Is Trump about to roll out Mideast peace plan? Rumor mill among Israeli officials & reporters is on overdrive. They believe release is imminent. Plus, VP Pence is coming to Jerusalem next week. The stakes are high. Here’s what we know.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — The rumor mill is on overdrive.

In the last 72 hours, I’ve seen a surge in speculation here in the Israeli capital that the White House will soon roll out its long-awaited, much anticipated, highly controversial Mideast peace plan.

Elected Israeli officials and their aides, reporters, and other diplomatic and security officials I’ve spoken with just since Saturday are suddenly all but convinced that President Trump will unveil the plan imminently — before Israel’s March 2nd elections.

  • Last week, Avi Berkowitz, the President’s new 31-year old point-man for the peace process (he replaced Jason Greenblatt who retired from the administration last Fall) was in Israel. Berkowitz met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz. 
  • Next week, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Israel — news of the visit hasn’t been officially announced yet, but preparations for his arrival are underway.
  • Officially, the reason Pence is coming is to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp — the VP will attend ceremonies at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, along with leaders from 30 countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • Unofficially, the VP’s trip could give the administration the opportunity to further lay the groundwork for an announcement by the President soon thereafter.
  • Pence was last here exactly two years ago — just a month after Trump announced he was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the VP addressed the Knesset in a high-profile and very positive visit.
  • Unknown so far is whether the VP will visit other countries in the region, though that is likely — last time, Pence visited leaders in Egypt and Jordan in addition to his time in Israel.

The Big Question: Given that the Palestinian leadership has already rejected the plan (though they have not seen the details), and given that the third Israeli national election in one year is fully underway, why would the White House want to release the plan now?

The risks are enormous.

  • If Israelis hate the plan, the Democratic presidential contenders will surely use that against Trump.
  • If Israelis hate the plan, then millions of Evangelicals who love Israel will likely hate it, too — this could potentially dampen enthusiasm for Trump’s reelection efforts.
  • However, if Israelis and Evangelicals like the plan, Arab leaders throughout the region may hate the plan — if they say so publicly, Democrats will try to use this against Trump, as well.

The stakes may be highest for Jordan’s King Abdullah II. He’s a good man — a man of peace — and he’s worked hard over his two decades in power to maintain calm, civil relations with Israel, with which the Kingdom has a formal peace treaty.

Yet some 70% of Jordanians are Palestinian. Public opinion inside Jordan is increasingly hostile towards Israel and towards the Trump administration. The King walks a fine line between showing true sympathy and support to his own people and towards the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, and keeping good relations with Washington, from whom he receives billions of dollars in much needed military and economic aid. What will the King do if his people are enraged by the Trump plan?

That said, it is by no means certain that Gulf Arab leaders will, in fact, hate the Trump plan. Indeed, while they may not love all the details, depending on the fine print contained in the draft they may be able to say, “We have some concerns, some reservations, with some of the details, but we do think it’s a credible plan and it can certainly serve as the basis for immediate negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.” That would be a big win for Trump and his team. 

As all this is going on, I’m writing a new Middle East political thriller.

Meanwhile, I’m preparing to release THE JERUSALEM ASSASSIN on March 17th. What’s it about? An American President preparing to release his Middle East peace plan when suddenly things in the region go….boom

More on that soon.

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“Iran tensions could fulfill prophecies about the end of the world,” reports the Washington Post. Is that true? Does the Bible even speak of the future of Iran? Here’s what I told the Post.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — A Washington Post reporter called me last week and asked if I thought the current tensions with Iran suggested Biblical “end times” prophecies were coming to pass. I confess, it’s not every day I get a call like that.

