BBC News cuts out the infiltration part of Syrian drone infiltration incident

On the afternoon of July 11th a Syrian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace.

“A Patriot missile was fired at a Syrian drone that infiltrated 10 kilometers into Israel on Wednesday afternoon, prompting a rocket-alert siren to go off in several communities in the Golan Heights. The IDF intercepted the drone over the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee]. […]

The IDF said that they tailed the drone for 15 minutes after it entered Israel from Syria. […]

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the drone was spotted before it entered the demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries.

“We spotted an unmanned aerial vehicle at around 3:20pm flying toward the buffer zone and we followed it. It was spotted before it crossed into the demilitarized zone,” he said.

“We carried out a number of activities to prevent friction and defense activities including calling four war planes and two combat helicopters and we prepared Patriot missile batteries. When we realized that there were optimal conditions, we intercepted the drone using one Patriot missile,” he continued.”

Several hours later, Israel responded with strikes on three Syrian military posts.

A BBC News website report titled “Syria war: Government attacks IS enclave in south-west” that was published some two and a half hours after the interception included a description of the incident in twenty-six words, none of which clarified that the drone had infiltrated 10 kms into Israel.

“On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had launched a Patriot missile at a drone launched from Syria, setting off air defence sirens in Israeli communities.”

Readers were also told that:

“The Syrian army’s advance towards the occupied Golan Heights has also alarmed Israeli officials, who believe it may attempt to deploy soldiers along the frontier in defiance of a 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement that created a buffer zone patrolled by UN peacekeepers.”

The relevant fact that UNDOF forces redeployed to the Israeli side of the buffer zone four years ago and no longer carry out their designated mission with regard to Syrian forces was not clarified.

The article continued:

“Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, has deployed hundreds of troops to Syria, ostensibly as advisers to the government. Thousands of Shia militiamen armed, trained and financed by Iran have also been battling rebels alongside the Syrian army.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to stop what he considers Iranian “military entrenchment” in Syria and has ordered a number of air strikes on Iranian facilities.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences were not informed that, according to pro-Assad sources, Hizballah is “helping to lead a Russian-backed offensive in southern Syria which has left over 250,000 people displaced” or that additional Iranian-handled Shia foreign militias are also taking part in that campaign. Neither were they told that last month Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy commander Hossein Salami said

“Today an international Islamic army has been formed in Syria, and the voices of the Muslims are heard near the Golan… Orders are awaited, so that the custom of God vis-à-vis the eradication of the evil regime [Israel] will land and the life of this regime will be ended for good. The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.” [emphasis added]

Apparently though the BBC is still quite happy for its audiences to go away with the impression that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily an Israeli claim.   

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BBC inconsistency on Iran’s Syria build-up continues

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The omission in a BBC WS opinion piece based interview

On July 1st an opinion piece by former IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner was published in the Ha’aretz newspaper under the title “Should Israel Open Its Borders to Desperate Syrian Refugees?“.

On July 4th the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ conducted an interview with Peter Lerner based on that opinion piece and some of the points made in it were brought up while another – interestingly – was not.

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item (from 38:29 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menedez: “Syrian government troops and their militia have been closing in on rebels in Daraa province, prompting more than a quarter of a million people to flee their homes – that’s according to the UN. But there is nowhere for them to go: the Jordanian border is closed, so too the border with Israel across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A few days ago Israel’s hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said on social media that while Israel was prepared to continue to offer humanitarian assistance to civilians, it wouldn’t accept any Syrian refugees. Well one man calling for a change in that policy is Peter Lerner – for many years a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces. This is what he told me on the line from northern Israel, close to the Syrian border.”

In fact, what Lerner called for in his article was rather more nuanced than its presentation by Menendez suggests:

“While Lieberman’s zero refugee policy is morally questionable, the reasoning behind it may be reports in Israel last week citing intelligence sources suggesting Iran is trying to abuse operation Good Neighbor to infiltrate terrorists into Israel.

