Expert skeptical of Iran’s ‘overtures’

Expert skeptical of Iran’s ‘overtures’

Mideast expert Daniel Pipes was the featured speaker as 70 community members attended the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County’s Major Gifts event on Oct. 3 at the Spring Lake home of Joyce and Neil Goldstein.

The event is a gathering of donors who contribute $6,000 or more to the federation’s annual campaign.

Pipes, president of the think tank the Middle East Forum, focused on five key issues,  beginning with his skepticism about the potential of the thawing of relations between the West and Iran.

Despite Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent diplomatic overtures, Pipes stressed that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, not Rouhani, is in charge.

Rouhani’s overtures may result in months of negotiations, but to what end? asked Pipes. “There are many UN resolutions already spelling out what they need to do,” he said, referring to international demands on Iran to curtail its suspected nuclear weapons.

Regarding the Arab Spring, Pipes argued that the Middle East has stagnated since the 1970s, when “greedy rulers” of such countries as Tunisia, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt emerged to control their countries “so that they could benefit.” Though the situation in many of these countries is ugly, “this kind of upheaval is a necessary process.”

Both sides in the Syrian war are problematic, Pipes said, adding that the best situation is for them to continue fighting each other.

Regarding Egypt, he welcomed the popular upheaval that ousted president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, who had ignored the country’s economy and personal security concerns. Pipes claimed that, for the first time in decades, the Islamist movement may be in trouble.

Pipes also asserted that the United States is in retreat when it comes to international affairs. He said Qatar, with only 225,000 nationals but with abundant resources and the Al Jazeera network, now seems to have more influence in the foreign policy arena than the United States.

Pipes was also skeptical about the United States’ renewed focus on the Palestinian issue. Little seems to have changed in the 20 years since the Oslo Accords, which Pipes regards as a failure. “So why is [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry leading an effort with the same approach?” Pipes asked, suggesting that diplomats make a mistaken linkage between progress in peace talks and other issues in the Middle East.

Pipes also spoke about Israel’s remarkable successes. Not only does the country have the third-most listings on NASDAQ, after China and the United States, he said, but the country’s growth rate in both population and economy is the highest in the Western world.

The biggest issues Israel faces today are threats from weapons of mass destruction and the growing delegitimization movement. “That is the battlefield we all face,” he said.

Federation board member David Portman presented a leadership award to Maddy and Arthur Seeman of Morganville, and federation board chair Joe Hollander addressed the donors, thanking them for their leadership and support.

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