BBC News again amplifies unchallenged Hizballah spin

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 6th under the headline “Hezbollah vows to attack al-Nusra rebels ‘inside Syria’” is remarkable on two counts.Nasrallah speech art

Whilst this is by no means the first time that the BBC has presented airbrushed and uncritical accounts of speeches made by Hassan Nasrallah, this report on the Hizballah leader’s May 5th address makes no attempt to provide readers with background and context necessary for informed understanding of the story’s topic.

Readers are told that:

“Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says his Lebanese Shia group will launch an attack inside Syria on Sunni militants fighting for the al-Nusra Front.

Mr Nasrallah said the mountainous border area of Qalamoun would be the target, but did not specify when.”

The fact that Hizballah has already been involved in the conflict in Syria for considerable time is reflected only in the following sentence.

“Hezbollah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has sent hundreds of fighters to join the Syrian civil war.”

Significantly, neither in that statement nor anywhere in the rest of the report is any mention made of the highly relevant fact that Hizballah functions as one of Iran’s proxies in Syria – as outlined in this report.

“As the fighting in Syria enters the fifth year, it is evident to all that what is happening is not a local civil rebellion against a tyrannical regime, but a war in which both the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition are being actively supported by numerous regional and international forces. The most prominent foreign element involved in this war is Iran, which is throwing its entire weight into ensuring the survival of the regime. In addition to providing economic aid, arms, and advice, its support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad includes combat forces – from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), from Hizbullah in Lebanon, and from the Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani Shi’ite militias that are loyal to Iran.”

The BBC report states:

“In a televised address on Tuesday, Mr Nasrallah said cross-border attacks by militants from the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front posed an unacceptable threat to Lebanon’s security and required “radical treatment”.

“The (Lebanese) state is not able to address this issue… so we will proceed with the necessary treatment and assume the responsibility and consequences,” he added.”

The BBC makes no attempt to examine whether or not Nasrallah’s claim that his militia will take action because the Lebanese government’s official armed forces are unable to do so is in fact accurate. Neither does it make any attempt to inform audiences of Lebanese voices with a different view of the situation than the one presented by Nasrallah and uncritically amplified by the BBC. An editorial in the Daily Star, for example, notes that:

“Whatever their political orientation, Lebanese acknowledge the threat posed by jihadis to their country. But Hezbollah’s declaration that the Army is incapable of defeating the jihadis, and its decision to tackle the problem alone, can only lead to awkwardness.

Hezbollah’s policy of secrecy as the battles rage – Nasrallah said the party’s “actions” would speak for themselves – is coupled with avoidance of any kind of consultation with the Lebanese authorities when it comes to hugely important matters such as the scope and ramifications of the fighting in Qalamoun.

As evidenced by Nasrallah’s address, nothing has changed when it comes to Hezbollah’s stance, linked to its all-or-nothing involvement in the Syrian war, despite the repeated warnings by Lebanese parties about the consequences.” [emphasis added]

Naharnet reports:

“Earlier on Tuesday, al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri accused Hizbullah of seeking to “import the Syrian blaze into Lebanon” by waging an assault in Qalamun “under the pretext of the preemptive war against the terrorist groups.””

And as the WSJ’s Sohrab Ahmari reported recently:

“Lebanon is once more hostage to outside actors, mainly Iran and its proxies. “Hezbollah has a kind of veto power on the political life of Lebanon,” says Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces, a Christian militia turned political party, and a pillar of the anti-Hezbollah March 14 Alliance that grew out of the Cedar Revolution. “Not everything that Hezbollah wants will go on, but everything that Hezbollah wants to veto is vetoed.””

Curiously, the self-styled “standard setter for international journalism” did not find it necessary to balance its unchallenged and uncritical amplification of Hassan Nasrallah’s spin by informing its audiences that such voices even exist in Lebanon.

Man described by BBC as ‘a businessman’ gets terror designation

A man described twice by the BBC as “a businessman” in an article from September 2013 has been named as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US State Department.Thailand Hizb

“Hussein Atris is a member of Hizballah’s overseas terrorism unit. In 2012, Atris was arrested in Thailand in connection with a terror warning about a possible attack in Bangkok. Atris was found to be hiding nearly three tons of ammonium nitrate, a component in the manufacture of explosives. In 2013, a Thai court sentenced Atris to two years and eight months in prison for illegally possessing the materials. He was released in September 2014, and traveled to Sweden and later Lebanon, where he is believed to be located currently.”

