“Where is the Lamb for the Burnt Offering?”

October 2011

You might say that Israel seems to be in a tight spot right now.  Israel’s already tough Middle East neighborhood is only getting tougher.

Egypt, renown for its “cold peace” with Israel since the Camp David accords in 1978, appears to be developing into more of a foe than an ally.  With the Egyptian people’s popular overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak this past February, the new “democratic” Egypt has allowed, or been powerless to stop, a spate of anti-Israel attacks.  For example, a cooperative pipeline exporting and selling Egyptian natural gas to Israel has been sabotaged and disrupted six times since Mubarak’s downfall.  With the gas flow currently cut off, the Egyptian army, the country’s de facto authority, is now renegotiating a new contract with Israel that will significantly increase prices.

In June, a dual Israeli-U.S. citizen and law student at Emory University, Ilan Grapel, was detained by Egyptian authorities and accused of being an Israeli spy.  Grapel had been in Egypt on an Emory grant for a summer internship with Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services, a non-governmental organization.  Over four months later, Egypt still holds Grapel in an undisclosed location, while U.S. officials work for his release.  The Egyptian government is said to be planning his release in exchange for U.S. concessions.

August 18th witnessed a brazen terrorist attack by more than twenty Palestinian militants from Gaza who entered Israel via Egypt, shooting up Israeli vehicles and buses, leaving eight dead and many wounded.  In response to Israel’s pursuit of the militants across the border of Egypt that allegedly resulted in the death of six Egyptian police officers, thousands of Egyptians converged on the Israeli embassy in Cairo, pulling down the Israeli flag.  September 9th saw a more overwhelming assault on the embassy, as the mob broke into the building, ransacking rooms and tossing Israeli documents out the windows without the deterrence of Egyptian forces.  The Israeli ambassador and staff fled the country.

While Egypt has only had relations with Israel for just over three decades, Turkey on the other hand was the first Muslim nation to recognize the state of Israel in 1949.  Since then, the Israeli-Turkish relationship has, for the most part, been consistently strong with both economic and military collaboration.  Turkey had been the most popular vacation destination for Israelis during the past decade until the Gaza War at the end of 2008.  Since that military incursion into Gaza to end the constant barrage of Hamas missiles upon Israeli towns, Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Israel have hit an all-time low.  Specifically, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan has become an outspoken critic of Israel’s blockade of Gaza’s Hamas terrorist government.

Since the Mavi Marmara incident on May 31st, 2010, when Israeli commandos intercepted a flotilla of six ships carrying 663 people from 37 nations trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza, Turkey’s Erdogan has all but threatened to cut off all diplomatic ties.  When the Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara, they were attacked by an armed group of men that wounded seven Israeli soldiers.  In the melee, the Israelis killed eight Turks plus another dual Turkish-U.S. citizen.  A U.N. report recently published found that the blockade of Gaza was legal according to international law, but that excessive force was used by the Israelis when boarding the ship.  Turkey continues to demand an official apology for the deaths, though Israel refuses.  And so, last month, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and suspended its military agreements.

Meanwhile, Syria has been headline news this summer as its authoritarian ruler, Bashar Assad, has waged a war of attrition against a popular uprising within his country.  According to the U.N., more than 2,600 dissidents have been killed by Syrian forces since the protests began in March.  Fearing a similar fate as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, where international air power aided the rebel cause against the tyrant, Assad has recently threatened to shower Israel with rockets, both from Syria and from Hezbollah’s massive stockpile (more than 40,000) in southern Lebanon, if international forces likewise strike Syria.  Israel is all too familiar with Hezbollah’s arsenal from which 4,000 rockets struck the north of the country during one month’s time in the 2006 Lebanon War.  This past spring U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Syria and Iran are providing Hezbollah with so many rockets that they are at a point where they have more missiles than most governments in the world.”

The growing antagonism of Israel’s Middle East neighborhood, though, primarily spawns from Iran—Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas’ chief benefactor—and the Islamic Republic’s undeterred desire to build a nuclear weapon.  Despite international sanctions and other strategic actions, Iran is expected to build its first nuclear bomb no later than 2015.  While Iran’s controversial, acid-tongued president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is well-known for constantly calling for Israel’s destruction, the true power in Iran rests with their supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  At a recent conference in support of Hamas and the Palestinian Intifada, Khamenei proclaimed the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor” that needed to be removed.  “Our claim is freedom of Palestine, not part of Palestine. Any plan that partitions Palestine is totally rejected,” Khamenei told the conference.

While this seemingly dark cloud hangs over the beginning of the Jewish New Year, it would be good to remind ourselves of the story of the “Sacrifice/Binding of Isaac” (Gen 22) which is read every Rosh haShanah in synagogues.  In summary, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but just prior to killing him, the LORD provides a ram to be slaughtered instead of Isaac.

While Islamic tradition rewrote this story, replacing Isaac with Ishmael as the sacrificial son, and Christian tradition has focused on the typology of Isaac foreshadowing Jesus’ all-atoning death, Jewish tradition still holds to the initial idea—“I swear, declares the LORD, that because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me (Gen 22:16-18).”  Despite our sins and shortcomings, may we be reminded that through obedience God’s grace is relentless, His promises unchanging, and His provision surprising.