The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 9, 2023

It’s Monday, October 9, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Israel is at War: Hamas Attacks State of Israel, Kills, and Kidnaps

The world can change in just a matter of days. It can change in just a matter of seconds. And now we know that Israel is at war after Hamas launched a massive comprehensive attack upon Israel, including thousands of rockets, and furthermore, land forces also some coming by air and what has been described as a parasail attack. But we are talking about a very deadly attack. As a matter of fact, we’re talking about the most deadly attack on the nation of Israel since 50 years ago, the Yom Kippur War. We’re talking about what had begun as a big story that is now turning into what could be an existential threat. And that’s exactly what Hamas and its allies want. They want to see the end of the state of Israel. The brutality of this attack is almost beyond our imagination.

We now know that Hamas is holding hundreds, at least by their estimation, over a hundred, some are saying hundreds, of hostages including women and children. We know, for example, that land forces from the Gaza Strip attacked land inside of Israel, including a music festival where over 200 bodies have already been found and others are listed as missing. We are looking at a massive attack upon the nation of Israel that is intended to bring the nation to its knees and is intended to bring the nation to its end. Because this isn’t just about Hamas launching attacks from the Gaza Strip in an area that is at least historically under Palestinian control. It’s not just an ongoing crisis from the South. It threatens to become a crisis from the North also with Hamas calling upon the Islamic forces of a terrorist nature from the north, that would be Hezbollah in Syria, also to join in the effort and to attack Israel from the north.

Behind all of this is the nation of Iran. And even as the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, there is simply no doubt that Iran is behind the attack funding it and helping to orchestrate it if not directly involved in the attack itself. And that leads to a number of questions we need to address. But first of all, let’s remember the historical context here. The historical context takes us back most immediately to the year 1948. That was the year of the establishment of the state of Israel. That was one of the most important dates of the 20th century. And it marked the day when the Jewish people, after so many centuries of travail and after the intense evil of the Holocaust, were finally given a Jewish homeland. And it was inland, often referred to as Palestine, referred to by the Jewish people of course as Israel. And it was contested territory. And as you’re looking at the history of that region, it has long been contested territory, but you had those who were there who made it their aim to bring Israel to a very early end.

Time doesn’t allow a full review of the history of Israel and all the multiple attacks in wars that Israel has experienced. But it is really important to understand that 50 years ago, the Yom Kippur war was another surprise or sneak attack. It also was very, very costly to Israel, costly most importantly of course in terms of lives, but also costly in terms of national confidence. And ever since that date, going back to 1973, Israel is known that it is under constant threat. And by one definition, Israel is the ultimate national security state. Its survival depends upon that. And that leads to a huge question. How in the world did Israel experience such a massive intelligence failure that would’ve allowed this very large, very complex sneak attack to have taken place from Gaza into Israel proper?

A few issues of clarification are necessary. First of all, there are a few matters that need clarification. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It’s not that old as an organization. It goes back to 1987 and it emerged out of the group known as the Islamic Brotherhood. That was a group that had also resorted to terrorism, at least at some points. It was based in Egypt and it has a very clear Islamist identity. So does Hamas. And Hamas in that sense basically displaced a previous group known as Fatah. And that group was more secular. It was Islamic in some sense, but far less so than the Islamism that is represented by Hamas. That leads of course to the fact that there is also an Islamist terrorist threat directly on Israel’s north, and that is the group Hezbollah as we discussed.

But behind all of this really is a larger and more sinister plot, and that plot is to bring Israel to an end, and that has been the determination of many nations in the region for a very long time. But at the same time, you also have to recognize that the map has been changing and Israel has actually established relations with several of the Arab nations. Most importantly with the nation of Egypt. Egypt was one of two nations that led an effort to bring another end to Israel, or at least to humiliate Israel militarily and gain territory back in October of 1973, the Yom Kippur War. Once again, you go back 50 years, Israel was caught during holy days and caught by surprise. And that’s exactly what took place in the early morning hours Saturday.

Now, there are several big issues that need to be considered here. First of all, Israel, as a nation, how did it come about? Let’s just remind ourselves. It came about not only because of the long centuries of striving on the part of the Jewish people, it came about because of action undertaken by the United Nations in 1948, action that legally established Israel as a Jewish state. It’s also true that just very shortly after Israel declared its existence pursuant to that United Nations resolution, the United States of America officially recognized Israel. And that became a major issue in Israel’s history. It had the recognition of the most powerful nation on earth in 1948.

