Nik and Lijana Wallenda safely crossed Times Square last night on a high wire twenty-five stories above the pavement. Their feat feels like a parable for escalating tensions in the Middle East.
What has led to the present crisis with Iran? Why would the Iranians escalate conflict with the US? What could come next? Where is God at work?
How we got here
Two oil tankers were attacked in the Strait of Hormuz recently, following attacks on four commercial ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month. The US, Saudi Arabia, and the UK blame Iran.
Last Monday, Iran stated that it would soon surpass the previously imposed three hundred-kilogram limit on its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The Pentagon then announced plans to send approximately a thousand more troops to the Middle East “for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats.”
Last Thursday, Iran shot down an unmanned US surveillance drone. The US claims that the aircraft was in international airspace; Iran claims that it was flying over their territory.
Later that day, the United States Cyber Command conducted online attacks against an Iranian intelligence group that American officials believe helped plan the oil tanker attacks. This was meant to be a direct response to the downing of the drone as well.
President Trump also approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for the drone attack, then canceled the strike. However, he announced over the weekend that the US is “putting major additional Sanctions on Iran on Monday.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that he wants to build a global coalition against Iran. An Iranian military official warned this morning that his country is capable of shooting down more American spy drones.
Why would Iran escalate conflict?
Iran’s economy is expected to shrink by 6 percent this year, after contracting 3.9 percent last year. By contrast, it grew 3.8 percent in 2017, before the Trump administration re-imposed economic sanctions after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Years of internal economic mismanagement and the renewed sanctions have led to skyrocketing unemployment and inflation rising to near 40 percent.
Some analysts suggest Iran is escalating aggression in the region because it has “less to lose from acting this way than from doing nothing.” Others believe Iran is sending the message that it is capable of undermining US and Arab Gulf states’ interests in the region, hoping to strengthen its negotiating position.
Still others point to Iran’s repeated threat that if it cannot export oil, neither will anybody else. According to one political analyst, Iran wants to demonstrate that “peace and security in the Gulf is contingent on its own economic stability.”
What could come next?
An escalating conflict with Iran could take several forms.
If the Iranian military attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30 percent of the world’s oil passes, the US and other nations could be forced to respond. If Iran appears to be close to developing nuclear weapons, an attack on its nuclear facilities could be forthcoming.
However, a war to overthrow the Iranian regime would require a colossal military operation. The US sent 150,000 troops in the initial phase of the 2003 invasion of Iraq—and Iran is much larger than Iraq.
If tensions intensify, Iran’s proxies in the Middle East could attack Israel and/or Americans in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere. Iranian missiles could target American ships and troops in the area. A conflict between the US and Iran would likely escalate to include Israel and Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon.
And European nations worry about millions of refugees streaming into the continent if war with Iran breaks out.
Iran and God’s kingdom
Iran was known as Persia until 1935. The Persian Empire rose to prominence in the sixth century BC, liberating the Jews from Babylon (Isaiah 21:2; 45:1–7; Daniel 5). Persia is the setting for the first part of Nehemiah and the book of Esther.
Alexander the Great and the Greeks overthrew the Persians and ended their empire. However, many historians believe that the Magi who worshipped the infant Christ were from Persia. And “Parthians and Medes and Elamites” (from the region of Persia) were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:9).
Like that ancient miracle, observers say Iran is experiencing “one of the fastest growing underground church movements in the world.” Unsurprisingly, persecution against Christians in Iran is escalating as well.
The power of biblical intercession
We can join God at work in the Middle East through biblical intercession today.
We can pray for wisdom for global leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2) and for protection for believers in Iran (Psalm 3:3). We can pray for God to redeem this conflict by drawing millions of Iranians to Jesus (John 12:32).
We can pray for Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei to have a vision of Jesus and come to personal faith in him. (If you consider such a miracle to be impossible, remember the Acts 9 conversion of Saul of Tarsus.) And we can pray for peace with justice in Israel and across the Middle East (Hebrews 12:14; Psalm 122:6).
Andrew Murray: “It is in intercession for others that our faith and love and perseverance will be stirred up and that the power of the Spirit will be found to equip us for bringing salvation to people.”
Will you join God at work in the Middle East today?