Global Review has the pleasure of another interview with Daniel Pipes, the American historian and expert on Islam, about the “New Middle East.” Born in 1949, he is the president of the Middle East Forum and publisher of its Middle East Quarterly journal.
After graduating with an AB and PhD from Harvard, Pipes taught at Harvard, Chicago, Pepperdine, and the U.S. Naval War College. He worked in the State and Defense departments before serving as director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. His 2003 nomination by U.S. President George W. Bush to the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace was opposed by Islamist groups.
Pipes has written eighteen books. The most recent, Islamism vs. The West: 35 Years of Geopolitical Struggle (New York: Wicked Son) will be published later this month. His next book will be on Israel Victory.
For Daniel Pipes‘ writings and videos, see http://www.danielpipes.org
Global Review: Were the U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan a strategic mistake or did they permit a focus of American forces on the great power competition with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran?
Daniel Pipes: They, and especially the rout in Afghanistan, were disasters. One cannot justify them on any grounds. Again and again, Americans prove themselves to be unreliable allies.
GR: Please compare Trump’s and Biden´s Middle East policies.
DP: Trump got Iran right, Biden gets it wrong, and that is the most decisive issue. Trump was also better on Israel. Biden is a bit better on Turkey. They are about equally bad on Saudi Arabia, with Trump not responding to an Iranian attack and Biden unnecessarily hostile. So, in all, Trump was better.
GR: What is the correct balance between humanitarian concerns and national interest when it comes to Saudi Arabia?
DP: You raise here the perpetual American tension between caring for others and looking out for ourselves. In the case of Saudi Arabia and its young, impetuous effective ruler, Mohammad bin Salman, that means making clear our displeasure at his “shoot first, ask questions later” approach while maintaining the long-standing security relationship.
GR: Is there a prospect of a U.S.-Saudi defense treaty?
DP: If you mean a NATO-style Article 5, where the United States is committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, it seems out of the question; that can only work with a fellow democracy. But something less binding has long existed and should be possible going forward.
GR: The Iranian regime speaks of a “final battle” to drive the United States and Israel from the Middle East. How is that effort going?
DP: Not well. Iranian aggressiveness pushes regional governments and peoples toward the United States and Israel, as shown by the Abraham Accords and the current Saudi-Israel rapprochement.
GR: What role do the Palestinians play in current U.S.-Saudi-Israeli diplomacy?
DP: This is in flux. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his view clear: “The Palestinians could greatly benefit from a broader peace. They should be part of that process, but they should not have a veto over the process.” The Saudis seem ready to pay the Palestinian Authority off to stay quiet. The Biden administration wants major Israeli concessions to the PA. The PA itself wants to stop the entire process. In the end, I foresee some compromise that works for all the parties except the PA, which will turn to its vast constituency for support.
GR: Can an Israel-Saudi deal finally create a “New Middle East”?
DP: That term dates back to an influential 1993 book, The New Middle East, by Israel’s perpetual politician, Shimon Peres. He was partially correct in assessing that, “In the past, the central issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict was the Palestinian problem. This is no longer true; now it is the nuclear threat.” But he was wrong in envisioning “a Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli ‘Benelux’ arrangement for economic affairs … allowing each to live in peace and prosperity.” Even more erroneously, he predicted the whole of the Middle East uniting “in a common market.” So long as the Middle East remains dominated by autocrats, it will remain the same old Middle East.
GR: Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen expects that many more Muslim-majority countries will follow Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords; is this realistic?
DP: Over time, yes. Oman is a natural. Tunisia and Kuwait might eventually join in. I can one day imagine Algeria, Libya, and Iraq. The larger point is, the Arab states fifty years ago gave up their war with Israel, in the aftermath of the October 1973 war. One by one, they are coming to terms with the Jewish state. The Palestinians are more complex, with the population going in this same direction while the leaderships, whether PA or Hamas, ever more hostile.
GR: The recently announced U.S.-sponsored India – Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) proposes “to stimulate economic development through enhanced connectivity and economic integration between Asia, the Arabian Gulf, and Europe. … It will include a railway that, upon completion, will provide a reliable and cost-effective cross-border ship-to-rail transit network to supplement existing maritime and road transport routes – enabling goods and services to transit to, from, and between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and Europe.” What do you make of this plan?
DP: A decade later, it represents a response in kind to Communist China’s vast Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It also competes with prior grand plans such as the 2021 the Global Gateway and the 2022 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, not to speak of the existing Suez Canal and Trans-Asian Railway. Given these alternatives, the cost of IMEC, and its political challenges, I am skeptical of its potential.
GR: It is inaccurate to call the current situation on the West Bank “apartheid” but are there circumstances in which that term could apply?
DP: Yes, calling Israel an apartheid state is a slander. I do not see the country going in that direction, though some plans for the West Bank could justify it. I am thinking in particular of what is sometimes called the One-State Solution. It has Israel annex the whole West Bank, extend Israeli sovereignty over it, and apply Israeli civil law throughout. As in eastern Jerusalem since 1967, Palestinians would enjoy permanent residency and have the opportunity to apply for citizenship. This turns the fraught situation of Jerusalem’s non-citizen Muslim population into a model for its much larger West Bank counterpart. Should West Bankers decide to remain as permanent residents who lack the full rights of citizens, a two-tier body politic emerges that would credibly be called apartheid.
GR: After so many years, Netanyahu and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have met; what do you make of this?
DP: Erdoğan, an Islamist, despises Israel but understands he sometimes must make nice to it. In his first decade of rule (2003-13), Israeli leaders thought they could do business with him. They have since wised up. I hope Netanyahu deals transactionally with Erdoğan and makes no commitments, like a pipeline via Turkey, that would render Israel hostage to Ankara’s whims.
GR: Can Netanyahu escape his judicial review problem by dropping Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in favor of a coalition with Benny Gantz?
DP: Netanyahu duped Gantz once; it is hard to imagine Gantz joining with Netanyahu again, this time to salvage his government. Aware of this, Ben Gvir and Smotrich are fully exploiting their power.
GR: Is there a prospect of a military coup d’état in Israel?
DP: I cannot imagine that. The Israel Defense Forces thoroughly accept the primacy of political control.