Migiddos — Part 1?

April 30, 2011

The Scriptures picture the final battle of good and evil happening in a real place because many real battles have happened on that spot. The place is Megiddo,  a city — ancient even in Biblical times — that controls a pass through the Judean Hills (Carmel Range) to connect the coastal plain to the Jezreel Valley and on to the Upper (Northern) Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. In a broader geographic sense, this pass controls a key choke point on a critical transport route between the Nile civilizations and those of the Upper Euphrates.

One Pharaoh referred to the city’s importance thusly: “Taking Megiddo is like capturing a thousand cities.” And so, not surprisingly, control of the city was contested again and again, with the winners repeatedly (more than two dozen times) rebuilding on top of their ruined conquest.

Joshua fought there. Solomon erected fortifications there. King Josiah died there, and there were multiple Egyptian or Assyrian conquests in between.  It became a garrison for chariots — the heavy armor of the ancient world — to be able to quickly deploy into either the Jazreel Valley or move south toward the Sharon Plain, lowland areas where battle maneuvers were possible.

Military technology and tactics change, but transport routes last as long as the cities they connect do. More than two thousand years later, Megiddo was still fought over by the British Empire and the German-Ottoman alliance in WW1.

British General Allenby had been tasked to drive the Ottomans and their German allies from Palestine even as other British forces pressed on the Ottomans from out of British India.  Striking out of Gaza, Allenby succeeded in capturing Jerusalem in an offensive that set the red battleline shown in the adjacent map. But at that point, the offensive had become stalemated, because Allenby was forced by higher command to give up several of his divisions and nearly all of his new-fangled tanks to support more critical battles in the European theater. Allenby would show that it was still possible to completely destabilize a battlefield before it settled into the grinding trench warfare of Europe.

The 20th Century Battle of Migiddo would be fought on a front dozens of miles wide and at a speed Joshua could not comprehend. Military technology, particularly the railroads and the biplanes Allenby got in exchange for his infantry divisions. extended the battlefield from the Mediterranean to Damascus. Using an elaborate deception plan to draw Ottoman attention to Allenby’s right, Allenby struck along the Med coast with his cavalry, and then struck into the Jazreel from the west. The Turks tried to retreat from the Carmel Range before they could be trapped, whereupon Allenby’s planes caught the retreating forces in transit and decimated them from the air. Arabs in rebellion pretty well finished the battle, with some 75,000 Ottoman and German troops lost.

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History ought to show us, then, that the Second Coming doesn’t have to occur in order for there to be another Battle of Megiddo.  Military technology and the special place of the Middle East in the modern economy and, consequently,  in geopolitics should draw our attention there. What is happening in the Mid-East right now is much more important to the world’s economy and chances for peace than much of what the American politically-obsessed media highlights. Should another war break out, missiles and interpenetrated civilian populations would involve all of the areas on these maps and beyond as part of the battlefield. Battleplans like Allenby’s are already in place on both sides; a few weeks ago the Israelis published a detailed map of Hezbollah emplacements in Lebanese civilian areas as a warning to the international community of likely civilian death tolls if civilians could not or would not flee when fighting broke out. But it is a truism of war that “no battleplan survives contact with the enemy.”

As I noted in a post on the Civil War Prophecy here on Wheat and Tares at the beginning of the month the speed and unpredictability of events since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” keeps outracing the ability of diplomats and analysts to direct. What began as a movement for personal dignity, economic justice, and rights against autocracy has evolved into a multiplayer game of actors and reactors who are producing twists nobody particularly intended. Some of these actors are states; others are intra-state actors or organizations acknowledging no borders.

Things are changing daily. For that reason, until and unless things settle down, I intend to add frequent updates on events so that this becomes, in effect, a multi-part post. For the moment, I’ll simply identify the strategic and operational military constraints tugging on the various major state players, as reported by sources such as Stratfor or Debka. I have found these sources to be the first to report things that appear on the main newscasts or print media only a week or two later.

