Superficial and inaccurate BBC reporting on cross-border incident in northern Israel

At around 5:30 pm on the afternoon of August 20th, four missiles fired from Syria hit areas on the lower flanks of the Golan Heights and in the Galilee Panhandle. Several hours later an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page with the typical ‘last-first’ reporting style title “Israel fires missiles into Syria after rocket attack“.

Like all BBC News content, that article’s aim was to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” and to inform by means of the provision of “reliable and unbiased information of relevance, range and depth” whilst adhering to standards of accuracy and impartiality. But were those criteria met?Irua Galil Eliyon

The main photograph used to illustrate the report is captioned:

“Rockets fired into Israel caused brushfires after hitting open areas near Galilee” [emphasis added]

Two of the missiles landed in the Upper Galilee district – not “near” it – and we know that the BBC is aware of that because it later quotes an IDF statement.

“A statement released by the Israeli military said the rockets that hit the upper Galilee region….”

The article opens:

“An Israeli aircraft has fired missiles at a building in Syria’s Golan Heights in response to a rocket strike on an Israeli village, according to reports.”

There were four missile strikes – not one as suggested by that phrasing – and the projectiles landed in more than one location. Later on readers are again told that:

“Earlier rockets landed near a village in northern Israel.”

Obviously the main story here is an unprovoked missile attack on civilian targets across an international border. The wider significance of that incident and the effects of the attack on the people it targeted receive no coverage in this BBC report, which devotes almost three times more wording to the topic of the Israeli response than to the missile attack itself.

The bulk of the 318-word article, however, is devoted to the subject of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s denial of involvement via a spokesman over 250 kms away in the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli officials blamed the rocket strike on the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, which denied the claim.

A statement released by the Israeli military said the rockets that hit the upper Galilee region “were launched from the Syrian Golan Heights… by Islamic Jihad, sponsored by Iran”.

The statement went on to say that Israel “holds the Syrian government responsible for attacks emanating from Syria”.

Islamic Jihad had previously threatened reprisals should one of its activists in Israeli detention, Mohammed Allan, die of a hunger strike, but Mr Allan called off his fast on Wednesday after an Israeli court suspended his detention.

Mr Allan is believed to have suffered brain damage after going 65 days without food.” [emphasis added]

The inclusion of the description of Mohammed Allan as “one of its activists” is particularly notable given that the BBC has previously told audiences in two reports (including the link provided) that his affiliation with the terror organization is only “alleged”. The article continues with amplification of PIJ propaganda and a remarkable insinuation:

“Islamic Jihad’s leaders are based in the Syrian capital. Dawoud Shehab, a spokesman for the group who is based in Gaza, denied it had fired on Israel.

“Israel is trying to divert attention from the defeat that it suffered in the face of the determination of the hero prisoner, Mohammed Allan,” Shehab told Reuters.

Islamic Jihad has publicly acknowledged receiving support from Iran, a connection Israel has sought to highlight as it campaigns against the proposed US deal with Iran.” [emphasis added]

In other words, readers are encouraged to view Israeli army statements on this incident as being influenced or dictated by the Israeli government’s stance on the P5+1 (not “US” as stated here) deal with Iran known as the JCPOA.

It is not clarified to readers that the cross-border attack was launched from one of the few areas along the Syrian border with Israel that are still held by the Assad regime – which is of course heavily dependent upon Iran and its proxies at present – and the obviously relevant context of prior Iranian and Iranian-backed activity along that border is absent from this report.

Towards the end of the article readers find more evidence of the BBC’s geographically challenged reporting, tortured phrasing and predictable whitewashing of an internationally recognized terror organization.

“The stretch of border involved in the exchange has been largely quiet since the 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah.”

A “border” was obviously not “involved in the exchange”: borders do not fire missiles at civilians. Neither is it clear to which border the BBC refers – the Israel-Lebanon border as implied by its reference to the 2006 war or the Israel-Syria border across which these latest missiles were actually fired but where there was no fighting during the 2006 war.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘guerilla’ as follows:

“A member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces.”

Hizballah does not confine its activities to attacks on the Israeli military and it is certainly not independent – as evidenced by its Iranian patronage.

The article closes with the following statement:

“Israel captured the western Golan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it, a move not recognised internationally.”

The context of why that war began and the obviously relevant history of the pre-1967 Syrian attacks on Israeli villages in the Galilee Panhandle and elsewhere which made it necessary for Israel to take the Golan Heights are not included in that partisan account.

