Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

Just before 1 p.m. on January 27th incoming missiles from Syria triggered air-raid sirens in the northern Golan Heights.  Local residents took cover in their air-raid shelters and over a thousand visitors to the Mount Hermon ski resort had to be quickly evacuated. At least two projectiles were determined to have landed in Israeli territory and the IDF responded with artillery fire directed at the launch site in Syria and later on in the evening with strikes on Syrian army artillery posts. Both Israeli and foreign sources attributed the missile fire to Hizballah acting from Syrian army positions.

Despite at least one of its journalists in the region being aware of the incident, the BBC News website elected not to report those events at the time.

Aft 27 1 MEHP

A day later – Wednesday, January 28th – an additional incident took place when Hizballah conducted a cross-border attack in the Har Dov area, firing anti-tank missiles at Israeli army vehicles. Mortars were also fired at an IDF position on Mount Hermon and reportedly at the village of Ghajar.  Two soldiers were killed and seven wounded. Israel responded with artillery and air strikes.

In the BBC News website’s report on those events – originally headlined “Israeli soldiers wounded in Lebanon border attack” and later retitled “Israel fires into Lebanon after attack on troops”, followed by “Israel fires shells into Lebanon after attack on troops” and then “UN peacekeeper killed after Hezbollah-Israel clash” – the previous day’s events were described in one sentence.

“The incident came just hours after Israel launched an air strike on Syrian army positions near the Golan Heights in retaliation for rockets that were fired into Israel on Monday.”

In fact, the missiles were fired on Tuesday (January 27th) and readers obviously would not understand from this description that Hizballah was responsible for that attack as well, meaning that their ability to put the attack which is the subject matter of the report into its correct context would be impaired.

Also notable was the change in description of the incident on the BBC News website Middle East homepage. Initial reports portrayed events in the order in which they had happened – albeit without mentioning Hizballah.

Har Dov attacks on HP

As the day went on, that description was altered and became less clear as terms such as “border clashes” and “trade fire” were employed, creating a false and misleading sense of equivalence.

Har Dov attacks on HP later

The BBC report at that URL was later replaced with one titled “Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah trade fire” in which the fact that the incident took place near the ‘Shebaa Farms’ area is noted twice in succession.

“The peacekeeper was killed close to the disputed Shebaa Farms area, where an Israeli convoy was earlier hit by anti-tank missiles, killing two soldiers.”

“Wednesday’s cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were hit at about 11:35 (09:35 GMT) near Mt Dov, in the Shebaa Farms area, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.”

The fact that this incident and the one preceding it in the northern Golan Heights have nothing to do with the dispute arising from Lebanese claims to the Shebaa Farms area defined by the UN as not belonging to Lebanon is not made clear to readers. The report also states:

“The flare-up along the Israeli-Lebanon frontier recalls the beginning of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which was triggered by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle that led to the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers.”

Significantly, the BBC refrains from informing readers of the crucially relevant point that according to UN SC resolution 1701 which brought the 2006 conflict to an end, Hizballah should have been disarmed and neither that terrorist organization nor any others should be operating in southern Lebanon.  

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More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

On January 18th the BBC News website published a report titled “‘Israel strike’ kills Hezbollah men in Syria’s Golan Heights” which relates to an incident near Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights earlier in the day. The report includes several features worthy of note.Hizb strike main

With regard to the incident itself, the report gives a reasonable representation of the information which was available at the time of publication.

“An Israeli air strike has killed six members of Hezbollah in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights, the Lebanese militant movement says.

Among those reported dead were the son of a late military leader, a current commander, and at least one Iranian. […]

Those who died include Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of a top military commander killed in 2008, and Mohammed Issa, a Hezbollah field commander, Hezbollah officials said.

One member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had died, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Iran’s semi-official Tabnak news agency said several Revolutionary Guards had been killed.”

The Iranian news agency Fars has since confirmed the death of IRGC officer Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi and a Lebanese source told AFP that in all twelve people were killed in the strike – six from Hizballah and six Iranians – although other reports have presented different information.

With regard 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, the BBC quotes the version of events promoted by Hizballah media.

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

It then adds:

“Israel said it would not comment, though unnamed sources confirmed an Israeli helicopter strike.

They claimed those targeted were conducting reconnaissance for a Hezbollah attack.”

