Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Itai Brun and Sarah J. Feuer provide an overview of the Coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

“The coronavirus is making its way across the Middle East, forcing states to prepare for the possible collapse of governing systems. The virus struck a region already buckling under the weight of armed conflicts, social upheaval, severe economic distress, and identity-related clashes. The data on corona’s spread is far from precise or reliable, given the lack of testing, lagging policies, and likely efforts at concealment on the part of certain regimes. But it is safe to assume that the number of infections is far greater than what is reported. Every regime seeks to mitigate corona’s consequences, and for the moment governments across the region appear to enjoy support from the public in doing so. Still, the region could suffer an uncontrollable outbreak, given high population density in certain cities and the sizable clusters of refugees and displaced persons scattered throughout the area.”

2) Dr Raz Zimmt gives his ‘Initial Assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Iran’s Regional Activities’ at the ITIC.

“The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis finds Iran is one of the toughest points in its modern history. The withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear agreement (the JCPOA) and reimposition of economic sanctions exacerbated the economic troubles the country is facing, pushing Iran’s economy to an unprecedented crisis. The sharp drop in the oil prices risks further exacerbating Iran’s economic crisis. The closure of Iran’s borders to neighboring countries due to the pandemic is also exacting a high economic cost on Iran, whose implications will likely persist even after the health crisis passes.”

3) At the Times of Israel Haviv Rettig Gur looks at the latest developments in Israeli politics.

“…Blue and White fell apart on Thursday afternoon before Gantz had anything more than a few vague promises from Netanyahu. Negotiations over the details of the new government are still underway.

And Gantz has sealed off any foreseeable future bid to challenge Netanyahu at the ballot box. The political vehicle he dismantled was made up of his Israel Resilience party and, crucially, of the tight-knit organization and massive ground operation of Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

He surrendered his only decisive leverage over Netanyahu going forward: Netanyahu’s abject fear of the laws Blue and White had planned to advance that would forbid an indicted MK like Netanyahu from becoming prime minister.

And he broke his defining campaign promise: to remove Netanyahu from power.”

4) The BESA Center carries a profile of Raed Salah by Dr Shaul Bartal.

“Sheikh Raed Salah was recently sentenced to 28 months in prison for encouraging and supporting terror attacks by his followers, including the attack at the Temple Mount on July 14, 2017, that killed police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan. Though Salah has been behind bars for security offenses on multiple occasions, legal verdicts have never prevented him or his illegal Northern Branch from continuing to incite Israeli Arabs against the country in which they live.”

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Gallia Lindenstrauss, Daniel Rakov and Remi Daniel analyse ‘The Ceasefire in Idlib: Turkey’s Tactical Successes alongside Political Weakness’.

“The accords reached in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 5, 2020 regarding a ceasefire in the Idlib province are almost certainly temporary, and friction between the two countries over the region’s future is likely to resurface in the not too distant future. However, Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian terms (including Erdogan’s visit to Moscow, while Putin ignored a previous invitation from Turkey) demonstrates its weak position. Moreover, although the Turkish government presented the return to the Sochi agreement of 2018 as its political and military goal, the accords reached in Moscow actually nullify them: the ceasefire in Idlib is another step toward the province’s return to the Assad regime. “

2) Noam Blum discusses ‘How Iran Became a Global Vector of Infection for COVID-19’ at Tablet Magazine.

“Iran currently has the third-worst outbreak of COVID-19 following China and Italy, with as of Friday 514 official deaths since the first reported case on Feb. 19. Speculation that the situation there is far, far worse than official accounts indicate has been bolstered by the relatively large number of Iranian upper echelons—regime officials, clerics, and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—who have contracted the disease, some of them fatally.

Additionally, several countries have discovered cases of COVID-19 that originated with travelers from Iran in the early days of March. One of the first cases in New Zealand came from a family who had recently traveled to the Islamic Republic. At least three of the first 12 cases in Canada came via Iran, as did all 33 initial cases in Iraq. In the United States, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in New York City was a health-care worker who had returned from Iran, and Los Angeles also identified a coronavirus patient from Iran who passed through LAX. India evacuated hundreds of Indian Muslim pilgrims from affected areas in Iran, many of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.”

