No dots to join in BBC News Gulf crisis backgrounder

The BBC News website currently has a backgrounder titled “Iran and the crisis in the Gulf explained” on its Middle East page.

For a self-defined explanatory article, some of its wording is remarkably vague. For example, under the sub-heading “What is the crisis about?” BBC audiences are told that:

“Behind the latest tensions is the fact that Iran and the US have increasingly accused each other of aggressive behaviour.

The US says recent activity by Iranian and Iranian-backed forces is destabilising the region and threatening US interests, while Iran says the US is trying to use military force and economic pressure to bring down its government.”

What is that “recent activity”? Who are “Iranian-backed forces”? How does “destabilising the region” manifest itself? The BBC isn’t telling.

Similarly, under the sub-heading “Why does the crisis matter?” readers find a rather trite statement which is not given any further exploration or explanation:

“…if the crisis erupts into a war, the consequences will be devastating.”

One of the places where “the consequences” of any such armed conflict will be felt is – as Iranian officials have said quite plainly – Israel and that is because Iran has protégés in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip on call for precisely such a scenario.

While Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are Iran’s main investments on Israel’s borders, it has also been rebuilding relations with Hamas, after ties took a blow in 2011 when the terror group refused to side with Iran’s Syrian partner, Bashar al Assad.

Although Hamas delegations have traveled to Tehran fairly regularly in recent years – including for Rouhani’s second inauguration – the latest of those visits included something of a novelty. For the first time in seven years, Hamas representatives (including Saleh al Arouri, Husam Badran, Osama Hamdan and Mousa Abu Marzouk) met with Iran’s ‘supreme leader’ Ali Khamenei.

“Iran’s state TV says a delegation from the Palestinian militant group Hamas that is visiting Iran has met with the country’s supreme leader.

The TV report on Monday says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held talks with Hamas’ deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, who is heading the delegation. The Hamas delegation also met with Kamal Kharrazi, an adviser to Khamenei.

“Hamas is Iran’s first line of defense,” said Al-Arouri following the meeting.”

The Jerusalem Post added:

“Referring to recent escalations between the US and Iran, the Hamas official added that Hamas expressed “solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran and emphasize that any hostile action against Iran is actually hostile to Palestine and the current of resistance. We consider ourselves to be at the forefront of supporting Iran.”

Al-Arouri addressed how the capabilities of the Hamas terrorist group have advanced through the years, adding that “today, all of the occupied territories and the main Zionist centers are in the crosshairs of Palestinian resistance missiles.””

The significance of that Hamas visit to Tehran was clearly recognised by many major media organisations such as AP, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The BBC however apparently did not consider it newsworthy and so readers of the BBC’s backgrounder on the Gulf crisis are deprived of information which could go some way towards ameliorating its often opaque and unhelpful language.

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BBC Radio 4 promotes unsupported allegation concerning Israel

The June 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the previous day’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Presenter Justin Webb first spoke to former US official James Clapper (from 01:36:48 here) before introducing his next guest: Labour peer Lord West of Spithead.

Webb: “Let’s talk to Admiral Lord West, chief of naval staff of course in this country between 2002 and 2006…”

After listeners had heard about the UK’s naval forces in the relevant region and an assessment that “should by any mistake a war start” the United Kingdom would be “very, very involved”, Webb went on (at 1:41:12) to ask his next question. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Webb: “Do we have a way, separately from the Americans, of making our own determination of what is actually going on because at the moment the foreign secretary I think has said he accepts the American view and you just heard James Clapper saying in his view there isn’t any other view of who is responsible. But do we have a kind of a way of sorting out for ourselves what’s actually going on and what our…our…our vital interests are?”

West: “Well certainly our agencies and the defence intelligence staff, for example, will be analysing the tapes and looking at that and our agencies will be looking at any other evidence they’ve got to ascertain whether we are absolutely certain the Iranians are doing it. It does…it does look as though they’re doing that but let’s not kid ourselves: there are powerful groups within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that would – I’m afraid rather stupidly – would rather like some sort of war with Iran because they think there could be some knock-out blow and there’d be a revolution in Iran. They’re deluding themselves; it would be a catastrophe. So because there are those groups and because within Iran itself there are splinter groups, you know I think we need to be quite careful about being sure who exactly is doing this. It does look as though the Iranians are doing it at the moment.”

Rather than asking his interviewee to name those “powerful groups” or challenging the claim that they “would rather like some sort of war with Iran” when that would undoubtedly put Israeli civilians in considerable danger, Webb proceeded directly to his next ‘question’.

Webb: “And also make our own political decisions as well I suppose on what degree of escalation we wanted to take part in.”

As the BBC’s researchers were presumably aware before seeking his participation, that bizarre and unevidenced claim had been made by Lord West of Spithead before – in the House of Lords on May 13th. [emphasis added]

There is no doubt that there are powerful factions within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that feel that an attack on Iran would be a good thing, believe it or not. They think that they would very quickly be able to suppress the enemy capability and then there would be regime change. They are wrong. It would be an absolute catastrophe. The passage of any shipping through the Straits of Hormuz would be problematic for weeks, there would be an outbreak of terrorist attacks throughout the region and there would possibly be some missile attacks.”

As we see, then too no evidence to support his claim was provided by Lord West of Spithead – who also believes that terrorism in the UK is caused by Israeli actions (or cannabis) and told BBC audiences (and others) in April 2018 that it did “not ring true” that the chemical attack in Douma that month was perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Not only did Justin Webb make no effort whatsoever to challenge West’s unsupported statement, but BBC Radio 4 even chose to further highlight it on Twitter.

So much, once again, for the BBC’s obligation to provide “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of…the wider world.”