However, whilst no attempt is made to provide readers with the relevant context of the cross-border attacks carried out by Hizballah in recent months, the article does inform them that:

“Israel has conducted several air strikes inside Syria since the conflict began, said to be aimed at preventing the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government or Iran to Hezbollah.”

The article notes that:

“The incident comes days after a warning to Israel by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, that his forces might retaliate against what he called repeated Israeli strikes inside Syria.

He said his forces had been stockpiling weapons for such a confrontation and that these included long range missiles that could hit every part of Israel.”

Those quotes come from an interview given by Nasrallah on January 15th to Al Mayadeen TV in which he explained the ‘logic’ behind the statement highlighted in the BBC’s account, according to which a Lebanese terrorist organization backed by Iran is prepared to attack Israel because of that country’s perceived actions in Syria.

“A key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Nasrallah, who has sent thousands of fighters into Syria to help defend the regime, said that Israeli strikes on Syria “target the whole of the resistance axis”, which includes Hezbollah, Damascus and Tehran.

“The repeated bombings that struck several targets in Syria are a major violation, and we consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria,” he told the Beirut-based Arab news television.  […]

Nasrallah said in the interview that Hezbollah was ready to fight a new war against Israel in Lebanon and renewed a threat to invade the Galilee region of northern Israel. Hezbollah fighters “must be prepared”, he said.

“When the resistance (Hezbollah) leadership… asks you (fighters)… to enter into Galilee, that means the resistance must be ready to enter into Galilee and to go even beyond the Galilee.””

Like much of the media, the BBC’s report focuses on one of the people reported killed.

“Jihad Mughniyeh is the son of Imad Mugniyeh, who was killed in a bombing in a bombing in Damascus in 2008. Hezbollah blamed Israel for the death, but Israel denied it.

Imad Mughniyeh was widely believed to be behind a wave of Western hostage-taking in Lebanon during the 1980s.”

Mughniyeh’s record of course included a lot more than hostage-taking as the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star pointed out – but the self-styled ‘standard-settling’ BBC did not.

“Believed to be the mastermind of Hezbollah’s combat tactics, Mughniyeh was considered to be involved in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine and French peacekeeping barracks in Beirut, which killed over 350 people, as well as the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the kidnapping of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.”

The BBC’s descriptions of Hizballah throughout the report fail to note that it is an internationally designated terrorist organization (or even to mention the word terror) or that its ‘Al Manar’ TV station quoted by the BBC in this report was declared a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Entity by the United States Treasury and is also banned in several European countries.  

“An Israeli air strike has killed six members of Hezbollah in the Syrian sector of the Golan Heights, the Lebanese militant movement says.”

“Hezbollah militants have been supporting President Bashar al-Assad in a four-year Syrian conflict that activists say has left more than 200,000 people dead.”

“Israel fought a 34-day war with Hezbollah, a mainly Shia group backed by Iran, in 2006.” [all emphasis added]

The caption to the main photograph used to illustrate the article states:

“Hezbollah has strong support in Lebanon”

At the bottom of the article appears an insert which likewise does nothing to enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of the real nature, record and agenda of Hizballah and of course makes no mention of the fact that according to assorted UN resolutions, it should have been disarmed years ago.

Hizb art insert

The link included at the bottom of that insert leads to the December 2013 version of the BBC’s profile of Hizballah which, as readers may recall, was amended to present a much softer picture of the terrorist organization than the profile it replaced by means of airbrushing Hizballah’s terrorist designation by numerous countries worldwide, its terrorist activities outside Lebanon, its involvement in the murder of Rafik Hariri and its role in the Syrian civil war and with no mention made whatsoever of Hizballah’s criminal activities around the globe. 

Obviously BBC audiences will not be able to understand the significance and implications of terrorists and IRGC officers on Israel’s border as long as the BBC continues to fail to represent Hizballah properly. 

