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 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. 

BBC’s Jonathan Marcus and the Iron Dome

On March 8th, Richard Silverstein – a man who rarely comes across an Israel-related conspiracy theory he does not like – published an article on his blog claiming that the success rate reported for the Iron Dome defence system during Operation Pillar of Cloud was much lower than previously thought. 

Silverstein based his article (also reproduced by the Eurasia Review on the same date) on an opinion piece which appeared in Ha’aretz in both English and Hebrew – curiously dated March 9th. On March 11th the same story was taken up by the notorious Hamas-supporting, anti-Israel outfit and go-to place for anyone who fancies a Raed Salah calendar, Middle East Monitor (MEMO). 

The next day, March 12th 2013, that ‘illustrious’ band was joined by the BBC when Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus produced an article entitled “Israel’s Iron Dome: Doubts over success rate” which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website. 

Marcus Iron Dome

All of the above articles, including the one by Marcus, are based on the opinions of MIT professor Theodore (Ted) Postol who has made something of a name for himself over the years through his criticism of various missile defence systems. Interestingly, Postol’s opinion of the Iron Dome seemed to change dramatically almost overnight, with him giving it a glowing review in the MIT Technology Review on November 26th 2012, but expressing the opposite view only three days later in another interview

Jonathan Marcus is rather coy about the research methods which led Postol and his associates to reach their conclusions, writing:

“Mr Postol’s criticism of the Iron Dome rests upon the nature of the warhead carried by the interceptor missile and the observed trajectories – or flight paths – of the launches he has studied from the November 2012 conflict.”

In fact, the conclusions were reportedly reached by watching videos – some of which appear to be amateur films placed on Youtube – with further ‘evidence’ being offered through a very curious interpretation of a specific statistic, as reported by Silverstein:

“The experts also note a wide discrepancy between the number of damage claims by Israeli civilians (3,200) and the number of rockets the IDF concedes struck built-areas (58).”

Perhaps in Massachusetts, missile shrapnel only hits one building or vehicle at a time. 

After reproducing Postol’s claims and insinuations at length, Jonathan Marcus informs readers that:

“The BBC tried to contact Rafael, Iron Dome’s manufacturer for a response to Mr Postol’s claims but was unable to get a reply.

Earlier an IDF spokesman quoted in the Haaretz newspaper, noted that “all interceptions by Iron Dome are investigated with cross-checking of system data, radar [data], reports from different sources on the ground and other information. The data of [Iron Dome] activity was arrived at based on this process.” “

The Iron Dome project is of course a team effort, with the manufacturer Rafael producing the system and the Israeli Air Force operating it. The project is coordinated by the Ministry of Defence , which the BBC could have approached for comment and information – but did not.  

BBC Watch, however, did speak to the Ministry of Defence and was told that not only does the 84% success rate stand, but that post-event analysis by the Israel Missile Defence Association and the American Missile Defence Agency – carried out by scientists with access to the full range of data, of course – suggests an even higher success rate.

It is a pity to see the BBC’s Defence Correspondent jumping onto the same sensationalist bandwagon as discredited propagandists such as MEMO and Richard Silverstein without a thorough check of a story’s accuracy, credibility and relevance.