In its reporting at the time of Atris’ arrest and trial (here, here, here and here), the BBC consistently misrepresented Hizballah’s terror designation, suggesting to audiences that the United States alone considers it a terrorist organization.

In fact, Hizballah is also proscribed in its entirety by the governments of Canada, Israel, France and the Netherlands, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and Bahrain. Australia, the United Kingdom and the European Union proscribe what they define as Hizballah’s “military wing”, although such a distinction is of course at odds with the facts. 

The BBC also promoted the myth of a separate Hizballah “armed wing” in its September 2013 report about two additional individuals designated in the same US State Department announcement.Burgas trial 1

“On July 18, 2012, a bombing at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria killed six people, including five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian citizen. In July 2013, Meliad Farah and Hassan el-Hajj Hassan were publicly identified as key suspects in the bombing, which has been attributed to Hizballah, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Both are believed to be located in Lebanon.”

Notable in the BBC’s coverage of the Burgas terror attack is the fact that it provided a generous platform for Hizballah’s denial of involvement – see for example here.

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Confusing BBC reporting on Golan Heights terror incident

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on April 27th found the following curiously punctuated headline:

Golan incident on HP

Those who clicked on the link to the report itself were greeted with no less ambiguous punctuation, which must have left audiences wondering if the BBC was in doubt about the people killed having really been ‘militants’ or whether it wasn’t sure that they were actually dead. Similar qualifying punctuation – intended to communicate to readers that the BBC distances itself from statements made and/or terminology used – was seen in the body of the report and in the caption to its illustrative photograph.Golan incident report

So what were BBC audiences told about the incident which took place at around 21:30 on April 26th?

“An Israeli air strike has killed four militants armed with a bomb along the Israeli-Syrian frontier in the Golan Heights, the Israeli military has said.

A spokesperson said “terrorists” had been planning an imminent attack on Israeli troops, and that the Israeli air force had “neutralised” the threat.

Military sources said the militants were spotted placing explosives on a fence near Majdal Shams on Sunday.

The militants were not identified, and it is not clear if they were Syrians. […]

In Sunday’s incident, Israeli troops observing the demilitarised zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria noticed four figures reportedly trying to place an explosive device on the fence along the frontier.

An Israeli air force plane was scrambled and fired a missile at the militants, killing them all.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said on Twitter there was no doubt that they had been “en route to [an] imminent attack on our forces”.”

In addition to the fact that – contrary to the BBC’s claim – the terrorists have apparently been identified by pro-Assad activists and others as Syrians and a Hizballah-linked group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the report crucially fails to clarify to readers that the incident took place in Israeli territory.

“The incident, which occurred at 9:30 p.m. on the northern Golan Heights near Majdal Shams, began when Combat Intelligence Collection units identified four suspects planting the explosives on the eastern side of the border fence, within Israeli territory. […]

“The incident is fairly local, and is under control,” the source said.

He stressed that although the terrorists infiltrated into Israel, they did not cross the 110-km. border fence, which is within Israeli territory.”

With none of the necessary background and context provided, the report states:

“In January, an Iranian Republican Guards general and at least six fighters from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement Hezbollah were killed in an Israeli air strike in the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Part of this article is devoted to other incidents in the wider region.

“Hours later, missile batteries operated by Hezbollah and the Syrian army in the Qalamoun Mountains, near the border between Syria and Lebanon, were reportedly attacked.

Al-Jazeera attributed the strike to the Israeli military, but Israeli media quoted sources as denying the report.

A source in the Israeli defence establishment told Haaretz that there had been fighting in the area between Syrian government forces and jihadist militants from al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Israel had no interest in getting involved in the conflict between the two sides, he added.

The IDF spokesperson’s office would neither confirm nor deny the report.

Arab media also reported on Friday night that Israeli jets had attacked Syrian army bases in the Qalamoun Mountains where Hezbollah stored long-range missiles.”

