BBC Syria war backgrounder recycles inaccurate claim

On March 9th the BBC News website posted a filmed backgrounder by Joe Inwood on its Middle East page. Titled “Syria: Seven years of war explained“, the report is promoted as follows:

“The war in Syria has now lasted for seven years.

Although its roots lie in peaceful protests against the government, it has become something much more complex.

Joe Inwood explains who is fighting whom and why.”

Although this backgrounder does raise some queries – such as why the Sunni-Shia conflict goes unexplained and why in the section relating to the lack of “decisive action” on the part of the US, a picture of the current US president appears rather than of the previous one – it is clearly a genuine effort to explain a complicated issue in a short period of time. However, once again BBC audiences are wrongly led to believe that Israel is involved in the conflict in Syria.

Following an introduction, Inwood lays out the parties involved in what he describes as “a conflict of global dimensions playing out in Syria”. Having mentioned Bashar al Assad, the Russians, Iran, “various powerful Shia militias” which remain unnamed, the rebel groups, the Kurds and Turkey, at 01:07 Inwood tells audiences that an additional party is:

“…Israel which is launching airstrikes in the south.”

Viewers however have to wait a further four minutes before Inwood “explains” that statement at 05:08.

“Down south, Israel’s main concern has been the growing influence of its arch foe Iran and high-tech weaponry getting into the hands of Hezbollah.”

That, however, is the first and only mention of Hizballah by name and no effort is made to explain to viewers what that group is, with whom it is aligned, by whom it is financed or why Israel should be concerned about it getting “high-tech weaponry”. Neither is any attempt made to explain the relevant issue of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and Inwood makes no mention of Iran’s long history of serial threats against Israel: a topic that rarely appears in BBC reporting, meaning that audiences would likely be unable to fill in the blanks for themselves.

This of course is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the claim that Israel is involved in the Syrian war: it has been doing so since 2013. Like many of his colleagues, Inwood appears to be incapable of understanding that Israeli strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah (or Israeli responses to cross-border fire from Syria) do not mean that Israel is “involved” in the war in Syria but are responses to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.

Interestingly though, while Inwood does name Israel as one of the parties allegedly involved in the conflict in Syria, he does not make any mention at all of Lebanon – despite the fact that Hizballah – which holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and government – is actively fighting there.



BBC News again claims Israeli involvement in Syria’s war

On February 22nd an article by the BBC’s Arab affairs editor Sebastian Usher appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Syria conflict: Will powers end up in direct war?“.

Although the article is tagged ‘Syrian civil war’ – a conflict in which Israel is not involved – readers find the following statement:

“To the south, Israel has sat out most of the conflict, loath to be drawn in – to the disastrous extent that it was during the 16 years of the civil war in Syria’s neighbour, Lebanon. It has mostly limited itself to targeted attacks on alleged Iranian bases and suspected Hezbollah arms supplies.” [emphasis added]

Apparently the BBC’s Arab affairs editor would have his readers believe that Israel carries out strikes on the strength of allegations and suspicion. Notably, Usher’s claim of Israeli involvement in the Lebanese civil war omits all mention of the frequent attacks against Israel launched by the PLO from Lebanese territory – attacks which sparked Operation Litani in 1978 (three years after the civil war began) and Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982.

Later on Usher tells readers that as the Syrian civil war progressed:

“Israel saw battle-hardened Hezbollah and Iranian fighters move closer and closer to its border – prompting a more active, though still cautious, engagement in the conflict.”

That claim once again inaccurately suggests that Israel has been ‘engaged’ in the Syrian civil war.

He goes on:

“But the increasing international commitment on its various battlefields runs the risk of shifting it from a war between proxies to one directly between the powers pulling the strings. And that is a highly dangerous development.

Recent events have shown that the limited comfort that those involved will always pull back from the brink of deeper confrontation, may not be entirely reliable.

An Israeli fighter jet was shot down over Israel by a Syrian missile, following the interception of an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace as part of a ratcheting up of tensions in the hitherto quieter south of Syria.”

