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Christian right steps in on Mideast

A strong, new pro-Israeli voice muscles into the traditional Jewish-Arab political dynamic in Washington.

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The battle over the future of the Middle East isn't just being fought in Jerusalem, Jenin, and Arab capitals. It's also being waged in Washington – in congressional corridors, cable TV studios, and scathing memos "blast-faxed" all over town.

This latest round of a long-running policy debate also includes a new group of combatants: Christian conservatives.

Many in this pro-Israel campsee Biblical prophecy being played out in current events. They're rallying their members – and lobbying ideological allies inside the White House – to push the US to stand squarely behind Israel. While they're hardly dictating US policy, it's clear that these conservatives now have a strong voice in the debate.

Christian groups' new vigor creates "a significant change" in the political dynamic – and makes Republicans "the more-muscular pro-Israel party," says Marshall Wittmann of the Hudson Institute here. Ultimately, everyone has one goal, he adds: "There's only one person they're trying to influence – the pres- ident of the United States, who's not indifferent to political sentiment." In one sense, the argument boils down to two competing visions of America's war on terror.

Pro-Israeli groups – including Christian conservatives – say Israel is America's only reliable Mideast ally. It's a democracy. It shares similar values. And it, too, is fighting a war on terrorism.

Others counter that US interests in the region – besides access to oil – now include getting antiterror help from Arab states and confronting Iraq. To protect those interests, they argue, the US must force Israel and the Palestinians to find peace.

Biblical prophecy

The debate's new powerhouses are Christian conservatives. "The best friends that Israel has are Bible-believing Christians," says Ed McAteer, founder of the Memphis-based Religious Roundtable.

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