This year was a big one for Israel and the Middle East region. Encompassing everything from the explosive growth of the Islamic State to the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, 2015 saw a lot of changes for the little Jewish state. As the year draws to a close, Breaking Israel News takes a look back through its archives to find the biggest Israel stories and trends of 2015.
1. ISIS Blows Up
While the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS (or IS, or ISIL), officially proclaimed its worldwide caliphate in 2014, it took some months for the little terrorist state to develop into a news story that made the world sit up and pay attention. Through its savvy grasp of social media and the horrifically sensational stream of beheading videos it released periodically, ISIS shot to prominence in 2015.
This year saw the decimation of the Yazidi population and the development of a roaring trade in sex slaves. Women and children captured as ISIS raged through Iraq and Syria were sold into slavery to ISIS fighters and Arab sheiks in an official revival of ancient slavery practices condoned and, in fact, encouraged by Islamic law. ISIS’s slave trade became an institution this year, complete with laws, regulations, records, pricing lists, and bills of sale.
ISIS also expanded into the field of killing and persecuting Christians within its territory, with reports – and videos – of mass killings, forced conversions under threat of death, and targeting churches and ancient Christian sites for destruction.
The militant organization ended the year with a bang, releasing videos threatening Israel directly. It also claimed that it would take over the Vatican and warned that it was coming for other Western countries as well, including the US. And it wasn’t an empty threat – ISIS-affiliated terror groups carried out attacks all over the world in 2015, killing 127 people in a horrific large-scale massacre in Paris.
ISIS has made no secret of its plans for world domination and its vision of a global caliphate, and despite good intentions, a US-led coalition sending airstrikes against ISIS strongholds has done little to stop the sprawl. Whether 2016 holds an escalation or resolution of the conflict with the Islamic State, ISIS is likely to figure large.
2. Iran: It’s a Deal
The notorious Iran nuclear deal was signed and sealed in 2015. Considered a triumph for world peace by some (Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama) and a colossal mistake of historic proportions by others (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many rabbis, pro-Israel Christian groups and, in fact, most supporters of Israel), the deal set out conditions for dismantling Iran’s nuclear program which, if met, would be rewarded by a lifting of economic sanctions on the country.
It took months of haggling as the US compromised more and more of its “red lines” and Iran demanded more and more leeway, but eventually the P1+5 committee came to an agreement. Obama faced harsh opposition in the Senate, and Netanyahu worked hard stop the deal from passing, warning that the deal made too many concessions to Iran – including allowing it to inspect its own nuclear facilities – and wouldn’t put into place any significant obstacles stopping Iran from going nuclear. Not only that, it would channel billions of dollars in trade to the country, providing potential funding for Iran’s terrorist activities.
However, despite the many objections to the deal, including direct appeals from Arab Gulf states to Obama stop the deal, and despite Iran’s blatant and brazen threats against the US even in the midst of negotiations and its almost immediate violations of the agreement’s terms, the deal passed, and was hailed as a “victory” by the Obama Administration.
It has already gone into effect, with Iran shipping out 25,000 tons of its enriched uranium in anticipation of “Implementation Day”, when sanctions will be officially lifted, expected to take place in January. Kerry and Obama have celebrated the deal, calling the diplomatic agreement “truly one of our most important accomplishments of 2015.”
Israel’s strong lobbying against the deal, and Obama’s determination to push it through, have caused serious fractures in relations between the two countries, increasing tensions which were already on the rise . . . as we will see below.
3. Whose Temple Mount?
The Temple Mount burst into the public eye this year as Jews began, for the first time in decades, to assert their legal and spiritual right to ascend to the most holy place in Judaism in larger numbers and, in response, Arabs asserted their right to riot, throw firebombs, verbally and physically assault visitors, and nearly burn down their own mosque.
The Arabs were concerned that Israel was secretly planning to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. That status quo, put into effect in 1976, allows – technically – all visitors to ascend to the site (at the whim and mercy of those in charge) but it forbids non-Muslims from praying there.
Temple Mount rights activists like Rabbi Yehudah Glick pointed out that the Israeli Supreme Court has upheld freedom of prayer, even on the Temple Mount, multiple times, but the Israel Police who are in charge of security at the site, which is controlled by a Muslim Waqf, violate the law daily by refusing to allow Jews or any non-Muslims to pray – largely because they are afraid of provoking the Arabs.
Unsurprisingly, when the untenable situation was brought to the world’s attention because of rising violence against non-Muslim tourists to the site, blame attached firmly to the Jews, who were cautioned to back down from the cause of the Temple Mount and stop Jews from ascending altogether in order to placate the Arabs.
As advocacy groups for the Temple Mount fought to make progress towards their goal of freedom of worship on the Temple Mount for all people of faith – which they did, a little – violence rose to a pitch on the Temple Mount. Any Jew or Christian who showed any sign of communing with a higher presence while in the vicinity of the Temple Mount was promptly banished from the site.