Usher closes his article with the claim that:

“If nothing else, all this may only prolong the Syria war. But it raises fears of all-out confrontation between the outside players – all of whose interests remain as fundamentally opposed as they have been at any time in the conflict.”

Once again, Usher is implying that Israel is a ‘player’ in that war.

This is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the erroneous notion that Israel is involved in the Syrian civil war: it has been doing so since 2013. The corporation’s journalists appear to be incapable of understanding that Israeli strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah or Israeli responses to cross-border fire from Syria do not make Israel a ‘player’ in the Syrian civil war but are in fact related to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.

As we see, even the BBC’s Arab affairs editor is unable to grasp that there is more than one set of events going on at the same time and to distinguish between the separate topics of the war in Syria and actions that are exclusively linked to the protection of Israel’s citizens. Notably too, Sebastian Usher’s analysis did not include any mention of the humanitarian and medical aid supplied to Syrians by Israel.  

Related Articles:

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

BBC presentation of Israeli view on Syria intervention replete with inaccuracies

BBC WS ‘Weekend’ airs a confused report on Iranian drone story






BBC News gives a stage to Iranian disinformation

As has been documented here (see ‘related articles’ below), one notable feature of the BBC’s coverage of the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th was the corporation’s unnecessary qualification of the event.

“The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.” [emphasis added] BBC News website

“Israel’s military, the IDF, released this footage from one of their helicopters. They say it shows an Iranian drone flying over Israeli territory.” [emphasis added] BBC News website

“…the Israelis have a very different narrative of the events of the past 24-36 hours and for them the original provocation was the flying of this drone over their territory.” [emphasis added] BBC World Service radio

At the same time, BBC reports also amplified Iranian disinformation.

“Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.” BBC News website

“Iran denied it had sent a drone into Israel and defended the Syrians’ right to self-defence.” BBC News website

Significantly, the BBC’s coverage of that and related stories also failed to provide audiences with an accurate portrayal of the context of Iranian military activities in Syria and Lebanon.

On February 22nd the BBC News website published an article titled “Fear of war looms over Syria neighbours, Iran says” on its Middle East page. The article is based on a filmed interview by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi and a transcript was also promoted on the website.

In the article BBC audiences were told that:

“The deputy foreign minister refused to confirm that Iran had sent a drone into Israeli airspace from Syria earlier this month. He said the drone belonged to the Syrian army.”

As can be seen in the transcript, Doucet’s challenge to that blatant disinformation was remarkably weak.

“DOUCET: But they’re [the Israelis] angry about the drone which they say you sent into Israeli airspace. What was its purpose?

ARAGHCHI: The drone also belongs to the Syrian army.

DOUCET: But it was Iran that sent it over into Israel.

ARAGHCHI: Well I cannot confirm that. The Syrian army has lots of capabilities. But the fact is that the Israeli army is also sending drones up on a daily, or hourly basis all around Syria and in other neighbouring countries. So they shouldn’t be angry when they are faced with something that they are doing against others on a daily basis.

DOUCET: Was the drone to test Israeli resolve, was that why it was sent in? What was its purpose?

ARAGHCHI : Well I think you should ask the Syrian army men why they, you know, why they did that. But the fact is they were able to shut down a jet, Israeli jet fighter who actually entered into their airspace. So this is, this is a very important development and I think the Israelis should reconsider their, you know, their military policies.”

Lyse Doucet also provided Abbas Araghchi with a platform for amplification of disinformation concerning Iran’s activities in Syria – portrayed in the article thus:

“Mr Araghchi told the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet that Iran was there to fight terrorism, and dismissed warnings about Iran’s intentions as “propaganda”.

“Just imagine if we were not there. Now you would have Daesh [the Islamic State group] in Damascus, and maybe in Beirut and other places,” the minister said. […]

Mr Araghchi said Iran was in Syria to fight “terrorist elements” at the invitation of the Syrian government, and its alliance with Syria and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah aimed to “combat the hegemonic policies” of Israel.”

As can be seen in the transcript, Doucet made little effort to challenge that Orwellian disinformation either and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that Iran’s proxy Hizballah initiated the 2006 war.

