A Miracle in Our Times?
As I am landing in New York on my return flight from Israel – sadly, I should add; I really would have liked to remain longer in the center of the world – President Obama is authorizing the U.S. military to launch air strikes against ISIS militant terrorists in Iraq if they threatened the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and airlift emergency humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Yazidi minority civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar, both in northern Iraq.
President Obama, who ran for office on a platform of ending U.S. military hostilities in Iraq, the “dumb war” in Iraq, now is saying that “when many thousands of innocent civilians are in danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to help, we will take action.”
The key reason for this authorization is that the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the Middle East region) as the State Department is lately calling it, has made major advances in northern Iraq in the past week. ISIS has swept into territory it had previously barely approached, posing a serious threat to American interests in Iraq and creating a major humanitarian crisis.
What struck me was the uncanny timing of this action: Just as Israel is coming off a month of defending itself against attacks from Hamas in Gaza, America sees it necessary to attack ISIS in their pursuit of establishing a Caliphate in the Middle East.
Hamas and ISIS (as well as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and other Islamic terrorist groups) have very similar objectives (obviously with their own variations).
Here is Wikipedia’s definition of ISIS, followed by their definition of Hamas (without the footnotes):
The Islamic State (IS) (Arabic: ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is a jihadist group, widely regarded as a terrorist organisation. In its self-proclaimed status as a caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims across the world and aspires to bring much of the Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its direct political control, beginning with territory in the Levant region, which includes Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, and an area in southern Turkey that includes Hatay. The group has been officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, and has been widely described as a terrorist group by Western and Middle Eastern media sources, including Amnesty International.
And their definition of Hamas:
Hamas (Arabic: amas, “enthusiasm”, an acronym of arakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah) is a Palestinian Sunni Islamic organization, with an associated military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere in the Middle East including Qatar. Hamas or its military wing is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt, Australia, and Japan. It is not considered a terrorist organization by Iran, Russia, Turkey, China, South Africa, and many Arab nations.
Based on the principles of Islamism gaining momentum throughout the Arab world in the 1980s, Hamas was founded in 1987 (during the First Intifada) as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Co-founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin stated in 1987, and the Hamas Charter affirmed in 1988, that Hamas was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas opposes the recognition of Israel and is committed to its destruction. However, it stated it may accept a 10-year truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders and allows Palestinian refugees from 1948, as well as their descendants, to return to what is now Israel.
How serendipitous is it that just as Israel is reeling from a barrage of rocket launches from above and terror tunnels from below, ISIS succeeds in advancing on Iraq, catching everyone by surprise (“more rapid” than intelligence officials predicted, in President Obama’s words) and provoking the U.S. to intervene militarily?
An Emerging Pattern
The plot thickens.
When you consider the timing of these events and their geographical location it is difficult to deny a mysterious choreography unfolding:
All this is taking place just as we conclude Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar when we remember and relive the destruction of what…of Israel, Jerusalem and the Holy Temple by whom…the Babylonians (2436 years ago) and the Romans (1946 years ago).
What are the odds that in the exact same location where Babylon attacked Israel 24 centuries ago, similar battles are being waged in Babylon (modern day Iraq) and Israel today, with the objective of destroying the Jewish nation (G-d forbid) today (as well as other religions) just as Babylon tried doing back then?!
The plot thickens further: As Israel is under attack both physically by Hamas and diplomatically by the most of the world – thundering criticism at Israel’s “disproportionate” response in defending itself against missiles launched and terrorist activities on its innocent civilians; as Israel is perhaps suffering its own identity crisis, struggling between a nation united in its resolve to eliminate terror, and its “apologetic” and “defensive” mode of needing to explain itself and keeping on being contrite over its right to defend itself, to the extent that Israel keeps agreeing to “cease fires” and “negotiations” with an entity that is calling for its… destruction (a ludicrous non-starter in any type of discussion) – as all these attacks and confusion is consuming the Promised Land, out of the blue something totally unexpected happens that provides us with blatant clarity.
With all this turmoil taking place in the Holy Land, some 500 miles to the east, at the same exact time, modern day Babylon is being ripped apart by Sunni Muslims (ISIS is Sunni) vs. Shiites (the majority of Iraq), causing the Western World to get involved in the battle – backed by the moral claim that we must prevent genocide.