President Harry Truman, prompted to understand what was taking place with the formation and founding of Israel, was very quick to recognize Israel as a nation among other nations. Thus, from the beginning, Israel and the United States have had a very special relationship. It has not always been an extremely close relationship, but especially in recent decades, it has been very, very close. And that very close includes joint intelligence gathering operations.

Now, here’s another secret of what goes on in the Middle East. You have a nation like Saudi Arabia. And of course one of the motivations of Hamas in launching this attack and understanding that Israel will respond in great force, one issue there is the fact that Saudi Arabia has also been cooperating with Israel in mutual defense interest, particularly in gathering military intelligence.

How could something this big be missed? You’re talking about paragliders, parasail attack. You’re talking about hundreds of troops on the ground. You’re talking about the use of tunnels. You’re talking about massive armaments, thousands of rockets. How could Israel, given its stature as a national security state and given its competence in terms of the gathering of intelligence, how could Israel been taken by surprise? Furthermore, how in the world was Israel not, at least to some extent, expecting this kind of action or at least some kind of attack on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War? Massive, huge questions. There will be a lot of questions that have to be answered in Israel, but that’s going to take some time because Israel right now is in a fight for its life.

Now, there are some who might hear that as an exaggeration and say, “You know, this is not the kind of mortal threat that Israel has faced in the past.” Well, here’s the problem. It could become that very, very quickly. And already we know that there are major players seeking to bring about the non-existence of Israel. At the top of that list would be the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is a major force for destabilization throughout that entire region of the world. And frankly, its terrorist involvements go far beyond the Middle East.

One of the rallying points for Islamic identity, particularly when that identity is being forged or at least influenced by a nation like Iran, one of the arguments has been that it is an Islamic cause to bring about the end of Israel. And that’s not a new thing. That has been an Arab and increasingly an Islamist goal for decades going all the way back to 1948. And the conflict of course goes back much further in history than that. But Iran’s role in this is almost certainly a coordinating role, potentially a funding role. And it’s also likely that Hamas would not have launched this kind of effort without some kind of explicit authorization from Iran. Certainly couldn’t do it without financial support from Iran.

And this leads to another issue that we discussed on the briefing just a matter of a few weeks ago, and that was the decision by the Biden administration to exchange hostages in Iran–American hostages–to exchange those hostages for the unfreezing. That’s the financial term of about $6 billion in Iranian funds. Of course, you’re looking at the fact that the United States and other allies have worked very clearly to try to freeze Iranian assets all over the world to put a limitation upon its terrorist reach. And as we said at the time, this is an extremely bad precedent. And as we also said at the time, when you have the Biden administration trying to put a fig leaf of respectability on that deal by saying that the funds unfrozen would be used for humanitarian interest and that they would be overseen by another nation in the region that will be Qatar, well, that has simply been put to the lie.

First of all, even as the White House was making that statement, you had officials in Iran crowing about the fact that they would use the money as they saw fit. And as you’re looking at this, you can draw a one to one connection between the unfreezing of that money and the ambitions of Iran and the attack launched on Israel Saturday morning by Hamas.

There’s another connection that needs to be underlined, and that is that when you are looking at the funding of a terrorist organization like Hamas, you’re actually talking about a major source of that funding being Qatar, the very Gulf Nation that the Biden administration said it was trusting as the intermediary to make certain that Iran was not going to use these funds for nefarious purposes. Now, that was never plausible. Let’s be clear, that was never plausible because money is money. It’s all, to use the technical term, fungible.

In the old days, fungible came down to say currency or gold. And you might say, “Well, you can only use that for one purpose.” But the fact is, if you restrict that dollar, you actually free up another dollar that I could use for the very purpose you say I can’t. And that just underlines the fact that when you’re talking about billions of dollars and when you’re talking about electronic funds transfer, you’re not even talking about a real dollar bill. You’re not even talking about a real bar of gold. This was an implausible argument. And as we said at the time, the United States would come to rule that decision by the Biden administration.

Let me point out one other moral problem with that deal, by the way, is that you basically, in agreeing to pay for hostages, you create a market for hostages, a very bad precedent for any nation, and in particular the United States. Israel may be paying at least to some extent the price for the freeing of those funds. And at the very least, those funds are now being used for Iran for its purposes. And we can see in the Hamas attack upon Israel one dimension of those purposes, horrifyingly so.

The Wall Street Journal, by the way, has just run a story saying that Iran had been plotting the attack on Israel over the course of several weeks, and that just makes the matter even dirtier because that takes us back to when that exchange was being made. And it appears, at least according to the Wall Street Journal and it sources, that the attack was already being planned and coordinated at that time.