So did readers of this article really get the “reliable and unbiased information of relevance, range and depth” which would enhance their understanding of this incident and its wider implications? Hardly – and as long as the BBC continues to whitewash Iranian backed terrorist organisations and the ideology underpinning them, that will remain the case.

Arrest of Hizballah spy in Israel ignored by the BBC

Earlier this week the Israeli security forces announced that a man with dual Swedish – Lebanese nationality had been arrested at Ben Gurion airport in July.No news

“A Swedish national recruited by Hezbollah was arrested in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport in July and indicted for spying for the Lebanese terror group, the Shin Bet security agency announced Sunday.

Lebanon-born Hassan Khalil Hizran, 55, was recruited by the terror group in 2009 while on a trip to Lebanon with his family. He returned to Lebanon in 2011 and 2013 for meetings with Hezbollah leaders.

Hizran was tasked with recruiting Israelis to the terror group, “with an emphasis on those with ties to Jews, or access to army personnel, the defense establishment, or government officials,” the Shin Bet said in a statement. He was also ordered to gather information about army bases and IDF targets. Hizran also conveyed information to Hezbollah about Ben Gurion Airport security.”

This news joins the growing list of stories relating to Hizballah terrorism which the BBC has not seen fit to cover.  

An Iranian story the BBC chose not to translate

Last week IranWire reported a story which opens as follows:

“Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has released details of a private meeting between Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and IRIB directors about the July 14 nuclear deal in Vienna. 

The meeting, which was off the record, took place at the end of July. On Saturday, August 1, the IRIB news site published the comments without the permission of Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s chief negotiator. 

Abbas responded immediately, saying the publication of the private conversation was “contrary to national interests and security” and “incompatible with professional ethics.” He also said that the published text contained numerous errors.

A few hours later, the IRIB site retracted the story, stating that the publication had been a mistake. Most of the other Persian-language sites that had republished the text also removed it following Araghchi’s objections.”

The IranWire article details some of the interesting points made by Araghchi in that meeting, including the following:

“Araghchi confirmed that Iran is arming Lebanese Hezbollah: “We said that we cannot stop giving arms to Hezbollah, and we’re not ready to sacrifice it to our nuclear program. So we will continue doing it.””

Likewise, the independent publishing platform Khodnevis notes that:

“He [Araghchi] also pointed out that the Islamic Republic has been sending arms to Hezbollah, something Iran has publicly denied for years.”BBC Persian Araghchi story

Khodnevis attributes the information in its article to a report published by the BBC Persian service (“Araghchi what was said at the meeting with managers of radio and television?“) and another article concerning the removal of the reports by Persian-language outlets was also produced by BBC Persian.

Curiously though, the BBC apparently did not consider that admission by an official of a UN member state that it is systematically breaching the terms of UN SC resolution 1701 (“no sales or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government”) worthy of translation into English for the benefit of the majority of members of its audience who do not read Farsi.  

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, Alex Brummer addresses BBC self-regulation and more.

“The fight between the Tory government and the BBC is largely about perceived left-wing bias in reporting issues ranging from the economy to welfare and the environment. But if it brings an end to the BBC policing itself and starts the process of independent adjudication there will be something to celebrate.”Weekend Read

2) At Ha’aretz, Ari Shavit (hardly a “hardliner” – as the BBC has taken to describing JCPOA sceptics) discusses “The Iran deal: From thriller to horror story“.

“After many hours of reading I had to stop. The thriller had become a horror story. Not only was the content inconceivable, the tone was, too. The fact is that in each chapter Iran’s dignity is preserved, but the U.S. and Europe’s isn’t. The fact is that the Iranian Islamic Consultative Assembly, or Majlis, has a much higher status in the agreement than the American Congress. The fact is that Iran is unrepentant, does not promise a change of course and takes an almost supercilious attitude toward the other parties. As though it had been a campaign between Iran and the West, and Iran won and is now dictating the surrender terms to the West.”

3) MEMRI provides the first installment in a series titled “Critical Points To Consider In Understanding The Iranian Nuclear Deal“.

“It should be emphasized that, contrary to how it is perceived, the JCPOA is not a bilateral or multilateral contract between the United States and/or Europe and Iran. Nothing has been signed and nothing is judicially binding between any of the parties. It is a set of understandings that was sent to a third party, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), for endorsement. This structure is a result of Iran’s insistence to not sign any bilateral or multilateral contract.”

4) At the Washington Institute, Matthew Levitt provides timely analysis in an article titled “Waking Up the Neighbors: How Regional Intervention Is Transforming Hezbollah“.

