BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

An article titled “Trumplomacy: Are we seeing the end of a close Israel-US relationship?” appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on October 9th. Its writer – Barbara Plett Usher – opened with a scornful account of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister.

“There was an element of the bizarre in the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) last week.

Only five months had passed since the last time newly elected members took the oath and, given continued political paralysis after another round of inconclusive elections, they may have to do it all over again soon.

Added to that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grim, almost apocalyptic speech could not have been less festive. He warned of an imminent war with Iran and unprecedented security challenges, saying it was unlike any remembered since the days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Granted, his words were seen by many commentators as familiar campaign rhetoric aimed at making the case for why he should continue to lead the country, even though he failed to win a majority in the September vote.

“Ladies and gents, I give you The Great Iranian Threat,” wrote Ma’ariv columnist Ben Caspit in a sardonic take-down of Mr Netanyahu’s “time-honoured security threat”.”

In fact, Netanyahu’s mention of the Yom Kippur War related to budgetary considerations connected to security needs. [translation: BBC Watch]

“Secondly, [we] need to make budgetary decisions which we have not known for many tens of years. It is possible to go back very many years, maybe to the end of the Yom Kippur War, in order to understand what is demanded of us.”

Plett Usher refrained from informing readers that the Israeli journalist she quoted also wrote the following words:

“Deep concern seems to be spreading among Israel’s top security leadership that a rapid deterioration of the situation on the Iranian front is a distinct possibility. […]

All signs indicate that Iran decided to respond forcefully to the many aerial attacks against Iranian and other Shiite targets in Syria and Iraq, which tend to be attributed to Israel.”

Referring to what she described as “an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations”, Plett Usher later told readers that:

“The Israelis have been pushing back more aggressively and more openly against Iran’s proxies in the region, determined to halt the proliferation of Iranian missiles near their border. But the Saudi attack rang new alarm bells.

If Iran could directly hit Saudi Arabia with cruise missiles, went the thinking, it could do the same to Israel.”

However, providing audiences with factual information about the activities of Iran and its proxies near Israel’s border has long – to put it mildly – not been a BBC priority. BBC audiences have not, for example, been informed on the topic of the deployment of Iranian missiles in south-west Syria as explained in a backgrounder produced by the JCPA in August.

“Since July 2018, press reports have pointed at Iranian missiles deployed in the area near Suweyda, definitely not within the territorial demarcations announced by the Russians to Israel. According to the reports, Iran deployed missiles that were previously in the T4 airbase to the Ledja (a vast rocky lava area north of Suweyda) and to two additional airbases in the area…”

Neither have they seen any meaningful reporting on the activities of Iran’s partner Hizballah in that area.

“Since 2018, Hizbullah has succeeded in recruiting 3,500 young people in the Daraa Department. Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing a presence through local allies in almost all villages and towns of the Daraa Department […] while in the Suweyda Department, Hizbullah’s main ally is the former deputy commander of the Al ‘Amari brigades (active in the Daraa area) who is deployed along the Jordanian-Syrian border and the Ledja area with his Bedouin fighters. […]

Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing four permanent training bases, which also serve as ammunition depots, and short and medium-range missile bases, three of which are in Daraa and the fourth in the area of Quneitra. […]

Hizbullah commands five Shiite militias in the Golan area, each numbering several thousand fighters, and has been busy preparing a military option against Israel since the recovery of the southern provinces of Syria in case of a surge of hostilities between Israel, Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah. This deployment in the area facing Israel in the Golan provides Iran (and Hizbullah) the ability to open a second front. […]

Unprecedented until now, in June 2019, new positions manned by Hizbullah Lebanese fighters were deployed adjacent to the Israeli lines. These include positions in Tellet Aldrai’at and Tellet Al Mahir in the vicinity of the two small villages of Rafid and El ‘Isha, approximately 200 meters from the UNDOF checkpoint, controlling the central access from the Israeli Golan through Quneitra and from there to the main highway to Damascus.”

Obviously such information is crucial to anyone trying to put Plett Usher’s portrayal of the Israeli prime minister’s speech into its appropriate context but BBC audiences have instead for a long time had to make do with superficial reporting which all too often includes unnecessary qualification of Iran’s regional military entrenchment.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

 

 

 

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BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

As can be seen below, the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the  1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.

“The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the Alpha side of the ceasefire line. […]

Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return to the Bravo side. However, the security situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to full redeployment of UNDOF troops. Council members continue to support the eventual complete return of UNDOF to the Bravo side but are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.”

As the UN Security Council noted when it last extended UNDOF’s mandate, the so-called demilitarized zone has long failed to live up to its name.

