BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BBC News amplifies Hizballah hijacking denial

On September 21st the BBC News website published a report headlined “TWA Flight 847: Greek police arrest aircraft hijacking suspect” which opened by telling readers that: [emphasis added]

“A 65-year-old Lebanese man suspected of involvement in the hijacking of an American airliner in 1985 has been arrested in Greece, police say.

The man, who has not been named, was detained on Mykonos after disembarking from a cruise ship on Thursday.

His identity came up as being wanted by Germany during a passport check.

The TWA Flight 847 was seized by militants thought to belong to the Islamist group Hezbollah, a claim they denied. A US navy diver was killed.”

In other words, in just one sentence the BBC managed to portray airline hijackers as “militants” and a terrorist organisation as an “Islamist group” as well as to suggest to audiences that the hijackers’ connections to Hizballah are still in doubt thirty-four years after the event and to amplify the terrorist organisation’s related denials.

By contrast, a Columbia District Court ruling states that:

“On June 14, 1985, two Hezbollah hijackers boarded TWA Flight 847 leaving Athens, Greece headed for Rome, Italy.”

Hizballah expert Matthew Levitt has stated that in 1985:

“…the group hijacked TWA Flight 847; one of the hijackers, Muhammad Ali Hamadi, was arrested two years later in the Frankfurt airport ferrying explosives to other operatives in Europe, illustrating the extent to which Hezbollah was operating in the West.” 

And:

“On June 14, 1985, two Hezbollah hijackers took over TWA Flight 847 just after it took off from Athens en route to Rome. Over the course of 17 days, a short flight turned into a terrifying 8,500 mile journey around the Mediterranean that led to the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem.”

And:

“Mohammad Ali Hamadi is still wanted by U.S. authorities for his role in one of Hezbollah’s earliest terrorist acts. In June, 1985, Hamadi and another Hezbollah operative hijacked TWA Flight 847. For 15 days the story dominated headlines as the plane crisscrossed the Middle East, making Hezbollah a household name. Hamadi is believed to be the one who shot U.S. Navy diver Robert Stetham in the head and tossed his body onto the tarmac. That November, Hamadi was indicted by the U.S. government for his role in the hijacking and Stethem’s murder. In 1987, German authorities arrested Hamadi at Frankfurt airport and found liquid explosives in his luggage. He was imprisoned in Germany until 2005, when he was released on parole and returned to Lebanon.”

In 2005 the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that:

“Apparently ignoring Washington’s extradition request for Mohammed Ali Hamadi, German authorities have secretly released the Lebanese Hezbollah member who was serving a life sentence in the country for the hijacking of a TWA jet and for the murder of a US navy diver.”

Nevertheless the BBC apparently believes that audience understanding of this story will be enhanced by its amplification of Hizballah’s denial of involvement in that hijacking which – coincidentally or not – also appears in the first paragraph of the relevant Wikipedia entry.

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC takes a look at Hezbollah’s media empire.

“The “resistance society,” created by Hezbollah with massive Iranian support, is based on three legs: The first leg is Hezbollah’s military system. This system is designed to operate against Israel but also supports Hezbollah’s hold of the Shiite population. The military system places Hezbollah in a political power position in the internal Lebanese scene and provides it with major influence on the decision-making process in Lebanon; the second leg is a large-scale network of institutions contributing to the improvement of the socioeconomic situation of the Shiite population and strengthening its support of Hezbollah; and the third leg is a media empire which plays an important role in disseminating the ideology and political messages of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Such an extensive media empire in the possession of a terrorist organization is unprecedented among terrorist organizations operating around the world.”

2) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran proposes that Any Way You Slice it, Hezbollah Had a Very Bad Month.

“The dust is still clearing, but what’s clear is that Israel’s operation reflects a new security footing towards Hezbollah that is being put into effect at the same time the U.S. increases pressure on the group on other fronts. All told, it’s plain that August did not end auspiciously for Hezbollah. First, Israel seemingly resumed operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Iranian missile capabilities. Then shortly after, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank, which it described as Hezbollah’s “bank of choice.” These actions mark an important shift in both Israeli and U.S. policies, which is likely to deepen Hezbollah’s strategic dilemma.”

3) At the BESA Center, Professor Hillel Frisch explains how The EU Is Battling Israel in Area C.

“Ever since a decision in January 2012, the EU has been expressly committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the PA. This is in blatant disregard of the Oslo accords, which the EU purports to uphold. The object is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout the West Bank and thereby isolate and strangle Israeli communities.”