 

Tough luck Syrian and Iraqi Christians: the BBC’s Yolande Knell has other priorities

2014 has of course been a very difficult year for many minority ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East in general and not least for Christians in Syria and Iraq. With Christmas and the end of the Gregorian year approaching, it was to be expected that the BBC would turn its attentions to the plight of Christians in the Middle East but, as we will see in a moment, the topic of the decimation of those ancient communities in fact took a back seat due to Yolande Knell’s political messaging on a different topic.Newshour 21 12

On December 21st the afternoon version of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, presented by Julian Marshall, included an interview (from 00:35:05 here) by Yolande Knell with the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani.  Marshall’s introduction to the item began promisingly:

“In recent months church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of more and more Christians from the Middle East. The civil war in Syria and the advance of Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.”

Next, however, listeners were given a hint of what the upcoming item is really about, with Marshall promoting one of the BBC’s newer themes seen in much of its recent content: the historically illiterate claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is morphing from one about land to one with religious overtones.

“In the Holy Land the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been to meet the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem to hear his thoughts on 2014.”

This entire item is four minutes and thirty-five seconds long. A mere thirty-four seconds were allotted to the Bishop’s generalised view of the issue of the plight of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria.

Knell: “Good to meet you, your grace. We’ve come to get your reflections on the past year. Events have been taking place in the region. If we start off with Syria and Iraq – they’re two countries that are covered by your diocese – where we’ve seen Christians fleeing war, Islamic extremism. Of course Christians have been leaving the Middle East now for decades but how has this added to your concerns?”

In fact, Iraq is not part of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem (which includes Israel, the PA territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon): it falls under the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.

Dawani: “It was a very difficult year for the people of the Middle East in general and for the Christian community in particular. When it has to do with the Anglican Church, I think that we lost most of our presence in Syria because of the conflict that has been in action for the last four years. It was also a big challenge to the Christian presence in Iraq, so it’s really our concern for the future presence of the Christians in the whole Middle East.”

One imagines that there is little in that short statement which BBC audiences did not already know. But Knell passes up on the opportunity to ask the Bishop for more details such as how many Christians remain in Iraq and Syria, what sort of threats they face, where those who have fled have gone and so on and quickly moves on to one of her own pet topics by means of some very dubious linkage between events in Syria and Iraq and those closer to her interviewee’s church in Jerusalem.

Knell: “And here in the Holy Land there have been troubles as well. After the summer conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza you went to Gaza yourself. What did you see there?”

Dawani: “In Gaza of course the war that took place it was a devastating one and as an Anglican church we run a hospital in Gaza – Al Ahli Arab Hospital – and during the war we used to receive more than hundred injuries every day and the hospital used to work around the clock. And after the war I visited the Gaza twice and of course I have seen, you know, lots of destruction and I’ve seen that people are very depressed. It wasn’t the last war or the last conflict. The conflict has been continuing year after year. So I believe that something must be done to alleviate the suffering for the people who live there.”

The topic of how many Christians remain in the Gaza Strip and under what sort of conditions they live, given the extremist Islamist regime which controls the territory, clearly does not interest Knell. Instead she turns the focus of her report elsewhere:

Knell: “And here in East Jerusalem, right on your doorstep, tensions have been rising as well. And what we’ve seen here really is in some ways the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians taking on a more religious dimension. I mean how dangerous is that, do you think?”

Dawani: “Let me start by saying that Jerusalem is a very dear city to the three religions – or the three Abrahamic faiths. And it witnessed lots of violence during the last ten months or so, in which religious places has been targeted by some extremists; I can say that whether Muslims or Jews. And Al Aqsa Mosque also witnessed the big fight and as a Christian leaders we really did visit to both Al Aqsa Mosque and even to the synagogue that has been attacked by some people. And our message was very clear: that please don’t attack any holy sites, whether to the Muslims or to the Jews or to the Christians. And I hope and I pray that religion will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Notably, organised violent rioting on Temple Mount by Palestinian youths which has necessitated a police response is placed alongside the terror attack in Har Nof (which, no less remarkably, is now portrayed to BBC audiences as an attack on a holy site rather than the premeditated murder of Jews) to supposedly demonstrate that the two sides are both victims and attackers. That warped narrative is not corrected by Knell and neither does she make any effort to enquire about the situation of Christians living under the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

A slightly different filmed version of the interview with Suheil Dawani – with Knell’s questions edited out – was also published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem reflects on 2014” on December 21st. With similar messaging to that seen in Marshall’s introduction to the audio version of the report, the synopsis to the filmed version also places recent incidents in Israel in the same overall category as persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria in order to ease the shift to the report’s real subject matter.Knell filmed Dawani 

“In recent months, Church leaders have expressed concern about the departure of a rising number of Christians from the Middle East.

