Why Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel is globally significant

Why Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel is globally significant April 15, 2024

Sirens rang in Jerusalem as air defense systems shot down missiles over the city early yesterday morning. After Iran launched more than three hundred missiles and drones at Israel, here’s what we know today about Iran’s attack on Israel:

  • The strikes caused only minor damage to one Israeli military base.
  • Israel’s chief military spokesman said nearly 99 percent of the aerial threats were intercepted. The US said it helped shoot down dozens of drones and missiles.
  • Leaders of the Group of Seven nations stated yesterday that they “unequivocally condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s direct and unprecedented attack against Israel.”
  • Israel vowed to “exact a price,” but an Israeli war cabinet meeting ended last night without a decision on how Israel will respond.
  • Iran’s top military officer said “there is no intention to continue” its offensive, but added that if Israel attacked Iran, “our next operation will be much bigger than this.”

While the attack itself was not devastating, the New York Times reports that it “opened a volatile new chapter in the long-running shadow war between Iran and Israel.”

Iran is about seventy-five times larger than the Jewish state; its population is nearly ten times larger. The two countries are more than a thousand miles apart. Israel has no intention of occupying Iranian land or subjugating its people.

Why, then, is Iran at war with Israel?

And why is this question so significant for America and the global future?

Building an “axis of resistance”

There was a time when Iran and Israel were not enemies but allies. When Israel declared its independence in 1948, Iran was one of the first Muslim countries to recognize the new state. However, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1979 Islamic revolution, he severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel.

Khomeini’s goals from the inception of the revolution were to liberate Iranians from “the evils of Western imperialism” and to export his version of political Islam. Over the years, Iran built what it calls an “axis of resistance” that includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Syrian regime and Shia militias in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen, militias in Iraq, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank.

Across the years, Iran has waged war on Israel through these proxies. Now it has launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel from Iran itself.

The “little Satan” and the “great Satan”

Americans remember Ayatollah Khomeini because of the Iranian hostage crisis that ensued shortly after he came to power and are familiar with his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but most do not know the person who prepared the way for this revolution.

Ali Shariati was a Western-educated intellectual who was inspired by Marxist anti-colonialist scholars. He divided the world into the oppressed (including Iran) and the oppressors (primarily the West) and framed a revolutionary ideology to oust the monarchy and “liberate” Iranians. He died before the 1979 revolution, but Khomeini capitalized on the popularity of his ideas.

From then to now, Iran’s leaders have sought to export this linkage of Marxist “liberation” with radicalized Islam. Since Israel and the US are the primary obstacles to this vision, Khomeini termed them the “little Satan” and the “great Satan,” respectively.

Add the eschatological conviction of Iran’s leaders that the Mahdi, their version of the Messiah, will appear to dominate the world for Islam only after the Muslim world destroys Israel, and you can see why Iran’s unprecedented escalation against Israel over the weekend is significant.

“So we remain in darkness”

This conflict is not just military but spiritual. Iran’s leaders are being used by the evil one who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10) as they strive to enact their deluded vision of the future through violent means. Jesus’ description fits them well:

This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come into the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God (John 3:19–21).

This temptation to choose self-dependent darkness over Spirit-dependent light is not limited to Iran. Henri Nouwen commented:

Jesus sees the evil in this world as a lack of trust in God’s love. He makes us see that we persistently fall back on ourselves, rely more on ourselves than on God, and are inclined more to love of self than to love of God. So we remain in darkness. If we walk in the light, then we are enabled to acknowledge that everything good, beautiful, and true comes from God and is offered to us in love.

Now it falls to you and me to “walk in the light” and to share it as urgently as we can:

  • Abraham Lincoln died on this day in 1865. If you could have warned the president before he went to Ford’s Theater, would you have done so?
  • The Titanic sank on this day in 1912. If you could have warned the passengers before they embarked on their ill-fated voyage, would you have done so?
  • Three people were killed and hundreds injured in the Boston Marathon bombing on this day in 2013. If you could have warned the people beforehand, would you have done so?

Jesus is still “the light of the world” (John 8:12, my emphasis). The brilliant Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus was right:

“Give light, and darkness will disappear of itself.”

How will you “give light” today?

Monday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“The issue is now clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side.” —G. K. Chesterton

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