In the president’s words: “Let me be clear about why we must act now. When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help, in this case a request from the Iraqi government, and when we have the unique capabilities to help avoid a massacre, I believe the U.S. cannot turn a blind eye. We can act, carefully and responsibly to stop an act of genocide. That is what we are doing on that mountain…Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, ‘There is no one coming to help.’ Well today, America is coming to help. We’re also consulting with other countries — and the United Nations — who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.”
Now let me ask you this Mr. President: These exact same words – this exact same reason -being used to attack ISIS brutal objectives in Iraq can be applied to the Hamas militants, which you have also labeled “terrorists,” who are attacking a peace-loving Israel and calling for its annihilation. So why don’t you – and all our Europeans allies – launch air strikes against Hamas?
And if you suggest that the obvious answer is because Israel has its own powerful military (which we must rightfully and thankfully acknowledge is being supported by the U.S.) – then why is Europe and the UN up in arms about Israel’s right to defend itself? How, pray tell, is Hamas attack on Israeli civilians different than ISIS attack on Iraqi (and Syrian) civilians?
The answer is equally obvious: For the same reason that the UN and many countries unceasingly condemn Israel, while basically ignoring all other atrocities. Here are some figures for context: From 2006 through 2013, Israel has been subjected to 45 UN condemnation resolutions. No other nation in the world comes close. From 1947 to 1991, there were about 300 anti-Israel General Assembly resolutions against Israel. In 2012, there were 22 GA resolutions specifically against Israel, while there were only four for the rest of the world combined!
Abba Eban once famously said: If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.
The reason that those condemning Israel are rallying behind bombing ISIS is simply due to…anti-Semitism. In Iraq the attack is against Christians and Muslims, while in Israel the attack is against Jews.
Yes, let’s call a spade a spade: The elephant in the room, my friends, is anti-Semitism. That virulent hatred ingrained in European culture from its inception in the Christian/Roman Empire 2000 years ago.
So in such circumstances, what does the Cosmic Choreographer pull off? He orchestrates that just as Israel is under attack in so many different ways, the leader of the Western World and the most powerful country on Earth – the president of the United States – declares the need to wage war against ISIS terrorists, the close cousin of Hamas terrorists, in the name of morality and humanitarianism.
Just as His chosen land is in crisis, the Divine Hand, which directs the “heart of kings and leaders” (see Proverbs 21:1), plants the idea in our leaders minds and hearts to make a military move in Babylon, in these days following Tisha B’Av, focusing on and placing in glaring contrast the attacks in Israel to the attacks in Iraq!
Back to the Future
And if that’s not enough, consider this:
Av (this Hebrew month when the Temples were destroyed), which consists of the two Hebrew letters Alef Bet, is an acronym for Edom Bavel (so writes the Shaloh). Edom refers to the Roman Empire, which stems from Esau (Edom), the ones who destroyed the second Temple and exiled the Jewish people in this long, close to 2000-year,exile, called Galut Edom. Bavel is the Babylonian Empire, which destroyed the first Temple.
In time, the Roman Empire morphed into the Christian Kingdom (after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century), and Babylon became Muslim (in the 7th century). Both the Roman/Western/Christian world and the Muslim/Arab world trace their roots to the children of Abraham – Esau and Ishmael respectively.
In a series of articles written after 9/11, I elaborated on the historical roots of today’s conflicts in the home of Abraham, and how that later evolved into the battles and holy wars in the Middle Ages, centering around Jerusalem and the Holy Land, setting the stage and leading up to today’s clash of civilizations. In those essays I also cited Biblical, Talmudic and Midrashic sources describing the complex relationship between the Western/Christian world and the Islamic world, based on, what must have been, a feisty (not sure if that’s the right word to use) wedding day between Esau and Ishmael’s daughter.
This love-hate relationship between part of the West with the Arab/Islam world, including the Western world’s appetite – addiction, actually – to Arab oil, only complicates matters, fluctuating between a nervous calm to full-blown hostility.
Now we are witnessing the Beit (ISIS in Babylon) terrorizing the Alef (Christians in Syria, Iraq and anywhere they may be found), provoking a response of the Alef (Edom) striking back at the Beit, in Babylon – all transpiring in these days following Tisha B’Av, when both the Alef and the Beit destroyed the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, only to be transformed with the full moon of Av, as we enter these Seven Weeks of Comfort, when we rise from the ashes of the Temple’s destruction and begin rebuilding Jerusalem and Israel.