The civil war in Syria and the advance of so-called Islamic State militants in Iraq have led to appeals for greater support for some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.

In the holy land, the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has also shown increasing signs of turning into a religious dispute, with a row over holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, is head of a diocese that covers much of the troubled region. As he prepares to celebrate Christmas this week he gave BBC News his reflections.”

So tough luck for the few remaining Christians trying to survive in Iraq and Syria: their barely described plight is for Yolande Knell merely a hook upon which to hang yet more of the same political messaging, whilst their co-religionists in Jordan and Lebanon and in the de facto Hamas-run Gaza Strip and in the PA-controlled territories do not even get a mention.

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Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

On December 9th an article by State Department correspondent Kim Ghattas appeared on the BBC News website under the title “Syria war: Southern rebels see US as key to success“. Despite its title, the report is illustrated using a photograph taken in Damascus in February 2013 rather than in southern Syria.Ghattas art

The article opens by informing readers that:

“Rebels in southern Syria are working to convince Washington to provide more decisive support as they continue to make small but steady gains against government forces.

While most of the world’s attention and the Syrian government’s forces have been focused on Kobane and Aleppo in northern Syria, moderate rebels south of Damascus have successfully taken territory and held it over the last three months, in the Deraa province, along the Jordanian border and along the Golan Heights.” [emphasis added]

Audiences will of course be likely to conclude that those “moderate rebels” differ essentially from the Jihadists profiled two days later in the BBC’s special feature on “Jihadist attacks”. One of the groups named in that feature is Jabhat al Nusra which, according to the BBC’s data, was responsible for 36% of the Jihadist attacks in Syria during the month of November.

Jabhat al Nusra attacks

Much later on in Ghattas’ long article, however, readers discover that one in ten of the rebels operating in southern Syria she previously described as “moderate” actually belong to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.

“Abu Majd el-Zoubi, a spokesman for the Southern Front, acknowledged that the Nusra Front operated in the region but insisted they were only 10% of the fighting force and that the rebels were all “100% Syrians”.”

That information in turn conflicts with a previous statement (still uncorrected) made by the BBC in its profile of Jabhat al Nusra (not updated since its publication in April 2013), according to which the Free Syrian Army does not cooperate with the Jihadist group.

“Al-Nusra’s connection to al-Qaeda has led the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition to distance itself from the movement.

“We don’t support the ideology of al-Nusra,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

“There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra.””

The take-away message for BBC audiences in Ghattas’ report is that the ability of the rebels in southern Syria to challenge the Assad regime is being hampered by a lack of American support.

“The growing coalition of 58 US-backed rebel groups south of Damascus known as the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is inching closer to the capital but with restricted military supplies and only half-hearted political support from the White House, they admit their progress will be limited.

“For three years most factions in the opposition have been asking Washington ‘what can you do for us?'” said one activist speaking by phone from the Middle East.

“We want to make Washington want to help us because of what we achieve on the ground,” added the activist, who is close to the rebel groups.”

Notably, Ghattas backs up her message by linking to an article produced by Charles Lister of the Doha branch of the Qatari-funded Brookings Institute.

“There are growing warnings that the US is on the verge of losing the last remnants of influence it has on the ground in Syria.

Reluctant backing has led to a lack of trust by the moderate rebels, and the newly announced Pentagon programme to train and equip new rebel recruits only starts in the spring of 2015.

So the southern front is even more crucial for any short-term Western strategy in Syria, especially if it still envisages putting the squeeze on the government in Damascus.”

However, Ghattas fails to inform BBC audiences that as well as funding the think-tank which produced that article, Qatar has also funded some of the extremist groups promoted by Lister as ‘invaluable actors’ in the battle against the Assad regime; Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

Jabhat al Nusra is currently designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK and the US. Ghattas’ simplistic (though revealing) admonishment of American policy towards “moderate rebels” in southern Syria fails to mention the very relevant fact that those forces include a designated terrorist organization defined by the BBC itself as a Jihadist group.  