“In Syria and elsewhere, deadly proxy conflicts — between Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states, on the one hand, and Iran on the other — have been complicated by the dangerous overlay of sectarianism. Sunni and Shiite states and their clients seem to view the region’s wars as part of a long-term, existential struggle between their sects. Indeed, the war in Syria is now being fought on two parallel fronts: one between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, and the other between Sunni and Shiite communities over the threat each perceives from the other. Similar dynamics define the wars in Iraq and Yemen. Factional conflict might be negotiable, but sectarian war is almost certainly not.

Hezbollah’s involvement in the war in Syria may have originally focused on supporting the Assad regime, but it now considers that war an existential battle for the future of the region, and for Hezbollah’s place in it. As a result, the group’s regional focus will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Together with other Iranian-backed militias, Hezbollah will continue to head an emerging Shiite foreign legion working both to defend Shiite communities and to expand Iranian influence across the region.”

BBC remains silent on Hizballah terrorism in Europe

Earlier this week the Times of Israel reported the following news:No news

“The foreign minister of Cyprus confirmed Monday that bomb-making equipment discovered last month with a Lebanese-Canadian suspect was linked to the Hezbollah terrorist group and was intended for attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets on the island.

Cypriot forces arrested the 26-year-old suspect last month when a stash of ammonium nitrate, a common bomb-making component, was discovered in the basement of the place where he was staying in the southeastern city of Larnaca, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told reporters.”

As has been noted here previously, the BBC has shown no interest whatsoever in informing its audiences of this latest case of Hizballah terrorist operations in Europe. So much for building “a global understanding of international issues“.

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BBC News again ignores Hizballah operations in Cyprus

Still no BBC reporting on developing Cyprus explosives story

Still no BBC reporting on developing Cyprus explosives story

As we noted here last week, the BBC refrained from reporting on the arrest in late May in Cyprus of a 26 year-old Canadian-Lebanese man with suspected Hizballah links.No news

“The Phileleftheros newspaper said the 26-year-old man, who was remanded in custody Thursday, belonged to the Lebanese organization’s military wing and had personal links to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The daily said the man, who has not been named, arrived in Cyprus last week for what he described as a holiday.

He was arrested on Wednesday following a period of surveillance and more than 400 boxes of ammonium nitrate – a fertilizer that when mixed with other substances can be used to make explosives – was discovered at his home in Larnaca.”

Even more recently, the Cypriot police announced the arrest of a second man in connection with the same case.

“A second Lebanese man has been arrested in connection with the seizure of five tonnes of possible bomb-making material ammonium nitrate, police said Saturday.

The 62-year-old from Lebanon, said to have Cypriot identity documents, was detained in the capital Nicosia.

According to the official Cyprus News Agency, police believe he imported the nitrate in ice packs as part of first aid kits.”

Apparently, the amount of ammonium nitrate found was larger than first thought.

“The man was arrested in possession of what authorities said at the time was two tons of ammonium nitrate — a fertilizer that when mixed with other substances can be used to make explosives.

Police said closer inspection showed the man’s home to contain more than five tonnes of the material.”

The Jerusalem Post adds:

“Under Cyprus anti-terrorism laws, anything that can be used potentially as an explosive, with probable cause, is an offense.”

Remarkably, there has to date been no BBC coverage of this story on the BBC News website’s Europe or Middle East pages.

 

 

BBC News again ignores Hizballah operations in Cyprus

Last week the authorities in Cyprus announced the arrest of a dual nationality Canadian-Lebanese ‘tourist’.No news

“The Phileleftheros newspaper said the 26-year-old man, who was remanded in custody Thursday, belonged to the Lebanese organization’s military wing and had personal links to Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The daily said the man, who has not been named, arrived in Cyprus last week for what he described as a holiday.

He was arrested on Wednesday following a period of surveillance and more than 400 boxes of ammonium nitrate – a fertilizer that when mixed with other substances can be used to make explosives – was discovered at his home in Larnaca.”

According to local media, the police suspect that Israeli tourists in Cyprus were among the likely targets and the Jerusalem Post reports that:

“Security sources in Israel say they believe the apartment in which the suspect was captured was an explosive materials storeroom that belonged to Hezbollah and was supposed to constitute an outlet for carrying out a large-scale series of terrorist attacks across Europe against Jewish, Israeli and Western targets.”

Readers may recall that just over two years ago it took the BBC over a month to get round to reporting on a similar case in which a Hizballah operative was arrested and tried in Cyprus. Currently this latest story has received no coverage on the BBC News website’s Middle East or Europe pages. 

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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Another Hizballah plot against Israeli tourists gets the BBC silent treatment

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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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