3) At the FDD Jacob Nagel and Andrea Stricker ask ‘As Coronavirus Hinders the IAEA, Who Will Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program?’.

“While the Iranian regime continues to call for sanctions relief in response to the coronavirus crisis, the regime appears rather content with the pandemic’s debilitating impact on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Inspectors remain stuck in Vienna or quarantined in their hotels in Iran to avoid exposure to the virus, which continues to spread quickly throughout Iran. […]

Experts are now considering wider implementation of the remote monitoring technology installed at the Natanz enrichment plant and other Iranian facilities pursuant to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”

4) Yoni Ben Menachem of the JCPA looks at Hamas’ response to the Coronavirus crisis.

“Hamas called on the 2,667 residents of the Gaza Strip who have recently returned to Gaza through the Rafah Crossing to maintain home isolation. […]

One of the issues that will require a decision by the various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip is the “Land Day” event that took place annually on March 31.

According to the original plan, March 31 was supposed to be the date when the “March of Return” against Israel would resume at the border of the Gaza Strip.

However, officials in the Gaza Strip believe that with the spread of the coronavirus and the possibility of it reaching Gaza, the resumption of demonstrations on the Gaza border is likely to be postponed to another date.”

A UN human rights story the BBC reported and the one it ignored

On March 11th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘Middle East’ page about a statement issued that day via the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Headlined “UN experts demand Iran ceases harassing BBC Persian staff”, the article opens:

“UN human rights experts have demanded Iran cease harassing and intimidating journalists working for BBC Persian and other Persian-language news outlets.

The journalists have endured death threats, criminal investigations, the freezing of assets and defamation.

Some relatives have been held in degrading conditions and ordered to tell family members to leave the BBC.

The harassment reportedly intensified when the journalists covered the mass anti-government protests in November.”

While that story was obviously newsworthy, so was another related one concerning a communication put out by the same UN office the following day. As reported by the Times of Israel:

“The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday praised Tehran in a periodic review of Iran’s rights record.

The 47-nation council adopted the report after a debate which featured lengthy praise for the Islamic Republic, according to UN Watch, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization. […]

“In the UNHRC report and at the debate, countries including North Korea, Syria, Russia and China applauded Iran’s rights record.

Tehran refused to allow the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran, Javaid Rehman, to tour the country to investigate its human rights conditions.

Iran’s ambassador to the council, Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, said Iran was “scapegoated for human rights violations,” and that the US was “viciously” targeting the Iranian health care system amid its severe coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy chief of Iran’s High Council on Human Rights, Majid Tafreshi, said that all citizens in Iran are “equally protected by the law,” and said that journalists and NGOs have freedom of expression.”

UN Watch reported that among those praising Iran at that session was the Palestinian representative who stated that “We commend Iran’s commitment to promote and protect human rights.”

The executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, said:

“Cynical politics have hijacked this council, giving a free pass to a regime that subjugates women, tortures human rights dissidents, executes gays and spreads hatred, war and terror across the region, including aiding and abetting mass atrocities in Syria.”

No reporting on that story is to be found on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page or under its ‘United Nations’ or ‘Iran tags.

As we all too frequently have cause to document on these pages, the BBC regularly but uncritically quotes and promotes Israel related reports and resolutions produced by the UN Human Rights Councilmost recently concerning its blacklist of companies operating in Judea & Samaria.

However when the bias and redundancy of that UN body is on display, the BBC is nowhere to be found.

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Raz Zimmt analyses ‘The Crisis of Public Confidence in the Iranian Regime.

“In mid-February 2020, a few weeks after the Ukrainian airliner was shot down, public confidence in the Iranian regime suffered another serious blow following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which within a few days spread from the city of Qom, a Shiite pilgrimage site, to most parts of the country. The regime’s handling of the outbreak of the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of Iranians, again exposed a series of failures and attempted cover-ups that further embittered the public and aroused piercing public criticism. For instance, the airline Mahan Air, which is owned by the Revolutionary Guards, continued to fly to and from China even after the outbreak of the disease, and even after the Iranian authorities declared in early February a halt to flights between the countries.”