Vital information missing in BBC reports on alleged Israeli airstrikes in Syria

On the afternoon of December 7th the BBC News website published an article now titled “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian army“. Changes made to the various versions of the report can be seen here and its initial version read as follows:

bombing Syria

In addition, a filmed report by Beirut correspondent Jim Muir was broadcast on BBC television news and appeared on the website under the title “Israeli jets ‘strike near Damascus’ – Syrian state TV“.

With Israel having declined to comment on the claims made by Syrian media and officials, both reports follow the format of previous ones on similar events, relying upon unconfirmed hearsay and conjecture. Notably, even after BBC News found itself under severe criticism nineteen months ago for uncritical repetition of the Assad regime’s propaganda (see here, here and here), the written article states:

“”This afternoon, the Israeli enemy targeted two safe areas in Damascus province, namely the Dimas area and the Damascus International Airport,” the military statement said.

It described the air strikes as “direct aggression” carried out to help the Syrian government’s opponents.” [emphasis added]

No effort is made to inform audiences of the redundancy of that Syrian regime propaganda.

But both these reports are in fact far more notable for what they do not include than for what they do. Neither of them informs audiences of Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, with the written article stating:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several air strikes on Syria since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.

They appear to have been mainly aimed at preventing weapons transfers to Syria’s allies in Lebanon, the militant Hezbollah movement, the BBC’s Jim Muir reports from Beirut.”

In the filmed version Muir stated:Muir filmed

“…which would be the fourth time that the Israelis have struck inside…erm…Syria since the war there began in 2011 – mainly attacks aimed at hitting or preventing weapons being transferred to Hizballah, according to the evidence that came out later. That’s of course Israel…Syria’s ally here in Lebanon.”

So, from international criminal and terrorist organization, Hizballah has been upgraded by Muir to the status of “Syria’s ally”, meaning of course that BBC audiences are being told a very selective part of the story. Interestingly, the BBC’s profile of Hizballah (faulty as it is) was not included in the ‘more on this story’ links presented at the side of and below the main article.

Neither was any effort made in either of the two reports to inform audiences of the highly relevant fact that, according to UN SC resolution 1701 all militias – including Hizballah – should have been disarmed and the sale or transfer of weapons to non-state actors is prohibited.

That factor, along with Hizballah’s designation as a terrorist organization, is crucial for proper audience understanding of the story as it is presented. The BBC, however, elected not to provide the information to its audiences.

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BBC’s Connolly presents anti-Israel political activist as ‘community leader’

Kevin Connolly’s recent excursion to the Golan Heights was also reported in the form of a radio report which was broadcast on two separate BBC platforms on November 13th as part of the BBC News ‘Syria Days’ project.

In the morning the item appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 00:45:40 here) and later on a slightly expanded version was broadcast in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:47:00 here).

Both introductions to the item – from Sarah Montague and James Menendez respectively – ran along the following lines:

“Our correspondent Kevin Connolly has been to the Golan Heights where a line of separation divides Syria from Israeli-occupied territory and he’s been to see what the future looks like from there.”

In fact, Connolly’s item provides very little in the way of factual information – not least because at this stage of affairs, nobody can really proffer more than an educated guess about what future regional developments may bring. His report opens with the sounds of a theatre performance in Arabic and Connolly telling listeners:

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

“We are in the small, dark theatre in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The play – a one-man show – deals with the agonies of the past: the story of Palestinian refugees.”

There is of course no link whatsoever between the Golan Heights and “the story of Palestinian refugees” but what Connolly saw was probably part of a recent festival promoted by an organization which has relevance to an interview conducted later in his report.

The report’s first interviewee is Tal Pelter from Ein Zivan, described by Connolly as someone who “makes wine in an Israeli settlement on the Golan and is still making plans for the long-term future here.”

Connolly then goes on to promote the usual trite, homogeneous portrayal of Druze residents of the Golan Heights seen so often in the Western media:

“Most of the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan continue to regard themselves as Syrians. They follow the television news from Damascus and await the reunification of a country from which they were cut off by the wars of 1967 and 1973. But they know that the staggering destruction of Syria’s civil war is changing everything in the Middle East. Tayseer Maray – a community leader in Majdal Shams – senses that a historic process is now underway in which countries like Syria and Iraq created at the end of the First World War are disappearing, to be replaced by a single Arab State.”

