The cost of ignorance where the Middle East is concerned can be lethal.
Making sense of what is taking place in the Middle East is difficult at best, and it's impossible if you don't understand the way players in the region think. An article in today's Tehran Times provides a glimpse of reality in that turbulent part of the world. The article's title is "Israel concerned about shift in status quo in Muslim world: Velayati."
Ali Akbar Velayati was formerly Iran's foreign minister. Today, he is a senior advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. When he speaks publically, you can bet that he has Khamenei's blessing. Velayati said this about Israel yesterday:
"...the Zionist regime is making efforts to plunge Syria into turmoil because it is concerned about the fact that the status quo in the Muslim world is changing in favor of Muslims."
Part of Velayati's statement is patently false. Israel did not "plunge Syria into turmoil." The mayhem started in Tunisia during December 2010 when the Arab Spring began and made its way to several North African and Middle Eastern countries including Syria.
You can argue that it began in Iran in June 2009 when young Iranians protested Iran's election results. Western nations sat on the sidelines and watched while the Iranian government viciously put down that uprising, but the bravery of those young men and women inspired discontented young Arabs to cast aside their brutal dictators.
You can even make the case that it started in December 1978 when Iranians rebelled against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's tyrannical regime and ushered in what came to be known as the 1979 Iranian Revolution. It resulted in the Shah's ouster and brought into being the Islamic Republic of Iran under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Be that as it may, Israel is no more responsible for the current rebellion in Syria than it was for the Iranian Revolution.
Velayati was only partially correct when he said that Israel "is concerned about the fact that the status quo in the Muslim world is changing in favor of Muslims." It's not Muslims that concern Israel. Israelis have been surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims since the State of Israel was reborn in 1948. Israel is concerned because Muslims in the region -- Persians, Ottomans, and Arabs -- have turned and are turning over the reins of power to oppressive Islamists who are at least as repressive as the dictators that they are replacing.
Islamist leaders who are taking charge throughout the region are dead set on Israel's destruction. Those leaving power had learned through many wars with Israel that a relatively peaceful status quo was preferable to military engagements that they could not win. It appears that the new cast of characters in the Middle East will have to learn those lessons all over again at great cost both to themselves and to Israel. That's a disconcerting development for the Israeli people because more than anything else they want to live their lives in peace.
To fire up their followers, Islamists blame Jewish people in general and Israel in particular for their failings and for unfortunate mishaps of all sorts. It's part of their culture. Examples of this abound, but a humorous recent incident will prove my point. In December 2010, Egypt's Governor of Southern Sinai, Abed Al-Fadij, said that Israel's Mossad was responsible for shark attacks off the coast of Sharm al-Sheikh, a resort town on the southern coast of the Sinai Peninsula.
Leaders of Hamas, Fatah, and other Palestinian groups with menacing names do the same thing. They are notorious for blaming Israel for everything under the sun including the disastrous effects of their incompetent governments. They simply can't admit their own mistakes or take responsibility for them.
Unfortunately, the Western media reports what Israel's enemies say as though it was the gospel truth, and people throughout the world believe them. That is arguably the biggest problem that Israel faces today, especially now that Iran is making headway toward developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them to major Israeli cities.
The cost of ignorance is high, and where the Middle East is concerned, it can be lethal because as Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said, "We reserve the right to defend ourselves against a country that calls and works for our destruction." Netanyahu was referring to Iran specifically, but his statement applies to any country seeking to destroy Israel.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.