Beyond repeating the unconfirmed claims made in assorted reports from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, the BBC has no concrete information to provide to its audiences. Notably, no effort is made to clarify to readers that the fighting in the Qalamoun area is a fact rather than just something said by an Israeli “source” and only those who clicked on the link to Ha’aretz (and got past the pay wall) would have come across the following information contradicting the Al Jazeera claims which the BBC chose to amplify.

“Factions in the Syrian opposition said on social media that they have four units stationed in the Qalamoun region, and claimed that they were responsible for the attack on the Syrian missile base. The opposition units fired some 30 Grad rockets at the base, they said.”

Of course many members of the “Arab media” in the region indulge in agenda-based reporting and the Qatari outlet Al Jazeera is a prime example of that phenomenon. Before amplifying unverified claims, the BBC would obviously do well to bear in mind that some of the governments behind various “Arab media” outlets also play a role in supporting assorted factions involved in the Syrian civil war.

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The BBC News website’s muddled geography confuses audiences

On April 7th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel admits its fire killed Spanish UN peacekeeper“. Readers are told:UNIFIL art

“A Spanish soldier who was killed in Lebanon in January died as a result of Israeli fire, Israel’s military says.

Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo was hit by Israeli artillery following a Hezbollah attack which killed two Israeli soldiers, according to a military statement.”

In fact, a senior IDF official had already confirmed that the UNIFIL soldier was accidentally killed by IDF fire back in January when the incident took place.

The BBC’s report continues:

“The 36-year-old UN peacekeeper was killed near the village of Ghajar, in the Shebaa Farms area, on 28 January.”

The uninformed reader would obviously take that sentence to mean that the Spanish soldier was killed in a district called the Shebaa Farms, near a village called Ghajar located in that area. Seeing as the Shebaa Farms area (Har Dov) is located on the Israeli side of the ‘Blue Line, the implication is therefore that the soldier was in Israel at the time of his death. In fact, although the soldier may have been “near the village of Ghajar” (his position was apparently around one kilometer to the north-east), he was actually on the Lebanese side of the border where all UNIFIL forces are stationed. 

In addition, the BBC’s suggestion that Ghajar is in the Shebaa Farms (Har Dov) area is in itself inaccurate: Ghajar is part of the Golan Heights and its residents are Alawites – originally Syrian and holding Israeli citizenship since 1981.

Ghajar map

Click to enlarge

Even the BBC’s own map of the region does not place Ghajar in the Shebaa Farms area but nevertheless, the latter half of this short report is devoted to the standard insert on the Shebaa Farms seen in previous BBC coverage of the January cross-border attack by Hizballah. As was the case then, that insert is superfluous seeing as the story has nothing to do with the topic of the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov dispute and the incidents which are its subject matter did not take place within that area.

Ghajar BBC map

Notably, a subject which is relevant to this report gets no mention whatsoever: at no point are readers informed that the task of the UNIFIL forces with which Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo served is to monitor adherence to UN Resolution 1701, according to which Hizballah should have been disarmed years ago and should not be operating south of the Litani River. Had the UN made efforts to enforce that unanimous UNSC decision, the accidental death of the soldier could of course have been avoided.

Ghajar

Ghajar

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Iranian military activity in southern Syria under-reported by BBC

Those who read the BBC Monitoring article about Saudi Arabian concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 6th (discussed here) may have noticed the following short passage:Metcalf art

“Iranian forces are reported to have played a large role, alongside Hezbollah and government troops, in a recent offensive against rebels in southern Syria, close to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Iran admitted in January that a general in the Revolutionary Guard had been killed in an Israeli air strike in the area.”

Beyond those few words, the BBC has not reported on Iranian military activities in southern Syria. In its article on the January 18th incident mentioned above, the BBC’s answer to the key question of what a convoy of Hizballah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guards were doing near the border with Israel on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights came in the form of a quote from Hizballah TV.

“Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV said they were killed in Quneitra province “during a field reconnaissance mission”.”

However, since then the BBC has shown no interest in keeping its audiences up to date regarding developments in that region.

One aspect of that story is indeed the recently launched offensive by Syrian government troops together with Hizballah and Iranian forces in an attempt to retake areas in southern Syria – including the Syrian side of the border with Israel – which have been under the control of assorted rebel groups for some time. According to some sources, that campaign has so far not gone as smoothly as presumably planned, in part due to unfavourable weather conditions.