Saudi Arabia:

The Saudis are Sunni; their oil wealth lies in provinces to the south and east where a significant portion of the population is Shia. There is no more fundamental divide within the Muslim world, and in any period in which the identity of the Muslim world is being debated, that difference can become far more important than relationships with other non-Muslim cultures. The Saudis have seen their position suddenly eroded by the fall of Mubarak, and fighting in Yemen. They have expressed disdain for US Administration naivety about what is happening in the Sunni world, especially in comparison to how it has responded to events in Iran (Saudi Arabia’s Shia arch-enemy) and Iran’s ally, Syria. The Saudis believe that the Iranians have fomented rebellion among the Shia in the Gulf as part of an overall attempt for hegemony, and have decided to take a stand.

They have intervened with troops in neighboring Bahrain to crush a Shiite rebellion in that country before it got out of hand. To do this, they have apparently signed a secret treaty to annex Bahrain, with the consent of the Bahrain ruling family, as a fourteenth Saudi province. (The Bahraini King becomes the legal equivalent of a Saudi Prince.)

Whether they have become more actively involved with supporting the uprising against the Syrian regime in retaliation is not yet clear. Syria has been heavily involved in setting up smuggling routes to get weapons into both Gaza and Lebanon to use against the Israelis for years; smuggling routes can run both ways, and the Syrians were concerned enough last week to hold up thousands of trucks on all of their borders for full searches to keep weapons from reaching the protesters. The Saudis have more reason to want instability in Syria than the Israelis do right now, they have better contacts with the smugglers, and financing behind the scenes is what they do better than direct confrontation.

Iran:

Iran believed that the 2009 riots against its government were inspired by Western or Israeli agents. Whether or not they were right, and whether or not they have actually been involved in Bahrain, there are now serious pressures for Iran to respond to the Saudi-thrown gauntlet. There are reports that, because of questions about the loyalty of  Sunni soldiers, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, with experience in crushing the Tehran rebellion in 2009 have been sent in to help the Syrian 4th Division (led by Assad’s brother) as the tanks go in to the cities to fire on protesters.

Iranian officials have been noting that intervention by Saudi Arabia to protect Sunnis provides ample justification for intervention by Iran to protect Shiites. Iran may not have the Navy or Air Force to take on the better equipped Saudis across the Gulf (with the US Fifth Fleet present), but at least one analyst has pointed out that Iran, in concert with a dominated Iraq after American withdrawal, has more than enough land forces to repeat the 1991 conquest of Kuwait and not stop there. This imbalance in population means that the Saudis could as easily decide that, without American military backing, drastic measures — anywhere from preemptive war, to capitulation to Iranian hememony, to hiring Pakistani divisions as “paid allies” to be a land army — could be required over the next several years  even if the Iranians don’t move first.

Syria:

Syria is of more immediate concern to Iran, both because of its possible loss as an ally and its connection to clients  in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Gaza (Hamas). Further, it can not allow the toppling of a regime that might reignite its own democracy movement in Tehran. Decisions will be made — perhaps before you read this post — that will determine whether Syria comes apart in a civil war like Libya.

Syria’s most fundamental problem in crushing the revolt has been doubts about the reliability of its Army; there is no doubt now about Assad’s willingness to be brutal. Only the 4th Division is composed of soldiers considered reliable because they belong to Assad’s minority sect. Assad hesitated for several weeks, and Debka indicated that the operation to send tanks into the cities was aborted at least once. That die has now been cast, and no one has any idea what happens next.  But destabilization of Lebanon is now a possibility just when it seemed that Syria had brought the country back into its orbit through Hezbollah.

