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The very complex reality of the modern Middle East

Contemporary political map of the Middle East (Image: Cacahuate/Wikimedia Commons)

The eyes of the world have been on the State of Israel since October 7, 2023 when Hamas, a religious Islamic terrorist organization who has controlled Gaza since a military coup in June 2007, attacked innocent Israeli civilians. That Saturday morning sent a clear wakeup call for Christians around the world.

This particular October 7 was the last day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot. Thousands of terrorists streamed across the border in a surprise vicious assault by land, sea, and air. They waged the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust — slaughtering babies, raping women, and burning whole families alive in their homes. When the carnage was over, more than 1,400 people, including 28 children, were killed, and some 250 others, including 33 children, were taken hostage. The nature of the violence stunned Israelis. 

In response to the attack, Israel’s cabinet formally declared war on Hamas. Three weeks later, IDF ground forces entered the Gaza Strip in an attempt to find hostages and eliminate Hamas leadership.

Sadly, Western media is not representing a clear or trustworthy picture of Israel and often portrays Israel as the oppressor or colonizer in the Middle East. Even more tragic, most of the people are not aware of this region’s history, culture, or the ongoing conflict.

The Western Approach to the Middle East Realty

Viewing the Middle East with a Western mindset is the root of serious problems. People in the Middle East have different values and principles that form the foundation for their various cultures and ways of living. It is not the West and never will be.

The naïveté of those in the West, those who specifically believe in freedom of speech, sanctity of life, equal rights of men and women, dignity of every person, etc., can easily believe that one day Sunni Muslims will be friends with Shia Muslims, that Arabs will happily cooperate with Persians, and the Bedouin tribes of Libya will sit around the fire and sing happy songs together with tribes from Yemen and Coptic Christians from Egypt. This belief has no basis in reality and is ultimately foolish.

That said, most Europeans and Americans think that peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs is not only possible, but will make all the other problems in the region easier to solve. However, 99% of the struggles in the Middle East have absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Yes, leaders of the world continue to come together to offer Western solutions to the conflict. These solutions simply will not work in the Middle East. The cultures are too different, and as such, non-Western solutions must be found.

When Europeans think about the Middle East, they think from an individualistic mindset, believing that every person can find a way to live with any other person. They come from a belief system that encourages tolerance and equal rights for everyone.

In contrast, in the Middle East, people are fighting each other to death because of ethnic, tribal, and religious differences. They do not want to live in peace with each other. A Middle Eastern mentality argues that the “other” is always the enemy and has to be killed because, “He is not one of us, and we, as a group, are not going to accept anyone who is different from us because we don’t like him. We can make a peace agreement for a time, but only to regain strength and look for an opportunity to strike again when our enemy is not expecting us to.”  This is what we see today in Lebanon and Syria, and in Iraq and Yemen.

It is vital to understand that the biggest cultural code in the Middle East is that people are more loyal to their religion and sect than they are to the state, and that long term peace is achieved only when one party succeeds in convincing the other to leave it alone. Peace is something which only the invincible can expect.

What is the Middle East?

The Middle East is a region in West Asia that extends into Africa. It is made up of 17 different countries with an estimated population of over 411 million people. The Middle East has a very complex socio-political landscape.  Most of the nations and ethnic groups still have a tribal mentality and way of living. Israeli scholar of Arabic literature and current Arab political discourse, Dr. Mordechai Kedar from Bar Ilan University, gives us insight into what the Middle East is about:

“People tend to think of the Middle East as being composed of ‘states’ just like Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. This is a big mistake. Arab nationalism as an ideology never really succeeded in replacing the traditional loyalties which exist in the Middle East: tribe, ethnic group, religious group and sectarian identity. Most Middle Eastern states are controlled by minorities which are totally illegitimate. Take the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. These people are not Jordanians: they were from Saudi Arabia (then the Hejaz) and the British gave them the emirate of Transjordan, which later became the Kingdom of Jordan. But who, when they write about Jordan, takes into account that it is viewed by at least the Palestinians of Jordan (the majority) as an illegitimate regime? Similarly, Gaddafi was not a representative of the nation of Libya (if there even is such a nation). He represented his small, very vicious tribe. ‘Gaddafi’ is the adjective of the tribe’s name – Qadhadhfa – which means ‘the one who sheds blood [of others].’” [1]

What a place to live! However, God chose this region to be the epicenter of His redemptive purposes and as a result, those who live here constantly experience turmoil and stress. In fact, Jesus will return to the Middle East and establish His kingdom in which we will participate and have a role to play!

For hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of the modern Middle East. This powerful empire collapsed after the Ottomans fought on the losing side of the First World War. 

The modern Middle Eastern nations were created by Britain and France after the war within the power-vacuum created by the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Without having any idea of the potential damage drawing new border lines for new countries (filled with many different ethnicities and tribal loyalties) could make, the West plunged ahead. The modern borders of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey remain largely the same as those the British and French drew a century ago. Adding Islam to the mix made this the most unstable and unpredictable region on the earth!

Friends, we are living in a generation that is witnessing unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East. Those of us from the West must truly learn about this region. It will take time and effort. But how can we pray with understanding for this region if we don't care to learn its history? 

Do we really understand where God is bringing His ancient people, the Jews? Do we have any idea what they face on a daily basis? Do we realize that a realistic solution to the conflict tailored to the culture of this region will look totally different from a solution that may work for the cultures of America and Europe?

And could it be that the Israeli military operation against Hamas will bring us closer to an even greater future conflict that will affect the Jewish state? My answer is – yes! 

[1] Mordechai Kedar, “Why  we keep getting the Middle East wrong,” Autumn 2014, Fathom, accessed Friday, June 14, 2024,

Andrey Teplinsky lives in the city of Haifa in the northern Israel, and serves as an elder at Kehilat HaCarmel (Carmel Congregation), a Messianic congregation on top of Mount Carmel. Andrey is an author and speaker. He also regularly leads study and intercessory tours to Israel. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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