The May 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme did not only feature a potentially BAFTA-winning performance by Jeremy Bowen pretending that “nobody really knows” whether or why Iranian long-range missiles might be transferred to the terrorist organisation Hizballah via Syria. Earlier on in the programme – from 1:09:07 here for a limited period of time – over four minutes of air time was dedicated to the uninterrupted promotion of propaganda directly from the Iran/Syria/Hizballah coalition by its mouthpiece ‘Conflicts Forum’ director Alastair Crooke.
Presenter Justin Webb introduces the item by stating:
“Israeli jets bombed Syria yesterday. It was the second attack in 48 hours. The Syrian deputy Foreign Minister called it an act of war. The United States, according to an intelligence official, was not given any warning before the air strikes which most people are assuming were on targets connected with the Iranian supply of weapons to Syria and then on to Hizballah – the militant group based in Lebanon which is backed by Iran and by President Assad. Alastair Crooke is a former EU mediator in the Middle East. He’s director now of the NGO Conflicts Forum and is on the line from Beirut. Good morning to you.”
Webb’s claim that “Israeli jets bombed Syria” is of course a deliberately wide – and inaccurate – interpretation of pinpoint strikes carried out against specific targets in very specific areas of a very large country. Webb’s failure to inform listeners of the political motivations of Crooke’s organisation directly contravenes BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality, and in particular section 4.4.14 of those guidelines.
“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”
The interview continues:
Alastair Crooke: “Good morning to you.”
JW: “What do you think is happening?”
AC: “Err..we’ve had some reaction overnight err..from Hizballah and some sources have been speaking in Damascus. Erm..what Hizballah are saying – and they’re quite calm about it – they say they regard this very much as a political event by – political demonstration if you like – err.. by Israel. Err.. they say that they recently received emm.. effective – quote – effective weapons emm… across the border from Syria and that Israel were [sic] a little bit late on the uptake on this and that we have seen – as indeed we have seen – that Lebanon has been crisscrossed by Israeli aeroplanes during the recent days and they believe that they were unable to find what they wanted and so they gave a demonstrative attack, if you like, on the previously attacked erm.. weapons logistics centre near Damascus and this was intended really emm… having not succeeded in stopping this effective, as far as Hizballah is describing it, Israel is sending a message saying well don’t think of doing it again because we will reply.”
Using the same country and area codes, Webb’s producers could have telephoned Hizballah’s offices in the Dahiya area of Beirut and received the exact same commentary of course – albeit in perhaps less of a polished accent. Webb continues:
“And the point is these weapons – it’s the Fateh 110 isn’t it? It’s a missile that could reach Tel Aviv from southern Lebanon so in the event, for instance, of Israel attacking Iran over its nuclear programme, then this could be quite an effective active retaliation by an Iranian ally.”
“Yes, but Hizballah – and the Israelis said this quite publicly – have already got such weapons. Erm.. there’s another version of this weapon which is very similar which has been produced in Syria in recent years and almost certainly that has reached Hizballah. In any case Hizballah is fully armed. I mean there’s no question about that. Israeli intelligence sources .. amm.. admit quite clearly that they have far greater potential weapons power now than they ever had during the war in 2006. So I don’t think this – the loss – even if there was a loss of a particular weapons shipment – would be critical – strategically critical – to Hizballah’s position.”
An appreciation of the similarity of Crooke’s claims to those made by Hizballah itself can be gleaned by taking a look at this recent statement from its leader Nasrallah:
“Israel believes that if it attacks facilities and strategic stockpiles, it changes the resistance capabilities. This is an erroneous assessment.” He said,”The reason being that the stocks of the resistance have been filled with all that it needs.”
Webb then asks:
“What – are we to see this then in the context of an effort by Israel to persuade the Americans that they need now to take sides and do something?”
“Yes, I think that’s exactly right. What we’re seeing – I think it’s got two things in it – and again Syrian sources informally were saying overnight that from their point of view there was little loss. It was the same building and of course they’d cleared it since the last attack and there was nothing substantial there. Err.. they do tie it very much to the advances – and Hizballah shares this view, I believe – that the Syrian armed forces have had err.. huge advances in cutting off, if you like, the supply routes between Lebanon and Homs in Syria and also in the south and advances in the east and opening the highway to the north. In fact, I mean, it’s a huge shift taking place on the ground and they think that this is disturbing to both Israel and America: any thought that there could be a comeback by President Assad and his government and indeed a victory in military terms by them – and so there was a thought that providing a strike that would assist the opposition could be an advantage and also, in Israeli calculation, help bring err.. American involvement a little closer and by pushing America towards involvement in Syria and pushing them off their red line – the American red line as you may recall was that the use of chemical weapons would be the only cause of American direct involvement. But by blurring that and pushing America towards shifting their red line on Iran – which is the acquisition of nuclear weapons. “
“Very interesting. Thank you Alastair Crooke and we’ll be hearing the Israeli side of this in so far as we can get it after half past eight.”
That last remark refers to an interview with Major General (ret.) Giora Eiland which was conducted after the one with Jeremy Bowen.
If readers are now beginning to suspect that the BBC simply saved itself a phone call to the Syrian Ministry of Propaganda by inviting Alastair Crooke to this programme, they might not be far wrong.
We previously addressed the subject of the nature of Crooke’s organization on these pages in light of the BBC’s use of input from him in a 2011 article entitled “Hezbollah: Terrorist organisation or liberation movement?” which was recently recycled by the BBC.
“Broadly speaking, Conflicts Forum is a Western-sounding mouthpiece for the Iranian regime and its various client militias such as Hamas and Hizballah, as well as Iranian allies such as the Assad regime.
In 2007, with EU funding, Conflicts Forum produced a report (now strangely absent from the internet) detailing strategies to rebrand the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah in the West as proponents of “social justice” and specifically promoting “Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s values, philosophy and wider political and social programmes”.
“We need to clarify and explain that Islamist movements are political and social movements working on social and political justice,” the report explains, “and are leading the resistance to the US/Western recolonisation project with its network of client states and so-called ‘moderates’.” It claims “the progressive space of social movements [in the West] is empty” and asks, “how the West can learn from the values and the notion of society that Hezbollah and Hamas have at the centre of their philosophy?”
Of course, access to the mainstream media dovetails with the Conflicts Forum strategy very well, but one would expect members of the media organisations themselves to be aware of the organisation’s background and aims before using quotes from its officials.”
Providing Alastair Crooke with the opportunity to spout the spin of a terrorist organization and a murderous dictatorship to millions of listeners unchallenged is obviously bad enough. But when that is done without due disclosure of the political connections of the man and his very dubious organization, then the BBC is displaying wanton disregard for its own obligation to impartiality and once again putting its own political colours – and agenda – in full view.