Here’s the short version of what I told her:

  • no, as fascinating and dramatic as they have been, it’s unlikely that the events last few weeks in and around Iran have immediate prophetic significance.
  • sadly, far too many so-called “prophecy experts” leap at chance to sensationalize every headline and shoe-horn events into their view of the “last days.”
  • that said, yes, there are actually two important biblical prophecies about the future judgment of Iran. One is found in Jeremiah chapter 49. The other is found in Ezekiel chapters 38 & 39 (a prophecy known as the War of Gog & Magog”).
  • and yes, when even the Washington Post starts asking, it’s certainly worth making the people aware of those passages of Scripture and helping both believers and unbelievers understand what these passages say and what they mean.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of prophecy nuts,” I told the Post. “These are people who have websites [where every sentence is] in capital letters, [followed by] 90 exclamation marks, and it’s like: ‘Have some decaf, it’s going to be okay.’”

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While I very much hope you’ll avoid the teaching of the nuts, I do hope you’ll take some time to study these two critical Bible passages.

I also hope you’ll join me in praying daily for the enslaved people of Iran to be set free once and for all, and for the Church in Iran to grow bolder and stronger every day. 

[In the meantime, if you’re interested, here’s a link to the full Washington Post article.]

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Did Iran just call for the assassination of President Trump, amidst rumors the White House peace plan will soon be released? This week’s headlines seem ripped from my forthcoming thriller, #TheJerusalemAssassin. Here’s the latest.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — As tensions with Iran spike, and the White House prepares to roll out its long-awaited Middle East peace plan, the Secret Service is forced to deal with growing concerns that radical jihadists are plotting to assassinate the American President.

Such is the premise of my forthcoming political thriller, The Jerusalem Assassin, which releases on March 17th. Yet oddly it also seems to be the stuff of this week’s headlines.

Here’s the latest….

SPIKING TENSIONS

WHITE HOUSE PEACE PLAN

ASSASSINATION THREAT?

The Jerusalem Assassin follows former U.S. Secret Service agent Marcus Ryker as he and his team are deployed to the Middle East to hunt down and neutralize those threatening to kill the President and sink the White House peace plan.

It’s the third, so far, in a series of novels that began with The Kremlin Conspiracy and The Persian Gamble.

It’s pure fiction, recent headlines notwithstanding. Let’s just pray none of it comes true.

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BREAKING: President Trump just addressed the nation on Iran. Here’s the 7 most important things he said.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — At 11:20am eastern time on Wednesday, President Trump addressed the nation on the latest crisis with Iran.

Here are 7 key takeaways:

  1. The President said that“no American or Iraqi lives were lost.”
  2. Iraq fired 15 missiles (not 22, as originally reported) at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces — 4 of the missiles (nearly 1/3) failed to detonate.
  3. After this lame counter-attack, Iran “appears to be standing down,” said the President — Tehran does not appear (as of yet) to be trying to escalate.
  4. The U.S. will now impose even more economic sanctions on Iran. “These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior. In recent months alone, Iran has seized ships in international waters, fired an unprovoked strike on Saudi Arabia and shot down two American drones.”
  5. The President did not signal that the U.S. would launch an immediate military retaliation — however, he did say that all “options” are available to him, thus clearly reserving the right to use force if additional events warrant. My sense is that he wants to de-escalate after sending Tehran a powerful signal of American resolve.
  6. The President said the Iranian missiles were built with the billions the Obama administration gave Tehran.
  7. The President criticized past American administrations and other world powers — notably Europe — for not being tough enough against Iranian aggression and made clear that it’s time for a change. “For far too long, all the way back to 1979 to be exact, nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond. Those days are over.”

So far, the President and his national security team have handled this crisis rather well.

  • Let’s continue praying for the Lord to grant them — and our allies — the wisdom they need to both contain and counter the Iranian threat.
  • Let’s pray for the protection of American and allied civilians and military forces in the region.
  • Let’s pray that the suffering people of Iran will soon be liberated from the ayatollahs reign of terror.
  • And let’s pray for the Church in the region to be strong and bold as witnessess of the Prince of Peace.

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BREAKING: Iran launches missile barrage at US forces. Ayatollah says it’s just the beginning. Is all-out war really coming, or is Tehran all talk? Here’s the latest.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Iranian regime fired 22 missiles at two military bases in Iraq where U.S. forces are stationed.

The attacks were in direct response to the killing of Qassem Soleimani — the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the most dangerous terrorist in the world — by a U.S. drone strike on January 3.