Israel should make exceptions to its ‘no entry’ policy for refugees, especially orphaned children who are in dire need.” [emphasis added]

In the ‘Newshour’ interview Lerner began by briefly outlining the medical assistance and humanitarian aid Israel has been supplying for the past five years before saying:

Lerner: “So I don’t think that Israel has officially stated that there’s a policy of not opening the border and I think that at the current situation we need to assess that policy and suggest perhaps more assistance, more help – perhaps to facilitate orphaned children that might need assistance and keep them out of harm’s way.”

In his article Lerner also brought up another possibility:

“But if Israel is unwilling to permit refugees to enter its territory, the government now needs to establish a safe zone on the eastern side of the border.

On the international front, the success of a safe zone for displaced Syrians will only be successful if it can truly be safe. Russia alone can secure the required assurances that Assad’s troops and its militias keep at a safe distance. The IDF will have to protect the people that flee to the sanctuary, supply food, shelter, sanitation and medical aid.”

In the radio interview he made a brief reference to that idea which was not picked up by Menendez.

Lerner: “I also think that on the other side of the border there needs to be an international effort to establish an area where people can come and gather…”

Menendez then asked:

Menendez: “In terms though of what Israel should do at the border – I mean does it mean opening the border to all those who may be asking for refugee status, all those who may need medical help?”

After Lerner had explained that the Syrians have for decades been “told that Israel is the arch-enemy” and cited “reports in the Israeli media that Iran was attempting to infiltrate terrorists on this platform”, Menendez jumped in:

Menendez: “Do you…just on that point, do you believe that intelligence assessment that Iran may try to use any greater access across the border to infiltrate people into Israel?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. […] Where there is a hole it is potentially and usually abused. Now the reality on the ground means that Israel needs to take that into consideration but I definitely think that there’s more room than a zero entrance policy. I’m not talking about a widespread opening but I think, you know, a bit more compassion towards people that are actually in dire need.”

Menendez apparently did not comprehend the points made by his interviewee.

Menendez: “What about taking in refugees on a formal basis? As we know, Syria’s other neighbours have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees – why not Israel?”

Lerner once again explained that “Israel is officially in a state of conflict with Syria” and that no “friendly mechanisms” exist before going on:

Lerner: “But that’s exactly my point. I think that there is room for more compassion and not necessarily opening the border because Israel hasn’t got the means or the ability to accept tens of thousands of refugees…”

The interview ended soon after that with listeners hearing nothing at all about one of the other main points raised in Lerner’s article:

“Israel must also appeal to UNDOF (the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), the UN peacekeeping force to review its mandate. UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor and supervise the ceasefire between Israel and Syria that ended the Yom Kippur War. In the absurd reality of the Middle East, that is what they continue to do today. There are over 1000 deployed UN personnel that could immediately assist the people in need. However, since the Syrian civil war began, UNDOF has vacated most of its observer camps in the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Obviously listeners’ understanding of the story would have been enhanced had the fact that there are UN soldiers deployed in the vicinity of thousands of displaced Syrians been mentioned in this item. But for some reason the BBC chose to omit that information. 

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BBC News ignores Israeli aid to displaced Syrians

Those who read an article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” on the BBC News website on June 27th learned that:

“Up to 50,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in the past week. […]

The United Nations said the government’s artillery and air strikes had prompted between 45,000 and 50,000 people to flee their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan and the Golan Heights.

It warned that the displaced population was in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and that southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.” [emphasis added]

Readers of another article on the same topic that was published on the afternoon of June 28th under the headline “Syria war: Air strike on Deraa shelter kills 17 civilians” were told that:

“UN officials said on Tuesday that between 45,000 and 50,000 people had fled their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan or the Golan Heights. They warned southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.”

photo credit: IDF

On the morning of June 29th it was announced that the Israeli army had delivered tons of humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians during the night.

