(Jerusalem, Israel) — We’re seeing both bad news and good in the Middle East tonight.
Let’s start with the bad. As of 11:30pm local time, here are the latest developments in today’s terrible rocket war:
- Nearly 300 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
- Three rockets have just hit Beersheba, Israel’s largest southern city, home to some 200,000 people.
- The IDF has retaliated by striking 120 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.
- No Israelis have died, but 41 have been treated at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon, near the Gaza border, for a range of injuries or complications related to stress.
- One Palestinian has reportedly died, and 17 have been injured.
- No cease fire talks have been reported so far, but it is likely that Egyptian intelligence is working behind the scenes to de-escalate the situation, as this is the role they have played — and played very well — over the past several years.
- Please continue to pray for calm to be restored and for the Lord to comfort all those on both sides of the Gaza border who have been physically or emotionally wounded during the last 18 hours.
That said, there have been two very positive developments in the region over the past 24 hours, and both involve Saudi Arabia.
First, Dr. Mohammed al-Issa, Director of the Muslim World League (MWL), has announced that in January he will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in southern Poland. One of the most influential Muslim leaders in the world, Dr. al-Issa is a Saudi national, and the MWL he runs is based in Riyadh. We met last November when I led a Delegation of Evangelical leaders to Saudi Arabia. Dr. al-Issa sat in the two-hour meeting we had with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Then, after we finished our time at the palace, Dr. al-Issa invited our Delegation to come back to the MWL offices where we spent several hours discussing how Saudi leaders are now combatting radical Islamism and promoting moderate Islam, a major change from previous decades.
I believe Dr. al-Issa’s decision to visit Auschwitz, along with the work is doing to combat Holocaust deniers in the Muslim world, is historic and should be applauded. Indeed, “al-Issa will be the highest ranking Muslim leader to visit the Nazi death camp,” reported the Saudi Gazette.
Second, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also decided to welcome a Delegation of Jewish leaders to visit in January. This, too, is being coordinated by Dr. al-Issa, along with the American Jewish Congress, and this is also a remarkable development.
Historically, Jews have not legally been allowed to set foot in the Kingdom. This has been changing bit by bit, with Jewish business leaders, executives, reporters and policy makers being able to receive visas to visit in recent years.
I was stunned last Fall to become the first Israeli citizen allowed not only to travel into the Kingdom but to meet publicly and openly with the Crown Prince and other members of the Royal Family and senior leadership.
To be sure, the politics and culture of Saudi Arabia remain highly complicated. The Crown Prince and his policies remain among the most controversial in the world. Many are deeply concerned by the human rights environment in the kingdom, myself included. None of those issues are going away any time soon.
That said, a number of Arab Gulf states — the Saudis included — are making important and positive moves towards the U.S., towards Israel, towards Evangelical Christians and towards the Jewish community. These should not be dismissed. Rather, we should welcome these moves, even while encouraging Arab leaders throughout the region, including in KSA, to improve the quality of life for all of their people, expand religious freedom, end human rights abuses, and work even more closely with the West to neutralize the Iran threat and combat all forms of radical Islamist terrorism.
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