“DOUCET: Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed what others have noticed, that Iran seems to want to establish a land bridge, a corridor, from Iraq to Syria into Lebanon, connecting all of its allies. Is that your strategic ambition?

ARAGHCHI : Well we are in Syria fighting a terrorist elements, and we have there by the invitation of the Syrian government to help them establish peace and, you know, stability and territorial integrity of Syria. We continue to be there as long as we are asked by the Syrian government to help them fighting the terrorist and terrorist elements, and to establish peace and order and stability in that country.

DOUCET: But it’s also – you saw the New York Times did a study of all the Iranian positions of Iran, you know the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) advisors, also your allies like Hezbollah, the other militias, giving the impression that Iran is establishing its own bridgehead in –

ARAGHCHI: Just imagine if we were not there. Now you had Daesh [Islamic State group] in Damascus, and maybe in Beirut and other places. So I think we have to actually don’t care about these kind of propaganda which have some other objectives perhaps.

DOUCET: Some say this latest call is to make Syria a new front, between Iran, Hezbollah and Israel – an Axis of Resistance, as they call it.

ARAGHCHI: Well an Axis of Resistance is there for a number of years now.

DOUCET: But you’ve been, is that your ambition to strengthen it for Iran?

ARAGHCHI: This is actually to combat the hegemonic policies of Israeli regime in the region, and to, you know, stand firm against Israeli aggression. We all remember –

DOUCET: So it is an Axis of Resistance?

ARAGHCHI: Well the Axis of Resistance is always there, you know, when Hezbollah and the Syrian government actually combat it, Israeli forces when they attacked Lebanon in the past, we all remember Israeli attacks to the Lebanon territory, we all remember when they occupied Beirut, you know, as an Arabic, Arab captor. And we all remember 2006 when they invaded southern Lebanon. I think Lebanon, Syria and other countries in the region have every right to establish a kind of resistance against these aggressions by Israelis.””

Doucet refrained from asking Araghchi about his country’s repeated violations of UN SC resolution 1701, the support it provides for terror groups in the region including Hizballah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or the genocidal threats against Israel repeatedly voiced by Iranian regime officials.

“DOUCET: Now Prime Minster Netanyahu made it clear in Munich, and I quote: he says Israel will continue to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. Do you take that threat seriously?

ARAGHCHI: I think Israel should find the root causes of its problems somewhere else. They always try to accuse Iran for the problems they are facing in the region and I think this is actually wrong perception they are creating and against Iran, and I don’t think they can achieve anything by this.”

Obviously one must wonder why the BBC thinks that its audiences’ understanding of the background to recent and potential events in the Middle East (as well as other topics such as the demonstrations in Iran and the imprisonment of dual nationals) is enhanced by hearing poorly challenged disinformation and spin that could just as well have been aired on Iranian state TV.



A French newspaper reports on a topic the BBC avoids

Despite the fact that the BBC has a permanent presence in Beirut, the last time its audiences saw any reporting from southern Lebanon was over three years ago. Last year, Hizballah violations of UNSC resolution 1701 received no coverage whatsoever.

BBC News yawns over another violation of UNSC resolution 1701

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

Calls for a review of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon – UNIFIL – in August 2017 were not reported by the BBC in the English language until three weeks after the story broke.

The Jerusalem Post recently published an article which is based on a French newspaper’s interviews with UNIFIL soldiers based in south Lebanon.

“The UN force in Lebanon has accused Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army of hampering their work, which includes spying on the peacekeepers, in a report due to appear on the website of French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, on Friday.

 The report quotes a chief warrant officer for the French contingent as saying during an interview: “In the evening we never leave the barracks because the Lebanese forces are not friendly. […]

“We are caught in the aggressor’s grip. Doing the bare minimum has become a political choice,” the officer added.

A former liaison officer with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, who was only recently transferred to another post, told the newspaper that “when we would detect military activities in our area, especially near the Blue Line [border with Israel], the Lebanese Army would prevent us from posting observers. It is as if those decisions did not come from them. Everyone knows that Hezbollah is using the area for the next war.””