“The IDF delivered about 60 tons of humanitarian aid to the Syrian Golan Heights on Thursday night after some 120,000 fled the southwestern part of the country in the wake of the Syrian army’s onslaught in the area.

During the special overnight operation, some 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, three pallets of medical equipment and medicine and some 30 tons of clothes and shoes were transferred into Syria from four different spots on the border.

The aid was transferred to Syrian refugee camps in the southern and central parts of the Syrian Golan. The camps, located near the border with Israel, house several thousands of Syrians under poor conditions with no access to water, electricity, food or other basic necessities.”

Despite having reported the UN’s call for humanitarian assistance the BBC News website did not produce a new report or even update its June 28th article to inform audiences of the Israeli delivery of aid to displaced Syrians.

Update:

Later versions of an article published on the BBC News website on July 2nd (three days after the aid had been delivered) under the headline “Syria war: 270,000 displaced by fighting in south-west” inform readers that:

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Last week BBC Radio 4 ran a five-part series of programmes – presented by Edward Stourton and featuring Fawaz Gerges and additional guests – under the title “How Syria Changed the World“.

The fourth episode – titled “Sectarianism” – opened with Stourton telling listeners that:

Stourton: “In early May the Israeli military authorities ordered the opening of bomb shelters on the Golan Heights. Then on the night of May the 9th to 10th the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet on Iranian positions inside Syria.”

Listeners then heard part of what appears to be a news report:

“The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman told Iran ‘if you bring us rain, you’ll get a flood’. The wave of overnight airstrikes by Israel on Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria has borne his words out.”

In fact, Lieberman’s comment was made after the events of the night of May 9th/10th.

Stourton did not bother to inform Radio 4 listeners that the May 8th order to open shelters on the Golan Heights came as a result of “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria” – detected after a month of threats against Israel from Iran.

Neither did he bother to mention (not for the first time) the rather relevant fact that those “overnight airstrikes by Israel” were preceded by Iran having launched 32 missiles at Israel.

As we see, less than a month after it took place the BBC has reframed the incident in which Iran’s IRGC forces attacked Israel, turning it into a story in which “the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet” – and making 32 Iranian missiles completely disappear from audience view.  

Related Articles:

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Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

 

Inaccuracy and omission from ‘parachuted’ BBC Radio 4 presenter in Jerusalem

In recent days we have seen a number of BBC programmes broadcasting ‘special editions’ from Jerusalem. While the benefits to the BBC’s funding public of flying presenters of domestic programmes such as Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ and ‘Sunday‘ out from the UK for a jaunt to Israel may remain a mystery to many, the May 11th edition of Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ provided a prime example of the perils of ‘parachuting’ reporters into an environment with which they are less than adequately familiar.

Presenter Mark Mardell introduced the item (from 27:49 here) with what was by that time an inaccurate claim regarding a “high alert” in northern Israel and a decidedly presumptuous prediction of its continuation. Interestingly though, he had nothing at all to say about the missile attacks by Iran against Israel the previous day.

Mardell: “Northern Israel is still on high alert and will stay so for a few days yet after the full-scale attack on Iranian bases within Syria. It’s obviously a tense time and next week the State of Israel will be 70 years old. My colleague Edward Stourton is in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Evidently – and not only in this programme – the BBC has elected to ignore the fact that Israelis celebrated the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence on April 19th and instead has adopted the staggeringly patronising policy of deciding for itself (in a manner similar to that in which it presumes to decide where Israel’s capital is – and is not) that Israel’s independence day should be marked according to the Gregorian calendar rather than the Hebrew one.

Edward Stourton also began his item by erasing Iranian missile fire at Israel from the picture. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Stourton: “Mark, Israel was of course born in war and – as the exchange of fire into Syria over the past few days has reminded the world – its history has been scarred by conflict ever since. The way events unfolded seven decades ago is a deeply and bitterly contested story but the bare bones of it go something like this: in the autumn of 1947 the newly-formed United Nations voted to partition what was known as Palestine between an Arab and an Israeli state with an internationally managed special enclave around Jerusalem and Bethlehem.”