Turkey:

Turkey has been eying resuming a more prominent role in the Islamic world as a legitimate alternative to Iran since Islamic parties achieved electoral dominance and brought the Turkish military to heel. It has moved slowly away from its position as a bridge between Islam and the West toward a less secular orientation than it has held since the aftermath of WW1. As such, its relations with Iran have strengthened and relations with Israel have worsened, particularly after the latter’s war with Hamas and the violence of the attempts to break the Gaza blockade in which several Turkish citizens were killed.

As the situation in Syria has worsened, the threat of instability on its own borders (i.e., a renewed Kurdish threat) and any direct intervention of Iran in Syria seems to have caused Turkey to reassess its position. The Obama Administration and the Israelis appear to have had back channel negotiations underway with the Turks until this week.  These might have resulted in repaired Turkish-Israeli relations that would forestall another flotilla incident looming this spring. All three parties were stunned when the Egyptians and the Palestinians trumped their efforts on April 27 and effectively ended the peace process on which the Americans and Europeans  had pinned their hopes for quieting the Mid-East since the Obama Administration took office.

Egypt:

Egypt has passed into “last month’s” revolution, but events continue to unfold here that go beyond the fate of the country itself. The bulk of the Egyptian government is concerned with internal stability in a competition with the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter swept the young, Westernized “democrats” off the stage rather easily and are trying to attack remaining members of the regime for corruption.

Interestingly, the corruption being most eagerly addressed has to do with construction and operation of  a gas pipeline that supplies 30% of Israel’s natural gas. The pipeline itself has now been blown open by armed attacks twice since the revolution, and Israel has allowed Egyptian troops to deploy further troops (above treaty limits) into the Sinai for the pipeline’s protection. The Brotherhood seems to be using the Israeli connections as a way to further drive a wedge between the people and the army prior to national elections.

But there is an additional wildcard: with the Egyptian government largely concerned with domestic affairs, the Foreign Minister Nabil Alaraby, who is sympathetic to armed resistance by Hamas, has had a free hand to act. The Egyptians have reduced efforts to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza and announced plans to open their border to Gaza entirely. This is so despite reports that Libyan rebels have sold chemical weapons to Hamas captured from Quadaffi’s stores in the first heady days of their revolution in exchange for weapons they actually had a chance to use successfully. The Egyptians also opened the Suez Canal to Iranian military shipping for the first time since the Iranian revolution. The Iranians and Syrians promptly announced an agreement to build an Iranian naval base on the Syrian Mediterranean coast, and the Israelis promptly traced and captured a shipload of heavy weapons that the Iranians dropped off in Syria as they were being smuggled back to Alexandria, Egypt after transshipment to Europe. Talk about tangled webs!

But the most strategically important move made by Alaraby was this week’s cementing of a Palestinian Unity government largely on Hamas’ terms in the battle for control of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority will release hundreds of Hamas prisoners it held on the West Bank after it captured them following Hamas’ violent expulsion of the PA (I think throwing PA fighters off the top of multistory buildings qualifies as violent!) from Gaza in 2007. Hamas has already said it will never negotiate with Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist, and Israel has always made that a precondition for any negotiations to even begin. Security and any economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will end immediately. Termination of American funding for the Palestinian Authority will probably follow shortly, forced by a bi-partisan block in the US Congress.

Israel:

Israel has regarded its major strategic threat to be Iran. Strategic planning has focused on the looming, balance-of-power-changing introduction of Iranian nuclear weapons into the equation. This is not because the Iranians are expected to launch nukes at Israel. Instead, it is because such nukes could deter Israel from the kind of violent assaults on Hezbollah weaponry necessary to defeat conventional rocket assault on Israel.

Before Operation Cast Lead, the last war between Israel, some 8000 mortar and rockets were fired — one or two each day — at largely agricultural and residential areas. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know Israeli intelligence expects Hezbullah to launch 400-600 missiles per day, including 100 on Tel Aviv, in any future war. They expect that suppression of that barrage will require two months. That’s 6000 missiles on the Israeli capital from Hezbollah alone. It does not include contributions of larger, longer-range missiles from Syria or Iran, or a rapidly expanding weaponry from Hamas. Thus,  such a war would quickly eclipse today’s protest casualties in Syria or the fighting in Libya.