The other aspect of the story is the wider issue of Iranian and Hizballah strategy – as Avi Issacharoff wrote in the Times of Israel last month.

“…the very fact that Hezbollah set out on a ground campaign inside Syrian territory is an extraordinary statement. The placement of thousands of the group’s soldiers near the Syrian-Israeli border, with the organization not even trying to conceal its involvement in the battles, signifies much more than just another operation. This is a new strategy. First, on the geopolitical level, Hezbollah is trying to implement the vision only recently introduced by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, according to whom the Syrian Golan Heights and South Lebanon are a united front. To put it more bluntly, the old order and the old geographical distribution between Syria and Lebanon is now utterly irrelevant as far as the group is concerned.”

Hizballah strategies of course need to be viewed in the context of its patron’s regional designs.

“Hezbollah and Iran remain committed to setting up a base in southern Syria, with the dual goal of beating back the Syrian rebels and expanding the Iranian front of jihad against Israel, from Lebanon to Syria.”

The Lebanese ‘Daily Star’ recently reported:

“Allowing Iran and Hezbollah to gain a stronger foothold in the Golan is one of the goals of the current offensive underway in southern Syria. The offensive is named in honor of the “martyrs of Qunaitra,” a reference to the six Hezbollah fighters, including two field commanders, and Iranian Gen. Mohammad Allahdadi, killed in January in an Israeli drone strike.

Combat operations are being directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp with much of the attacking force composed of IRGC soldiers, Hezbollah fighters and Shiite auxiliary forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. […]

Abu Ali, a veteran Hezbollah fighter who has served multiple tours in Syria, confirmed IRGC leadership of the southern Syria offensive and that Iranian troops were involved.

“Iran will be so close to the Israelis that it will no longer need long-range missiles to hit them,” Abu Ali said. “The Golan is going to be a new front line.”

He added that tunnel and bunker construction in the Golan has been underway for a year, apparently an attempt to replicate the facilities Hezbollah built in the south before 2006. He added that Allahdadi was conducting an inspection tour of the new facilities when he was killed by the Israeli drones.”

And as is detailed in a report from MEMRI, the opening of a new front in the Golan Heights has even broader implications.

“Iran’s presence on the Israeli border limits Israel’s ability to use military measures against Iran’s nuclear program. This, since Iran is building up its response capabilities in the region, to complement its long-range missiles. In the past, it was Hizbullah Lebanon that deterred Israel, to some extent, from acting militarily against Iran’s nuclear program. Today this deterrence is significantly strengthened by the advent of Hizbullah Syria and the direct presence of Iranian forces in the Golan.”

The BBC’s under-reporting of this issue ofcourse means that its audiences continue to lack the background information necessary for them to understand both current and future regional developments.

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Airbrushing Hizballah: BBC News report on Nasrallah speech

On January 30th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published a report about a 90 minute video address given on the same day by the leader of Hizballah. Titled “Hezbollah says it does not want war with Israel“, the 270 word article actually devotes a mere three sentences to description of the content of Nasrallah’s speech.Nasrallah speech report

“The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, has said it does not want war with Israel but is not afraid to fight.” […]

“Sheikh Nasrallah said his group had the right to respond to “aggression” from Israel “wherever” it wished.” […]

“”We do not want a war but we are not afraid of it and we must distinguish between the two and the Israelis must also understand this very well,” he said.”

Perusal of the account of the address published by the Lebanese English language outlet The Daily Star shows that there was a lot more to the Hizballah leader’s message than the BBC’s ‘Nasrallah the peacenik’ portrayal makes out.

“Hezbollah is ready to respond to Israel at any time and in any place, party chief Hasan Nasrallah underlined in a fiery speech Friday, two days after its troops ambushed an Israeli military convoy, killing two soldiers. […]

“We don’t want war but we don’t fear it,” he declared. “The resistance in Lebanon is not concerned with rules of engagement. It is our legitimate and legal right to fight aggression, wherever and whenever it may occur.”

Addressing the Israeli people, Nasrallah said: “If the Israeli thinks that the resistance fears war, I tell them today in the commemoration of the Qunaitra martyrs and after the Shebaa revenge attack, that we don’t fear war and we are not reluctant to engage in it if it is imposed on us.””