Stourton made no effort to inform listeners that the Arabs rejected the UN’s Partition Plan recommendation, thus rendering it irrelevant, before going on:

Stourton: “Violence between the two sides escalated into civil war and the British, who had a mandate to run Palestine, lost control.”

Listeners then heard an archive newsreel recording in which the founders of the Jewish state were portrayed as “lawless” and “thugs” – a recording which was also used by the BBC in the same programme last month.

Archive recording: “Against a background which daily gains resemblance to war-scarred Europe, Palestine is now gripped with almost unrestricted racial warfare. With British influence waning and United Nations actions still delayed, the lawless elements of Jew and Arab populations take over from the servants of a policy of law and order. In the back streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Jaffa the thugs of both sides build up the armoured cars for war against each other. In between them – victims of the struggle – stand the great majorities of civil people on both sides.”

Stourton: “Well that was the way Pathé News reported the story and Britain in fact dictated the timetable by announcing its mandate would end on May the 14th 1948. That afternoon, here in Jerusalem, David Ben Gurion – Israel’s first leader – declared independence.”

The declaration of independence was of course made in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem. After listeners had heard an archive recording of Ben Gurion speaking, Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Well the new state came into being at midnight and the following day four Arab states attacked Israeli forces.”

Stourton then introduced his two guests – Sami Adwan from Bethlehem and Israeli ‘new historian’ Tom Segev – who, unsurprisingly, expressed remarkably homogeneous views.

Listeners heard Adwan claim that in 1948 Palestinians were “deprived from their national rights…their rights, their resources and their property, their places”. Awad went on to claim that “they were expelled without any reason, without any cause”.

Stourton – whose sole response to those claims was “well indeed” – refrained from clarifying to listeners that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who left in 1948 were not driven out by the Israelis, but left of their own accord – often because they were urged to do so by their own leaders. He likewise failed to mention that the Palestinians were not the passive actors portrayed by Awad, but also took part in what was intended to be a war of annihilation initiated by the Arab states and then he went on to give a context-free portrayal of the Six Day War.

Stourton: “Well indeed and just staying with you for a moment, this weekend marks Jerusalem Day which remembers the moment in 1967 when Israel took the east of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Fair to say that that period added another sort of layer of disputed history if you like.”

When Adwan went on to claim that “the British, the Israelis are responsible for our catastrophe”, Stourton made no effort to question him on the topic of Arab and Palestinian responsibility.

Listeners heard highly partisan portrayals of the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from both Stourton and Segev, with the latter describing it as an “unnecessary development” and opining that the Palestinian refugee issue is a “burden…on our [Israel’s] morality and on the justification for the existence of Israel”.

When Adwan later presented a partisan view of the UN Partition Plan, Stourton failed once again to inform listeners that the proposal was rejected by Arab leaders – including representatives of the Palestinians – and hence has no relevance.

Obviously the aim of this unbalanced and partisan report – riddled as it was with important omissions and inaccuracies – was to advance the narrative of “disputed history”. No effort was made to get beyond that falsely ‘balanced’ label and to provide Radio 4 listeners with accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of a complicated story.

Nevertheless, one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of sending UK based journalists abroad to report on a story off their usual beat, it would at least ensure that they are au fait with the basic historical facts and ensure that they provide them to the corporation’s funding public. 

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Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

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?”

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 00:59 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

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. 

Related Articles:

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

 

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

The BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – include the 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.”

In coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on both domestic and international radio stations, we learned that the BBC apparently believes that public purpose can be met by providing its audiences with unchallenged Iranian propaganda.

The May 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme included several items relating to that story. At 0:62 listeners heard a news bulletin with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and at 10:26 Knell gave another rather garbled report. At 01:08:53 co-presenter Nick Robinson introduced an interview with Maj Gen Yaakov Amidror with promotion of false linkage between the missile attacks and the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA announced by the US president a day earlier.