4) Yoram Schweitzer and Orna Mizrahi discuss The Complexity behind Hezbollah’s Response to Israel’s Attacks at the INSS.

“Hezbollah’s limited and calculated response so far points to its desire to avoid, at this stage, a widening of the confrontation with Israel, both out of considerations linked to the situation facing its patron Iran and due to its interest in preventing a calamitous war in Lebanon. Compounding these considerations are also independent reasons. Hezbollah is currently under political pressure: additional countries have designated it as a terrorist group, and Arab countries, responding to the attack on IDF vehicles in Avivim, even accused it of irresponsible behavior. In addition, Hezbollah is in economic distress due to the direct sanctions imposed on it by the United States.”

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotes inaccurate claims on Hizballah, Israel

The September 2nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item described in its synopsis thus:

“…concerns grow over clashes between Israel and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border”

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that item (from 30:05 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now to the Middle East and there has been over the weekend a sharp escalation of already high tensions between Israel and Hizballah – the Shi’ite Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon. The group is headed by Hassan Nasrallah and its military wing is considered to be a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the Arab League and the EU among others.”

That portrayal of designations of Hizballah is inaccurate and misleading. The organisation as a whole is proscribed by the US, Canada, Israel, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Japan, the UAE, Kosovo, Argentina, Paraguay and of course the BBC’s own home country, the UK. Hizballah’s so-called “military wing” (a distinction which even Hizballah leaders say does not exist) is proscribed by Australia, New Zealand, France and the EU.

Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “It’s widely acknowledged that Hizballah acts as a proxy for Iran and the group fired anti-tank missiles into northern Israel on Sunday: retaliation it says for a drone strike by Israel in Beirut and the killing of two commanders in an Israeli strike inside Syria. That prompted Israel to retaliate against three villages in southern Lebanon and also, fears that what appears to have been a contained exchange could become a bigger deal.”

Israel did not “retaliate against three villages in southern Lebanon”. As reported by the Times of Israel:

“In response to the attack, the Israeli military said its artillery cannons and attack helicopters fired approximately 100 shells and bombs at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. […]

“The IDF returned fire at the [missile-launching squads] at targets in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement. […]

Lebanese media reported that the IDF bombed sites near the Lebanese border town of Maroun al-Ras.”

AP reported that:

“The Lebanese army says Israeli forces have fired some 40 shells on the outskirts of several border villages…

In Lebanon, the Israeli shelling was concentrated on areas close to the border near the villages of Maroun el-Ras and Yaroun, triggering some fires.”

In other words, not only did Razia Iqbal fail to clarify to listeners that Hizballah is entrenched among the civilian population of southern Lebanon in violation of UN SC resolution 1701, she also gave them the erroneous impression that Israel had ‘retaliated’ against civilian communities – “three villages”.

The item continued with an interview with Brigadier General (Res.) Assaf Orion during which Iqbal unnecessarily qualified Israeli intelligence findings.

Iqbal: “I wonder if we can just focus on the extent to which Israel believes that these precision missiles are already in possession of Hizballah [sic]; how advanced that programme is from Israel’s point of view.”

Following that interview listeners heard from Barbara Plett Usher in Jerusalem and that conversation included more irrelevant qualification from two people who are not military correspondents and without the BBC as far as we know having carried out any independent investigation into the subject.

Plett Usher: “They [Israel] have been bombing…ah…Iranian bases and convoys in Syria, thinking that they’re trying to get weapons to Hizballah and now if the Iranians are indeed trying to convert Hizballah rockets in Lebanon, that by the Israelis would be seen as an even bigger threat. So they have this campaign out there – information campaign – claiming that this is happening and providing details about it.”

Significantly though, neither Iqbal nor Plett Usher bothered to clarify to listeners that Iran’s supply of weapons to Hizballah violates UN SC resolution 1701 and so once again BBC audiences were exposed to inaccurate and superficial reporting which fails to contribute to their understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

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BBC News promotes a claim it previously amended in February

BBC reporter who “breached the requirements of due impartiality” back in Israel

Through the Smoke, Reuters’ double standard: fires in Lebanon, Israel (CAMERA)

 

 

BBC reporter who “breached the requirements of due impartiality” back in Israel

The September 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to events from the previous day which was introduced by presenter Martha Kearney (from 38:20 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “There’ve been clashes between Israel and the militant group Hizballah along the Lebanese border. Let’s talk now to Barbara Plett Usher, our correspondent in Jerusalem. And at the outset, Barbara, just explain to us why this is…ahm…such an important area. There has been actually war – hasn’t there? – between Israel and Hizballah…eh…around southern…southern Lebanon.”