Connolly’s introduction of his interviewee does not inform audiences that Tayseer Maray is in fact a long-time political activist who heads an organization called ‘Golan for Development’ (organizer of the above theatre festival) which is linked to OPGAI: a forum of anti-Israel campaigning organisations mainly from the Palestinian sector, including Badil and the AIC.

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

Listeners hear Maray say:

“This country or this new country that will emerge, it’s clear. I mean now we can see that the border between Syria and Iraq does not exist and also I think that Lebanon sooner or later will be part of what’s going on and Jordan is not in very stable situation. I see that we will have really very big Arab country that will exist in this area.”

Connolly: “Is this the end of the age of the nation-state in the Middle East?”

Maray: “I think that it will be the end of the nation-state in the normal meaning.”

Unfortunately, Connolly did not ask his interviewee what sort of “very big Arab country” he predicts – Sunni or Shia – or whether or not his latest predictions differ in any way from those he was making in 2010 (long before the Syrian civil war began) when he personally told this writer that an Iranian-led caliphate was just around the corner.

Connolly’s third interviewee is Efraim Halevi who raises the possibility of a different scenario than the one proposed by Tayseer Maray: one of the disintegration of Syria and Lebanon into ethnic, religious and political ‘statelets’.

What BBC audiences will have been able to take away from Connolly’s report is unclear, but one thing is certain: they would have been better equipped to judge the context and relevance of Maray’s predictions for the Middle East had they been informed – in line with BBC guidelines on impartiality – of his political activities and associations. 

 

BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast’s massive Middle East mangle

Mishal Husain’s deferential and decidedly uninformative ‘interview’ with Hizballah’s Muhammad Fneish on November 13th was apparently the inspiration for an item on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Breakfast programme on the same day.5 live breakfast

Presenter Rachel Burden’s introduction to the item (available here for a limited period of time from 02:39:40) began as follows:

“Now, the Lebanese militant group Hizballah has told the BBC that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers. In an interview with the BBC one of its leaders blamed IS for killing more Muslims than its longtime enemy Israel.”

Of course the implication that until ISIS came along Israel held some sort of record for killing Muslims is grossly inaccurate and misleading, but Burden made no attempt to clarify that fact to listeners – or to inform them of Hizballah’s terrorist designation – before introducing her interviewee; former British Ambassador to Libya, Sir Richard Dalton.

After a conversation about developments in Libya, Burden said:

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, what the Lebanese militant group Hizballah have told the BBC: that the fight against Islamic State has given it a common purpose with Western powers – it’s on the same side of a conflict as American forces for once. Is this just an extreme example of our enemy’s enemy being our friend and if it is, does it herald any possible rapprochement with the group and maybe a way of hope for the Israel-Palestine process – peace process?”

Why the topic of negotiations between Israel and the PLO was introduced into an item supposedly broadcast within the framework of a BBC special feature on Syria is unclear, but given that this was the second time in a matter of minutes that Burden had informed audiences that Hizballah had told the BBC that it now has “a common purpose” with Western powers, let’s take a closer look at the relevant segment of that interview.

Mishal Husein: “And do you therefore see those Western states as your allies then rather than your enemies, given the fact that you have a common fight at the moment?”

Fneish: “Sometimes common interests do cross, but not necessarily for the same goals. These Jihadi groups would not have thrived and expanded if it wasn’t for some policies by Western states like the United States, Britain and France and also the involvement of some regional states. […] For us, if there’s a convergence at the moment, it is the result of those states changing their positions and not because of common political goals.”

Clearly Burden’s interpretation of the Hizballah representative’s words does not accurately reflect what was said. Richard Dalton replied to her question as follows:

“I wouldn’t go as far as that, no. These are local conflicts with local dynamics. One of the reasons for example that Iran has got such a strong link with Hizballah in Lebanon is that it wishes to provide deterrents against attacks on Iran’s own territory. So this is not a simple matter of being able to count on a particular alliance for one purpose and then seeing that alliance extended for another. The fact is that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is currently getting worse, with a negotiated solution further off than ever – largely because of policies adopted in Israel. And the fact is unless Western policy changes towards Israel and towards the Palestine-Israel conflict as a whole, we’re not going to see progress on that issue just because of a temporary coincidence of interest in confronting Islamic State.” [emphasis added]

Rachel Burden made no attempt whatsoever to clarify or challenge Dalton’s pejorative and inaccurate allegations or to point out to listeners that the last round of negotiations failed because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a unity government with a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction whilst knowing full well that act would bring an end to talks.

