Israel (MNN) — Israel and Syria are technically still at war, despite a ceasefire in 1974 that gave Israel the Golan Heights.
However, over the weekend, what has been a quiet demilitarized zone saw a lot of action. By Monday, mortars had been exchanged and Syrian tanks were in the DMZ. Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton explains, "The border zone is supposedly an area of separation where neither side has military assets. And yet, we see Syrian tanks now in the Golan Heights."
Provocative actions like this amp up the tensions to a tipping point, says Nettleton. "It just puts both countries very much on high alert. Really, the concern is: ‘Where does it go from here?' Could it, in fact, get worse and even escalate into open hostilities between the two countries?"
Israel seems eager to calm the situation, but they have asked for help from the United Nations in controlling what it calls the ‘dangerous escalation' of hostilities. "Syria says this is just part of the civil war, we're not really controlling those," Nettleton says. But "that raises obvious questions, as well, of whether military assets are now in hands of the rebels in Syria."
19 months after a revolt by Syrians against President Bashar al-Assad that began as peaceful rallies calling for more freedoms and democracy, it remains an ugly armed struggle that seems to escalate on a daily basis.
The risk of Israel being dragged into the spreading conflict seems likely as it is already spilling across borders with Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. "There is a chance of believers being caught in the crossfire. As the military situation escalates, the Christians there face the choice: ‘Do we try to leave? Do we try to get to some place safer? Do we just hunker down and try to wait it out?'"
On Friday, the United Nations reported the latest spikes in violence caused 11,000 people to flee to the surrounding areas. Nettleton says there's really not a lot of choice for Israelis who want to leave. They are surrounded by enemies. "Everything militarily in Israel is very much on high alert right now. I think we have to wait and see what will happen as far as people moving out of the area, people trying to find someplace safe. Israel is a very small country, so you cannot get very far from these border regions."
Israel's officials say they will vigorously defend themselves if attacks persist. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; pray for all of the people of Israel," encourages Nettleton, adding a focus on "Christians who are in this border region, or in Syria itself, because we know that the civil war has affected the church and has affected Christians there as well."
In times of uncertainty and upheaval, Nettleton says there is fear. But he also says there is the question of mortality. When people face the end of life, they start thinking about eternity and what come after that, he explains. So in spite of the strain of the unknown in a hostile situation, "It really can be a time of planting Gospel seeds and harvesting, as well. We need to pray in that direction. We need to pray that there will be openness, that there will be opportunities to share the Gospel, and that when those opportunities come, Christians can be bold witnesses."