As we said at the time, this was a surprise attack. One indication of that is that even as you had the Hamas soldiers overrunning the region of Israel into which they had made their incursion, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not speak to the issue for three hours. That’s one indication of the depth of surprise that Hamas was able to achieve. Eli Marom, speaking to the telegraph in London, said on Sunday that the intelligence services had made serious mistakes, and he went on to say, “All of Israel is asking itself, where is the IDF?” That is the Israel Defense Force. “Where is the police? Where is the security? It’s a colossal failure. The hierarchy has simply failed with vast consequences.”

As we think about these issues, one point that certainly is clarified is the fact that an adequate intelligence gathering operation and the analysis of the intelligence that’s gathered is a part of a nation’s defense, and that is particularly true for the nation of Israel. And as you’re looking at this, it’s one thing to say that the intelligence agencies failed. It’s another thing to understand that you are looking at a concerted effort undertaken for a matter of weeks, months, perhaps even years, and it is simply a matter of fact that the attacker always has the advantage over the attacked in terms of when and how the initiative or the aggressive action will take place.

Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday simply announced that Israel is at war and Israeli authorities went on and officially declared that there was now an action, a state of war towards the Hamas invaders and the attackers, and Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking in the heritage of previous Israeli prime ministers in a time of war made very clear that Israel would respond with overwhelming force and that Israel would protect its right to exist. The big issue here is how many of the citizens of Israel now take hostage by Hamas can be saved or will be saved? And of course, you are looking at the fact that Hamas is clearly planning further incursions into Israel.

At least on paper, and of course by historic reputation, just about everyone would expect that the Israeli defense forces will be able to prevail and probably rather quickly. But that leads to a host of other questions. What exactly does prevail mean in this circumstance? And will Hezbollah enter into the picture in a more concerted way? Will some other nations in an opportunistic fashion see the opportunity to try to make gains at Israel’s expense? Those are huge questions. And it’s also just a matter of fact that the people of Israel have been subjected to all kinds of attacks, rocket barrages and of course kidnappings, incursions. They’ve been subjected to this going all the way back to 1948. But this is coming at a time when the scale of the attack, again, it is unprecedented in the last 50 years of Israel’s existence.

There are so many issues to consider here. First of all, you have the Palestinians, not all of the Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, are of course associated with Hamas, but it is extremely difficult to separate who is who and to know who is in Hamas, or for that matter, looking in Lebanon, Hezbollah, it’s difficult to know who is supporting them, who is a part of a larger intelligence gathering network for the terrorist organization, who is offering safe housing, who is allowing or even encouraging Hamas activities. And that could include just about anyone in that entire region. It also raises the giant question, what would Israel prevailing in this situation look like? Because at no point has Israel been able to say, “We are at peace and we are at rest among the nations” in a situation that at least some Israelis have described as the yearning for the existence of Israel as a normal state. But that’s where we have to recognize Israel has never been a normal state.

The tragedies of history and of the Jewish experience take us into the 20th century and of course to the midpoint of the 20th century and the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust. And you looked at an international recognition of the fact, and the United States and its allies were very much a part of this, but the Soviet Union in its own way was also a part of this, at least in the larger picture, if not encouraging, then at least allowing Israel to come into existence. And Israel has had to fight for its existence every second from that declaration of its existence in 1948. It has never been a normal nation among the nations. It has always been a precarious nation, which has held onto its identity as a Jewish state.

And it has transformed the land. It has transformed the entire region. It has reset the map. It has become an economic marvel. It is also a place of enormous political controversy. But the point is, Christians have understood, and I underline this, that there is a very legitimate reason for Israel to exist as a state. There is a very good reason out of our responsibility to the Jewish people to understand the importance of a Jewish homeland. Christians have had all kinds of theological debates about how exactly the modern state of Israel does or does not fit into biblical prophecy, but there can be no doubt that the churches, the Christian responsibility to the Jewish people, is at least in part, and I would say here in large part, represented by support for the state of Israel, its right of existence and its place among the nations.

There will come a time inside Israel when a lot of these issues, including the surprise of Israel, given this attack, there’ll be a lot of issues Israel will have to deal with in the future. But right now, what Israel is focusing on, and you see incredible national unity in this, is the survival of the nation and dealing with the immediate challenge, the direct and unavoidable challenge of putting an end to this incursion by Hamas.