In other words, listeners to a peak-time breakfast show were misled by inaccurate representation of the words of a senior figure in a terrorist organization not defined as such, with that misrepresentation used as hook for an equally inaccurate representation of the reasons for failure of negotiations between Israel and the PLO – all in an item supposedly forming part of the BBC’s coverage of events in Syria.

So much for the BBC’s claim to “enhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

 

 

BBC amplification of Hizballah propaganda

On November 13th the head of the BBC’s Middle East bureau proudly announced a scoop on Twitter.

Hizb int Colebourn tweet

Mishal Husain’s interview with Muhammad Fneish of Hizballah – conducted as part of the BBC’s recent Syria feature – was promoted on a variety of BBC platforms. An abridged version appeared in the November 13th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:10:10 here) with Husain describing the organization her interviewee represents as follows:Hizb int on website

“…founded to resist Israel, regarded by the United States as a terrorist organization, blamed for the killing of US marines and the kidnapping of Western hostages in Beirut in the 1980s…”

Following the interview, listeners heard ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen, who likewise played down Hizballah’s terrorist designation:

“…seen by the likes of Britain and America as a terrorist organization…”

Listeners were told by Bowen that Hizballah is one of the “friends of Iran” with no proper information provided on the topic of Iran’s role in the organisation’s founding, the material support it provides or the agenda it dictates.

Hizballah is of course designated as a terrorist organization in its entirety by Bahrain, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and the US and in part by Australia, the EU, New Zealand and the UK.

The interview was also promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Hezbollah minister blames foreign ‘intervention’ for Syrian suffering” with no mention made of the fact that Husain’s interviewee is a member of a terrorist organization in that version’s synopsis and the Iranian connection erased altogether.

A video of most of the interview was also uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. Like the website version, its synopsis informs audiences that Husain’s interview marks the “first time the Hezbollah leadership has spoken to the international media since the Syrian crisis began in 2011″.

So, did the corporation which claims to be “the standard-setter for international journalism” use this rare opportunity to challenge the Lebanese minster with regard to his party’s primary allegiance to Iran and its role in exacerbating  the Sunni-Shia conflict both inside Lebanon and further afield? Was any attempt made to raise the issue of the terrorist-militia-within-a-state maintained by Fneish’s organization in contradiction of multiple UN resolutions? Did Husain question the Hizballah representative with regard to its terrorist and criminal activities both at home and abroad? Was he asked why his organisation provides support for a regime which has killed more than 200,000 of its own people? And did she ask him why Hizballah even continues to exist given that Israel withdrew from Lebanon almost a decade and a half ago?

Well; no. Instead BBC audiences were treated to undiluted, unchallenged Hizballah propaganda comparing Israel to ISIS, promoting the notion that Western support for parties opposing the Assad regime is designed to “protect Israel” and claiming that the organisation’s involvement in the Syrian civil war is part and parcel of its so-called “resistance” against Israel.

Husain: “I wonder which you think is the bigger enemy today; the Islamic State or the enemy that Hizballah was founded to fight, which was Israel?”

Fneish: “We don’t really differentiate between the two really because the whole problem as we see it revolves around ending the resistance. When Israel, backed by the US, failed in 2006 to end the resistance, the focus on Syria was to stop it supporting the resistance. Therefore this whole battle aims to protect Israel. The role of the jihadists is to benefit from the political developments in the region and to work on their project which is a threat to the region and to all those who oppose their views. Syria is a key component in the balance of the regional conflict and was threatened by those groups due to Western policies. And those groups threaten Lebanon and the resistance movement in it. It means that this continues to be a battle against Israel but the rules and the locations of the engagement have changed.”

Given the docile and unchallenging nature of Mishal Husain’s interview with Fneish and her reverent approach to that senior representative of an international terrorist organisation, one can hardly find it surprising that Hizballah decided that speaking to the BBC fit its agenda. 

