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

Predictably, the BBC News website’s extensive coverage of the May 19th presidential election in Iran included copious portrayal of the winning candidate Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate” and a “reformer”.

Iran presidential election: Five things to know“, Siavash Ardalan, 28/4/17

“…Iranian national politics is basically a power struggle between conservatives and reformists/moderates. […] Don’t forget that it was President Rouhani, a moderate, who was instrumental in helping strike an historic nuclear deal with world powers by convincing the supreme leader – considered closely associated with the conservative establishment – to reluctantly give his blessing.”

“The office of president and the executive branch can be reformist/moderate and has been for the past four years with Mr Rouhani at its helm.”

Iran election: Could women decide the next president?, Rana Rahimpour, 5/5/17

“Early on in the campaign the incumbent, President Hassan Rouhani, posted a photo of himself on social media which caused a flurry of comment.

He was out on a weekend walk in the mountains standing next to two young female hikers, both of whose hijab is far from what would be considered proper by the hardliners.

It was a clear message to young, modern female voters, that he was the candidate who was not overly bothered about the country’s restrictive dress code and other curbs on social freedom.

Mr Rouhani’s campaign video makes a point of praising Iranian women’s achievements in the worlds of both work and sport, and offering his support.

He is also the only candidate so far to have held a rally specifically for female voters.”

Iran election: Hardliner Qalibaf withdraws candidacy“, 15/5/17

“Mr Qalibaf called on his supporters to back conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi against the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who is seeking a second term.”

Iran election: Jahangiri withdraws and endorses Rouhani“, 16/5/17

“A reformist candidate in Iran’s presidential election has pulled out to smooth the path for the moderate incumbent, Hassan Rouhani.”

Iran election: Votes are counted amid high turnout“, 20/5/17

“Mr Rouhani is a moderate cleric who negotiated a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani wins second term as president“, 20/5/17

“Mr Rouhani, a moderate who agreed a deal with world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, pledged to “remain true” to his promises.”

“…supporters of President Rouhani who back his promises to steer the country toward moderation came out in big numbers too. […] This was a revenge of the people against the hardliners who intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs, and discriminated against women.

President Rouhani will now have a bigger mandate to push through his reforms, to put an end to extremism, to build bridges with the outside world, to put the economy back on track.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani gets big mandate but will he deliver?“, Kasra Naji, 20/5/17

“Friday’s vote in Iran was the revenge of the moderates. A rejection of those who had intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs.

In his campaign, President Rouhani promised to put an end to extremism, to open up the political atmosphere, to extend individual and political rights, to free political prisoners, to remove discrimination against women and bring under control all those state institutions that are not accountable. […]

He firmly placed himself in the camp of the reformists. Now, with his re-election, Iran is on the path towards change, with a renewed confidence drawn from the emphatic result.”

Iran election: Hassan Rouhani says voters rejected extremism“, 20/5/17

“Moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said his re-election shows voters reject extremism and want more links with the outside world.”

“…supporters of President Rouhani who back his promises to steer the country toward moderation came out in big numbers too. […] This was a revenge of the people against the hardliners who intimidated them, jailed them, executed them, drove them to exile, pushed them out of their jobs, and discriminated against women.

President Rouhani will now have a bigger mandate to push through his reforms, to put an end to extremism, to build bridges with the outside world, to put the economy back on track.”

Iran elections: Pro-Rouhani reformists in Tehran power sweep“, 21/5/17

“Iran’s re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani has received a further boost after reformists won key council elections in the capital, Tehran.”

BBC audiences are of course no strangers to that good cop/bad cop portrayal of Iranian politics. Ever since Rouhani was first elected in 2013, the corporation has been portraying him as a “moderate” and a “reformist”, while ignoring the fact that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, published a report in 2015 that found – among other things – that the number of executions in Iran has risen under Rouhani’s presidency. Last year Amnesty International reported similar findings.

Back in March the WSJ noted that Rouhani’s first term as president “hasn’t been moderate”:

“Witness the latest repression targeting the mullahs’ usual suspects. Tehran’s Prosecutor-General on Sunday announced it had sentenced a couple to death because they had founded a new “cult.” The announcement was short on details, but the charges could mean anything from running a New Age yoga studio to a political-discussion club.

The authorities have also detained Ehsan Mazandarani, a reporter with the reformist newspaper Etemad (“Trust”), according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. […]

Mr. Mazandarani’s detention followed last week’s arrest of dissident reporter Hengameh Shahidi, who also faces “national-security” charges. Ms. Shahidi has been an adviser to Mehdi Karroubi, one of two pro-democracy candidates in 2009’s fraudulent election. Mr. Karroubi and opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi have been under house arrest since 2011. Having hinted at freeing them during his campaign, Mr. Rouhani has kept mum on their cases since coming to office in 2013. […]

Historic Christian communities such as Assyrians and Armenians are afforded second-class protection under Iranian law, while apostasy by Muslims is punishable by death. Despite some early rhetoric about tolerance, Mr. Rouhani has been unwilling or unable to improve conditions for religious minorities.

