BBC says what it said was happening in 2013 may be happening now

When Israel announced last week that it had destroyed a nuclear reactor in the Deir ez Zor region of Syria over a decade ago, the BBC News website described the facility’s purpose as “suspected” and BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman opined that the reason for the timing of the announcement was “to add a sharper military edge to American diplomatic pressure on Europe to toughen its stance on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers” while ignoring other no less plausible factors.

BBC News still not sure al Kibar was a nuclear reactor

In the March 28th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘, listeners heard presenter Julian Marshall (from 18:06 here) describe the al Kibar facility in similar language and give a portrayal of the intention of the announcement which is not supported by material presented later on in the item. As is usually the case, BBC audiences heard Hizballah described as an “armed group” rather than a terror organisation.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “Israel conformed for the first time last week that it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria over a decade ago. Israel officials say the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies that they’re prepared to act against any serious threat. During Syria’s civil war two of those enemies – Iran and the Lebanese armed group Hizballah – have expanded their presence and influence in the country as they fought on the side of President Bashar al Assad. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at the impact.”

Knell: “An Israeli military video shows fighter jets a decade ago bombing the nearly complete al Kibar facility in eastern Syria. International experts said it was very likely the site was a nuclear reactor but Syria denied it. And Israel is only now confirming it carried out the strike. So why now? Its Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot:”

V/O Eizenkot: “The message of the attack on the Syria nuclear reactor in 2007 was that Israel will not tolerate the development of abilities that threaten the existence of our state. That was the message in 1981 when we attacked Iraq’s nuclear facility and again in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies.”

Obviously Eizenkot did not say in that March 21st interview that “the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies” as claimed by Marshall, but that the strike itself on the reactor over a decade ago was the message. Knell went on to promote the same theory as her Jerusalem bureau colleague with regard to the intention of the announcement, claiming that Iran is “now” seen as a threat – when in fact, as the BBC itself has reported, Israel has been voicing concerns about Iran’s nuclear capabilities for many years – and making no mention of Iran’s long history of serial threats against Israel.

Knell: “Israel’s news shows quickly pointed out the link to Iran. It’s now seen as an existential threat because of its nuclear programme and there are fears about its plans in neighbouring Syria. Already Israel’s believed to have hit one Iranian base under construction there. Recently Fox News reported on another one.”

Fox News anchor: “New satellite photos reveal Iran has established another permanent military base outside Damascus.”

Although the BBC published a report in November 2017 about Iranian bases in Syria, audiences have not seen any follow-up reporting on that topic.

For almost five years (since May 2013) the BBC has been telling its audiences that Israel is ‘involved’ in the civil war in Syria.

BBC Q&A on alleged Israeli air strikes is political polemic

BBC presentation of Israeli view on Syria intervention replete with inaccuracies

BBC News again claims Israeli involvement in Syria’s war

BBC Syria war backgrounder recycles inaccurate claim

However, Knell then presented listeners with a different view:

Knell: “The defence analyst at Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel, says that for seven years Israel’s tried to keep out of the Syrian conflict. Now increasingly it’s being drawn in.”

Harel: “Now comes a different stage of the war because it’s rather evident that the Assad regime has won this game, so to speak, and that the sides that helped Assad are more or less fighting for the spoils and this could be dangerous for Israel. One is the growing Iranian presence at the region and specifically in the southern Syria. You have militia that may be present there. And the other is the growing role of Hizballah.”

After listeners heard sounds from a video game, Knell again downplayed Hizballah’s terror designation and Iran’s provision of funding and weapons to its proxy militia.

Knell: “A new video game brought out by the Lebanese Shiite armed group Hizballah which is backed by Iran. Players fight alongside government forces in Syria against rebels including so-called Islamic State. Hizballah’s lost hundreds of men in this war but Mohanad Hage Ali from Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center says its military strength has grown.”

