In the early hours of January 21st a report originally headlined “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria – military” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Over the next seven hours the report was amended seven times and it currently goes under the title “Israel hits Iranian and Syrian targets around Damascus – military”.
At the top of the article – which is inaccurately tagged as being about the “Syrian civil war” – appears a video captioned “An onlooker captures explosions in the night sky over Damascus”. The video itself is described on-screen as “Facebook diary of a mortar shell in Damascus”. It is of course unclear what “a mortar shell” has to do with this story.
Readers were told that:
“The Israeli military says it has hit Iranian targets around the Syrian capital Damascus.
The Israel Defense Forces said the overnight operation targeted the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Syrian air defences. Four people are reported to have died.
Syrian media said most of the Israeli missiles had been shot down.”
The same claim was later repeated:
“Syria’s state-run Sana news agency quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had shot down most of “hostile missiles”.”
Nothing in the BBC’s report suggests that it independently verified that standard Syrian regime claim before choosing to uncritically amplify it twice in the report.
The article went on to mention an earlier incident that the BBC did not report at the time.
“Israel said it acted after the Quds Forces launched a rocket from Syria over the Golan Heights on Sunday.
It said the rocket had been intercepted.”
Given that there is filmed evidence of the interception of what was actually an Iranian surface to surface missile there was clearly no need for the use of the phrase “it said”. Later on in the BBC’s report readers were told that:
“The operation comes after Israel said that “a rocket was fired at the northern Golan Heights and was intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defence System”.
The popular winter tourist site on Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights was closed as a result.”
Towards the end of the report readers were told that:
“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a warning during his visit to Chad on Sunday.
“We have a set policy, to target the Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and to harm whoever tried to harm us,” he said.
Israel has expressed alarm at Iran’s deployment in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling rebel forces and Islamist groups since the start of the civil war in 2011.”
Israel’s concerns of course actually relate to Iran’s use of Syria as a forward base from which to attack Israel but BBC audiences were not provided with that information, despite it obviously being essential for proper understanding of the story the article purports to tell.
The article then promoted a link to a BBC report from May 2018 which still includes misinformation.
“In May 2018, Israel said it had struck almost all of Iran’s military infrastructure there, following a rocket attack on its positions in the Golan Heights.”
The report closed:
“Israel seized the area from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it.”
That information is apparently not known to whoever produced the map used by the BBC News Twitter account to promote this article to its 24.4 million followers.
As we see that map names the Syrian capital and a city which is not the capital of Israel. In addition the Golan Heights is inaccurately marked on that map as part of Syria.