“Stressing that there should be no military forces in the area of separation other than those of UNDOF,

Strongly condemning the continued fighting in the area of separation, calling on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operations and to respect international humanitarian law,

Condemning the use of heavy weapons by both the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the ongoing Syrian conflict in the area of separation, including the use of tanks by the Syrian armed forces and opposition during clashes,”

Moreover, it was recently reported that Syrian regime troops have taken over an abandoned UNDOF position in the DMZ in violation of the 1974 agreement.

While the UNSC stated that “the ultimate goal is for the peacekeepers to return to their positions in UNDOF’s area of operations as soon as practicable” that is currently not the case and so the BBC’s portrayal of the DMZ as being an area in which UNDOF has a physical presence is inaccurate and misleading to audiences.

 

 

 

Superficial BBC News reporting on southern Syria ceasefire

Anyone getting their news exclusively from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that heavy fighting has been taking place for some weeks in the Daraa district of south-western Syria. The BBC also did not report any of the numerous recent cases of spillover fire into Israel: ‘side effects’ of fighting between regime and opposition forces in the Quneitra area.

BBC audiences might therefore have been rather puzzled to find an article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 7th titled “Syria crisis: US, Russia and Jordan agree ceasefire deal“.

“The US, Russia and Jordan have agreed to put in place a ceasefire across south-western Syria, which is due to begin on Sunday. […]

This agreement, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said would cover the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, is reported to be the result of several months of undisclosed meetings between Russia and the US on Syria.”

A follow-up report appeared on the Middle East page on July 9th under the headline “Syria ceasefire: US and Russia-backed deal in effect“.

“A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has come into force in south-western Syria.

It was announced after Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met for the first time at G20 talks on Friday. The truce is also backed by Jordan.

It is in force along a line agreed by Syrian government forces and rebels. […]

The ceasefire, which Russia has said covers the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Sweida, was reported to result from months of undisclosed talks between Russian and US officials.”

Neither of those articles informs readers that – as the Jerusalem Post reported:

“… it was not clear how much the combatants – Syrian government forces and the main rebels in the southwest – were committed to this latest effort.”

While the second report does not clarify at all how that ceasefire is to be enforced, the earlier report includes the following ambiguous statement:

“Mr Lavrov said Russia and the USA would coordinate with Jordan to act “as guarantors of the observance of this [ceasefire] by all groups”.”

The Times of Israel reports that:

“There has been no official comment from Syria’s government on the announcement, and there was no mention of the ceasefire on state television’s noon news bulletin. […]

The truce is to be monitored through satellite and drone images as well as observers on the ground, a senior Jordanian official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with reporters. Syria ally Russia is to deploy military police in the area.”

Although at least one BBC journalist is aware of concerns raised by Israel relating to Russian enforcement of the ceasefire along its border, that issue is not mentioned in either article. Ha’aretz reports:

“…Israel wants the de-escalation zones in southern Syria to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. […]

One of Israel’s main concerns is how the cease-fire would be enforced in areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders and who would be responsible for enforcing it. A senior Israeli official said Russia has proposed that its army handle the job in southern Syria. But Israel vehemently opposes this idea and has made that clear to the Americans, he said.”

Channel 10’s military analyst Alon Ben David notes:

“One must remember that the Russians in Syria are not separate from the Shia axis. The soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian support forces and even often with Hizballah.”

Ynet’s analyst Ron Ben Yishai points out that:

“The agreement does have a serious disadvantage from an Israeli perspective: It halts the advance of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, but fails to completely remove them from the area, as Israel likely demanded behind the scenes. This means that if and when the ceasefire is violated, the forces supported by Iran and Hezbollah would be able to continue their advance towards the Syrian-Jordanian border and the Syrian-Iraqi border, which will make it possible for them to create a strategic corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Even worse is the fact that they would be able to advance and establish a stronghold in the Golan Heights.

Another disadvantage of the ceasefire deal is that the Assad army and the Russians, which both have an interest in keeping Assad and his people in power, will be responsible for the agreement’s implementation on the ground. If Assad stays in power in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will stay there too. […]

The Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran have a totally different interest in a ceasefire: Assad and the Iranians have realized that they are incapable of conquering the city of Daraa on the Jordanian border and that the rebels—to ease the pressure on Daraa—are successfully attacking them near new Quneitra in the Golan Heights, where the spillovers that Israel responded [to] originated. The Syrian army is pressed in the Quneitra area. It’s failing to advance in Daraa despite help from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, and therefore has no other choice but to agree to a ceasefire.

This is also why this ceasefire may not last very long. The moment the Syrian regime and the Iranians reach the conclusion they are strong enough to reoccupy Daraa and the border crossings between Syrian and Iraq, they will do it without any hesitation.”

Obviously there is a much broader story to tell than the one presented in these two superficial BBC News reports that cannot be said to meet the BBC’s mission of providing news “of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.