As we saw in part one of this post, coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included the provision of a platform for blatant Iranian propaganda that went completely unchallenged and uncorrected.
Later the same day the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ also allowed the same interviewee to promote gross falsehoods without any effort made to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impressions they received from an Iranian academic who is infamously close to the Iranian regime and who, in 2009, was asked by a CNN interviewer:
“Do you worry that you will be seen in history as a mouthpiece for a dying, repressive regime in its death throes? That 20 years from now you’ll look back, and the world will look back at you, the way it did some of those smooth-talking, English-speaking, Soviet spokesmen who were telling us right in the middle 1980s, that the Soviet Union was all just fine and democratic and wonderful?”
Iqbal: “Now we begin though with Israel, Iran and Syria and a military confrontation overnight which could mark a significant escalation of tension in the Middle East. Israel has for some time been conducting what some describe as a shadow war against Iran, inside Syria.”
Iqbal made no effort to inform listeners of the crucially relevant fact that what her unnamed sources “describe as a shadow war” in fact relates to weapons transfers by Iran to the widely proscribed terror group Hizballah in violation of UN SC resolution1701. She went on:
Iqbal: “Iran has a military presence there supporting the government of President Bashar al Assad and overnight it responded to Iran firing 20 rockets from Syria into the Israeli-controlled territory of the Golan Heights. Israel’s defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israeli forces have hit most of Iran’s infrastructure in Syria in that wave of overnight airstrikes. Mr Lieberman said he hoped the latest round of exchanges between Israeli and Iranian forces was now over.”
After listeners had heard a voice-over recording of a statement from Lieberman, Iqbal continued:
Iqbal: “State television in Iran says seven Iranian military advisors were killed in those Israeli strikes in Syria.”
Iqbal did not clarify that the incident to which she refers took place on April 9th at the T4 airbase or that the “advisors” were in fact members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps. Neither did she bother to remind listeners that two months earlier, an armed Iranian drone launched from that base had infiltrated Israeli territory.
Iqbal then interviewed the prime minister of Israel’s spokesperson to foreign media, David Keyes. Interestingly, the vast majority of her five questions steered audiences towards the view that Israel’s actions are causing “escalation”.
Question 2 Iqbal: “Are you not concerned that this is a manifestation of an escalation that could bring Israel into the Syrian conflict?”
Question 3 Iqbal: “Mr Keyes: I asked the question – sorry to interrupt you. I’m sorry to interrupt you. I asked the question precisely because you will be well aware that when Israel launched attacks against the T4 airbase back in April, Moscow’s anger was conveyed very clearly; that it felt that what Israel was doing was…was evil in fact – that’s what the state Duma defence committee called Israel’s action. Isn’t there a danger that you are on the verge of getting involved in the war in Syria because the bases that you speak of are not necessarily Iranian bases – they’re Russian bases.”
While – as was reported at the time – the chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee did call what he presumed to be Israel’s action “evil and unfriendly”, it is of course remarkable that the BBC chooses to quote a representative of a regime that has denied Bashar al Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians and accused the UK of carrying out a poisoning attack using a nerve agent on its own soil. Interestingly, Iqbal provided no evidence for her suggestion that the Syrian air force’s T4 base is “Russian”.
Question 4 Iqbal: “This confrontation between Iran and Israel could mark the most significant military confrontation…confrontation between your two…the two countries in the region and the danger of escalating regional tensions is ever-present. How concerned are you that none of this is helping? You continue to defend the reasons why Israel has taken the action that it has but isn’t there a responsibility on the part of Israel to try not to escalate tensions in the region also?“
Question 5 Iqbal: “The implication in the question or the presumption in the question is really an acknowledgement that the conflict inside Syria is not just a conflict that deals with Syrians fighting and killing other Syrians. Russia is present in Syria. The United States has a presence in Syria. This is a mini world war and it’s quite possible that the escalation could result in direct confrontation between Syria and Israel.”
Following that conversation, at 07:31 Iqbal introduced her next interviewee.
Iqbal: “The Iranians and Russians have been supporting President Bashar al Assad in his fight to capture territory back from the Syrian opposition as well as ridding the country of Islamic State’s presence. Their involvement has changed the battle for Syria in President Assad’s favour but it has also had serious repercussions for the region. Israel sees Iranian military build-up in Syria as an existential threat to it. To get an Iranian perspective on what’s been happening I’ve been speaking to Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi who is head of North American studies at Tehran University about Iran’s strategic presence in Syria. What’s his reaction first to the comments we just heard from David Keyes?”