The dearth of up to date BBC reporting on the situation in southern Lebanon and UNIFIL’s failure to implement UNSC resolution 1701 obviously means that if and when conflict between Israel and Hizballah does break out again, the corporation’s audiences – as well as the journalists it sends to cover the events – will lack the insight crucial to understanding of the background and context to that story. 

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about


Weekend long read

1) At the Tablet, Tony Badran discusses the US Secretary of State’s recent visit to Lebanon.

“As the military confrontation between Iran and its regional proxies on one hand, and Israel on the other hand, heats up, Lebanon has emerged as the nerve center of the Iranian camp. On the eve of Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon hosted Akram al-Kaabi, the leader of an Iraqi militia which operates under the command of Iran’s Qods Force. From Beirut, al-Kaabi stated his group would fight Israel alongside Hezbollah in a future war. The presence of al-Kaabi in Lebanon—his terrorist comrade Qais al-Khazali had dropped by late last year—underscored Lebanon’s role as a hub for Iran’s regional terrorist assets.”

2) The Times of Israel carries an excerpt from Ben Dror Yemini’s latest book – now available in English.

“We must admit that there is no chance for peace in the foreseeable future.

It’s not that the solution is complicated. Despite the disagreements, despite the fantasy of mass Return, and despite the isolated settlements, there are clear parameters for peace. Bill Clinton presented them in late 2000; the Geneva plan presented a similar plan in 2002; Ehud Olmert repeated it, with semantic changes, in 2008; John Kerry introduced two versions with almost the same parameters in 2014. Even the Arab initiative, if we take away the fantasy of mass Return, could have been the basis for an agreement.

Although the parameters are known, peace cannot be achieved.”

3) The ITIC has published a report titled “Palestinian Terrorism: Analysis of 2017 and Forecast for 2018” (full version available in Hebrew here).

“Mahmoud Abbas, the PA and Fatah continue their indirect encouragement of popular terrorism and the shaheed cult in general in various ways. That includes speeches and public declarations issued by senior figures, glorifying the Palestinians who carry out attacks, providing political and media support for popular terrorism, the participation of senior PA and Fatah figures at the funerals held for terrorists killed while carrying out attacks, paying condolence calls to the families of terrorists who were killed, naming streets, institutions and town squares for shaheeds and providing financial support to the families of shaheeds and prisoners.”

4) Professor Richard Landes has produced a video overview of BBC and CNN coverage of UNSC resolution 2334.

“I have, over the past year, slowly put together a video using my archive of recordings of BBC Global and CNN International’s news broadcasts. It portrays a mindset among journalism that has them “in the name of the ‘whole world’,” misinforming the whole world by reciting Palestinian war propaganda as news. “Everybody knows it’s Israel’s fault” that there’s no peace settlement.

Among other violations of journalistic principles of presenting the relevant evidence, I indict the MSTVNM (mainstream TV news media) for not letting their audiences know what Palestinian leaders – both PA and Hamas – say in Arabic, thus compounding the misdirection involved in highlighting and affirming what Palestinian spokespeople say in English.”

Related Articles:

A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about



BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.

The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”

Listeners once again heard recorded excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference before Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”

Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”

Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.

Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”

Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”

Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”

Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.

Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”

Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.

Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”

Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:

Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”

Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”

Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.

It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:

“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”

The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

BBC’s Bell finds conspiracy theorist “interesting”

By His Own Admission, Wilkerson Cannot Be Trusted (Gatestone Institute)





A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about

A long-running dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning land and maritime borders has recently been making headlines again – although those getting their news from the BBC would not be aware of that fact. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s related visit to Beirut on February 15th (as part of a Middle East tour that was barely covered by the corporation) was not reported and neither were related threats from the head of a terrorist organisation.

As Ha’aretz reported:

“During a press conference in Beirut on Thursday, Tillerson, who arrived in Lebanon as part of his Mideast trip, discussed the growing tensions between Israel and Lebanon, and urged Lebanese leaders to ensure the border between the two countries remains calm.

Lebanon has an unresolved dispute with Israel over the territorial and maritime border issues, in particular concerning Block 9 in the Mediterranean sea which extends partly into waters claimed by Israel. Recently Lebanon has signed an offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements for the contentious block.”

