Interview given to the Journal of Geopolitics by Dr. Daniel Pipes
Daniel Pipes (born September 9, 1949) is an American historian, writer,
and commentator. He is the president of the Middle East Forum,
and publisher of its Middle East Quarterly journal. His writing focuses
on American foreign policy and the Middle East. Distinguished Visiting Professor
at Pepperdine University‘s School of Public Policy (Spring ’07); Expert at Wikistrat
Vasile Simileanu: How do you see the evolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
Daniel Pipes: For 25 years, 1948-73, Arab states dominated in the war against Israel. Losing every battle, they finally quit and handed anti-Zionism over to the Palestinians, who eagerly assumed the leadership. In the next nearly 50 years, the Palestinians proved themselves highly talented at making war despite the absence of economic or military power. Still, they too lost every battle. The question then arises, how long can Palestinians persevere at losing? The answer depends on Israel’s determination to win—and, so far, it has been unprepared to take the necessary steps. Should that remain the case, the conflict could easily go on for another 50 years.
Vasile Simileanu: What is the state of Israel’s security relations with Arab states?
Daniel Pipes: Those relations have slowly improved since 1973, marked by such major developments as Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, the Jordan peace treaty in 1994, and the Abraham Accords in 2020. By now, the most threatening governmental hostility to Israel comes from not from Arab states but from non-Arab Muslim states: Turkey and Iran especially, but also Pakistan and Malaysia.
Vasile Simileanu: Please comment on Tehran’s belligerent statements versus the State of Israel.
Daniel Pipes: The Islamic Republic of Iran derives much of its legitimacy from anti-Zionism, so it constantly, ferociously verbally attacks Israel. The regime has shown much more caution militarily, though its nuclear arms buildup suggest it eventually hopes to take the fight to that level.
Vasile Simileanu: What is the U.S. role in Arab-Israeli negotiations?
Daniel Pipes: “Peace processors” in Washington focus on the Palestinian-Israeli track, but that endlessly goes nowhere; Palestinian hostility in the West Bank and Gaza remains about as high now as before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. The Trump administration tried this track, got nowhere, and then switched focus to the states and that brought immediate results. The Biden administration has gone back to the Palestinian track, so the U.S. role for now amounts to little.
Vasile Simileanu: What do you predict for Turkey’s foreign policy under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, noting his hope to regain influence over states of the former Ottoman Empire, its complex relations with Iran and Russia, and its membership in NATO?
Daniel Pipes: Erdoğan is a brilliant politician in the context of Turkey’s domestic scene but quite inept in foreign affairs. He has poor relations with the entire Middle East except for Azerbaijan and Qatar, and also poor relations with all major world powers. As Erdoğan is not someone who draws lessons learned (look at the currency crisis now underway), I see a continuation of foreign policy ineptitude.
Vasile Simileanu: Noting Turkey’s involvement in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, please predict its path in the Middle East.
Daniel Pipes: Like the Iranians, Erdoğan has made Islam his international calling card. He has two advantages over Tehran, however: being Sunni (as are roughly 90 percent of all Muslims) and being less violent. Still, his hopes in 2011 of leading an Islamist insurrection through the Middle East floundered, reducing him to rehabilitating Ottoman-era structures and joining others’ wars. As this suggests, I see Turkey as a secondary power in Middle East conflicts.
Vasile Simileanu: How do you interpret the new Russia-Turkey-Iran-Azerbaijan-Armenia theater?
Daniel Pipes: The Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict drives this theater, with Turkey unequivocally supporting its fellow Turkic-speakers in Azerbaijan, Iran more reluctantly supporting Christian Armenia, and Russia exploiting the situation to forward its own interests. Israel is the wild card here, for it morally and strategically should align with Armenia but instead supports Azerbaijan.
Vasile Simileanu: What about the Russia-Turkey-Iran partnership?
Daniel Pipes: It’s a big like talking about the German-Italy-Japan partnership in World War II; in both cases, the trio share little that is constructive; mostly, they share opposition to common enemies. That will not get them or their alliance very far.
Vasile Simileanu: Will Turkey leave NATO to join Russia in creating a new geo-strategic alliance?
Daniel Pipes: No, the Turkish leadership wishes to play off the two sides and NATO membership helps greatly to maintain a balance. By the way, this fits into a larger Muslim impulse toward neutralism. As I wrote 40 years ago: “Nasser epitomized this tendency when he played the United States and Soviet Union off against each other, knowing just how far he could go, extracting maximum benefits from both sides. It has been mostly Muslim leaders who have emulated him in this characteristically Muslim skill—for example, in Algeria, North Yemen, and pre-1978 Afghanistan.” This pattern goes back to a Muslim wariness of getting too close to foreign powers.
Vasile Simileanu: Given its military base in Djibouti and its economic ambitions, what are the implications of China’s rise for the Middle East?
Daniel Pipes: As elsewhere around the globe, the Chinese Communist Party is patiently laying the groundwork in the Middle East to achieve greater influence in the future by making friends, learning local circumstances, and building economic infrastructure. Whether this will work out as planned is an open question, however, as China’s heavy-handedness has prompted a growing populist and governmental backlash.
Vasile Simileanu: Do you agree that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) includes several stable state actors (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates) opposed to the interference of Turkey, Iran, Russia, and China?
Daniel Pipes: Yes, I do. Or, seen from an American perspective, the majority of the region’s states are basically friendly.
Vasile Simileanu: Terrorism and the regional conflicts in the MENA have had a global impact. Will this continue or diminish?
Daniel Pipes: Violence is a main feature of life in the region; and while that violence itself has not diminished (think Libya, Syria, Yemen), it does seem to have less impact on the outside world. Perhaps reduced need for hydrocarbons, airport security, and “Fortress Europe” have managed to keep it at more contained.
Vasile Simileanu:The region contains many conflicts – Arab-Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan: do you have general ideas how to resolve them?
Daniel Pipes: No, sadly. I note, however, that the region’s conflicts go back to the special Muslim difficulty in adapting to modernity. While there is some progress in this regard, such as the decline in Islamism, the general problem remains unabated.
Vasile Simileanu: What are your views on MENA’s medium- and long-term developments?
Daniel Pipes: As someone who has studied the Middle East since 1969, I have learned that it is a good career move to be pessimistic. So, I predict new problems replacing and added to the old ones.
Vasile Simileanu: What are the main challenges facing today’s world?
Daniel Pipes: Here’s how I anticipated that question in a recent tweet: electromagnetic pulse, the Chinese Communist Party, Islamism, the Global Left, and declining birth rates except in the most problematic places (Africa in particular). I added that climate change does not scare me.