The potential switch from a cold peace with Egypt to even a cold war with an Egypt no longer interfering with Hamas arming with such weaponry has stunned Israel. It must now redeploy forces in anticipation of a much greater threat on its “southern front” if war breaks out in the North. There was already a brief round of fighting several weeks ago after Hamas used a guided anti-tank missile against an Israeli school bus completing its delivery of students home in the afternoon.

Should Egypt become a confrontational state, then Israel would face the same manpower disadvantage that the Saudis face against Iran. The great contribution to stability of the peace between Israel and Egypt was that of the state’s bordering Israel, only Egypt had the manpower large enough to destroy Israel by winning conventional battle.

Israel — or the West in general — has not begun to adjust to the changing strategic reality.

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The geopolitical tectonic plates continue to shift. I really, really wish I didn’t think I was going to need to write a Megiddos — Part 2 post very soon.

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14 Responses to Migiddos — Part 1?

  1. Dan on April 30, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    so wait, are you suggesting that the “Arab Spring” is really the beginning of the end of all civilizations?

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  2. FireTag on April 30, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    I am suggesting that so much military instability in an area that is a central focus of the world economy can quite easily lead to violence on a scale unimaginable just a few months ago and we ought to be paying attention to that region right now A LOT.

    You are entitled to mock if you predicted three months ago that Italy would be conducting air strikes in Libya this week.

    Both scriptural literalists, which I think you’ve said you are, and good democrats, which I know you are, should be especially concerned. Oil shocks aren’t good for economic recoveries in general, and war-related oil shocks aren’t good for anybody, period.

    The point is there is absolutely nothing in the Scriptures or history to suggest the oil wealth of the middle east won’t be fought over again EVEN if it is NOT yet the day when peace shall be taken from the earth.

    Hence, the title: Megiddos (plural).

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  3. Mike S on April 30, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    But I thought it was going to be Russia we fought in the Final Battle:

    “We can assume, however, that the United States, as the defender of freedom in all the world, will head one coalition, and that Russia, whose avowed aim is to destroy freedom in all nations, will head the enemies of God.”
    Bruce R McConkie, The Millennial Messiah

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  4. Dan on April 30, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Frankly I think we should STOP paying attention to that region. But that’s a pipe dream because we need their oil.

    I’m not necessarily mocking (thankfully because I did not predict three months ago that Italy would be conducting air strikes in Libya this week), I’m just saying, can we look at this region of the world without the biblical context? Or am I reading a bit more into your post because our general view of the middle east is strongly tainted by our Christian cultural upbringing? I mean, I remember in 2006 during the Lebanon War how much a certain segment of our population was looking forward to the Second Coming because Israel was bombing Lebanon. Thing is though Megiddo is not strategically important anymore. Not in the modern context. Thus a war would not occur there, necessarily, or at least, if a battle happens there, it will not be the focus of the war.

    But now here’s the crux of the nature of your post. You’re talking about oil wars in a city in the state of Israel, which doesn’t have oil. If there are wars to be fought between the various countries in the Middle East (leaving aside foreign nations to the region), it’s not going to be over oil. Outside nations (like the US, Russia, China, India, Brazil, European Union) will only be involved because of oil.

    Essentially, what I am saying is that your post is highly bleak about the situation, only highlighting the worst case scenarios. I think, for instance, that while Egyptians on the whole don’t care at all about Israel, and may state they want that treaty ended, they wouldn’t get into a situation where millions of lives would be lost. That goes the same for Iranians (who are quite level headed and strategic when it comes to international relations). You’re putting far too much doom and gloom into the equation, preying on our fears more than anything.