The US has been trying to mediate between Israel and Lebanon on that issue for some time – as explained in a comprehensive article by Oded Eran of the INSS.

“In late 2011, Israel, out of a willingness to compromise, began to look for diplomatic ways to resolve the developing dispute. In inter-ministerial consultations, the decision was taken not to grant new licenses for the area under dispute in order to facilitate a compromise solution. It was decided not to use UNIFIL as a channel for discussion between Israel and Lebanon, since the mandate of the Force does not refer to the maritime border, and Israel prefers to avoid UN mediation. The Israel interest in mediation led to several contacts by third parties, and ultimately American mediation was the preferred option.

In February 2012, State Department Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Frederic Hof, who was heavily involved in developments in Syria in the framework of the Arab Spring, undertook the task of mediation. Israel reiterated to him its willingness to resolve the dispute by reaching a compromise in direct talks with representatives of the Lebanese government. In April 2012, at separate meetings in London (in view of the Lebanese refusal to participate in a joint meeting), Hof submitted a proposed compromise involving division of the disputed area. On May 2, 2013, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman approved the American proposal, even though it granted Lebanon a larger share of the area. To this day no official response from Lebanon has been received, although according to reports of US diplomats in contact with the Lebanese government, they discussed inter alia depositing the proposal with the UN. From this it appears that the proposal was acceptable to the Lebanese government.”

As the Times of Israel reported, the dispute also includes a barrier which is being constructed by Israel along its border with Lebanon.

“On Monday, Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks that the border wall violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

Israel has been building the obstacle — made up of a collection of berms, cliffs and concrete barriers — for a long time, but it has only now angered Beirut.”

Prior to the US Secretary of State’s visit to Beirut:

“Lebanon’s top security body on Wednesday instructed the country’s military to confront any Israeli “aggression” on its land or maritime borders. […]

Hezbollah, a powerful terror group considered to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, recently threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported last week.”

Of course under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701, the border area is supposed to be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL”.  

The day after Mr Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon dismissed the US mediation efforts.

“The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament on Friday rejected a US proposal to resolve a maritime border dispute between the country and Israel.

“The proposal is unacceptable,” Nabih Berri was quoted as telling acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield by the official NNA news agency.”

And on the same day, the leader of the Hizballah terror organisation weighed in.

“Hezbollah on Friday urged Lebanon to stand firm in its offshore energy dispute with Israel and warned it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary, as the U.S. mediates between the two countries.

In a televised address, the leader of the heavily-armed, Iran-backed movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, described the issue as a “battle for all of Lebanon”.

“If Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants…should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours,” he told a rally.”

Yet oddly, while this dispute obviously has the potential to escalate into more than verbal sabre-rattling, BBC audiences are not even aware of its existence.


Weekend long read

1) MEMRI provides a translation of an article appearing on a pro-Hizballah website.

“A February 9, 2018 article on the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese website Dahiya claims that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad recently rejected an Israeli demand, relayed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to remove some 70,000 Iranian long-range missiles that Hizbullah has deployed throughout Syria and are aimed at Israel. The article claimed further that Syria and Hizbullah will wage a “joint missile campaign” against Israel, and that Iranian experts are ready to launch missiles at Israel from every part of Lebanon and Syria. According to the article, Assad has instructed his army to help Hizbullah construct and camouflage missile silos across the country; moreover, intense activity is underway to bring more Iranian missiles to Syria via Iraq, so that within a year Hizbullah will have 500,000 missiles in Syria, in addition to the ones it has already deployed in Lebanon.”

2) Writing at the JNS, Yaakov Lappin discusses Hizballah’s influence on the Lebanese military.

“For the United States, the LAF is a regional partner in the war against the Islamic State. It has received both U.S. funding and arms sales for that purpose.

According to Israeli military assessments, however, the LAF is increasingly coming under the sway of the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon politically and militarily. […]

A recent visit to the Lebanese-Israeli border by a high-ranking Iranian official, Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, offers an accurate illustration of who is in control of Lebanon. Raisi was given a tour by armed Hezbollah members, vowing during his visit that “soon, we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem.””