Ali: “They’re trying out their different capabilities whether on the ground or the new weaponry that they’re using and trying to expose as much as they can from all of their fighting force to the conflict in Syria to gain experience. They are also training other forces; they set up a number of groups. And all of these supposedly will be part of their influence in Syria for a very long time.”

Refraining from informing listeners that Hizballah has tens of thousands of missiles at its disposal and making no mention of the fact that weapons transfers to Hizballah are prohibited under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701,Knell went on:

Knell: “That’s a big worry for Israel, which just completed joint military training with US troops. These exercises were routine but reflect current fears. One simulated a massive missile attack. Israel has struck in Syria dozens of times, acting – it says – to stop Iran adding advanced weapons to Hizballah’s arsenal. Although for now, Hizballah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem considers war unlikely.”

V/O Qassem: “I clearly express the view of Hizballah that it’s ready to confront any aggression if Israel decides to carry out any foolish action but it doesn’t seem to be the right circumstances for Israel to decide to go to war.”

Notably, Knell did not bother to mention the border dispute that the BBC has to date failed to report as a factor for potential “escalation”.

Knell: “The danger lies in an unplanned escalation. Last month this happened. The IDF shot down an Iranian drone after it infiltrated Israeli air space and then struck at its control site in Syria. One of its jets was hit by a Syrian missile and crashed. Israel launched attacks on Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Russia apparently calmed the situation but it was a reminder how a bloody civil war could turn into a wider regional one.”

For five years the BBC has been promoting the erroneous notion that Israel is involved in the war in Syria. It has repeatedly failed to clarify to its audiences that strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah or responses to cross-border fire from Syria do not mean that Israel is “involved” in that war but are responses to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.

While this report may indicate that at least one BBC journalist has rethought that mantra, the fact that the corporation consistently fails to provide serious coverage of relevant issues, such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, Iranian arming and funding of Hizballah (which the BBC serially refuses to describe as a terror organisation) and Iran’s establishment of a military presence in Syria, means that BBC audiences lack the information crucial to understanding of the background and context to any future developments.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

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BBC News still not sure al Kibar was a nuclear reactor

On March 21st the BBC News website produced written and filmed reports about Israel’s acknowledgement of air strikes that destroyed a nuclear reactor in the Deir ez Zor region of Syria over a decade ago.

Not for the first time however, the BBC was obviously keen to communicate to audiences that there is room for doubt concerning the nature of the target.

The filmed report is headlined “Israeli footage of 2007 air strike on Syria ‘reactor’” and its synopsis reads:

“Israel has for the first time confirmed that it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria in 2007.” [emphasis added]

At the top of the written report – titled “Israel admits striking suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007” – readers find the same video captioned “Israeli military video footage showing air strike on suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007″ and the article similarly opens: [emphasis added]

“Israel has for the first time confirmed that it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria in 2007.

The military said fighter jets bombed the al-Kibar facility in Deir al-Zour province, 450km (280 miles) north-east of Damascus, as it neared completion.

Syria’s government has repeatedly denied that it was building a reactor.”

In a section headed “from the archive” readers find old BBC reports in which Syrian regime propaganda was amplified.

Linking to a BBC report from May 2011, readers are later told that:

“The Syrian military did not retaliate after the attack. President Bashar al-Assad said only that Israel had “bombed buildings and construction related to the military”, which were “not used”.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded in 2011 that the site was “very likely” to have been a nuclear reactor.

Syria had signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) before the strike, which gave it the right to build a reactor to generate electricity. But it was also obliged to notify the IAEA of any plans to construct a nuclear facility.”

Readers however learn nothing of more concrete statements from the IAEA’s head or of various US statements on the topic of the al Kibar reactor.

The article includes analysis from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman under the heading “Why is Israel making this public now?”, with Bateman’s theory being that the confirmation is related to Iran and the JCPOA.

“Israel accuses Iran of maintaining nuclear ambitions – amounting to an existential threat – and believes its forces are trying to establish themselves permanently over its northern border in Syria – a claim Iran rejects.

The country may hope to add a sharper military edge to American diplomatic pressure on Europe to toughen its stance on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers – an agreement detested by Israel.”

