WASHINGTON (BP) — A genocidal chapter in the ancient relationship between Israel and Iran could be the result of a nuclear agreement the United States may sign with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a joint meeting of Congress March 3.
Threats by the modern Persian state of Iran to annihilate Jews, Netanyahu said, are frighteningly reminiscent of the murderous Old Testament plot hatched by the Persian viceroy Haman — whose plan to kill all Jews was foiled by the Persian queen Esther, a Jew, and recounted in the biblical book bearing her name.
Iran’s threats could translate into horrific violence if a nuclear deal reported widely in the media is signed, the prime minister said, noting that the day following his address, Jews would begin celebrating Purim, a feast commemorating their deliverance under Esther.
“Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews that oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology,” Netanyahu said, lamenting that the “very talented” Iranian people were “hijacked” by the “religious zealots” of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Khamenei tweeted in November, “This barbaric, wolflike & infanticidal regime of #Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated.” In a separate tweet, Khamenei said he was not suggesting “the massacre of the Jewish people,” but he advocated arming Muslims in the West Bank to fight Israel.
Netanyahu told Congress that striking a nuclear deal with Khamenei’s regime would not inspire Iran to decrease its aggression toward Israel and that the specific deal under consideration “would all but guarantee” that Iran obtains nuclear weapons — “lots of them.”
The nuclear deal being considered by Iran, the U.S. and five other nations would allow Iran to keep around 6,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges while limiting development of more efficient centrifuges. It also would limit stockpiles of material that could be developed into nuclear weapons and subject Iran’s nuclear facilities to inspection, as described by the Washington Post. The agreement likely would last 10-15 years, and a March 24 deadline has been set for establishing the framework of a final accord.
Not “a single nuclear facility” would be demolished under the agreement, Netanyahu said, and Iran could amass a “full arsenal” of nuclear weapons legitimately after the accord expires. He urged legislators to press for a “much better deal” that would:
— Further restrict Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.
— Maintain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program until it ceases aggression toward Israel and other neighbor states.
— Demand that Iran stop supporting terrorism around the world.
America must secure a “better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live — literally,” Netanyahu said.
President Obama, who did not watch the speech but reviewed a transcript, said Netanyahu’s demands are unrealistic and would cause Iran to walk away from negotiations with an unchecked nuclear program, the New York Times reported. A senior administration official told the Times that Netanyahu is inconsistent to insist that Iran change yet simultaneously portray its government as unchanging.
Evangelical commentators said Netanyahu’s comparison of modern Iran with Haman of the Old Testament was appropriate.
Jim Sibley, a professor of biblical studies at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel, called the timing of Netanyahu’s speech “remarkable.”
“The day following Netanyahu’s address to Congress marks the beginning of the Feast of Purim, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from an Iranian anti-Semitic plot to exterminate them. At that time, God raised up Esther, who was willing to breach protocol in order to plead for their deliverance,” Sibley told Baptist Press in written comments.
“Iran and others who turn against Israel have fallen under the curse of Genesis 12:3 and may well be paving the way for the great end-times enemy of Israel and God,” Sibley said. In Genesis 12:3, God promised to bless those who bless Abraham’s descendants and curse those who curse them.
Sibley added, “God is dealing with the Jewish people on the stage of current events, drawing them back from the four corners of the earth to the land of Israel. This, together with the rapidly growing number of Jewish believers in Yeshua [Jesus], increasingly amplifies the cognitive dissonance inherent within any view that claims that Israel no longer occupies a unique role in God’s purposes.”
Mitch Glaser, a Jewish follower of Jesus and president of Chosen People Ministries in New York City, agreed that Netanyahu’s citation of Esther was appropriate.
“The story of Esther provides a very obvious and powerful parallel for the modern Hamans of Iran who are incessantly trying to destroy Israel through arming Hezbollah, Gaza and others seeking the destruction of Israel,” Glaser told BP in written comments. “The prime minister pointed out the blatancy of the religious leadership of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei.”
Israel & ancient Persia
Not all of the Persian Empire’s Old Testament dealings with Israel were as destructive as those recounted in Esther. The Persian king Cyrus defeated Babylon in 539 B.C. and allowed Jews to return to the Promised Land and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). After a break in construction, Jews completed the Temple under the Persian monarch Darius I, with Darius funding the project, protecting the builders and donating animals and other materials for Temple sacrifices (Ezra 6:6-12).
Daniel began his ministry under Babylonian rule, but it continued under the Persians. He prophesied their rise to power (Daniel 5:1-31), and King Darius placed him in a significant position of authority within the Persian Empire (Daniel 6:1-3). Although Daniel was cast into the lions’ den when he prayed to God rather than the Persian king, Darius announced upon Daniel’s miraculous rescue, “I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (Daniel 6:26). Later, the Persian king Artaxerxes allowed his Jewish adviser Nehemiah to lead an effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, guaranteeing Nehemiah’s safe passage to Judah and providing timber for the project (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
At the height of its influence, the Persian Empire stretched from Egypt in the south to southern Russia in the north, from Greece in the west to India in the east. The empire fell to Alexander the Great and the Greeks in 334 B.C. However, Persian influence continued in the New Testament, as when Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), using a word for heaven derived from the Persian term for “park.”
Relations between Jews and Persians became more strained in the seventh century A.D., when Muhammad founded Islam and Muslims conquered the region inhabited by Persians. Because most Jews did not accept Islam, Muhammad grew hostile toward them, beheading at least 600 in Medina in 627 and executing others elsewhere, according to a classic Muhammad biography published in English as “The Life of Muhammad.”
Israel & contemporary jihad
Netanyahu told Congress that contemporary Iranian aggression is a continuation of Islamist jihad. The main difference between ISIS and the Iranian regime, he said, “is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.”
Fred Fleitz, senior vice president for policy and programs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, agreed with Netanyahu’s reservations about the nuclear accord being considered by the U.S. and Iran. Fleitz told BP the deal is a “giveaway.”
“Iran is a radical Islamic state,” Fleitz said. “It is pushing Islamic supremacism. It is trying to push its brand of Shia Islam around the world, and it sees the United States and Israel as enemies.”
Some in Iran, like past president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Fleitz said, believe that a messianic figure known as the “12th Imam” is alive today and will reveal himself at the end of time. Known as “Twelvers,” those who hold this belief think the 12th Imam’s return will be precipitated by a series of cataclysmic events that presumably could include nuclear war.
Although Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful, Fleitz said there is “no conceivable way” the nation’s uranium enrichment activities are merely to produce nuclear power. There is “every possibility” Iran is lying in nuclear negotiations because it has violated past agreements multiple times.
“We should be trying to work cooperatively with Iran, but the price the Obama administration is trying to pay to get a deal is simply too high,” Fleitz said.
The U.S. demanded in the past that Iran give up centrifuges and plutonium reactors and answer questions about its military activities, Fleitz said. But America has wrongly conceded those demands in recent negotiations.
An acceptable deal would be to sell Iran discounted nuclear fuel rods to power its nuclear energy program and convert the nation’s enriched uranium stockpile into fuel rods. In exchange, Iran would abandon its uranium enrichment capability, Fleitz said.
That recommendation aligns with the views of Netanyahu, who contrasted the U.S. Constitution’s celebration of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” with the Iranian regime’s celebration of “death, tyranny and the pursuit of jihad.”
Netanyahu closed his address by applying Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 31:6 to Israel and America’s relations with Iran.
“Be strong and resolute,” Netanyahu said. “Neither fear nor dread them.”