No less significant is the fact that the BBC airbrushed out of its account Nasrallah’s references to the ties between his organization and the Syrian regime and Iran. Just days before the January 18th strike on Hizballah operatives and Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Syrian Golan, Nasrallah had denied in an interview with Al Mayadeen that his forces were active on the Syrian-Israeli border. The presence of Hizballah terrorists and IRGC officers revealed by the strike (as one Lebanese commentator put it; they were not there for a picnic) had already proved Nasrallah’s claim to be a lie – and parts of his January 30th address further confirmed that fact.

“Nasrallah said that the martyrs of the attack reflect a “fusion of Lebanese-Iranian blood on Syrian territory, and reflects the unity of the cause and the unity of the fate of these countries.”

“When blood unites Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, then we will move towards an era of victory,” he added.”

The fact that Hizballah and Iran seek to open operations on the Israeli-Syrian border in addition to their existing presence on the Israeli-Lebanese border was not adequately clarified to BBC audiences in this report. That means that the corporation’s funding public remains in the dark with regard to the implications for the region – which were laid out recently by Tony Badran

“…Iran and Hezbollah’s determination to activate the Golan front — the essential takeaway from Nasrallah’s speech — makes a major conflagration all but inevitable. Israel cannot accept a new front with Hezbollah’s preferred rules of engagement in the Golan, which means that its measured response this time is unlikely to be tenable down the road.”

The rest of this BBC report is no less airbrushed. The internationally proscribed terror organization is described merely as “Lebanon’s Hezbollah group” and once again we see portrayal of the second Lebanon war which fails to clarify to audiences that the conflict was initiated by Hizballah by means of a cross-border attack and missile fire on Israeli civilian communities.

“Hezbollah and Israel fought a brief, deadly war in 2006, which ended in stalemate after death, destruction and disruption on both sides of the border.”

Likewise, we see that rather than presenting an accurate and impartial account of Hizballah’s interference in the Syrian civil war at Iranian instruction, the BBC uses the euphemism “become embroiled”.

“The group has since become embroiled in the war in Syria, on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.”

The article closes with the following statement:

“On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iran was responsible for the attack on the Israeli troops.”

As long as the BBC continues to present its audiences with such glaringly airbrushed reports on Hizballah and its Iranian patron, BBC audiences will remain unable to place those words in their correct context and incapable of understanding the background to future regional developments to which the countdown has already begun. 

 

BBC’s ‘In Pictures’ compromises accuracy with sloppy caption

The ‘In Pictures’ section of the BBC News website included the image below in the latest edition of its ‘Week in pictures‘ feature. The photograph is captioned:

“Sahar, girlfriend of Israeli soldier Dor Nini mourns during his funeral in a cemetery at Shtulim village near Ashdod. He was one of two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UN peacekeeper killed as Hezbollah militants traded fire with Israeli forces on the Lebanese border.”

Har Dov In Pictures

St. Sgt. Dor Nini and Maj. Yochai Kalangel were killed by Hizballah terrorists who deliberately targeted the vehicle in which they were travelling (and additional ones), on a road also used by civilians, with Kornet guided anti-tank missiles from around 4 to 5 kilometers inside Lebanese territory. They could not and did not ‘trade fire’ with their attackers.

The BBC’s use of the phrase “traded fire” to describe that incident promotes a notion of equivalence which hampers audience understanding of the cause and sequence of events by blurring the fact that a terrorist organization carried out a premeditated cross-border attack which then prompted  a military response from Israel during which a member of UNIFIL was accidentally killed.

The same misleading expression was also used in a written BBC report but at least there it was followed by the clarification “[a]fter Israeli forces were hit by missile fire, they responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon”. The constraints of space affecting photo captions obviously mean that the use of precise language is critical if BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy are to be met. 

BBC’s Orla Guerin ignores the elephant in southern Lebanon

On January 29th the BBC’s Cairo correspondent Orla Guerin was to be found in southern Lebanon making a filmed report for BBC television news which was also posted on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the interestingly punctuated title “Hezbollah ‘attack site’ near Shebaa Farms identified“. The same superfluous punctuation also appeared on the website’s Middle East homepage and in tweets promoting the report.

Har Dov Guerin on HP

Har Dov Guerin tweet

Guerin tells BBC audiences:

“Well we’re told that the attack happened in the gap between those trees. The Israeli troops were in vehicles. They were on a local roadway when they came under fire from Hizballah and that of course has sparked fears of a wider confrontation. The fence down here along the roadway marks the disputed border in this area.”