3) At the Asia Times, former UNHCR official Alexander Casella addresses the debate surrounding UNRWA.

“The creation of UNRWA 70 years ago corresponded to a real humanitarian need. However, inbuilt in the fulfillment of that need were two political considerations, the so-called “right of return” and the fact that Palestinian refugee status would be handed down from generation to generation. Both these notions were predicated on what was at the time the core of Arab policy as regards Palestine, namely the obliteration of the State of Israel.

Not only did this not happen but with the recognition of Israel by Jordan and Egypt and the de facto rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, what started off as a political expedient is today a major handicap, and the Palestinian refugee issue is one that both the Arab states and Israel could well do without.

While addressing it is a major political issue that continues to bedevil the Middle East, UNRWA, which started off as a solution, is now part of the problem. And, perversely, while it continues to discharge its assistance mandate, doing so has created among many of its wards as well as among several Arab governments a dependency, not to say a premium for inaction, of which Gaza is a prime example.”

4) Jonathan Spyer discusses the recent Russian sponsored Syrian peace conference.

“The Russians first of all failed even to bring the main protagonists of the war around the table.

The main, UN-recognised Syrian opposition formation, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, did not attend.  One senior member of the commission described the conference as a ‘meeting between the regime and the regime.’  An opposition website produced a picture of a beaming Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with himself as a representation of the Sochi gathering. […]

The United States, France and Britain also did not attend the gathering, seeing it as a Russian attempt to circumvent the UN-sponsored process in order to bring about an outcome more favorable to the Assad regime.

Representatives of the Kurdish Federation of Northern Syria, which controls Syria east of the Euphrates, were not at the conference. The Syrian Kurdish leadership has sought to maintain working relations with Moscow, despite the Kurdish cooperation with the US in Syria.  But Moscow’s acquiescence to the current Turkish assault on the Kurdish Afrin canton in north west Syria has led to widespread anger among the Kurds.  Kurds belonging to rival factions also did not attend.”



BBC WS ‘Weekend’ airs a confused report on Iranian drone story

Iran’s provision of weapons to Hizballah – sometimes via Syria – and Israeli efforts to prevent such transfers was common knowledge long before the civil war in Syria began in the spring of 2011.

In November 2009, for example, Israel intercepted the Francop which was carrying some 500 tons of weapons and ammunition.  

“According to the shipping documents, the cargo was originally loaded in Bandar Abbas, Iran, brought by another ship to the Egyptian port of Damietta, and then transloaded to the Francop, with an ultimate destination of Latakia, Syria. This destination was confirmed by Syria’s foreign minister, although he denied that the shipment included arms. […]

Following the preliminary search, the Israelis escorted the Francop to the port of Ashdod, where a complete search revealed the full extent of the arms shipment. Labels on the shipping containers and shipping documents, as well as markings on ammunition crates and the ammunition itself, established a clear link to various Iranian government organizations, including the Iranian state shipping line and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

In January 2010 – well over a year before the conflict in Syria broke out:

“…American intelligence services reported the transfer of 26 M-6002 missiles of Syrian manufacture to Hizbullah in Lebanon. These missiles, with a range of over 250 km., are intended to reinforce Hizbullah’s ability to strike at the Israeli home front if and when hostilities erupt. […]

Israeli and Western intelligence services have long been aware of Syrian and Iranian involvement in Hizbullah’s arms buildup. Damascus Airport has been identified as the transit point for airlifts of Iranian arms that were subsequently transferred to Hizbullah via the open Syrian-Lebanese border, under the supervision of the Syrian security services.”

Iran’s transfers of weapons to Hizballah – which of course breach more than one UN Security Council resolution, although the BBC regularly fails to inform audiences of that fact – did not cease after war broke out in Syria in March 2011. The BBC, however, has long depicted alleged Israeli efforts to thwart those transfers as being connected to the war in Syria and another example of that misleading portrayal was seen on February 10th in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend‘.

Listeners heard presenter Julian Worricker introduce the item (from 01:17 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “We’ll also go live to Jerusalem fairly shortly in this half-hour in the light of the news that Israel is saying that one of its fighter jets has crashed after attacking Iranian targets in Syria, the pilots parachuting to safety in Israel.”