However, Bateman refrains from informing BBC audiences of factors such as those listed by former IDF spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner in an article at the Forward:

“First, the strike had already been reported widely in the international media, rendering it difficult for the censor to maintain the ban.

Second, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wrote a biography while in prison and revealed some of the details. His book is scheduled to be released tomorrow.

Third, Israeli Channel 10 appealed the Supreme Court to remove the ban, forcing the defense establishment to review the scope of the censored story.”

At the Times of Israel, Judah Ari Gross notes that:

“There was no one reason given for the decision to remove the censorship on the al-Kibar strike, but it most likely came from a variety of considerations, among them repeated legal appeals by media outlets to get rid of the ban.

It is easiest to see this announcement as a not-so-subtle threat aimed at atomically ambitious Iran, especially given the fact that in the coming months US President Donald Trump may abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, unless significant alterations are made to it. […]

Ultimately, though, the immediate cause for the timing of the revelation might be a bit more banal: Ehud Olmert wrote a memoir, which is due to be distributed shortly. […]

How could Olmert, who left office under police investigation and was later sent to prison for corruption, and who sustained bitter criticism over his mishandling of the 2006 Lebanon war, leave out one of his crowning, lasting achievements?”

Bateman also tells readers that “[i]t was never in any real doubt that Israel was behind the strike on the al-Kibar facility in the Syrian desert a decade ago” but remarkably, the BBC continues to find it appropriate to suggest to its audiences the idea that Israel went to the trouble of carrying out such a complicated and risky operation on a target that may not have been a nuclear reactor at all. 

Related Articles:

BBC defence correspondent: Al Kibar was a ‘suspected’ nuclear facility

 

 

 

 

BBC defence correspondent: Al Kibar was a ‘suspected’ nuclear facility

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it was. US intelligence says it was. The BBC, however, is apparently not convinced.

If you happened to be watching BBC television news coverage on the subject of a potential Western attack in Syria on August 28th you could hardly have failed to miss the repeated broadcast of an item by BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale which also appears on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “How would Syria respond to military action?“. 

Beale

Beale opens his report:

“Military strikes against Syria have been carried out before. In 2007 in Operation Orchard, Israeli jets targeted a suspected nuclear facility in the north of the country – successfully as these satellite photos show – before and then after.” [emphasis added]

More than two years ago the IAEA stated that the Al Kibar facility near Deir ez Zor was a nuclear reactor in the final stages of construction.

“The UN nuclear agency on Thursday said for the first time that a target destroyed by Israeli warplanes in the Syrian desert five yearsBefore and after satellite images of the Syrian nuclear reactor at al-Kibar, which was reportedly struck by Israel in 2007 (AP/DigitalGlobe)  ago was a covertly built nuclear reactor, countering assertions by Syria that it had no atomic secrets to hide.

Previous reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency have suggested that the structure hit could have been a nuclear reactor. Thursday’s comments by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano were the first time the agency has said so unequivocally. […]

“The facility that was … destroyed by Israel was a nuclear reactor under construction,” he asked in response to a question from The Associated Press, repeating to the AP afterward: “It was a reactor under construction.” “

More than five years ago American national security officials briefed Congress on the issue.

“It was constructed by the Syrians in the eastern desert of Syria along the Euphrates River on the east side. The Syrians constructed this reactor for the production of plutonium with the assistance of the North Koreans.”

The US administration at the time knew exactly what Al Kibar was even before the strike took place.

“The facts about al-Kibar were soon clear, and about those facts there was no debate: It was a nuclear reactor that was almost an exact copy of the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea, and North Koreans had been involved with Syria’s development of the site. Given its location and its lack of connection to any electrical grid, this reactor was part of a nuclear-weapons program rather than intended to produce electric power.”

By unnecessarily inserting the word ‘suspected’ when describing what the top authority on the subject says unequivocally was a nuclear facility Jonathan Beale is clearly both misleading BBC audiences and in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy.