Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer shares ‘Some Further Thoughts on the Situation in Northern Syria’.

“The fate of the 60,000 ISIS prisoners currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, should also be considered.  The Kurdish-led SDF was holding these captives as part of their alliance with the US. That alliance has just been pronounced dead. The SDF looks set to be about to fight an advancing Turkish army – a project for which, it may be presumed, it will be in need of all available personnel.

Can Turkey, whose own relationship in recent years with ISIS  included verified episodes of collusion, be trusted with the task of holding these individuals in continued captivity, pending some future legal process?  The record would suggest otherwise.”

2) At The Hill, Behnam Ben Taleblu is ‘Making sense of Iran’s nuclear moves’.

“Things are about to get worse on the Iran nuclear front. That’s essentially what Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promised in a speech on Wednesday before commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s most infamous military force. Per Khamenei, Iran is slated to continue reducing its adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), until “the desired result” is achieved.

Khamenei’s comments help frame recent technical developments, confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, about Iran’s latest nuclear violations. The country is now using advanced centrifuges, fragile machines that spin at high speeds, to enrich uranium. […]  Earlier in September, an Iranian government spokesman had warned that Iran would grow its nuclear research and development aptitudes by installing and testing a series of advanced centrifuges.”

3) At the INSS Ofir Winter and Orit Perlov analyse recent events in Egypt.

“Over recent weeks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was confronted was with his gravest public crisis since taking office. Mohamed Ali, a former Egyptian military contractor, posted videos on social media accusing the top military and political echelons of a range of corruption offenses and encouraged the public to protest against the President. Despite the wide dissemination of the videos, only a few thousand people responded to Ali’s call and took to the streets. But the regime’s success in containing the protests is no cause for nonchalance on its part, as the fundamental economic and political problems that sparked the public anger remain in place. Many of the regime’s supporters see in the protests a wake-up call and an opportunity to embark on measured policy amendments from a position of strength, hoping to prevent another wave of protests. Initial announcements on behalf of regime spokesmen promised economic, political, and media reforms, but these have yet to be translated into action on the ground.” 

4) Seth Frantzman takes a look at ‘Smoke signals in the next Middle East war’ for Tablet Magazine.

“Taken all together, the Israeli strikes in Lebanon last month and in Syria and possibly Iraq as well, the attack in Saudi Arabia, and the statements from Iranian and Hezbollah officials form part of a larger pattern in which Israel and Iran are locked in an escalating conflict playing out across the region. In the long term, Iran’s land bridge strategy connecting Tehran to the Mediterranean coast through a chain of contiguous client states in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, points directly at Israel.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned about this Iranian encirclement and “entrenchment,” but the warnings have not been enough to stop the advance. The Abqaiq attack, like the Israeli airstrikes that preceded it, was both another salvo in this war and a challenge to the U.S. and the Gulf Arab states, testing their reactions as Iran ramps up its next phase in the war against Israel.”

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BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at Tablet Magazine, Howard Jacobson asserts that “the reaction to a rescinded European literary award exposes the hypocrisy of cultural boycotts”.

“Whatever BDS means to achieve it is not subtle in its grasp of the rights and wrongs, the causes and the consequences, of Israel’s conflict with its neighbors. Not subtle in its penetration of how things stand for all parties. Not at pains to be evenhanded where evenhandedness might prove fruitful. And not far-seeing in securing the political well-being of actual Palestinians. But these are practical, and some would say desperate, considerations and as such might just be permitted to slip past the vigilance of moral rectitude and intellectual rigor.”

2) Reuel Marc Gerecht of the FDD discusses “The Israeli–Palestinian Struggle, Continued”.

“There is no chance of a “peace party” returning to Jerusalem unless Israelis see that Palestinians have unequivocally denounced the past, that the celebrations of those who’ve died killing Israelis are rejected.   That is impossible to envision in the near-term:  neither Fatah, nor Hamas, nor the Israelis, nor Washington want the Palestinian people voting.  All fear the worst—the wrong side winning.  Perhaps most perversely, the Israelis are invested in a security status quo with Fatah that likely negates the chance of any Palestinian change, and surely makes Hamas more popular on the West Bank than its tyranny in Gaza has earned.  But it’s possible that if there were a free vote among Palestinians the hostility towards Israelis—the fundamental rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state—could be the common denominator among Palestinians who otherwise loathe Fatah’s and Hamas’ dictatorships.  Palestinians again voting could lead to intense violence, among Palestinians and against Israelis.  Nonetheless, Palestinian popular sovereignty is likely the only way out of this cul-de-sac.”

3) Also at the FDD, David Adesnik and Andrew Gabel report on the opening of a border crossing between Syria and Iraq. 