Worricker then turned to one of his studio guests – journalist Mary Dejevsky – citing her recent visit to Israel. Dejevsky described “the mood” in Israel as:

Dejevsky: “…a great feeling of security and success in terms of foreign policy that Israel had managed to stay aloof, mostly, from the war in Syria. But at the same time there was a kind of looming apprehension about the ever closer encroachment – as it was felt in Israel – of Iran and Iranian influence towards the Israeli border…”

She added:

Dejevsky: “…Israel has tried very hard to keep its intervention such as it has been – airstrikes on select convoys that they regard as coming from Iran and supplying Hizballah in Lebanon – that they’ve tried to keep those interventions as absolutely discreet as possible. And suddenly everything in a way has been blown open.”

Obviously the events that followed the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on the morning of February 10th – an incident which was notably absent from Worricker’s introduction – are not directly connected to previous alleged strikes by Israel against supplies of weapons to Hizballah.  Julian Worricker, however, went on to suggest to listeners that efforts to prevent Hizballah getting weapons are in fact connected to the war in Syria.

Worricker: “I was going to pick you up on your remark of “aloof, mostly”, just stressing the mostly because clearly strikes by Israel in Syria are not uncommon per se. You alluded to the particular targets they would always say that they are aiming for when they do it but clearly when a fighter plane comes down – even in Israeli territory – that clearly ups the ante.”

Later on in the same programme (from 11:49), Worricker spoke to the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem. After listeners had at last heard an accurate portrayal of the sequence of events that began with the infiltration of an Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace from Bateman, Worricker asked:

Worricker: “A word about Israeli action in Syria of this nature: how common has it been in recent times?”

Obviously airstrikes in response to a serious breach of Israel’s sovereignty by an Iranian UAV have not been “common” but Bateman’s response did not clarify that to listeners.

Bateman: “It is not uncommon and what Israel says is that it has two red lines for its engagement in Syria. They are cross-border fire that comes from Syria into the Golan Heights and what they describe as weapons transfers from Iranian forces to Hizballah – Lebanese militant fighters who are fighting inside Syria. They are the two triggers, if you like, that Israel says causes it to act inside Syrian territory – usually airstrikes – and they’re not uncommon. Israel rarely comments on them officially although a senior military figure said last year that the number was around a hundred of these attacks that have taken place over the last few years. So these things do happen. I think what is uncommon here of course is the event that this appears to have ended with: this Israeli jet coming down.”

Since 2013 the BBC has been telling its audiences – inaccurately – that Israel is “involved” in the conflict in Syria. As has been noted here in the past:

“In spite of the BBC’s suggestion to the contrary, Israel is not “involved in the conflict” in Syria. That conflict is a civil war between Assad loyalists (and their foreign allies) and anti-Assad rebels (and theirs) and Israel does not support one side or the other. Any actions which may have been taken by Israel are exclusively linked to the protection of its citizens.”

The BBC has also repeatedly downplayed the threats posed to Israel by the presence of Iran and Hizballah in Syria as well as their repeated aggressive rhetoric.

It perhaps therefore comes as no surprise to see that the BBC’s own journalists are unable to provide audiences with a lucid and informative account that distinguishes between the factors that lie behind the recent events in Israel and Syria and the separate topics of Iran’s supply of weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon and the civil war in Syria.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story – part two

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story –part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two


BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story – part two

As documented in part one of this post, the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 10th presented listeners with a lavish dose of Syrian and Iranian propaganda relating to the story that began when an Iranian UAV infiltrated Israeli airspace earlier on the same day, with presenter Julian Marshall steering listeners towards the view that the story should be seen in terms of ‘narratives’.

The evening edition of the same programme – again presented by Marshall – also led with the same story. The programme’s web page is titled “Israel Defends Attack on Iranian Targets” and the synopsis once again fails to mention the trigger for the day’s events.

“An Israeli army spokesman says airstrikes against targets in Syria were vital to protect national security.”

Opening the programme, Marshall told listeners:

Marshall: “Israeli war planes carry out a series of strikes in Syria during a day of cross-border tension – that is our top story today.”

