“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…” (Matthew 24:6, NIV)
There has been a false story of a military move by Saudi Arabia and its allies invading Syria. We are seeing a “rumor of war” and like most rumors there is a kernel of truth but it has been blown up to greatly exaggerated proportions.
I was going to ignore the whole story until I had a conversation this morning. Charlie and Keith had me on their program Good Morning Ozarks this morning – and it’s always a pleasure visiting with those two. One thing they briefly mentioned was this report of 350,000 invading Syria, and how it had many people there in Branson greatly concerned. I consider Charlie and Keith to be dear brothers and Branson to be a microcosm of the church. The story has indeed encroached on many Christian news outlets with large audiences. Here is an example of the story and another. (By the way, here is an example of a proper article about the military exercise and Saudi Arabia.)
I wasn’t going to speak up about this false story. But I believe the time has come to speak up about a rumor that has propagated across the internet, needlessly worrying so many in the church. Let’s separate fact from fiction and keep level heads.
Saudi Arabia did announce back in mid-February that it was going to send F-15s and troops to Turkey, to join Turkish forces to invade Syria. That all by itself is a potential trigger for the Second Signpost. Saudi Arabia then announced on its state run media that it would hold a military exercise with its listed allies, called “Northern Thunder” for three weeks going through the beginning of March, at King Khalid Military City. That is about 80 miles southwest of Kuwait and has accommodations for 60,000 personnel. The purpose it is truly reported in the Saudi media is to learn how to coordinate the military forces tactics between many allied countries. This makes sense. There is no mention of 350,000 troops.
But then a particular sensational report – a false report – was generated by someone and it was propagated to many news sites. It was claimed that Saudi media announced 350,000 troops with 20,000 tanks would participate in the exercise and it would be a staging area for a ground invasion of Syria. This is just not true. Some news sites like those linked above, run by people who I even consider friends just got caught up with the hype of this story. It is a whopper of a story. It just shows in these times how nervous people are and what people might be expecting, so that a sensational false story like this gets propagated so easily. My “gripe” is not with the news outlets but by the originators of the story.
And this story is ridiculous for a few reasons if you think about it.
First, Saudi Arabia only has 225,000 troops total. It won’t tie up more than say 20,000 to 40,000 troops for an exercise or invasion and leave the peninsula undefended. Second, the allies include Gulf States like tiny Qatar who were reported as sending as many (or as few depending on how you look at it) as 600 troops (a Qatari battalion is about 600 troops). Third, the allies that have more troops like Morocco or Sudan are much further away and it costs money to send tens of thousands of troops over thousands of miles. Fourth, 20,000 tanks is over the top; even Russia itself could barely field a force of that size and that includes all of its inventory.
Fifth, this false report talks about how if you were going to invade Syria, this is how you would do it. I strongly disagree. The exercise is 600 miles away from the Syrian border as the crow flies (see map). So these troops would have to travel over a no-man’s land with no roads through northern Jordan, or through IS territory in Iraq if roads are preferred. No, if I were to invade I would gather at the Turkish border with Syria, but again right now very little is happening along those lines.
The exercise will end around March 10. When this exercise ends and the troops go back to their home countries, and nothing has happened, will those who are responsible for the false report apologize or be held accountable? Probably not. But perhaps we in the church can learn from all this.
When seeing reports like these, we can take the time to examine the facts and see if they make sense. This is also a good reminder for us that we need to always pray and ask our Lord for wisdom on such matters. If you are his, He will likely give you a spirit of peace in the face of false rumors. We must have clear heads, logical thinking, and active prayer lives to sort through rumors and false reports like these.
The Bible tells us, it will be the Second Signpost itself, that will be truly terrible.