“Syria and Iraq on Monday formally opened a key border crossing that lies along the principal route of Iran’s emerging land bridge to the Mediterranean via Baghdad and Damascus. The opening threatens to increase the volume of weapons and materiel that Iran can move across the bridge as part of its effort to establish a dominant position in the Levant. […]

The al-Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing has unique strategic value for Iran, since the other two official crossings between Iraq and Syria are under the control of U.S. or U.S.-aligned forces. To the southwest, U.S. troops and local partners have secured al-Tanf, while Ya’rubiyah to the northeast is in the hands of Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies.”

4) At the BESA Center, Dr. Doron Itzchakov takes a look at the Iraqi militias.

“The recent assaults on the militia bases of al-Hashd al-Sha’abi raise questions about Iraq’s future. Despite the Iraqi PM’s ultimatum demanding that the militias, which operate under the Iranian umbrella, integrate into the Iraqi military apparatus, a number of them are not complying, which could have implications for Iraqi sovereignty.”

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:

Limited BBC coverage of latest Hizballah designation

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 Sport reports the outcome of a story it ignored last month

BBC Sport did not show much interest in the Judo World Championships which took place in Tokyo between August 25th and 31st. During that period of time visitors to the BBC Sport website’s Judo page saw just two reports (see here and here), both of which concerned a Scottish Judoka.  

However, on September 2nd a report on a five day-old story titled “Saeid Mollaei: Iranian judoka fears for safety after refusing to quit World Championships” was published on that page as well as on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Readers were told that:

“Iran’s Saeid Mollaei says he fears for his and his family’s safety after ignoring calls from Iranian authorities to pull out of the World Judo Championships in Japan.

Mollaei said he was told to withdraw from his match against Russia’s Olympic champion Khasan Khalmurzaev to avoid the prospect of facing Israel’s Sagi Muki later in the tournament.”

Only in the tenth paragraph were readers informed that “Muki later beat Casse to win the gold medal” but they heard nothing of an earlier incident involving an Egyptian competitor.

The BBC’s report gave a distinctly tepid portrayal of the pressures put on Mollaei. In addition to citing “calls from Iranian authorities to pull out”, the report told readers that Mollaei said:

“But the National Olympic Committee of Iran and the Sport Minister told me to not compete, that I had to comply with the law.”

Only those readers who bothered to click on a link to the International Judo Federation website would learn that considerably more underhand tactics were employed by the Iranian authorities.

“Mollaei’s next fight was against the Olympic champion, Russian Khasan Khalmurzaev. A few minutes prior to the contest, the Iranian coach received a call from his country. On the other side of the line, the Iranian first deputy minister of sport, Davar Zani, gave him the order to withdraw Mollaei from the competition to avoid a potential contest between Iran and Israel. A demand accompanied by a double threat against Mollaei and his family. […]

…a delegation from the Iranian Embassy came to the venue. One delegate illegally, by means of the Iranian coaches accreditation, trespassed into the athlete warm up area to approach him with messages of intimidation.

Just prior to the semi-final, Mollaei’s coach received another phone call, this time from the Iranian Olympic Committee President, Reza Salehi Amiri. He put the phone on speaker and video, so the World Champion could follow the conversation.

The NOC President explained that National Security were at his parent’s house. Mollaei’s friends from Iran also texted him that people came to his house and asked his father to tell his son to follow the law or he would have problems.”

Apparently the BBC did not consider that information newsworthy. Linking to the IJF website, the BBC Sport report went on:

“Earlier in 2019, the National Olympic Committee of Iran had said it would comply with the Olympic charter and statutes of the International Judo Federation (IJF), paving the way for Iranian athletes to compete against Israeli athletes.”

However, as noted here when the BBC ignored the story last month, a top Iranian sports official reneged on that commitment made in May.

“President of the Iran National Olympic Committee Syed Reza Salehi Amiri said that Iranian athletes will not compete against Israeli athletes, despite Iran claiming in a letter addressed to the International Judo Federation (IJF) that things might change.

The Judo World Championship will take place at the end of August, where the most anticipated encounter will be between Iranian Saeid Mollaei, who is ranked No. 1 in the 81 kg. weight group, and second ranked Israeli Sagi Muki. […]

“Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy – and for this reason, we are not competing with athletes of the Zionist regime,” Amiri said.”

Had the BBC covered that story at the time it may have been better placed to report on the predictable pressures put on Mollaei during the championship as well as subsequent events unmentioned in this report.  

Related Articles:

Discrimination in sport continues to be ignored by the BBC

Sporting body’s anti-discrimination results get no BBC coverage

BBC muddies a story of anti-Israel bigotry in sport

More tepid BBC coverage of anti-Israel bigotry in sport

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

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.

 

 

 

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

On the evening of August 21st an article headlined “Iraq paramilitary force blames US and Israel for mystery blasts” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Its opening lines told BBC audiences that:

“A powerful Iran-backed paramilitary force in Iraq has said it holds the US responsible for a series of blasts at its bases in recent weeks.

The deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation, which is dominated by Shia militias, alleged that US forces had brought four Israeli drones into the country to target its positions.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said the force would use “all means at its disposal” to prevent and deter future attacks.”

The BBC did not subsequently provide any evidence to support the allegation that it chose to amplify but it did take make sure to inform readers that:

“Last year, Israel’s then defence minister suggested that it might attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done repeatedly in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war.

When asked by reporters on Monday about the explosions in Iraq, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Iran has no immunity, anywhere.”

“We will act – and currently are acting – against them, wherever it is necessary.””

BBC audiences had to read down to the article’s closing paragraphs in order to find any information which might help them judge the reliability – and possible motives – of the source of the unevidenced claim it elected to amplify.

“The Popular Mobilisation’s fighters played a key role in the war against IS.

With the help of Iranian military advisers, weapons and funding, they prevented IS militants reaching Baghdad in 2014 and later helped Iraqi security forces regain control of the country.

The US, which also supported Iraqi security forces against IS, has said several of the Shia militias in the Popular Mobilisation are directly controlled by Iran. It has accused the militias of targeting US diplomatic facilities in Iraq and warned that they may have been given Iranian ballistic missiles.”

As Jonathan Spyer noted in July when the Iraqi prime minister announced that the Shia militias of the Popular Mobilisation Units were to be integrated into the Iraqi security forces: [emphasis added]

“The Shia militias are the main instrument of Iranian policy on Iraqi soil.  Not all groups involved in the 150,000 strong PMU are Iran-linked, but the largest and most consequential groupings are. These include the Badr organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri, Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Asaib ahl-al Haq, and Hizballah al-Nujaba.

All the above mentioned groupings are franchises of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). All were established by and are controlled by Iran, answering directly to the IRGC’s Qods Force and its leader, General Qassem Soleimani.”

The BBC failed to inform readers that, in addition to being “the deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation”, its quoted source is – as documented by the FDD – also a senior commander in Ktaeb Hizballah.

“Kataib Hezbollah is a relatively small Iraqi Shiite militia that serves as a vehicle through which the IRGC-Quds Force projects power in Iraq. […] its chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is currently Iraq’s deputy national security adviser as well as an operational leader of the PMF. Born in Basra in 1953, Muhandis has worked for decades with the IRGC, including his participation in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait that killed six and injured 90 others.

Muhandis is the de-facto deputy of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in Iraq; the Iranian general has called Muhandis a “living martyr.” Kataib Hezbollah was among the earliest Iraqi groups to dispatch fighters to Syria, where it helped organize groups including Liwa Abu-Fadl al-Abbas, a militia composed of Iraqi Shiites. In 2015, a Kataib Hezbollah official told the Washington Post that Kataib Hezbollah had sent 1,000 fighters to Aleppo in response to a direct request by Soleimani. Along with other Iranian-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah has begun to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of the Islamic State caliphate.”

The BBC closed its article with references to Muhandis (who was indeed designated by the US a decade ago) and his militia but failed to inform readers of the connection between them.

“The US has designated one of the militias in the Popular Mobilisation, Kataiib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), as a terrorist organisation.

It has also listed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as a “specially designated global terrorist”. It alleges that he advises Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and that he has been involved in the bombings of Western embassies and attempted assassinations in the region.”

In other words, the BBC chose to unquestioningly amplify unproven allegations concerning explosions at arms depots in Iraq made by one of Iran’s senior operatives in that country.  

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports the results of an opinion poll.

“A new poll by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion, taken June 27-July 19, indicates that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza oppose their leaderships’ preemptive rejection of the Trump administration’s peace plan—despite widespread popular disapproval of the current U.S. president. The survey also shows a dramatic rise in the proportion supporting an enhanced role in peacemaking for the Arab states. More specifically, however, only a minority voice a favorable attitude toward the June regional economic workshop in Bahrain, with many saying they have not heard or read enough about it.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at Turkish ambitions in the Mediterranean.

“Turkey’s efforts at building influence and power in the neighborhood are not restricted to dry land.  Rather, an important currently developing arena for Turkish assertiveness is the eastern Mediterranean.  This area has been the site of major gas discoveries in Israeli, Cypriot and Egyptian waters in recent years.  Lebanon too is seeking to open exploration in its territorial waters. […]

As Turkey moves further from the west, and closer to alliance with Russia, so it is emerging as an aggressive and disruptive force with regard to gas development in the eastern Meditteranean.  The main area of current concern is that around Cyprus.  Israel, Egypt and Lebanon have all signed delimitation agreements with Cyprus. Turkey refuses to do so.”

