousand attacks on Iranian positions in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq in the last two years to contain Iran’s buildup. Iran won’t take this forever. It is deeply embedded all over the Middle East, biding its time to get even. Iran is itching to strike back against Israel.
At any moment, Israel may feel compelled to launch a preemptive, “preventive” strike against Iran to prevent it from gaining sophisticated missile capability and crossing the nuclear finish line. If Israel senses that something ominous is at hand, a preemptive strike such as the one in June 1967 against Egypt, initiating the Six-Day War, could be repeated against Iran. Israel faces an existential threat from Iran. She might act despite knowing that a preemptive strike against Iran raises the specter of a protracted and punishing regional war.20
At any point, the Russian bear could lose patience and assemble its allies to overrun the Middle East, putting Israel in the crosshairs. Iran could leverage its military presence in Syria and its numerous well-armed militias to launch an assault against Israel.
The biblical prophets tell us that war is coming to the Middle East.
We’re witnessing the buildup.
But what’s the next move?
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