Now, where that will go? It’s very hard to say. Israel has traditionally followed a pattern of massive retaliation against any kind of attack like this. The official declaration that Israel is at war is a very clear signal to all of us, to all the nations that Israel’s going to respond to this incursion and this assault upon the lives of Israelis, and we’re talking about hundreds dead already. Israel’s going to respond in a very serious manner.

As of last night and this morning, international military observers were expecting a pretty massive land action by Israeli forces sometime within the next 24 hours. And even as we’re speaking, it may have begun. We don’t know. We’re going to have to wait and see. But there is no question that Israel will respond. Prime Minister Netanyahu made that point emphatically clear. And of course that response has already been underway, but you’re looking at the fact that we are likely seeing only the very early signs of what Israel’s response will eventually look like.

One of the great challenges here is the fact that the Palestinian territories are hard to go out in many ways, to so many of the Palestinian people, who themselves have often been abused or neglected, certainly ill represented by Hamas as well as other leadership including the PLO. The reality is that in the Gaza Strip, in the West Bank and in other regions, there is simply no sustainable operational society. The Palestinian leadership, the supposedly elected leadership, is simply staying in office long after terms have expired. It is basically politically unable or incompetent to act. And these terrorist organizations with Islamist identities are certainly gaining ground, and that’s a very bad sign not only for Israel, but also for the Palestinian people. And remember that at least some of those Palestinians identify not as Muslims, but as Christians. Although when it comes to Hamas, you are talking about not only Islam but an Islamist organization. Many of the Palestinian Christians also suffer by the influence of Hamas and other organizations.

You are looking at a very complicated situation. You’re looking at the fact that even as Israel’s having to address this very direct existential challenge and crisis, Israel’s also an outpost for Western values and a part of the world in which there is no other nation that is an outpost for those ideals that we share. Over the last several months, Israel’s been involved in intense political controversy. We’ve talked about that controversy, or you could say those controversies, on The Briefing, but the fact is that Israel is an outpost of constitutional democratically elected government, an island in a sea of autocracies, Islamism, and other forms of repressive government. The fact is that Israel is an outpost for Western values. Israel is a representative democracy and Israel is a legitimate nation. And any legitimate nation has not only the right but the responsibility to defend itself. And Israel, as we said, has been doing that from the very beginning.

Part II

Who’s Speaking in Defense of Israel, and Who is Not? — The Significance of the Political and Global Response to the War in Israel

Finally, a couple of other things you need to watch. It’s not only politics in Israel and in the Middle East that should have our attention, but politics in Europe and political opportunism perhaps coming from elsewhere in the world, and political realities here in the United States related to Israel’s fight for its survival here. The big issue is this. President Joe Biden, and I’ve been very clear of my criticism of his foreign policy and particularly of the action related to Iran and the unfreezing of assets, President Biden came up with a very strong statement of support for Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself. In so far as he made that statement, that’s good. You’re going to see overwhelming support for Israel coming from the Republican Party in Congress and elsewhere, certainly all candidates, but you’re also going to see something else. You’re going to see that inside American politics, there are some who will not speak or certainly will speak, if at all, in a way that is grossly inadequate about Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.

The key organization to watch there is the DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America. Think for example, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known as a political brand as AOC. Think Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator to some extent who has been hanging around with the DSA. And the DSA was actually involved in action supporting the Palestinians at about the time this was coming about. And already when you look at members of Congress, other political leaders speaking to this situation, you need to note not only who is speaking in defense of Israel, but who is not.

Furthermore, we need to remember, and keep this very much in mind, the enemies of Israel are largely the enemies of the United States of America. They’re the enemies of democracy or democratic self-government. They are the enemies of liberty. And you’re looking at a concerted network of enemies. Once again, those same enemies of Israel are largely enemies of the United States and furthermore of other western nations as well. And that’s why you see nations such as Israel and at least many European heads of state and heads of government speaking up in defense of Israel. Why? Because it is not only an act of solidarity with Israel, it’s not only a sign of support for the system of nations among nations in the world. It is also they have to understand a matter of their own existence and threats to their own security as well from the very same sources.

Part III

Pray for Israel: Following Biblical Instruction, Especially Now

Finally, the Scripture tells us that we are to pray for the peace of Israel, and that is a very important issue for us to remember. We need to pray for the peace of Israel. That means for the existence of Israel, that means for the security of Israel, that means for the flourishing of Israel. That means for the righteousness of Israel. But even as we know that’s an ongoing biblical instruction, there are moments when we know that it is particularly urgent. And that’s where Christians need to understand, this is one of those particularly urgent moments.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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