3) At the INSS Raz Zimmt asks ‘Has Ebrahim Raisi been Tagged as Iran’s Next Supreme Leader?’.

“Recent months have seen increasing signs that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, has emerged as the leading candidate to succeed Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader. Since his appointment as head of the judiciary in March 2019, there have been increasing efforts on the part of Raisi, a conservative cleric, apparently backed by the Supreme Leader, to advance changes in the legal system, improve his public image, and increase his media exposure, particularly in view of his loss in the most recent presidential elections in May 2017. It is still too early to assess Raisi’s chances of winning the battle of succession for the leadership of Iran, which will necessarily be affected by the timing of Khamenei’s departure from the political map. However, his closeness to the Supreme Leader, his experience in the judicial authority, his tenure as chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation (and the Imam Reza Shrine) in the city of Mashhad, and his hardline positions, alongside his increasing efforts to improve his public standing, make him the leading candidate at this stage in the battle of succession.”

4) The ITIC documents how Hamas is “using youngsters as a tool for violence near the security fence in the Gaza Strip”.

“The return march in the Gaza Strip on July 26, 2019, was similar in most respects to the previous marches. About 4,500 Palestinians participated, gathering mainly at the five return camps. As usual, the march was accompanied by violent activities near the border fence carried out by several dozen Palestinians, most of them adolescents and children. The violent activities included throwing IEDs, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at the IDF. Several Palestinians tried to sabotage the security fence and some crossed the fence into Israeli territory. Videos photographed at the return march clearly illustrated the exploitation of youngsters handled for military missions, endangering their lives. Harm that may come to them serves Hamas as a propaganda and lawfare weapon against Israel, which is represented as Israel’s killing youngsters in cold blood.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At ‘Lawfare’, Matthew J. Aiesi presents a legal view of the incendiary attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

“…Israel has also been subjected to frequent attacks by incendiary balloons. By early June of this year, these attacks had destroyed approximately 4,300 acres of land, and more has been destroyed since then. Yet news reports on the incendiary balloons often fail to identify the balloons for what they are—a war crime. […]

As Hamas has been using them, these incendiary balloon attacks violate numerous rules and customs of warfare—principally concerning the targeting of civilians and the use of indiscriminate weapons. The attacks also likely violate the prohibition on the use of incendiary weapons in this context.”

2) MEMRI reports on views of the PA’s handling of an incident earlier this year.

“On April 26, 2019, an urgent appeal by the largely Christian residents of the Palestinian village of Jifna, in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh district, was circulated on social media. Addressed to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister and Interior Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, it followed a violent incident that had taken place in the village the previous night. The villagers stated in the appeal that armed “rabble” headed by “an influential individual in Ramallah district” had burst into the village, and that gunmen had fired their weapons and thrown rocks and firebombs at their homes, shouting “racist and sectarian” ISIS-like slogans, including demands that they pay jizya – the poll tax levied on Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule as a protected and subjugate class. The residents called on Shtayyeh to bring the attackers to justice in order to deter others from similar actions against them. […]

The violent incident in question reignited previous criticism of treatment of the Christian minority in Palestinian society, and the PA’s lenience in dealing with anti-Christian activity, as well as the handling of this particular incident.”

3) At the Washington Institute Michael Herzog analyses ‘Israel’s pushback in Syria’.

“Of all the threats in Israel’s strategic landscape, Iran’s ambitions and developing military capabilities in neighboring Syria and Lebanon have ranked highest in recent years in the attention of Israeli decisionmakers and strategic planners. These ambitions and capabilities, which carry serious strategic-military implications, have been relentlessly advanced by an Iranian regime deeply hostile to Israel and, if unchecked, could yield dangerous results in the foreseeable future. On the spectrum of threats, Iran’s push to build a formidable military front against Israel in Syria and Lebanon, with a complementary envelope in Iraq, fits somewhere between the immediate yet modest (Hamas in Gaza) and the long term and extremely menacing (Iran with nuclear arms). This balance of its severity and relative immediacy explains why it has ranked so high for Israeli decisionmakers in recent years. In turn, the Iranian effort has driven Israel to push back militarily even at the risk of sparking a major confrontation, a policy that in Israel enjoys wide public and political consensus.”

4) UK Media Watch is Celebrating 10 years of promoting accurate coverage of Israel.

“Ten years ago, a small group of dedicated activists concerned about inaccurate and inflammatory coverage of Israel in the British media, and the antisemitism such reporting often fuels, had an audacious idea: to take on the Guardian, the central address for such bias.

The blog established by this group in August 2009 was called CiF Watch, reflecting our initial focus on the Guardian’s online home for op-eds and commentaries, known as ‘Comment is Free’ (‘CiF’). The first post at CiF Watch pledged to expose and combat the bigoted and one-sided nature of the Guardian’s obsessive focus on Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people.”