Guerin’s description of the border as “disputed” of course reflects the Hizballah/Lebanese narrative and she makes no effort to inform viewers of the very relevant fact that the UN determined a decade and a half ago that the area does not belong to Lebanon.Har Dov Guerin filmed

“On 15 May 2000, the United Nations received a map, dated 1966, from the Government of Lebanon which reflected the Government’s position that these farmlands were located in Lebanon. However, the United Nations is in possession of 10 other maps issued after 1966 by various Lebanese government institutions, including the Ministry of Defence and the army, all of which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations has also examined six maps issued by the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, including three maps since 1966, which place the farmlands inside the Syrian Arab Republic. […] It is worth noting that, notwithstanding the conflicting evidence to which I have alluded, and whatever the present understanding between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, these farmlands lie in an area occupied by Israel since 1967 and are therefore subject to Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) calling for an Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory. (A total of 81 maps were available to the United Nations from various sources dating from before and after 1966; 25 of these were issued by the Governments of Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.)”

Guerin continues:

“It’s been relatively quiet here since 2006 when Israel and Hizballah went to war.”

Of course that war began because Hizballah initiated it with a cross-border raid accompanied by missile fire on Israeli civilian communities. Guerin’s portrayal, however, promotes a false notion of equivalence and her description of the area as “relatively quiet” is no less misleading.

In addition to periodic missile fire at the town of Kiryat Shmona and its environs (see examples here, here, here and here), there have also been shooting attacks (see one example here) and placement of explosive devices on the border fence (see examples here, here and here).

Guerin goes on to say:

“The big concern now is whether either side has the appetite for a repeat of that. In the past few hours since we’ve been here it’s been quiet. We’ve been hearing United Nations choppers. We’ve also heard some Israeli drones. But this is a farming area and we have seen some people going back to work in the fields. There was Israeli shelling here yesterday. Some of that affected the outskirts of the villages here – these border villages – and the schools remain closed. But officials have told us that about 50 or 60 families fled. Now some of those have returned.”

Seeing as the BBC did not bother to send a reporter into the field in northern Israel to find out how Hizballah’s attack affected the local residents there, it is interesting to see Guerin’s focus on the topic of villagers in southern Lebanon. But what is really remarkable is the fact that despite the Kornet anti-tank missiles used in the attack having been fired from a location four or five kilometers inside Lebanese territory, Guerin makes no attempt to report on that aspect of the story.

Hizballah’s use of villages in southern Lebanon as weapons stores (in violation of UN SC Resolution 1701) is no secret. One of those villages – al Khiam – is not far from the location in which Orla Guerin filmed her report. And yet, Guerin refrained from using the opportunity provided by a rare BBC visit to southern Lebanon to inform audiences of the context of Hizballah’s use of civilian villages to store weapons and as sites from which to launch attacks against Israel which is essential for their full understanding of this story and its wider background. 

 

How the BBC framed the story of Hizballah’s latest attack

There is nothing novel about the BBC suggesting to its audiences that major decisions about Israel’s security are made according to the electoral considerations of the country’s leadership. In 2012 the corporation’s journalists repeatedly misled audiences by portraying an entire military operation in the Gaza Strip as having been motivated by electioneering.

It therefore came as no great surprise to find that the BBC’s framing of the Hizballah attack on IDF soldiers near Har Dov on January 28th included ‘analysis’ from its Beirut correspondent Jim Muir into which he managed to shoehorn the upcoming Israeli elections.

Later versions of the report titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah clash on Lebanese border” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 28th included the insert below.

Har Dov Muir analysis a

An additional article published on January 29th under the headline “Hezbollah ‘sends anti-escalation message’ to Israel” informed readers that:

Har Dov Muir analysis b

In other words, Muir would have BBC audiences believe that the sole consideration taken into account by the Israeli leadership in deciding how to react to this latest terror attack is the potential effect on their chances at the ballot box. Really.