After a summer of escalating violence, something happened to draw attention away from the Temple Mount – a terror wave which hit the entire country.
4. Terror Takes Israel
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the ongoing wave of terror in Israel began. The series of constant, almost daily terror attacks, perpetrated by dozens of individual terrorists throughout the country, began after the October 1 shooting and killing of Nechama and Eitam Henkin as they drove with their four sons past a Palestinian village. The murder of the couple and the orphaning of their children seemed to unleash a reserve of pent-up violence in the Palestinian population just as it revved up Israelis to stand strong against the tidal wave of terror.
However, according to some, the story actually begins in August, when a group of Jewish extremists are suspected of firebombing a home in the Arab village of Duma. The attack killed three: a mother, a father, and a toddler. One of the Henkin’s killers later told investigators that he had shot the Jewish family in revenge for Duma.
Once the wave of terror gained steam, it quickly picked up momentum, urged forward by blatant incitement from Arab political and religious leaders and Palestinian social media campaigns encouraging attacks against Jews.
The Israeli population become used to daily reports of stabbings, car rammings, and shootings from the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to the back roads of Judea and Samaria. Dozens of individual terrorists, almost all under the age of 30 and ostensibly acting alone, ran to attack Jews and Israelis with dreams of martyrdom in their hearts.
Many got their wish. Israeli security forces – and civilians, most of whom have served in the IDF – did not hesitate to defend themselves and the people they were sworn to protect. The world didn’t see it that way, and almost instantly, left-wing groups, world media, and the UN began to condemn Israel for “excessive force” against the violent individuals who were charging Israelis with sharp knives, ramming them with cars and shooting them on their way to work.
Meanwhile, dozens of Israelis and Jews were being killed, including a young American boy, 18, who was in Israel for the year studying Torah. Hundreds more were injured, many seriously. The wave has slowed, but the incidents have by no means ceased.
5. US-Israel Relations Take a Nosedive
2015 was a rocky year for international relations between Israel and the US. While many American citizens are incredibly supportive of Israel, those in charge were less so. Obama and his administration did not go to great lengths to hide their personal dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu – or his politics. The tension between the two leaders was palpable when Netanyahu appeared before Congress to argue against the Iran deal without notifying Obama first.
One bump came in June when the US Supreme Court backed up Obama’s decision not to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when it ruled that “Jerusalem, Israel” was not a valid birthplace in passport listings. Ongoing tension over Obama and Kerry’s emphasis of the two-state solution and condemnation of Israel’s settlement communities led to another snafu after Kerry blamed the wave of terror on Palestinian frustration over the increase in building in Judea and Samaria.
The Iran deal was a huge source of tension between the countries, leading to Israel deciding to suspend talks with the US over security aid while negotiations were underway. Obama was unambiguous about his plan to drive through the deal regardless of Israel’s objections. Various diplomatic bickerings throughout the year revealed a very ugly side to US-Israel relations.
At the same time, the two countries strove to make clear that they would always be allies. The US promised that if Iran should attack Israel, America would protect it. The US Army and IDF continued to collaborate on developing defense technology and joint training exercises. In October, five US congressmen braved the wave of violence to visit Israel, showing support in its time of need.
As Obama’s administration enters its eighth and final year, Americans and Israelis alike are hopeful that the next president will work to improve US-Israel relations even further. The current crop of presidential candidates has had much to say on the subject of Israel, but only time will tell whose campaign promises will come true.
6. Evangelical Support for Israel: Up, Up, and Away
On a lighter note, 2015 was a great year for relations between Israel and Evangelical Christians worldwide. While a wide gulf once separated Jewish and Christian interests, people of faith are coming together in support of a cause both groups can get behind – the inherent holiness and importance of the Land of Israel.
This year, Zionist Christian individuals and organizations the world over united with Jews in prayer, worked with Israel against the Iran nuclear deal, convened a special session at the UN to educate Christians about the importance of standing with Israel and fighting anti-Seimitism, rallied in Jerusalem in support of Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount, donated millions to dozens of Israeli, Jewish, and interfaith causes, sent invaluable help to victims of the latest terror wave, and helped Jews from all over the world make aliyah to Israel.
Jewish and Christian leaders came together more than ever before to discuss their shared Biblical roots, to promote understanding between the religions, to declare their joint beliefs in the inherent holiness and importance of Israel, and to work together towards building redemption.
Christians the world over showed their love this year for the place where “God’s eyes are always on the land”, connecting to Israel by staying informed on Biblical news from the Biblical state (thanks to our BIN readers!), speaking out in support of Israel in the face of rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, supporting charitable causes in Israel, and helping build up the Israeli economy while anti-Israel movements like BDS fought to destroy it.
Breaking Israel News looks forward to another year of strengthening ties between Israel and its supporters throughout the world, connecting the dots between Israel’s ancient Biblical history and modern events, and providing a uniquely Biblical perspective to our millions of readers.
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Source: Israel in the News