Who would believe that we would be witnessing today in the 21st century a militant group threatening their innocent neighbors: Either convert or be killed. Are we back in the Middle Ages? Indeed we are. When you trace the historical roots of these battles, it becomes clear that today’s wars are a replay of wars being fought for generations.
We must always remember: The driving ethos of Muslim radical fundamentalism – militant jihad – is, as Bin Laden declared 13 years ago: the religious battle against the decadent West – a battle to vanquish the “crusaders” who together with the “Zionists” are at war with G-d’s plan for Muslim dominance (see By the Rivers of Babylon). Parallel that with the words of Abu Mosa, a spokesman for ISIS: “I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established. Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, G-d willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”
Can we ever win an ideological and religious battle with mere arms and fire-power?
Thus the only long term solution will be a radical paradigm shift in the Muslim world; a change in their education system, what they teach and preach to their children and constituents (just listen to an average Friday sermon in mosques in the Middle East and Europe): Just as Christian aggression and Holy Crusades were ultimately tamed, yielding today a tolerant and compassionate Western world (some countries more than other), with the United States as a shining example of religious freedom and champion of personal rights (with the obvious qualification that there is room to grow, but one cannot compare the state of affairs today to that of the Middle Ages), so too Islam has to mature into a tamed force of love and virtue, living up to the ethos of Abraham, “father of all nations,” that we pray for infidels (Sodom), not behead them (see How to Treat Infidels, Zealots, Radicals and Peaceand Religious Selfishness).
It’s fascinating (and painful) to witness how things have evolved (or devolved) over the past thirteen years since September 11, 2001. At 13 years, bar mitzvah, one attains a level of maturity that should allow us to see things with deeper clarity empowering us to actually decisively win these battles instead of just putting out fires.
It’s high time for America and the Western world to grow up and realize that this is not some video game or a fictional film about Cowboys and Indians or superheroes and villains. This is a real historical and religious war, which must be fought not just with armies (to defend the innocent, and for short term relief) but with ideas, minds, education and ideology.
A Miracle in Our Times?
All this was going through my mind driving from JFK following my return flight from the Middle East of the Middle East – Israel.
With all that is happening now – with startling parallels that cannot be denied, in this time of the year, in this part of the world – one cannot help but wonder: Are we witnessing G-d’s miraculous hand in all these events? Is this a modern-day revelation happening right before our very eyes? A wake-up call to help us understand the true nature of these battles, so that we can strategize accordingly?
Obviously, we would prefer a miracle that would not cost any lives and casualties; a miracle that would protect people from fear and displacement; one that would bring permanent peace to all people in that region and in the entire world.
But barring that (obviously G-d wants us to bring the peace), the next best miracle is: Clarity. To see events for what they truly are, and not some delusional image, which may make us feel momentarily comfortable, but is simply not true. And if it’s not true, the chickens will come home to roost (G-d forbid).
It’s hard to see the forest for the trees. But at times we are shown signs. In this case, all you need to do is step back a bit and observe these coinciding events, and the time period in which they are taking place – and it doesn’t take much to connect the dots and see the emerging patterns.
The End of the Story
But where is all this leading us?
If these battles have been raging for centuries, and they are ideological and religious in nature, where does that leave us? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel (and not of an oncoming train)?
The good news is that by understanding the roots of these conflicts, by studying the history of Abraham and his progeny, we also learn about the end story.
In the face of passionate beliefs, we cannot afford to be passive bystanders, complacent and reactive; negative rage, extremism and beliefs can only be countered with positive fervor – an equal if not stronger, passionate embrace of our inner values.
We must stand resolute in our relentless pursuit of creating a better world; unwavering in our faith and commitment to fight for morality and virtue. We cannot allow anything to daunt us. This force of will determination is the only power that can vanquish the negative forces of aggression and (misguided) faith, which terrorize the world.
And the end of the story?
In the words of the Midrash (Yalkut, Isaiah remez 499):
The King of Poros (Ishmael, as the Maharal explains) will bring destruction to the entire world, and all the nations will be outraged and confused… and Jews will be outraged and confused and say: where shall we come and go, where shall we come and go? G-d will answer them: My children, do not be afraid. Everything I have done, I have done for you. Why are you afraid, do not fear, the time of your Redemption has arrived…