Fortunately, there were no American casualties in the strikes. But tensions are spiking and big questions remain.

  1. Are the U.S. and Iran heading for all-out war?
  2. Will President Trump order retaliation in response to the missile strikes, or pocket his successful take-down of Iran’s top terrorist leader and de-escalate?
  3. Are Iran’s mounting and furious threats just bluster, or is Tehran serious about unleashing attacks on Americans and Western allies all over the world?

“The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guards has begun,” the Iranian military declared, according to a report by the New York Times. 

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“Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country delivered a ‘slap in the face’ to American forces, but added that the missile attack alone was ‘not enough’ and called for the US to be ‘uprooted’ from the region,” reported the U.K. Daily Mail. 

“This region will not tolerate the U.S. presence — the nations in the region will not accept that and the governments backed by their people will not accept it,” Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, reported the Financial Times.  

Such language suggests much more is coming. The leading Democratic presidential candidates — and numerous pundits and commentators in the U.S. and Europe — are warning that President Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani will lead to “anarchy” and that a full-blown war with Iran is now “inevitable.”

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden warned:  “[T]his is a hugely escalatory move in an already dangerous region. The administration’s statement says that its goal is to deter future attacks by Iran, but this action almost certainly will have the opposite effect. President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox.”  
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders warned: “When you go around assassinating a government official, you unleash international anarchy and all the rules are gone….I get very nervous about it. Not only for the potential loss of life in endless wars, but right now in this country, we have massive, massive domestic needs.”
  • Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said: the job of the president is to keep America safe and yet Mr. Trump has “taken us in exactly the opposite direction.”

U.S., Israeli and Arab forces throughout the Epicenter are on high alert — and the U.S. is flowing in more troops into the region, including 2,800 members of the 82nd Airborne’s Immediate Response Force — in case Iran’s threats to escalate prove legit.

But the President’s action could cause Iran to actually think twice about embarking on a full-scale war. A major conflict is possible, but it’s not inevitable.

Consider the recent Israeli model:

  • In 2019 alone, Israel launched 54 airstrikes against targets in Syria.
  • Many of these strikes were against Iranian forces and sophisticated Iranian weapons bound for Hezbollah, Tehran’s main terrorist proxy in the region.
  • Yet, Israel’s on-going military actions to defend itself from Iranian aggression has not led to a full-scale war between the Jewish State and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Rather, Israel’s willingness to use force, and use it repeatedly, has actually had a deterrent effect on Iran because Iran’s regime is coming to realize that Israel is both willing and able to use force with devastating consequences if necessary.
  • Indeed, the Ayatollah Khamenei knows that Israel has German-built submarines lurking under the murky waters of the Persian Gulf, right off of Iran’s coast.
  • Khamenei knows that each of those subs is equipped with powerful ballistic missiles that could annihilate Iran’s capital and other bases and cities, if need be.
  • That’s why Khamenei is, so far, reluctant to intensify his conflict with Israel — he knows Prime Minister Netanyahu and IDF generals will not hesitate to push the button if they deem there is no other choice.

Right now, Iran’s regime is testing Trump. The mullahs know the U.S. has a massive military arsenal — far larger and far more lethal than Israel’s. What they don’t is whether the American President “all hat and no cattle,” or whether he is truly willing to unleash American force against Iran if he has to. Thus, there is a case that by using firm, decisive force against Iranian aggression in the near-term, the U.S. may actually prevent a larger war in the future.

For now, let us pray for peace, even as we prepare for war.

(Graphic credit: UK Daily Mail)

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BREAKING: As leading Democrats blast President Trump’s decision to take out Iran’s top terrorist, a prominent Democrat takes his party to task, urges bipartisan unity in face of Iran threat.

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The Democrats and Iran

Why can’t the party’s candidates simply admit Qasem Soleimani’s death makes Americans safer?

By Joe Lieberman, former US Senator (Democrat, Connecticut)

Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal

President Trump’s order to take out Qasem Soleimani was morally, constitutionally and strategically correct. It deserves more bipartisan support than the begrudging or negative reactions it has received thus far from my fellow Democrats.