Inaccurate BBC representation of Golan Heights ‘relics’

BBC News’ recent big multi-platform feature on Syria (more on that later) included a filmed report from the Golan Heights by Kevin Connolly which, in addition to being aired on BBC television news, also appeared on the BBC News website on November 13th under the title “Could Syria be a catalyst for change in the Middle East?“.

In the report, Connolly correctly told viewers that:

“The landscape is littered with relics of the fighting in 1967 and in 1973 when Syria tried and failed to win back the land it lost.”

However, the footage used to illustrate that statement by Connolly included the following images, neither of which have anything to do with either the Six Day War or the Yom Kippur War or indeed with the modern states of Israel or Syria.

Connolly Goaln filmed 2

Connolly Golan filmed 3

The first image shows a pillbox constructed by the British in 1941 near Ein Tawfik in the south Golan Heights, close to the 1923 border between British-administered Mandate Palestine and French-administered Mandate Syria. The second image shows a nearby tank barrier also constructed during the Second World War with the intention of preventing French and/or German tanks entering Mandate Palestine via the Golan Heights.

Had the BBC’s cameraman swung a little to the right, he would have seen a statue and a plaque commemorating the fact that Eli Cohen passed through that tank barrier on his way to El Hama in 1962 – five years before the Six Day War.

Photo: Dr Avishai Teicher

Photo: Dr Avishai Teicher

Later on in the report, Connolly told audiences:Connolly Golan filmed

“Land on the Syrian side of the UN-controlled checkpoint [Kuneitra] is in the hands these days not of the Syrian army but of an Islamist rebel group.”

In fact there is more than one rebel group currently holding positions in that area. Connolly also stated that:

“Israel has been fortifying its fences and responding with force whenever shells or missiles hit land under its control.”

In actual fact, whilst Israel has indeed responded with retaliatory fire on occasion, it has by no means done so in all of the dozens of cases of cross-border fire – deliberate or accidental – which have taken place in the past months and so Connolly’s assertion that Israel responds “whenever” such fire takes place is inaccurate.

Inaccuracies in BBC’s Jabhat al Nusra profile

The BBC News website’s profile of Jabhat al Nusra (aka al Nusra Front) recently appeared as one of the related articles suggested to readers on its Middle East page.

Profile al Nusra on HP

 

Titled “Profile: Syria’s al-Nusra Front“, the article is dated April 10th 2013 and has apparently not been updated in the past eighteen months.

Included in the profile is the following paragraph: [emphasis added]

“The Front’s leading figure, Abu Mohammed al-Jawani, assured Syrians that the “good behaviour” they had experienced from al-Nusra on the ground would continue unchanged.”

Accepted spellings of the nom de guerre of the Nusra Front leader include al-Julani, al-Joulani, al-Jolani, al-Jawlani and al-Golani, with the name being a reference to the Golan Heights. Later on in the profile a side box appears in which – confusingly for readers – the name is presented differently and without the above spelling error.

Profile al Nusra sidebox

The profile informs BBC audiences that:

“Al-Nusra’s connection to al-Qaeda has led the Free Syrian Army (FSA) opposition to distance itself from the movement.

“We don’t support the ideology of al-Nusra,” FSA spokesman Louay Meqdad said.

“There has never been and there will never be a decision at the command level to coordinate with al-Nusra.”

Mr Meqdad did, however, acknowledge that that [sic] there had been co-operation between FSA brigades and the Front on “certain operations”.”

Reports on recent fighting in south-western Syria, however, present a somewhat different picture than the one promoted in this BBC profile.Profile al Nusra

“The Free Syrian Army has recently allied with Islamist rebels fighting in al Harah, a town in the southern Syrian province of Deraa. Elements from the Free Syrian Army coordinated their efforts with the Islamist Syrian Revolutionaries Front, the Islamic Front, and the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, to take the al Harah Hill and the surrounding town.

The Free Syrian Army utilized several BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles during the fighting, which the United States supplied to “vetted groups” in April. […]

The Long War Journal has previously noted that Western-backed groups continue to operate with the Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham, and the wider Islamic Front coalition. Last month, the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front coordinated efforts with Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham to take several villages in Quneitra province. In August, elements from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Free Syrian Army worked with Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham to take the Quneitra border crossing with the Israeli-held Golan Heights.”

Obviously the BBC’s profile of al Nusra Front is in need of both updating and correction.