2) Haviv Rettig Gur profiles ‘the ruthless economist directing Israel’s drastic virus fight’ at the Times of Israel.

““Barsi” led an aggressive effort to slow the virus’s penetration into Israel — not because he thought he could stop it, but because slowing its spread would prevent overtaxing Israel’s hospitals and health infrastructures. The thinking was sound, health experts said. Israel only has so many respirators and lung specialists, making the death toll from the virus a function not of the number of people who fall ill, but of the rate at which they do so.

If the number of ill at any given time could be kept at levels that Israel’s health infrastructure could accommodate, far more would survive infection. Slowing the spread could mean the difference between a few hundred dead by the end of the crisis and many thousands or even more who succumb because hospitals could not treat them properly and ventilators were in short supply.”

3) Writing at The Hill, Eitan Dangot discusses the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s efforts to disrupt calm in the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, the PIJ has been building an arsenal of ballistic rockets, whose quantity and variety have become as threatening as that of Hamas. Since its founding in the late 1980s, the PIJ has been ideologically committed to destroying the State of Israel and establishing an Islamist state in its place. Unencumbered by any obligation to deal with civilian needs, the PIJ deals exclusively with the recruitment of operatives and solicitation of funds. […]

In terms of ideology, we know the PIJ originates from the same breeding ground as Hamas and shares a similar foundational identity. More ominously, though, the PIJ has identified with the path of the Iranian Islamic Revolution since 1979 and created strong reciprocal relations with Tehran. The Iranians extend financial credit lines to the PIJ, funding that it uses to build up and activate its forces. It also enjoys ties with Hezbollah, which acts as an influencing factor in the PIJ’s force build-up and training. The PIJ’s has headquarters in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, which strengthens the radical ties between this Sunni organization and the Shi’ite axis.”

4) At the JCPA Yoni Ben Menachem reports on the trial of Hamas activists in Saudi Arabia.

“In Saudi Arabia, the trial of 68 Hamas members has begun.  They were arrested in April 2019 in Saudi Arabia; most of the members were Palestinians from the Palestinian territories who immigrated to Saudi Arabia, and some of them were Jordanian civilians. […]

The public trial of Hamas members in Saudi Arabia is enraging Hamas activists in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and among Hamas supporters throughout the Arab world.

During the first court hearing, the charges against them were enumerated, and the Hamas activists arrested in Saudi Arabia were accused of belonging to a “terrorist entity” and “supporting and financing a terrorist organization.” […]

Saudi Arabia transmitted intelligence that dozens of Hamas activists were engaged in collecting and laundering money for the Hamas military arm and terrorist activity against Israel. The money raised was then transferred to Turkey and from there to the Gaza Strip.”

BBC News misleads on “limits” on Iranian nuclear programme

On March 3rd a report appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “IAEA ‘asks Iran to explain possible nuclear activities at three sites’”. The article opens:

“A global watchdog has reportedly criticised Iran for not answering questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations.

A leaked International Atomic Energy Agency document sent to member states said requests for access to two of the unidentified sites had been denied.”

The IAEA is of course not merely “a global watchdog”: it is autonomous organisation within the United Nations system and it is charged with verifying Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA.

The report goes on:

“It is not clear what IAEA inspectors suspect might have happened at them.

But it is thought the activities took place in the early 2000s.

That is long before Iran struck a landmark deal with world powers that placed limits on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.”

That framing whitewashes the fact that Iran ratified the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, that the IAEA found Iran to be non-compliant in 2005, that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2006, passed a related resolution in 2007, another in 2008 and another in 2010. In other words, the BBC’s suggestion that “limits” on the Iranian nuclear programme only came into effect after the JCPOA was agreed is inaccurate and misleading.

