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Expert: Iranian issue tests U.S. credibility
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Expert: Iranian issue tests U.S. credibility

Nuclear face-off, Egypt top speaker’s agenda at Major Gifts Event

While keeping his comments carefully nonpartisan in this pre-election season, Middle East expert David Makovsky was emphatic that “American credibility is on the line” when it comes to dealing with the issue of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

America’s track record on preemptive action is poor, he told an audience in Livingston on Sept. 20, pointing to what happened with Japan in World War II and with North Korea more recently — an approach he characterized as “Too early, too early…. Oops, too late!”

Makovsky, the author of two books on peacemaking efforts in the region and director of the Washington Institute’s Project on the Middle East Peace Process, was the keynote speaker at the Major Gifts Event hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ at the Crystal Plaza.

About 270 people attended the event, the first of its kind for major donors to the Greater MetroWest federation’s United Jewish Appeal since the merger last July of the MetroWest and Central NJ federations. The new entity has a combined annual campaign of around $24 million.

Iran figured heavily in the talk by Makovsky, a former Jerusalem Post editor and Ha’aretz correspondent who is now the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute. Makovsky is also the author of a recent article in The New Yorker on Israel’s secret strike on a site believed to be a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

He didn’t offer specifics on what action should be taken to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb. A preventive strike would be just the first move in a possibly prolonged conflict, he said. While Israel faces the most urgent existential threat, the whole region is involved. He said two Gulf State foreign ministers recently said to him, “David, Iran with a bomb will have us under its sway.”

It is vital, Makovsky said, that the United States and Israel present a united front toward Iran, with firm limits conveyed to Iran’s leaders, either publicly or in private. There is no substitute for intimacy between Israel and the American president, “whoever he — or she — might be,” said Makovsky.

Turning to the other parts of the region, Makovsky said the United States has some leverage with the leaders of Egypt, which, he noted, has lower foreign currency reserves than Apple. Still, with a new regime headed by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, there is no knowing how that will play out. “No one predicted that President Morsi would sack three of his top generals, and then another 70,” Makovsky said, referring by Morsi’s move in August to shift power away from the forces that removed dictator Hosni Mubarak after the popular uprising last year.

If the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is broken, Makovsky said, “no other peace treaty will be tried.”

The evening drew around 270 people. Susan and Glenn Langberg, Marian and David Rocker, and Sylvia and Saul Seltzer served as chairs of the event. Kenneth Heyman, president of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest NJ, told the audience that the foundation had distributed $713,000 in grants in support of the campaign and Lion of Judah endowments for a variety of Jewish and social service causes over the past year. Hilary Levine, of North Caldwell described how the federation has won her loyalty, first as a teenager involved with the Israel Program Center, and then later as a counselor at camps in Israel supported by the federation. “And the connection only gets stronger over the years,” she said.

As in the past two years, rather than pledge cards, attendees were given “conversation cards” and an invitation to have a face-to-face meeting with a fellow community member, and to make a pledge then. To build “our Jewish future, it is imperative that we be partners in building a stronger, better community,” said UJA Campaign chair Leslie Dannin Rosenthal. “When we go alone, we go faster, but when we go together, we go further.”

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