Unchallenged by Iqbal, Marandi repeated the same falsehoods aired earlier on the ‘Today’ programme about alleged Israeli support for the group formerly known as Jabhat al Nusra and inaccurately claimed once again that “ISIS has never been attacked by Israel”.
Marandi: “Well as far as I remember the Israelis first struck Iranian troops, killing [inaudible] of them. These troops were in Syria to help the Syrian government fight against Al Qaeda. They were nowhere near the border between Syria and the Israeli regime. In fact, the border between the two countries is occupied both by ISIS to the south and Al Qaeda to the north. ISIS has never been attacked by Israel and Al Qaeda is actively supported by Israel – the Nusra Front. They treat their wounded soldiers…or militias…militiamen. But what he said actually about the strike this morning was very misleading because the Israelis carried out over a hundred strikes on Syria and just the night before the Israelis carried out further strikes. So the response that they received from Syria was in retaliation to their own actions.”
Once again failing to provide listeners with the context of Iranian violations of UN SC resolution 1701, Iqbal allowed Marandi to promote the notion that the Iranians may not have launched the May 10th attacks.
Iqbal: “So – sorry to interrupt you – are you saying that the attacks that took place overnight – the 20 missile strikes that Israel is talking about – that it was Syria that launched those and not Iran?”
Marandi: “Everything that happens in Syria is done through the hierarchy that exists in the Syrian government and the Syrian army. So whatever response there is, it’s under the central command of Syria, whether the Americans like to acknowledge that or not.”
Iqbal: “But was it Iran – Dr Marandi – in your understanding was it Iran that launched those 20 missile strikes into the Golan Heights or was it Syria?”
Marandi: “I don’t know. I don’t know about that but what I can say is that his claim that they destroyed Iran…Iranian command and control structures is obvious nonsense. Every Iranian soldier in Syria has a cell phone. All of them are in constant contact with their families. They send pictures. If there’s a single dead Iranian soldier, let’s see the photographs.”
Iqbal: “You dismissed any suggestion that there is a command and control structure that Iran has inside Syria. What infrastructure does Iran have inside Syria?”
Marandi: “Iranians are there to help the Syrian government. I think the Iranian presence is no secret in Syria. The Iranians have been there since 2005 [sic].”
Iqbal: “How big is that presence inside Syria?”
Marandi: “I don’t know the numbers – I’m not in the military. But it’s open: there’s no secret about Iran’s presence.”
Iqbal: “Israel…it has repeatedly accused Iran of being in Syria in order to make it easier for Iran to target Israel. Is there any truth in that?”
Marandi: “Let’s look at the evidence on the ground. The Israelis have murdered Iranians. Did the Iranians murder Israelis? No. The Israelis tolerate….”
Iqbal [interrupts]: “The Israelis…the Israelis dispute that. The Israelis say that if they didn’t have the defence system that they have, if they had not intercepted those missiles that came into the Golan Heights, people could have been killed.”
Listeners then heard more blatant propaganda and lies – including the false claim of an “information blackout” – that went completely unchallenged by Razia Iqbal.
Marandi: “Well first of all, they didn’t intercept them. Almost all the missiles struck their targets and that’s not…the Iron Dome failed last night and the Israelis know it quite well. There’s a black…the information blackout in northern Israel and that’s evidence in itself. I’m not talking about last night. I’m talking about the past few months. The Israelis murdered Iranians – not the other way round.”
Notably, only one of Iqbal’s questions to Marandi related to ‘escalation’ and – in contrast to her conversation with the Israeli interviewee – there was no suggestion on her part that Iran bears a “responsibility […] to try not to escalate tensions in the region”.
Iqbal: “To what extent do you now see that this situation is going to escalate even further?”
Marandi: “Well without a doubt every time that the Israelis hit, they will be hit back because if there is no response, then the Israelis will start striking more intensively and with greater impunity. So from now on the Israelis are going to have to expect to be hit back every time they strike. If the European and the Americans don’t want an escalation, then they should warn the Israelis to sit down and mind their own business.”
Iqbal: “That was Dr Seyed Mohammad Marandi from Tehran University.”
The first of the BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – outlines the corporation’s obligation to:
“…provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”
Obviously listeners’ understanding of what happened in the Golan Heights on May 10th was not enhanced in the least by their hearing unchallenged Iranian regime propaganda replete with lies and inaccuracies – quite the opposite. And so, once again, the BBC’s faux ‘impartiality’ sells its funding public short.