Robinson: “Has it begun? The wider Middle East war which many said was presaged by the decision of Donald Trump to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. A decision celebrated by Israel which has long warned that Iran is terrorising the region. Last night Iranian missiles based in Syria hit Israel for the first time. The residents of one town in the Golan Heights were instructed to go to bomb shelters. In response Israel launched one of its heaviest barrages in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. Syrian state television broadcast footage of air defences and played patriotic songs.”

In fact, some 24,000 residents of ten communities in the Golan Heights – rather than “one” – had to rush for shelters shortly after midnight.

Amidror pointed out to Robinson that there is no link between Iranian aggression against Israel and the US president’s decision, reminding him that an armed drone was sent by Iran into Israeli territory three months before that decision was announced. In response to Robinson’s reference to “Iranian forces that are in Syria to support President Assad”, Amidror clarified that there is no need for long-range missiles, anti-aircraft missiles or Republican Guards units in order to fulfil that mission.

At 02:36:51 the programme returned to the topic, with co-presenter John Humphrys telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Humphrys: “Israel has carried out a wave of airstrikes on Syria aimed at what it says were Iranian targets. The Israeli military said it was because Iranian forces inside Syria had been attacking its positions in the Golan Heights. The former head of the Israeli national security council Major general Yaakov Amidror says his country will not let Iran get a foothold in Syria. Well, Professor Mohammad Marandi of the Tehran University, who is close to the Iranian regime, is on the line. […] Your country will not let…the Israelis say your country will not get a foothold in Syria. Is that what you’re after – a foothold in Syria?”

Marandi: “No of course not. The Iranian presence in Syria is due to the fact that since 2011 the Saudis and unfortunately Turkey and others, along with US support, they started supporting extremists in the country, taking advantage of the unrest. And they helped create this civil war. I think if your listeners read the US defence intelligence agency document of 2012 which was partially released – this is the largest military intelligence organisation in the world; it’s in the Pentagon – they pointed out that from the very…almost the very beginning in Syria the extremists had the upper hand among the opposition. And the Iranians since 2015 began to become increasingly involved, only after tens of thousands of foreign fighters – including unfortunately many thousands of European fighters – came into Syria.”

Humphrys: “But whatever the motives for going into Syria in the first place were, we now know – don’t we? – that Syrian [sic] forces have been attacking Israel, attacking positions in the Golan Heights, from within Syria.”

Marandi: “Yes because in…the Israelis have struck Syrian positions over a hundred times over the past few years in support of the extremist groups. We know…you know that ISIS is alongside the Israeli border as we speak. The Israelis never strike ISIS. The Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda in Syria, they are on another part of the Israeli border with Syria and the Israelis admittingly [sic] have helped them.”

Humphrys: “Is this…sorry…I do beg your pardon. I’m going to have to shorten; we’ve very little time. But could this be the opening shots in a sense of a new war between Iran and Israel and perhaps then ultimately including many others – in other words a Middle East conflict?”

Marandi: “Well we have to see because it depends on the Israeli regime. The Israelis have already murdered seven Iranian soldiers who were there fighting Al Qaeda. The Iranians have not struck Israel. So you know it’s just…the Israelis are looking for a provoke…to provoke just like what we saw with regards to the JCPOA and the nuclear deal with the show that Netanyahu put on display. Remember just a few years ago Obama and the former French president Sarkozy, they were having a private conversation which there was a hot mike and they were both saying that Netanyahu is a serial liar and a very unpleasant person…”

Humphrys: “Alright.”

Marandi: “This is you know…so I don’t think you should really trust the Israeli narrative.”

Humphrys: “Professor Marandi; many thanks for talking to us.”

While obviously one would not expect anything other than such blatant propaganda from a regime apologist such as Mohammad Marandi, notably John Humphrys made no effort whatsoever to relieve Radio 4 listeners of the multiple false impressions given by his interviewee including the inaccurate claim that “the Israelis never strike ISIS” and the lie that Israel ‘helps’ the group known as Jabhat al Nusra. Likewise, Humphrys refrained from informing listeners that the seven “Iranian soldiers” Marandi described as having been “murdered” by Israel were actually members of the IRGC located at the T4 airbase from which the armed drone was launched in February.