[See: Democrats condemn Trump’s strike on Soleimani(Axios); 2020 Democrats charge Trump is risking major Middle East conflict with Soleimani killing (Market Watch); Joe Biden on Killing of Qassem Soleimani: ‘Trump Tossed a Stick of Dynamite Into a Tinderbox’(Daily Beast)]

The president’s decision was bold and unconventional. It’s understandable that the political class should have questions about it. But it isn’t understandable that all the questions are being raised by Democrats and all the praise is coming from Republicans. That divided response suggests the partisanship that has infected and disabled so much of U.S. domestic policy now also determines our elected leaders’ responses to major foreign-policy events and national-security issues, even the killing of a man responsible for murdering hundreds of Americans and planning to kill thousands more.

After World War II, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican who was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, formed a bipartisan partnership with President Truman that helped secure the postwar peace and greatly strengthened America’s position in the Cold War. “Politics stops at the water’s edge,” said Vandenberg when asked why he worked so closely with a Democratic president. He added that his fellow Americans undoubtedly had “earnest, honest, even vehement” differences of opinion on foreign policy, but if “we can keep partisan politics out of foreign affairs, it is entirely obvious that we shall speak with infinitely greater authority abroad.”

In their uniformly skeptical or negative reactions to Soleimani’s death, Democrats are falling well below Vandenberg’s standard and, I fear, creating the risk that the U.S. will be seen as acting and speaking with less authority abroad at this important time.

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No American can dispute that Soleimani created, supported and directed a network of terrorist organizations that spread havoc in the Middle East. In Syria he made it possible for the Assad regime to respond with brutality to its own people’s demands for freedom. More than 500,000 Syrians have died since 2011 and millions more have been displaced from their homes.

During the Iraq war, Soleimani oversaw three camps in Iran where his elite Quds Force trained and equipped Iraqi militias. According to the U.S. government, these fighters have killed more than 600 American soldiers since 2003. In another time, this would have been a just cause for an American war against Iran, and certainly for trying to eliminate Soleimani. Within Iran, the Quds Force has worked with the supreme leader to suppress freedom and economic opportunity, jail dissident politicians and journalists, and kill protesters in the streets.

From the perspective of American values and interests, it’s impossible to mourn the death of such a man, and Democrats haven’t. Their response thus far has been “Yes, but . . .,” adding worries that Soleimani’s death will provoke a violent response from Iran. Democrats have also suggested that the Trump administration has no coherent strategy toward Iran or that Mr. Trump shouldn’t have acted without notice to and permission from Congress.

Yet if we allow fear of a self-declared enemy like Iran to dictate our actions, we will only encourage them to come after us and our allies more aggressively. Some Democrats have said that killing Soleimani will lead us into war with Iran. In fact, Soleimani and the Quds Force have been at war with the U.S. for years. It is more likely that his death will diminish the chances of a wider conflict because the demonstration of our willingness to kill him will give Iranian leaders (and probably others like Kim Jong Un ) much to fear.

Some Democrats have also refused to appreciate Soleimani’s elimination because they say it isn’t part of an overall strategy for the region. But based on the public record, there is a strategy, beginning with the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the shift to maximum economic pressure, and now adding a demonstrated willingness to respond with military force to Iran’s provocations. The goal is to bring the Iranian government back into negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program and rejoin the world’s economy.

The claim by some Democrats that Mr. Trump had no authority to order this attack without congressional approval is constitutionally untenable and practically senseless. Authority to act quickly to eliminate a threat to the U.S. is inherent in the powers granted to the president by the Constitution. It defies common sense to argue that the president must notify Congress or begin a formal process of authorization before acting on an imminent threat.

On many occasions President Obama sensibly ordered drone strikes on dangerous terrorist leaders, including U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki. He did so without specific congressional authorization, and without significant Democratic opposition. Mr. Obama also “brought justice” to Osama bin Laden without prior, explicit congressional approval.