Later in the report readers find the inevitable BBC amplification of the claim that “Iran insists its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes” and a misleading map which has appeared in previous BBC reports. Only in the article’s final sentences are they told that:

“Despite Iran’s denials, evidence collected by the IAEA suggests that until 2003 the country conducted “a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”. Some of those activities allegedly continued until 2009.”

Readers are told that:

“The confidential IAEA report seen by journalists in Vienna on Tuesday said Iran had failed to co-operate with investigations into three sites of interest.

“Iran has not provided access to the agency to two locations… and not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify agency questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities,” Reuters news agency quoted it as saying.”

And:

“Diplomats said the three sites did not include one where the IAEA said last year that inspectors had detected uranium particles of man-made origin.

The inspectors are believed [sic] to have taken samples from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district – the area where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has alleged Iran had a “secret atomic warehouse”. Iranian officials have insisted the site was merely a carpet-cleaning factory.”

However the BBC did not inform readers that Reuters also reported that:

“…the IAEA at first resisted public pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit a site he cited in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse” mentioned in a trove of data seized by Israeli intelligence agents. Tehran has said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

But the IAEA inspected the site in February of last year, diplomats say, and gathered environmental samples that showed traces of uranium that Iran has yet to fully explain.

Now the agency is seeking access to one or more sites mentioned in that trove, which Israel refers to as the “atomic archive” of information on Iran’s former nuclear weapons program.”

Towards the end of the BBC’s report readers are informed that:

“The leaked IAEA report said Iran had responded to the questions about the three sites by saying it would “not recognise any allegation on past activities”.”

The report did not clarify that, contrary to Iranian claims, the IAEA has the authority to carry out inspections it deems necessary.

When, in 2018, Israel made public the data obtained concerning Iran’s nuclear programme, the BBC reported that information as being “nothing new”. Apparently the IAEA now believes that it is necessary to investigate sites named in that data but the BBC has not clarified that point to its audiences.

Related Articles:

BBC News continues to parrot Iran’s nuclear messaging

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Carmit Valensi, Neta Nave and Ofek Mushkat discuss ‘The Fight for Idlib’.

“Idlib province in northwest Syria remains the last significant stronghold of the rebellion against the Assad regime. The campaign that was revived recently in this area is marked by traits of the civil war now entering its tenth year: cruel and indiscriminate regime fighting backed by Russia and Iranian-run Shiite militias; a humanitarian crisis, manifested inter alia in displacement and potential refugees; a Russian effort, so far fruitless, to mediate between the sides; a danger of the situation deteriorating – militarily and diplomatically – given the multiple actors in the field. However, the campaign in the Idlib area reflects two significant changes in the balance of power between the sides: first, unusual military confrontations between Turkey and Assad regime forces, which so far have led to the downing of two Syrian military helicopters and fatalities on both sides. The second is linked to Iran’s decision to send its proxies into the fight after previously abstaining from involvement in this war theater. These developments are shaking up the already fragile balance of power among the various involved actors.”

2) Also at the INSS, Dr Raz Zimmt analyses ‘Parliamentary Elections in Iran: The Predicted Conservative Victory’.

“Official though not yet final results of the parliamentary elections held in Iran on February 21, 2020 show a landslide victory by the conservative right (200 out of 290 seats, versus under 20 seats won by reformist candidates). This victory was expected in view of the sweeping disqualification by the authorities of most of the reformist candidates. The low voter turnout (slightly over 40 percent) reflects the ongoing erosion of public trust in the political system. Over time this erosion could undermine the legitimacy of the regime, which to a large extent depends on its ability to maintain at least the appearance of popular representation in state institutions. The return of absolute control of the Majlis to the conservatives could create even more difficulties for President Hassan Rouhani in his last year of office, and is a possible preliminary sign regarding the next presidential elections, expected to be held in the summer of 2021.”

3) The Henry Jackson Society has published a report by Dr Simon Waldman titled ‘UNRWA’s Future Reconsidered’.

“UNRWA, the UN aid body established to support Palestinians, has been dogged by repeated allegations of mismanagement which led to the USA withdrawing all funding in 2018.  Following further allegations of misconduct in 2019; Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands froze funding to the body.  In contrast, the UK increased its annual contribution by over $25 million between 2017 and 2018.