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  5. Dan on April 30, 2011 at 9:49 AM

    “We can assume, however, that the United States, as the defender of freedom in all the world, will head one coalition, and that Russia, whose avowed aim is to destroy freedom in all nations, will head the enemies of God.”
    Bruce R McConkie, The Millennial Messiah

    Ah, defender of freedom….

    I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
    Henry A. Kissinger

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  6. FireTag on April 30, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Dan:

    Bro, I’ve always thought you were insufficiently paranoid for your own good. :D

    What bothers me is that I start to get the same answers if I didn’t KNOW about the biblical context, the BofM context, or the fact that the first section of the D&C talks about the Restoration as being motivated by the need to warn the people about the calamity coming on the Earth. (I sure appreciated the Weather Channel Radar tracking storms this week so I had up-to-the-minute info on where the tornadoes might break out in my area!)

    The end times context is part of the psychology with which fundamentalists of ALL the religions involved play. The “divine right to rule” is even more dangerous when it is held by someone in the Middle East than when it is held by a KKK racist in the United States. Ignoring its existence is as unrealistic as wishing we didn’t need the oil in the first place.

    Now of course the Biblical writers are looking at battles from how they understand the impacts on Israel. They aren’t giving us the historical context, which we get from other sources, about how Megiddo affected and was produced by the larger battles between the various empires of the MidEast. So I wanted to point out, by using the World War 1 example, that the effect of military technology is to enlarge and speed up the battlefield. A new “Battle of Megiddo” even if NOT the last one spoken about in the Scriptures encompasses the whole map shown and beyond almost immediately. We’ve managed to kill millions in wars in the past half century when economic interests impacting the entire world were NOT involved.
    Nobody planned World War 1 in the first place — except a few anarchists, maybe — but you shouldn’t light matches in dynamite plants. If you did take the time to download the Hezbollah bunker link in the OP from the Washington Post, you’ll see the kind of hell on earth that could be unleashed on just one side of one small front of a general mideast war.

    Military science changes over time, but some basic principles remain. The problems that keep the Libyan rebels from taking out Tripoli are exactly the same terrain and supply problems faced when Montgomery and Rommel slogged it out there 70 years ago.

    The potential for conflict between Sunni and Shia; rich and poor; Muslim fundamentalist, Muslim moderate, and Muslim autocrat; Muslim and Jew: the West and the East; etc, are lenses that magnify heat into fire here. Jerusalem is a Holy site to the combatants and in religious wars (which any large war in a Muslim context MUST be, as they don’t apologize for being religious and don’t understand why any Western system would) holy sites have strategic value at least as high as national capitals.

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  7. FireTag on April 30, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Mike:

    Regardless of statements by church leaders and the political right in the past, the Scriptures themselves don’t say that the US will head the “good side”, to my knowledge. Any presumption of such an outcome would require a complete conversion of the bulk of the US to the gospel as Jesus (not necessarily any other human) Himself understood it, which no one, right or left, is arguing has actually been achieved.

    The more conventional understanding in evangelical circles is EVERYBODY gangs up on Israel. Those who include the BofM prophecies see the Lamanites recognizing a Jewish kinship as part of that final battle process, of course.

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  8. FireTag on April 30, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Today’s update from Debka:

    http://debka.com/article/20887/

    “After shelling, tank assaults and siege left 100 protesters dead in the last 48 hours without quelling the unrest, Western intelligence sources believe it has careered beyond President Bashar Assad’s ability to hold the menace to his regime at bay – and estimate shared by Ankara. It is likely to keep on spreading and evolve into armed rebellion. Those sources estimate the uprising as already encompassing 6-7 million Syrians (out of a population of 26 million) and a third of its area….US President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday April 29 imposing sanctions on members of the Assad family for brutality against civilian protesters after learning that pro-Iranian officers and intelligence chiefs within the ruling family and top military command were conspiring to overthrow President Bashar Assad. They accuse him of being too slow and too soft (sic) in suppressing the popular uprising and are pushing for more direct Iranian intervention before it develops into a full-blown armed rebellion….Iranian sources name their Iranian contact as Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who has set up a secret operational base close to the Syrian border – either in Iraq or Lebanon – to keep Iran’s hand on developments in Syria and watch out for a military coup in Damascus. These events prompted the US president to link Syrian and Iranian intelligence for the first time in a single executive order.”