As readers may know, while posted in Israel in 2004 Barbara Plett Usher produced a report which is still available online about Yasser Arafat that was described in a Telegraph editorial thus:

“Many listeners to the BBC were rightly outraged last week by the broadcast from its Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett, in which she cloyingly described how she wept as Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment.

She said: “When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning.” Almost as a footnote, she later admitted that an “ambivalence towards violence” was one of his failings. […]

Ms Plett’s flood of feeling is just the most overt and recent manifestation of a pro-Palestinian bias endemic within the BBC. As a publicly-funded organisation, it should remember that it is not paid to take sides. As things stand, however, we might conclude that Mr Arafat’s culpable “ambivalence towards violence” is echoed by our national broadcaster.”

The BBC received a large volume of complaints concerning that item and in 2005 the BBC governors ruled that Plett Usher’s report “breached the requirements of due impartiality”.

That apparently has not deterred the BBC from sending Barbara Plett Usher – who has been reporting from the US in recent years – back to Israel.

Radio 4 listeners heard the following:

Plett Usher: “It is an important area because it’s the front line for conflict between Israel and Hizballah but the thing that’s interesting is that there hasn’t been much conflict between them for the past thirteen years. They fought a major war in 2006 but there’s been a sort of uneasy ceasefire between them since, so this flare-up is the first kind of clash we’ve seen like this in years.”

That of course is inaccurate. Incidents that have taken place along the Israel-Lebanon border since the end of the 2006 conflict include the planting of explosive devices in February 2007, the detonation of two explosive devices in March 2014, the detonation of explosive devices and the injury of two IDF soldiers in October 2014, the killing of two IDF soldiers and wounding of seven others in an attack using anti-tank missiles in January 2015 and the detonation of an explosive device in January 2016. In December 2018 the IDF commenced Operation Northern Shield to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hizballah which were definitely not part of any “sort of uneasy ceasefire”.

Kearney: “And what’s been happening?”

Plett Usher: “So the Hizballah [sic] fired a number of anti-tank missiles at Israeli military positions and they received quite a large incoming return fire as a result. They claim to have killed a number of people although the Israelis said that wasn’t the case. Now the point here is that the Israelis had been expecting some kind of confrontation because there’s been tensions rising over the past week. A number of drone strikes in Lebanon and Syria attributed to Israel has meant that Hizballah has said it would retaliate.”

The August 25th strikes in Syria – which were not “attributed” because Israel immediately claimed them – were not carried out using drones as claimed by Plett Usher but did target IRGC drones intended for use in an attack against Israel. Plett Usher failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that that two Hizballah operatives were killed in that strike before continuing:

Plett Usher: “In particular there was a drone strike in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, which Hizballah felt that’s its stronghold and it needed to respond. Now the Israelis did not confirm they carried out that strike but they did say that they were trying to prevent the…eh…the development of long-range precision missiles which is something they’re very concerned about. They believe Iran is helping Hizballah do that. So that was what was building ahead of time and then you had this flare-up.”

Israel does not “believe” that Iran is helping Hizballah to develop precision-guided missiles – it has solid evidence some of which was made publicly available four days before Plett Usher made this report, meaning that there was no justification for her use of the term “believe”.

As we see Barbara Plett-Usher produced a report which, despite being relatively short, was replete with basic inaccuracies and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with the wider context of UN SC resolution 1701 and its relevant call for all armed militias to be removed from southern Lebanon.

What Barbara Plett-Usher is doing in Jerusalem and how long she is scheduled to be there is unclear. What is already apparent is that BBC audiences are not getting accurate reporting which will “build people’s understanding”.

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BBC News promotes a claim it previously amended in February

Some three hours after Hizballah had attacked an army base and a military vehicle with guided anti-tank missiles near Avivim on Israel’s northern border on September 1st the BBC News website published a report headlined “Hezbollah fires rockets into Israel from Lebanon”. The report opened with a description of Hizballah which avoids any mention of the fact that it is a terrorist organisation.

“The Lebanese Shia Muslim militant group Hezbollah has fired several anti-tank rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for a reported Israeli drone attack in Beirut last week.

Israeli military sources confirmed rockets had been fired at an Israeli army base and military vehicles.

The Israeli army responded by attacking targets in southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah sources reported several Israeli casualties, but Israel said no-one had been injured on its side.”