Despite the UK’s continued support for UNRWA, allegations that educational materials provided by the body include extremism have dogged the organisation.  UNRWA blames the disturbing material within its schools on the local authorities whose educational ministries determine curricula within their respective jurisdictions. While UNRWA claims to routinely review its materials, the report argues that the problem is longstanding and measures to end the problem have been subsequently reversed.”

4) The ITIC reports on the Hizballah linked Lebanese organisation ‘Green Without Borders’.

“Green Without Borders is a Lebanese environmental organization dealing mostly with forestation. It operates in areas populated mainly by Hezbollah-controlled Shi’ites in south Lebanon and the Beqa’a Valley. An examination conducted by the ITIC revealed that the organization collaborates with Hezbollah’s civilian institutions, especially the Jihad al-Bina (the “construction foundation”) and the Hezbollah Association for Municipal Activity. Green Without Borders participates in Hezbollah’s campaign to glorify its shaheeds and turn them into role models for Lebanese youth. To that end Green Without Borders plants trees, some of them near the Israeli border, named for Hezbollah shaheeds, in collaboration with Hezbollah institutions and operatives. Green Without Borders’ chairman, Hajj Zuhair Nahle, a Shi’ite from Nabatieh in south Lebanon, is affiliated with Hezbollah. In his Facebook profile he refers to his loyalty to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei.”

Related Articles:

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

BBC continues to ignore Hizballah violations in south Lebanon

BBC News uncritically amplifies Iranian regime claim on voter turnout

On February 21st the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report which is currently headlined “Iran elections: Hardliners set to sweep parliamentary polls”.

Readers of the latest version of that report are told that:

“Observers say authorities were hoping for a high voter turnout as a sign of support for the regime.

Voting was extended three times on Friday because of a “rush of voters”, state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying. The polls have now closed.”

Similar statements amplifying the Iranian regime’s claims of a “rush of voters” appeared in two earlier versions of the report.

Not only is there no evidence of the BBC having independently verified that claim before amplifying it, but reports from other sources suggest that turnout was in fact low, particularly in Tehran.

Radio Farda reported that:

“Officials in charge of holding Iran’s parliamentary elections have been making contradictory remarks about the the turnout which appears to be very low in at least several provinces.

For weeks Iranian officials have been saying that high voter turnout in the elections will prove the ineffectiveness of U.S. policies toward Iran so a higher turnout appears to be highly important to the regime.

Authorities sound concerned about the participation rate in today’s elections. Mahmoud Alavi, Intelligence Minister, expressed hope that by the end of the polls the number of participants in the election would reach “an acceptable level”. […]

Fars News Agency has claimed that on the basis of figures compiled by 6:00 pm the turnout is estimated to be 39 to 40 percent of the eligible voters at the national level and 30 percent for Tehran.”

AP reported that:

“By comparison, the 2016 parliamentary election saw 62% turnout. On Friday, election officials kept the polls open an extra five hours in an effort to boost turnout. Iran’s leadership and state media had urged people to show up and vote, with some framing it as a religious duty.”

An article at the Jerusalem Post states:

“Iran kept its voting booths open late on election day Friday. Officials claimed it was so more people could vote, claiming there were long lines. But videos showed few people voting. It appears that turnout was low and the government kept the polls open late to beg people to come. ISNA media in Iran noted that turnout looked to be only 20% or 12 million of the 60 million who could have voted. If that number ends up as the official tally, it will have been a disaster for the regime.”

Iran expert Dr Raz Zimmt noted that according to unofficial figures, voter turnout appears to have been a little over 40% – the lowest since the 1979 Islamic revolution – and that in Tehran voter participation appears to stand at less than 30%.

In other words, there appears to be no justification for the BBC’s unquestioning amplification of the Iranian regime’s claims.

All versions of the report tell readers that:

“More than 7,000 candidates were vying for 290 seats in the parliament, known as the Majlis. It is part of Iran’s mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance, under which the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in the most important matters.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC squares that claim of “democratic…governance” with its own next paragraph is unclear.

