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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.