In addition to that so-called ‘analysis’, we see some interesting framing of Hizballah’s own considerations. Whilst Muir correctly cites the terrorist organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war as a factor which would deter it from escalating violence further, he refrains from telling BBC audiences about the domestic opposition inside Lebanon to being dragged into another war by the Iranian proxy.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story is the minimal mention of Iran. In the first article readers were told that:

“Mr Netanyahu said Israel was “prepared to act powerfully on all fronts”, adding, “Security comes before everything else.”

His office accused Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, of being behind a “criminal terror attack” by the Shia Islamist movement.”

Of course – contrary to the impression given to BBC audiences – the office of the Israeli prime minister is not the only body in the Middle East which recognizes Iran’s role in this latest attack carried out by its Lebanese proxy: so does Hizballah itself.

“Earlier this week, before the Katyusha fire, a Lebanese parliamentarian representing Hezbollah was asked on the TV station Al Manar about Hezbollah’s delay in responding to the January 18 strike. The parliamentarian replied that the organization is still formulating an appropriate response together with Syria and Iran. The response, he explained, must not be too small – like, for instance, planting bombs along the border fence where Israeli soldiers patrol – but that it also must not lead to war with Israel. Hezbollah, he said, must refrain from rash moves.”

Additional framing of the story comes in the form of an insert in both these reports titled “What are the Shebaa Farms?”.

Har Dov Shebaa Farms insert

The Shebaa Farms issue of course has nothing to do with this story directly other than the fact that the location of the January 28th attack on road 999 (part of which also serves civilian traffic going to and from Ghajar) is in close proximity to the area known as Shebaa Farms or Har Dov. Despite the fact that fifteen years ago the UN determined that the area does not belong to Lebanon, Hizballah has indeed used the issue as one of the pretexts for its continued existence. This particular attack, however, was clearly stated by Hizballah itself to be a response to the strike on its operatives and IRGC officers in the Syrian Golan Heights ten days earlier and is not connected to the subject matter of the BBC’s insert.

Framing, of course, is also facilitated by omission and in these two articles the BBC makes no effort to inform audiences of the fact that Hizballah is an internationally proscribed terror organization. Instead, the articles use terms such as “Hezbollah militants”, “fighters” and “Lebanese militant group”. Both articles include a side-bar link to the BBC’s profile of Hizballah which, as readers may recall, was given a sympathetic make-over in December 2013.

Another crucial factor affecting the framing of this story is the omission of any information concerning the various UN resolutions calling for the disarming of Hizballah, with the most recent of those being Resolution 1701. BBC audiences cannot form a proper understanding of this story if they are not informed of the fact that the party which carried out the attack, according to a unanimous UNSC decision, should not be armed and should not be operating south of the Litani River. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that the BBC has failed to inform – and even misled – its funding public on that issue. 

The BBC and the Houthi logo

Viewers of the BBC World News programme ‘Impact‘ who recently watched a report by Safa al Ahmed (which also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 27th under the title “Yemen crisis: BBC gets rare access to Houthi rebels“) may have noticed a certain feature which cropped up repeatedly throughout the filmed footage.

Houthis report pics

Seeing as no attempt was made to explain that logo in Safa Al Ahmed’s report, audiences might perhaps have turned to the BBC News website’s profile of the group titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?“. There they would have found that same logo appearing in a picture captioned “Houthi supporters took part in weeks of protests calling for fuel price cuts and a new government”.

Houthi profile art pic

So does that logo have anything to do with fuel prices or demands for political reform in Yemen? Well, no – and its recurrent appearance is not coincidental because that banner is actually the official emblem of the Houthis, as explained by the New York Times:

“It includes the words “Death to America, death to Israel, damnation to the Jews.” Houthis shout it when they march, wear it on arm patches, paint it on buildings and stick it onto their car windows. When pictured, those words are rendered in red, framed by “God is great” and “Victory to Islam” in green, on a white background.

Sometimes the red words are shown dripping blood.”

One might think that, given the BBC’s remit of building understanding of international issues, the corporation would consider that information worth communicating to its audiences, along with more comprehensive information on the Houthis’ alleged links to the Iranian regime (and Hizballah) than appear in its profile.

“Regional Shia power Iran has also been accused of giving financial and military support to the Houthis – something both have denied.”

“Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, believes that the rebels are backed militarily, financially and politically by its Shia regional arch-rival, Iran – something both have denied.”

Remarkably, the BBC does not appear to have much interest in conducting in-depth investigative reporting on that topic