“More than 16,000 contenders – including 90 mostly reformist members of the current Majlis – were disqualified from standing by the Guardian Council, a vetting committee loyal to Mr Khamenei.”

The BBC does not bother to explain to readers why the Guardian Council is “loyal to Mr Khamenei”.

The Atlantic Council explains:

“These are the most uncompetitive elections in years because the Guardian Council—a vetting body of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists appointed indirectly by him—has disqualified dozens of reformist candidates, including at least eighty sitting members of parliament. With the exception of the first post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in 1980, the Islamic Republic’s parliament has only ever allowed a narrow range of politicians to run for office. But this time the Guardian Council has gone much further, effectively expelling the reformist faction of the regime from the political realm.

On paper, running for parliament is open to all Iranians who are between the ages of 30 and 75 years old, hold at least a Masters degree or the equivalent, have finished their mandatory military service (for men), and have shown their commitment to Islam (with the exception of those running for the five seats reserved for religious minorities).”

That is not a “mixed system of democratic and theocratic governance” by any stretch of the imagination and indeed the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index rates Iran as an authoritarian regime ranked 151 out of 167 countries.

As usual (see ‘related articles’ below) this report promotes the notion of ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’ and uncritically amplifies Iranian regime propaganda concerning its nuclear programme.

“Foreign powers suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes.”

Once again the BBC’s coverage Iranian affairs falls embarrassingly short.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 5 live presenter tells listeners Iran is a ‘democracy’

BBC framing of Iran’s president once again shown to be redundant

Why does the BBC continue to describe Rouhani as a ‘moderate’?

BBC News coverage of Iranian election touts ‘moderate’ Rouhani yet again

BBC News again uncritically amplifies Iranian regime disinformation

Weekend long read

1) The Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahren explains ‘Why the Palestinian case at The Hague took a big hit this past week’.

“The notion that “Palestine” is a full-fledged state that can grant jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court was dealt a serious blow over the past week, as seven countries and many scholars of international law argued that the issue was not as simple as the Palestinians and their supporters would like to make it seem.

Even some countries that have formally recognized the “State of Palestine” along the pre-1967 lines argued that Palestine cannot necessarily be considered to have validly granted the ICC jurisdiction to probe war crimes allegedly committed on its territory.

Germany, Australia, Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Uganda last week submitted written documents to The Hague, each asking to become an amicus curiae — a “friend of the court” that is not a party to the case but wants to offer its views. They all posited that Palestine cannot transfer criminal jurisdiction over its territory to The Hague.”

2) At the BESA Center Dr. Raphael G. Bouchnik-Chen discusses ‘The Triangle Area in the “Deal of the Century”’.

“As soon as the armistice agreement with Egypt was signed on January 12, 1949, arrangements were made to start negotiations between Israel and Transjordan. The process was to be simple: each country was to send a delegation to Rhodes, where the negotiations were to take place under the guidance of Ralph Bunche. On March 1, while the Foreign Ministry and the IDF were in the process of negotiation, Lieut. Col. Moshe Dayan and Reuven Shiloah, one of FM Moshe Sharett’s most experienced and closest advisers, were sent to Rhodes.

A few days after the start of negotiations with Transjordan, Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion received a personal message from King Abdullah saying he wished to negotiate the terms of the armistice with Israel in secret and in person. He hinted that he could not fully trust his delegation at Rhodes to negotiate as he wanted them to.”

3) Also at the BESA Center, Dr Edy Cohen provides ‘A Short History of Palestinian Rejectionism’.

“Taking into account all the peace initiatives proposed to end the conflict between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs over the last 83 years, we must consider the possibility that the Palestinians—or at least their leaders—do not want to establish their own state.

Their sight is currently set on the big prize—the entire state of Israel—and they are playing for time. In the meantime, they plan to continue to subsist on monies donated by the Arabs and the Europeans. Many of the Arab states have grown disenchanted with this enterprise, and their assistance, particularly from the Saudis, has been discontinued in recent years.”