It is possible that anti-Trump partisanship isn’t behind Democrats’ reluctance to say they’re glad Soleimani is dead. It may be that today’s Democratic Party simply doesn’t believe in the use of force against America’s enemies in the world. I don’t believe that is true, but episodes like this one may lead many Americans to wonder whether it is. If enough voters decide that Democrats can’t be trusted to keep America safe, Mr. Trump won’t have much trouble winning a second term in November. That’s one more reason Democrats should leave partisan politics at “the water’s edge” and, whatever their opinion of President Trump on other matters, stand together against Iran and dangerous leaders like Qasem Soleimani.

Mr. Lieberman, a Democrat, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut, 1989-2013, and is chairman of No Labels, a national organization working to revive bipartisanship.

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BREAKING: US takes out Iran’s top terrorist commander in stunning airstrike at Baghdad airport. Iran vows “harsh retaliation.” US & Israeli forces on high alert. Here’s the latest.

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UPDATED (Jerusalem, Israel) — After months of being accused of not being willing to retaliate effectively against spiking Iranian aggression in the region, President Trump ordered the Pentagon to take out Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, last night.

Iran’s top terrorist commander — a close associate of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — was killed in a stunning airstrike at Baghdad International Airport.

“Also killed in the strike was a top Iraqi leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which is known as the PMF and is part of a larger umbrella group that includes a number of Shia militant groups supported by Iran,” reports the Military Times.

The Times cited a U.S. State Department report which “estimated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was responsible for 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 — roughly 603 casualties.”

Other senior Iranian military officials were also killed in the attack, Fox News reports.

“The game has changed,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters, noting that violent acts by Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq — such as the New Year’s Eve attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad — will now be met with U.S. military force.

The Associated Press notes that the U.S. has some 5,200 troops in Iraq at the moment, and 700 more are on the way.

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Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, based in Washington, notes, “The strike on Soleimani was more consequential than the killing of Osama bin Laden. The general’s experience, savvy and resources had made him Iran’s real foreign minister and close to irreplaceable for Tehran.”

“It’s one of the most consequential assassinations in the Middle East in years and will have violent and first order implications primarily for the US, Iran and Israel,” said Aaron David Miller, a former state department official at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Iran’s Khamenei vowed “harsh retaliation” for the attack. American military forces and diplomatic installations throughout the region are on full alert, as are Israeli forces, knowing the Jewish State could face severe new threats from Tehran.

The State Department is also Warning American citizens to leave Iraq immediately as Iranian-backed militias are likely to kidnap or kill Americans they find.

“In killing General Soleimani,” the New York Times reports, “Trump took an action that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had rejected, fearing it would lead to war between the United States and Iran.”

Just as President Obama deserved — and received — bipartisan credit for ordering American forces to take down Osama bin Laden, President Trump deserves credit from Americans in both major political parties for ordering this successful strike on Soleimani, as well as the recent take down of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

That’s the latest at this hour. Please follow me on Twitter for regular updates. And please be praying for calm and quiet in the region, and wisdom for US, Israeli and Arab leaders to know how best to contain and counter the Iranian threat.

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As 2020 begins, I’m using a great new app to read through the entire Bible — the #1 best-selling book of all time — and I’m encouraging you to do the same. Here’s how.

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(Jerusalem, Israel) — Whether you’re opening the Bible for the first time in your life, or have read it cover to cover numerous times, I hope you’ll join me in using a wonderful (and free) app called “Read Scripture.” 

I’m not associated with the team that developed it, nor do I receive any remuneration for mentioning it. It’s just a very well done app and after my pastor and wife recommended it I’m excited to use it this year.

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Beginning with Genesis chapter one, the app provides a daily plan of a few chapters of Scripture to read. Follow the plan and you’ll get through the whole thing in 365 days.

What I really like is that the app also provides a series of short but wonderfully creative and remarkably clear and helpful videos that provide context to what we’re reading.

Yes, the Bible can, for many, feel complicated and confusing at times. But the videos, developed by world class Bible teachers, help us see and keep track of the overarching story that God in His loving kindness is trying to communicate to us.

Shouldn’t 2020 be a year of seeing God, ourselves and the world more clearly than ever before? Come, let’s read through the entire Bible together.

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