Marshall’s introduction to the item (from 00:83) once again failed to clarify to audiences that previous Israeli strikes on military targets in Syria have nothing to do with the Syrian civil war and cast doubts on the veracity of official Israeli statements on the incident. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin with that wave of attacks on Syria by Israeli war planes. It’s certainly not the first time that Israel has launched air raids on Syria in the course of the current conflict but the latest are being described as the most significant attacks of their kind since the 1982 Lebanon war by a senior Israeli Air Force general. It all began with the incursion into Israeli territory of what Israel says was an Iranian drone. Israel dispatched planes in response to attack the drone launch site in Syria and one of the planes was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel. And then came the big raid: Israeli war planes attacking a dozen targets in Syria including air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.”

After listeners had heard a recording of part of the Israeli prime minister’s statement, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “And I asked the spokesman for the Israeli Defence Force, Jonathan Conricus, to tell me more about the targets in Syria.”

Conricus: “This was indeed a large-scale attack – probably the largest that we’ve made over the last thirty or so years. We specifically targeted 12 different targets. Eight of them were Syrian military targets located in the surroundings of Damascus and related to the air defence array – the same ones that fired missiles towards Israeli aircraft. And the four additional targets are perhaps the most special ones because they were Iranian targets inside Syria. All of them part of the effort that Iran has been undertaking for quite some time and that we have been warning against over a long period of time. The four targets belonged to the Iranian military or the Revolutionary Guard – training facility, support facilities and the likes. That was really I think the most important part of the attack that we did was that for the first time we have actually attacked Iranian targets on Syrian soil.”

Marshall: “And attacking Iranian targets on Syrian soil was very much in retaliation for the overflight of what you say was an Iranian drone onto Israeli territory.”

After Lt-Col Conricus explained that the sequence of events began with the penetration of the Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace and that Israel “know[s] for sure that this specific UAV was dispatched by Iranian military and it was handled by Iranian military while it was violating Israeli airspace”, Marshall came up with a claim for which he provided no evidence whatsoever.

Marshall: “With all due respect sir, this was a surveillance drone – was it not? – rather than an armed drone. Did it really pose any threat to the Israeli state?”

Conricus: “We’ll be able to elaborate on that in the coming days. As of now I’m not at liberty to say exactly what that drone was doing but I can assure you that it was not a peaceful mission monitoring the weather or following migrating birds. This was a military UAV that had a specific military mission to penetrate into Israel and to perform a military task.”

After Lt-Col Conricus had spoken about the interception of the drone and the subsequent attack on its command module in Syria, Marshall resurrected an old BBC favourite: the ‘disproportionate’ allegation.

Marshall: “I mean some might think it a somewhat disproportionate response to the flying of a drone over your territory that you mounted such a massive raid on Syrian territory.”

After his interviewee replied, Marshall went on:

Marshall: “But I mean Israel has known for a long time – as have other nations – about an Iranian military presence in Syria. Why choose now to attack? I mean was it simply that drone coming into your airspace? Is that what the trigger was?”

After the IDF Spokesman replied – explaining that Israel had responded “to an act of aggression against us…by striking only military targets in a proportionate manner” – Marshall closed that interview (part of which was later promoted separately on social media) before going on to amplify more propaganda from the Iranian regime and its proxy:

Marshall: “Well Iran has accused Israel of lying about the drone – which it said had not entered Israeli territory – while Hizballah has said the downing of an Israeli plane by Syrian missiles marks the start of a new strategic era.”

Listeners then once again heard the entire interview with the Syrian regime TV journalist Alaa Ebrahim that was aired in the earlier edition of ‘Newshour’ – including the unchallenged repetition of Syrian regime messaging and the claim that there was no such thing as an Iranian UAV at all and so “the Israeli attacks were unprovoked”.  

Once again we see that BBC World Service audiences hoping to get clear, accurate information that would help them understand this story were instead sold short by a ‘report’ that presented the unchallenged propaganda of the Syrian and Iranian regimes on an equal footing with factual information from an Israeli official which Marshall found fit to repeatedly question.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story –part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two