4) At the ITIC Dr Raz Zimmt gives his analysis of possible consequences of the killing of Qasem Soleimani.

“The killing of the Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qasem Soleimani, in early 2020, dealt a serious blow to Iran’s ability to promote its strategic goals in the Middle East. The determination, operational capacities, military and political skills and proximity to the Supreme Leader of Iran made Soleimani into a “puppet master” and a central actor overseeing Iran’s expansionism and subversion in the region. It is doubtful that his replacement, Esmail Qa’ani, will be able to fill his shoes.

However, Soleimani’s death raises the question not only whether Iran can find a proper replacement for him, but whether such a replacement is needed at the current stage. Undoubtedly, over the past decade, Soleimani was “the right man at the right time,” against the backdrop of regional upheavals that swept the Middle East in 2011. Soleimani wisely exploited the weakness of the regional system and used his skills to expand Iranian influence and promote Iran’s goals in the region. But the blow to ISIS and the nearing end of the Syrian civil war, necessitate Iran to re-examine its policies, particularly in light of the external and internal challenges it has been facing in recent years.”

 

Weekend long read

1) David May and Varsha Koduvayur discuss ‘Trump’s peace plan and the Gulf Arab States’ reaction’ at the Hill.

“Many Arab countries initially welcomed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited plan in late January. Ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were present at the launch event. Those that weren’t — including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco — nevertheless expressed support for the administration’s efforts and praised some of the plan’s positive elements. It appeared that Israel and the Arab states were ready to move from discreet affairs to international affairs.

However, any hope of a full-fledged embrace of the plan by Gulf leaders was dashed when, just days later, the Arab League issued a sound and unanimous rejection of the entire plan, underscoring how Israeli ties to the Persian Gulf continue their delicate dance of two steps forward, one step back. Denouncing the plan as a “so-called ‘deal,’” the Arab League dubbed it a “setback” to the peace efforts undertaken in the past 30 years. The Palestinians initiated this public meeting of the Arab League, knowing they could shame the Arab states into denying their intrigue with Israel.”

2) At the INSS Orna Mizrahi analyses the situation in Lebanon.

“Despite the January 21, 2020 formation of a government of technocrats in Lebanon, presumably in response to demonstrators’ demands, protests have persisted throughout the country. In addition, there is marked popular dissatisfaction with the composition of the government and a lack of confidence in its ability to advance reforms necessary to alleviate the country’s dire situation. Nor is it clear that how long this government can survive. Since the October 17, 2019 launch of the protest, demonstrators have demanded the formation of a government composed of professionals who are not members of the corrupt, ruling political elite, in the hope they might properly address Lebanon’s deep-set problems. However, the demands met with only a partial response; although most of the 20 members of the government – including Prime Minister Hassan Diab – are academics without formal political affiliation, they are perceived as a “Hezbollah government,” because the list was effectively decided, behind the scenes, by Hezbollah and the parties in the March 8 camp. The Sunni party of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, along with other parties from the rival March 14 alliance, did not support the new Prime Minister and opted not to join the government. Thus while only two ministers are officially Hezbollah members, the rest represent the organization’s partners. As such, the new government in fact reflects Hezbollah’s strengthened influence over the political system in Lebanon and challenges Western countries, chief among them the United States, and the Gulf States with a dilemma regarding their economic aid to Lebanon, which is crucial for the struggling state.”

3) At the JISS Jonathan Spyer asks ‘Do Syria-Turkey clashes presage a wider confrontation in the Middle East?’.

“This week saw the first direct clashes between Turkish government and Syrian regime forces since the commencement of the Syrian civil war in mid-2011. According to a statement issued by the Turkish defense ministry, seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian were killed on Monday, February 3, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, when their position was shelled by advancing regime forces.

Turkish forces responded to the fire, claiming to have killed 76 regime soldiers. The Assad regime itself denies that its forces suffered any fatalities. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is opposition-associated but regarded by many news outlets as generally reliable, reported that at least 13 regime soldiers were killed by Turkish fire. […]

So does this event presage a wider confrontation between Assad and Erdogan? And what are the implications for Russian attempts to maintain a diplomatic process intended to finally bring the war in Syria to a close? Will the Turkish-Russian rapprochement which has formed a notable presence in regional diplomacy over the last year suffer serious damage as a result of ‘the week’s events?”

