Benjamin Netanyahu made global headlines yesterday when he spoke to a joint session of Congress on the threat posed by Iranian nuclear weapons. How should we view his remarks? How are they relevant to you this morning?
Some compared the Israeli prime minister to Winston Churchill, courageously warning against appeasing a dangerous enemy. Indeed, a bust of Churchill was presented to Mr. Netanyahu by Speaker of the House John Boehner before the prime minister spoke. Others argued that Mr. Netanyahu’s speech told us nothing we did not already know about Iran, threatened U.S.-Israeli relations at a perilous moment in human history, and served to advance the prime minister’s popularity during elections at home.
My purpose today is not to cast a vote in the debate, but to frame it in larger context. George Friedman’s The Next 100 Years has made popular the geo-political concept of “metanarrative.” This term describes a nation’s overriding agenda in the world, its historic and cultural DNA as they motivate national leaders and their global actions. Applied to yesterday’s speech, we see three metanarratives at work.
The Israeli metanarrative is clear: the survival of the Jewish state. Today Israel finds herself surrounded by Iranian proxies: Hezbollah to the north, Hamas to the west, and encroaching Shiite militants in Syria to the northeast. Given Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s continued call for Israel to be annihilated, Israel is right to fear the results of a nuclear Iran. Even if the Iranian regime never actually used nuclear weapons, their existence would embolden radical Muslim enemies of the Jewish state and escalate greatly the threats Israel faces. Israel understandably is calling for an Iran with no nuclear capacity, and thus no ability quickly to make nuclear weapons.
The Iranian metanarrative goes back to the Persian Empire, five centuries before Christ. Once the most powerful and culturally advanced civilization on earth, it was supplanted by Greece and then Rome. Today’s Iran is essentially the Persia of history. Many of her leaders want Iran to recreate the Persian Empire, and see nuclear weapons as a significant means of expanding Iranian influence and power. They want nuclear technology for energy purposes, and the threat or even existence of nuclear weapons for global leverage.
The American metanarrative essentially seeks to preserve the economic and security aims of the U.S. around the world. We want Iranian help in combating the global threat of radical Islam. We would like Iranian economic and energy resources to provide a counterbalance to Russia and China. As a result, many of our leaders want to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons but not from nuclear technology.
How these three metanarratives conflict and align with one another will determine the outcome of the Iranian problem. It has never been more urgent that Christians pray for peace in Jerusalem and Israel (Psalm 122:6), wisdom for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), and spiritual awakening in the Middle East and around the world (2 Chronicles 7:13-14). Will you take a moment to join me in such intercession, right now?
Note: for a review of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, please see Nick Pitts’s Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Congress.