The report went on to tell readers that:

“The Lebanese military earlier said an Israeli drone had entered its airspace and dropped incendiary material on a forest along the border.

The Israeli army has acknowledged it started a fire. Tensions on the frontier escalated in recent days.”

The background to those opaque statements is as follows:

“The Israeli military fired artillery shells into a disputed portion of land on the Lebanese border on Sunday, amid soaring tensions along the frontier, a Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet reported.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed conducting “activities” in northern Israel, which sparked a fire near the border, but refused to comment on the nature of those actions.”

Significantly, readers of this report were told nothing of the fact that according to UN SC resolution 1701, Hizballah should have been disarmed years ago and should not be operating south of the Litani River. Neither was any information given concerning the failure of UNIFIL ‘peacekeepers’ and the Lebanese Armed Forces to stop this latest attack by the terror group.  

Readers were told that:

“The Hezbollah attack and Israel’s response represent the most serious border incident between the two parties in recent years.”

Depending on how one defines “recent” one could of course argue that the 2015 Hizballah attack in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven injured was significantly more serious.

Later versions of the report closed with a portrayal of the Second Lebanon War which failed to inform audiences that Hizballah instigated that conflict.

“In 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long conflict that killed more than 1,000 civilians, most of them Lebanese.”

Following a complaint from BBC Watch in February of this year the BBC News website amended three reports promoting a similar statement in order to clarify that the unverified claim that most of the Lebanese casualties were civilians came from the Lebanese government.

As those three reports stated, 43 Israeli civilians were killed during that conflict which means that the BBC is now claiming that at least 957 Lebanese civilians also died.

Estimates of the total number of Lebanese casualties during that 2006 war range from 1,035 to 1,200. As has been pointed out here on several previous occasions, while the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants, Lebanese officials did report even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah personnel and UN officials gave similar figures while Israeli estimates stand at around 600 (of whom 450 were identified with certainty: see page 55 here). In August 2006 the BBC News website acknowledged that “there are no reliable figures” for the number of Hizballah combatants killed in the war that had just ended at the time.

In other words, despite having acknowledged seven months ago that the civilian casualty figures it quoted were based on statements made by a government held hostage by the Iranian terrorist proxy Hizballah, the BBC News website has resumed the practice of promoting inflated Lebanese civilian casualty figures that it has not independently verified.

Related Articles:

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

Los Angeles Times Corrects on Lebanese Casualties in 2006 War (CAMERA)

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem documents a recent Palestinian Authority story that was predictably sidelined by the BBC.

“PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced on August 19, 2019, that all of his advisers had completed their work, regardless of their level and titles, and the conditions afforded by their status no longer applied.

This announcement relates to dozens of advisers that Abbas employed in various capacities. The most prominent include Nabil Shaath, adviser on international affairs; Mahmoud Al-Habash, adviser on religious affairs; Gen. Ismail Jaber, adviser on security affairs; Ali Mahana, legislative adviser; and Majdi Al-Haldi, adviser on foreign affairs. […]

Fatah sources are not sure if Abbas fired all of his advisers because his decision did not include a list of all of them and their functions. Mahmoud Abbas remains vague here because some of his associates were defined as his “advisers” so that they could receive a large salary and the perks of the job, such as an office, a car, and so forth.”

2) The ITIC analyses this week’s speech from Hasan Nasrallah.

“On August 25, 2019, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave a belligerent speech claiming Israel was behind the two attacks in Lebanon and Syria: a quadcopter attack on the southern Shi’ite suburbs of Beirut (Israel did not claim responsibility) and the aerial attack on a base southwest of Damascus (Israel did claim responsibility). The attack in Syria disrupted an Iranian Qods Force plan to launch armed quadcopters to attack northern Israel. Nasrallah greatly exaggerated the so-called threat to Lebanon inherent in the use of explosive quadcopters (“suicide quadcopters”) which he claimed set a precedent in the attack on the southern suburb of Beirut. Such a precedent was liable, he claimed, to turn Lebanon into another arena for Israeli attacks (as he claimed Israel had done in Iraq).”

3) Writing at An Nahar, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing in the U.S Department of the Treasury explains “Why we sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank”.