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  9. Stephen Marsh on April 30, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    They accuse him of being too slow and too soft (sic) in suppressing the popular uprising and are pushing for more direct Iranian intervention before it develops into a full-blown armed rebellion

    Well, that throws some light on some public statements made by others in the regime.

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  10. FireTag on April 30, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    Already a follow-up on debka.com on implications of the NATO attempt to kill Col Q with a missile that killed his youngest son and three grandchildren instead.

    Debka’s conclusions:

    The fact that NATO could target a home where the Col and his wife were present with family means his intelligence services have been deeply penetrated and tends to confirm rumors that knowledgeable insiders of the regime have secretly defected.

    The UN did not authorize things beyond protection of civilians; the attack must generally then be justified under a VERY liberal interpretation of taking out command and control structures. Probably not a war crime, but something that a lot of members on the security council will object to strenuously. Targeting the chief of state represents a VERY SERIOUS ESCALATION, with serious blowback if it doesn’t work, and unknown consequences if it had. Remember that Austrian Archduke.

    The Colonel has specifically threatened Italy with punishment today for allowing NATO to use its air bases, and he can now turn his African networks (currently engaged in smuggling him arms and mercs) to striking NATO civilian or diplomatic targets in Africa.

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  11. Morgan D on May 1, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    Great post Firetag. Modern technology shrinking the Earth and expanding the battlfield is a major part of my argument in the BoM supporting pre-emptive war.

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  12. FireTag on May 1, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    Thank you, Morgan. I hope the reference to pre-emptive war does not come into play.

    As Hezbollah was rearming after the last war, Israel threatened to attack Lebanon AND Syria if certain Iranian heavy missile systems (ones capable of reaching all of Israel) crossed the Syrian border into Lebanon. In one of these back door gentlemen’s understandings between Syria and Israel that tend to reduce Mid-east wars considerably (as when Israel blew up a covert nuclear reactor complex and the Syrians pretended not to notice for a couple of months) the weapons ended up on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Lebanon border under control of the Syrian division held as the strategic reserve.

    Debka is today (May 1) reporting that the situation in Syria is deteriorating so rapidly that Hezbollah no longer considers that division (the 11th) reliable and is preparing to move those missiles out of their depots and risk shipping them to Lebanon NOW rather than risk losing them to the rebellion.

    The Iranian/Hezbollah authorities apparently believe Israel will not dare risk attacking the missiles so that Assad could use the nationalist impulse to reunite the Army.

    The evolving situation keeps seeing parties to take greater and greater gambles.

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  13. FireTag on June 29, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    Time for an update on a British Foreign Ministry announcement today:

    http://debka.com/article/21075/

    “Iran has secretly tested nuclear-capable missiles – UK Foreign Secretary”

    The article summarizes a series of military movements by the US, and counter military moves by Iran, that indicate rising tensions between the nations.

    The potential flash point is NOT the Iranian nuke program itself, but the civil strife within Iran’s key client state Syria, which is spilling over through a refugee stream into Turkey, a NATO ally of the US. Turkey previously had good relations with Syria and bad relations with Israel, but over the last fortnight has been strongly signalling a switch of sides to an anti-Assad posture.

    If the fighting in NW Syria continues, tensions will continue to rise. The most reassuring sign would be the movement of the USS Enterprise away from the Syrian coast and back toward the Central Med toward Western Libya.

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  14. [...] wrote about how the nations in the region were aligning last spring, but it’s time for an update in light of the past week’s [...]

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