4) The ITIC reports on ‘Iranian support for Palestinian terrorism’.

“In late January 2020, the Al-Ansar Charity Association, affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), distributed Iranian financial support to families of shaheeds killed from the beginning of the Second Intifada (2000) until Operation Protective Edge (2014). The funds were delivered to the association by the Iranian Martyrs Foundation, which is used by the Iranians as a channel for funneling funds intended for social institutions supporting the terrorist organizations. The amount distributed in the Gaza Strip among the families of shaheeds was not specified. However, in the ITIC’s assessment, similarly to 2018, the total amount was close to $2 million, paid to about 4,800 families (each family received the sum of $300-600).”

BBC News again recycles Syrian regime propaganda

On February 6th the BBC News website published a report titled “Syria war: Israel ‘hits Iran-backed fighters near Damascus’” (and bizarrely tagged “Syrian civil war”) on its Middle East page.

At the beginning of the report the two sources upon which it is based are noted:

“Israeli warplanes have fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, Syrian state media report.

The Sana news agency said air defences intercepted most of the missiles, but that eight people were wounded.

A monitoring group said Syrian army positions and those of Iran-backed militias were hit, killing 23 people.”

Only in the article’s ninth paragraph is it clarified that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group is based in the UK.

As has often been the case in the past, readers found unqualified promotion of propaganda from Syrian regime media – including a link – such as the standard claim that “air defences intercepted most of the missiles”.

“Sana cited a Syrian military source as saying that Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon and the occupied Golan Heights launched two waves of missiles at southern Syria early on Thursday.

The first wave targeted military positions in the suburbs of Damascus, while the second targeted those in Deraa, Quneitra and Damascus Countryside provinces, according to the source.

“[The] vigilance of our air defence personnel contributed to destroying large numbers of the hostile missiles and the aggression caused the injury of eight fighters, in addition to a material damage,” the source added.”

The BBC’s report even provided (not for the first time) amplification for the Syrian regime’s conspiracy theories:

“The Syrian military accused Israel of launching an “aggressive escalation” in an attempt to “save the armed terrorist organisations which have been collapsing in Idlib and western Aleppo in front of the strikes of the Syrian Arab Army”.”

At no point in the report were readers provided with any warning concerning the lack of reliability of reports put out by the Syrian regime and its mouthpieces and their history of lying about events in Syria.

Readers of the BBC’s report were told that:

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said strikes on Iran-backed militia positions in Kiswa, Muqaylabiya, Jisr al-Baghdad and Izra killed 15 fighters, including five Syrians and at least three Iranians.

And eight Syrian soldiers were killed by missiles that hit air defence batteries near Damascus, it added.”

The SOHR’s report also includes the claim that some of those killed were Iranian-backed militia fighters.

Curiously, the BBC’s 2017 report concerning Iran’s establishment of a military base in Kiswa (also al Kiswah) was not included in the related reading appended to this report but readers were directed to an article about cats. Although readers learned nothing about Iranian military assets in Syria – including the IRGC base near Izra in southern Syria which according to reports includes a base for surface-to-air missiles – they were told that:

“Israel did not comment, but it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years to stop Iranian “military entrenchment”.”

So while the BBC saw fit to qualify the topic of Iranian military entrenchment in Syria by means of punctuation, it did not bother to provide any objective background information concerning that issue.

Once again we see that BBC newsgathering for this report consisted mainly of repeating claims from Syrian state media linked to the regime’s Ministry of Information and from the Syrian regime itself without any evidence of independent confirmation by the BBC.

Given the record of those sources, one would expect a serious media outlet (especially one which promotes itself as an authority on ‘fake news’) to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements and conspiracy theories to its funding public in supposedly factual news reports.

Related Articles:

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BBC newsgathering again relies on Syrian state outlets