“Jammal Trust Bank is a primary Hizballah banker in Lebanon, with a long and continuing history of providing an array of financial services to the terror group. Jammal Trust Bank has tried to conceal its relationships with numerous front companies for the U.S.-designated Martyrs Foundation. The malfeasance within Jammal Trust Bank runs to the core. Hizballah’s Member of Parliament, Amin Sherri, who engages in criminal behavior on behalf of Hizballah, openly coordinates Hizballah’s financial activities at the bank with its management. By working with Sherri in this way, the bankers of Jammal Trust Bank have betrayed the trust of their fellow citizens and their banking colleagues. By actively concealing Hizballah’s affiliation with these accounts from the Central Bank of Lebanon, these bankers violated their civic, social, and business responsibilities to innocent account holders, and have risked damage to the international perceptions of the Lebanese banking sector.”

4) At the FDD Jacob Nagel and David Adesnik examine “How the UN’s Nuclear Watchdog Can Restore its Credibility on Iran”.

“After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the Mossad’s discovery of a secret atomic archive in a Tehran warehouse, Amano’s response entailed a blend of procrastination and excuses. Last November, seven months after the Israeli revelations, Amano was still insisting, “We need to analyze the information, and it will take time, of course.” To this day, the IAEA has not stated whether its inspectors have ever visited the Tehran warehouse that stored the archive, or even that the agency requested a visit. Meanwhile, independent experts demonstrated, based on documents from the archive, that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been far more advanced than the IAEA had ever known.”

BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

Related Articles:

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Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

On the morning of August 25th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drones’ in Syria to prevent attacks” on its Middle East page. The headline was later amended to read “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drone’ sites in Syria”.

The article in fact relates to two separate incidents, the first of which took place over twelve hours before the publication of the BBC’s report. The BBC described that incident as follows:

“Israel has struck Iranian military sites in Syria to prevent what it said was a pending drone strike by Iran.

Israel’s military rarely acknowledges operations in Syria, but it claimed on Saturday its strikes had prevented an attack on Israel “using killer drones”. […]

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes on Saturday targeted Iran’s Quds force in Aqraba, south-east of the capital, Damascus.”

A part of that story which the BBC chose not to tell – even though the information was readily available – is as follows:

“The Israeli military said its strike late Saturday targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives. […]

[IDF Spokesman] Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said. […]

“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”

He said the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.””

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that, as reported by Ha’aretz:

“A commentator close to the Revolutionary Guards wrote [on Thursday August 22nd] in the Iranian newspaper Kayhan that Israeli actions in Iraq and Syria would be met with surprises, such as launches of UAVs at sensitive security targets, ports and nuclear sites in Israel. The plan that was foiled, according to the IDF, was identical to the action threatened beforehand by the commentator.”

The BBC did choose to amplify Syrian claims:

“A Syrian military source quoted by the official Sana news agency said that Syrian anti-aircraft defences “detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus”.

“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets,” the source said.”

BBC audiences were not informed that – despite those claims – at least three Hizballah operatives were reportedly killed.  

By way of ‘context’ BBC audiences were told that:

“Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, to try to prevent Iran gaining a foothold.”

While Israel has indeed carried out strikes in order to prevent both advanced weaponry reaching the Hizballah terror organisation and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, that context is not relevant to this particular story, which is about the prevention of an imminent attack by Iranian forces on Israel. That fact of course explains why in this case Israel did release statements concerning the incident.

The second story in this report relates to an incident which took place a few hours later in Lebanon and which was portrayed by the BBC in the first two versions of the article as follows:

“Separately, reports said two Israeli surveillance drones had come down in a stronghold of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Hezbollah officials said an unmanned drone fell on the roof of a media centre belonging to the group, and was followed by a second unmanned drone that exploded in mid-air and crashed nearby.

Residents told the Associated Press they heard a large explosion that shook the area, after hearing the sound of an aircraft. Israel’s military declined to comment on the reports.”

Some two and a half hours after the report’s initial publication, the sub-heading “Blatant attack” was added along with comments from the Lebanese prime minister.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Israel’s alleged surveillance drones a “blatant attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty”.

“This new aggression… forms a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards more tension,” he said in a statement.”

The BBC does not appear to have carried out any independent verification of the claims put out to news agencies by Hizballah – including the allegation that the drones were Israeli – before publishing its own report.

And so BBC audiences got superficial and incomplete reporting on two separate incidents based in no small part on second-hand claims made by ‘reliable’ sources such as the Hizballah terrorist organisation and the Assad regime.

 

 

 

Limited BBC coverage of latest Hizballah designation

The August 20th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 14:05 here) introduced by presenter James Menendez as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menendez: “…the government of Paraguay has announced it’s designating the Lebanese Shia Islamist organisation Hizballah as an international terrorist organisation. Its much bigger neighbour Argentina did so last month and there’s speculation that Brazil may be about to do the same, bringing all of them into line with the US, the UK and others.”