Apparently though the BBC believes that such blatant but completely unchallenged propaganda meets the corporation’s supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality and that it enhances audience understanding of this story because this was not Marandi’s last appearance on BBC radio on May 10th.  

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Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

 

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Just after midnight on May 10th the attack by Iran that had been anticipated for several days took place in the northern Golan Heights.

“Some 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military bases by Iranian forces in southern Syria just after midnight on Thursday, with some of the incoming missiles being intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the army said, amid sky high tensions on the northern border. […]

The Israeli army said the missile barrage was carried out by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Forces. This appeared to be the first time that Israel attributed an attack directly to Iran, which generally operates through proxies. The late night rocket barrage was also the largest attack, in terms of the number of rockets fired, in the seven years of the Syrian civil war.”

The BBC News website, however, did not appear to be entirely convinced that Iran was behind the missile fire.

A report that also used qualifying punctuation in its original headline – “Iranian forces ‘fire rockets’ at Israeli positions in Golan Heights” – appeared on the website some three hours after the events began. The first five versions of that report included the following statement:

“…its [Israel’s] government has vowed to stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.” [emphasis added]

Later versions told readers that:

“Israel’s government has vowed to stop what it considers its arch-enemy’s “military entrenchment” in Syria…” [emphasis added]

Apparently the BBC is not persuaded that a foreign power which has moved sufficient military personnel, weapons and equipment into Syria to be able to launch missiles (and previously an armed drone) at a neighbouring country is engaged in military entrenchment.

Under the sub-heading “What happened in the Golan?” readers of earlier versions of the article were actually given an account of what subsequently happened in Syria.

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says it has targeted dozens of Iranian facilities with air strikes in retaliation for the attack, which has not been confirmed by Iran.

It said weapons stores, missile launchers and intelligence facilities were all targeted in the wave of strikes overnight.

Syria’s state news agency Sana said Israeli missiles had been shot down south of Homs, but reported that a weapons depot and a radar installation had been hit.”

The BBC did not inform its audiences that residents of ten communities in the Golan Heights – some 24,000 civilians – had to run for shelter when air-raid warnings were sounded just after midnight.  

The sixth version of the report (which by that time had been retitled “‘Iranian forces’ fire rockets at Israeli positions in Golan Heights”) told BBC audiences that:

“Israel has been anticipating a retaliatory attack by Iran since Israel killed seven Revolutionary Guards when it struck Iranian targets in Syria in April. That strike came immediately after Israel brought down what it said was an armed Iranian drone launched from Syria on a mission to attack Israel.” [emphasis added]

Obviously the April 9th attack on the T4 airbase which was attributed to Israel did not come “immediately after” the drone attack which took place two months earlier on February 10th.

Still later versions of the report were again retitled: “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rockets hit Golan Heights” and “Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire”. Under the sub-heading “Why does Israel hit Iranian interests?” readers found the following claim:

“Iran is Israel’s arch-foe and has repeatedly called for an end to the existence of the Jewish state.”

Iran has not merely “called for” Israel’s destruction but has serially threatened to bring it about while funding and supplying terror groups similarly dedicated to that aim.

Remarkably, the three latest versions of the BBC’s report amplified spurious claims from a source based in Coventry and a pro-Syrian regime source that “Israeli forces had fired first”.

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the civil war in Syria, confirmed that “dozens of rockets” were fired from Quneitra province and the south-western Damascus countryside towards the occupied Golan.

It did not identify those responsible, but said the rocket attack came after Israeli forces bombarded Baath, a Syrian-controlled town in the Golan demilitarized zone.