Along with the US and the UK, among the “others” which designate Hizballah in its entirety are Canada, Israel, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Japan, the UAE and Kosovo. The organisation is partly designated by Australia, New Zealand, France and the EU.

Menendez continued with a euphemistic description of the terror group’s dependency on Iran:

Menendez: “You may be wondering what Hizballah, with its close ties to Iran and violent opposition to Israel, is doing in South America and why some governments are taking action now. Well pressure from the Trump administration certainly seems to be a factor. Emanuele Ottolenghi has researched and has been in dialogue with White House officials on Hizballah’s influence in Latin America. He’s a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies – a neo-conservative think tank in Washington DC – that’s been advocating a much more hawkish approach to Iran and its proxies.”

Compare the adherence to BBC editorial guidelines stipulating that when introducing interviewees “[a]ppropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context” in that presentation to the one given late last month on the same BBC World Service radio programme:

“Nadav Weiman is a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces. Indeed he was with the special forces sniper team that operated in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He’s now with the advocacy group ‘Breaking the Silence’.”

Ottolenghi began by providing background to the story:

Ottolenghi: “Hizballah has had a growing presence in Latin America for the past four decades and this presence is concentrated in a number of places, including especially the Tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay: a region that is notorious for illicit finance, money laundering, contraband, smuggling and trafficking of all sorts of goods. Hizballah has been pairing up in Latin America for a number of years with organised crime to provide illicit finance and logistical support to those nefarious activities. It plays an important role in the financing of Hizballah’s budget and in the process it has become a partner in crime for cartels and criminal syndicates across South America.”

Menendez is apparently unfamiliar with the topic of terror financing.

Menendez: “So the criminal activities…eh…illegal financing but not military activities per se.”

Ottolenghi: “Not necessarily, although Hizballah is behind two terror attacks in Latin America – one in 1992 and one in 1994, both in Buenos Aires – and a Hizballah operative was caught and arrested while preparing a terror attack in Peru in 2014.”

The case in Peru to which Ottolenghi referred is this one. The earlier cases are of course the attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA centre.  

Menendez: “And have governments in the region been, what, unable or unwilling to try and tackle this?”

Ottolenghi: “Governments in the region have been largely unwilling to recognise this presence as affiliated with Hizballah. They do know that members of the Shia Lebanese community are involved in illicit finance activities. They just do not wish to link this to terrorism and there is a variety of reasons for this, many of which are tied to domestic politics but also to some extent in the past have been connected to ideological stances of governments.”

Menendez: “So is that what’s changed then? That governments…that some governments – take Brazil for example; it’s shifted to the right. And is it also pressure from Washington – pressure from the United States to take action?”

Ottolenghi: “Both things are true. I think the shift to the right across the region has changed the discourse about the issue and certainly US pressure and increased attention to the problem. But also I think governments in the region are increasingly aware that they can no longer tolerate the presence of the pervasive and nefarious nature of organised crime in their own midst.”

Menendez then brought up the myth of separate ‘wings’ to the terror organisation.

Menendez: “The European Union still makes the distinction between Hizballah’s political and military wings and the military wing is a proscribed organisation but not the political wing. Could that have been part of it as well? That people didn’t necessarily group all of Hizballah into the same basket and see it as a terrorist organisation?”

Ottolenghi: “In some countries that’s definitely the case but as it goes in the European Union as well, the department of Hizballah that is largely involved in running overseas financial operations including illicit activities such as drug trafficking is part of the external security organisation of Hizballah which is, properly speaking, the military wing – so-called – of Hizballah. So actually…”

Menendez [interrupts] “Right, so it’s not…it’s not being used to fund political and social activities back in Lebanon then?”

Ottolenghi: “Well I mean the money goes largely to the same pot and so it’s hard to distinguish whether it goes to military or to other activities. And the social and charitable activities certainly are used also to prop up support and ensure loyalty to the goals of the movement.”

Menendez closed the item there. While listeners to BBC World Service radio heard a reasonable report on a story to which the BBC has only relatively recently begun to re-devote attention, no coverage of Paraguay’s decision to designate Hizballah has to date been seen on the BBC News website – the corporation’s “permanent public record”.

Those looking for further information on the terror group’s activities in Latin America in the BBC’s online profile of Hizballah will find nothing: that profile has not been updated for almost three and a half years and it provides no information on the more recent designations of the organisation, including that of the UK.  

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on Argentina’s designation of Hizballah

Revisiting BBC reporting on Hizballah