 A senior source in an Iranian-led regional military alliance that supports Syria’s government also told AFP news agency that Israeli forces had fired first.” [emphasis added]

As the Times of Israel reported:

“Immediately following the Iranian attack at 12:10 a.m., Syrian state media reported that Israeli artillery fire targeted a military post near the city of Baath in the Quneitra border region, where Syrian regime forces were stationed.” [emphasis added]

A Syrian opposition TV station Tweeted that Hizballah positions near Baath were being targeted almost two hours after the Iranian attack began.

Nevertheless – as readers discovered at the end of the article – while apparently not having bothered to verify those claims before publishing them, the BBC does have the time to answer audience questions.

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

With Israel braced for an anticipated attack by Iran and/or its proxies in the north, it is worth taking a look at how the BBC has to date covered the background to a story it may yet have to report.

On April 9th the BBC News website reported that “[t]he Syrian government and its ally Russia have blamed Israel for a deadly attack on a Syrian military airport”. The very relevant Iranian connection to the site of the attack was only mentioned much later on in the same report:

“The Israeli military said Iran and its Revolutionary Guards had long been active in the T4 base, and were using it to transfer weapons, including to Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, an enemy of Israel.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on April 15th were told that most of the people killed during that attack were “believed to be Iranians” but not that seven of them were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, including the head of its drone programme.

Following that April 9th incident a series of threats against Israel were issued by various Iranian officials but those threats and the resulting increased tensions did not receive any BBC coverage.

On April 30th the BBC News website reported further attacks on military installations (including what was described by other media outlets as a “depot for surface-to-surface missiles”) in Syria.

“Missile strikes on military sites in northern Syria overnight reportedly killed a number of pro-government fighters, including Iranians. […]

It is not known who was behind the attacks. But Western nations and Israel have previously hit sites in Syria.”

Additional threats from Iranian officials followed that incident.

On May 6th Israeli media outlets reported that:

“…the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.””

On May 7th visitors to the BBC News website saw the first generalised mention of Iran’s threats against Israel in a report titled “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” –which promoted superfluous qualification of Iran’s military build-up in Syria.

“His comments came amid reports that Israeli authorities were preparing for missile strikes by Iran or its proxies.

Iran has vowed to avenge recent air strikes on its military facilities in Syria that were attributed to Israel.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the strikes, but it has said it will stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.” [emphasis added]

Additional threats by Iran’s chief of staff on the same day did not receive any BBC coverage.

On May 8th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel Golan Heights alert over Iran ‘irregular activity’ in Syria”.

“The Israeli military says it has detected “irregular Iranian activity” in Syria and has ordered residents of the occupied Golan Heights to prepare their bomb shelters.”

Despite there being no connection between that event and the same evening’s US announcement concerning the JCPOA, BBC audiences were told that:

“The alert came as President Trump announced the US was pulling out of a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

The report was later retitled “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus” and – despite having got it right earlier – the BBC managed to inaccurately describe the location of the “irregular Iranian activity”.

BBC audiences were told that:

“Syrian state media says Israel has launched an air strike against an army position south of the capital Damascus.

The Sana news agency said Syrian air defences had shot down two Israeli missiles in the Kiswah area on Tuesday. […]

A commander supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters news agency that the strike had targeted a Syrian army position.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the target was an arms depot.

The dead included members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or other Shia militiamen, it added.”

Other media outlets quoted the same source cited by the BBC as specifically saying that the site (which last November was mentioned in a BBC report about Iran’s establishment of military bases in Syria and last December was also described in a BBC report as “an arms depot”) was an “arms depot belonging to Hezbollah and the Iranians” while at least one Israeli media outlet described it as a storage facility for Iranian missiles rather than “a Syrian army position” as touted by the BBC.

Although Iran has been repeatedly threatening to attack Israel for the past month, the few headlines seen by BBC audiences in relation to that story have focused on Israel: “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” and “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus”. Obviously BBC audiences have not been provided with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of this still ongoing story.

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Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

BBC Radio 4 manages to report on Iran without the usual distractions