There is also the status of some half a dozen U.S. and U.K. dual citizens who have been taken hostage by the regime while visiting Iran. These include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, both U.S. citizens, and Nazenin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen who is serving a five-year sentence on secret charges.”

At the Telegraph, Christopher Booker writes of:

“…the ghastly farce of the Iranian presidential election, when again we were told that the victor, Hassan Rouhani, was a “moderate” against a “hardliner”. As I have reported many times, Rouhani is an utterly ruthless operator, who had presided since 2013 over a collapsing economy and what Amnesty International called “a staggering execution spree”, murdering and imprisoning so many dissidents that Iran has per capita the highest execution rate in the world.”

At Bloomberg, Eli Lake notes that:

“During his campaign, he [Rouhani] told voters that he would be a “lawyer” defending their rights. He criticized his main rival, Ebrahim Raisi, for his role in ordering the executions of political dissidents. He promised gender equality and a freer press.

All of that sounds pretty good. And for those in the west looking for an Iranian version of Mikhail Gorbachev, it makes a nice talking point. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe Rouhani will deliver, or even try to deliver, on any of these promises.

There are a few reasons for this. To start, Rouhani delivered the same line back in 2013 when he first won the presidency. We now know that human rights in Iran have further eroded during his tenure. A lot of this has been documented by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. The organization noted in October that Rouhani supported a law that would essentially place all Iranian media under government control. The center also documented a wave of arrests of journalists in November 2015, following Iran’s agreement to the nuclear bargain with the U.S and five other world powers. In the run-up to Friday’s vote, 29 members of the European Parliament wrote an open letter urging Iran to end its arrests, intimidation and harassment of journalists in the election season.”

And yet, the BBC continues to spoon-feed its audiences with simplistic framing of Rouhani as a benevolent “moderate” and “reformer”. One would of course expect that a media organisation obliged to provide its funding public with accurate and impartial information with the aim of enhancing their “understanding of international issues” could do considerably better.

Related Articles:

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

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

BBC does Iranian ‘moderates and reformists’ framing yet again

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Trump trip report flunks on Iran

As was noted here in an earlier post, the lead story in the May 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ concerned the US president’s visit to Israel.

In addition to repeated promotion of the ‘apartheid’ calumny, in the first of two items relating to that story listeners had heard BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman telling them that the Israeli government ‘says’ that Iran arms Hizballah.

Razia Iqbal: “You mentioned Iran and there was some criticism of Iran when the president was in Saudi Arabia and he has underlined that criticism again today in Israel hasn’t he?”

Tom Bateman: That’s right and, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be the last of it and of course it’s a message that resonates with Israel because Israel’s government is extremely concerned about Iran. They believe that…ah…because of its action, that they say it’s arming Hizballah just north of Israel here in Syria [sic], that that brings an even greater threat – in fact its greatest threat in the form of Hizballah just over its border in Lebanon.” [emphasis added]

As was noted in our previous post:

“One would of course expect a BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem – new or not – to be capable of informing BBC audiences that Iranian financial and military support for Hizballah (in violation of UNSC resolution 1701) is not just something that the Israeli government ‘says’ but a fact about which Hizballah has been open and at least one Iranian official has admitted.”

Later on in the same programme’s second item on that story (from 45:05 here) presenter Razia Iqbal returned to the topic of Iran in a conversation with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

Listeners learned nothing from that conversation about the Iranian regime’s policy of supporting and enabling terror groups in the region and the real reasons why some Middle East countries have long viewed the Iranian regime as a threat to regional stability were not conveyed to BBC audiences. What they did hear, however, is a portrayal of the subject that would doubtless have gone down very well in Tehran. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Razia Iqbal: “Let’s return to our top story now; the second leg of President Trump’s visit to the Middle East. Today he is in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We’re joined now from Jerusalem by Newshour’s Lyse Doucet. Ah…Lyse: you were in Saudi Arabia following President Trump there and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke directly about the fact that the president flew from Riyad to Tel Aviv and though there were no diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. I wonder if there is a sense here that the Gulf states are making common cause with Israel in the context of their mutual fear of Iran?”

Doucet: “Yes, it’s very interesting isn’t it? This little diplomatic milestone: President Trump flying for the first time on this first direct flight. In fact Prime Minister Netanyahu said he looks forward to the day when an Israeli prime minister can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyad. And I think it’s a story that doesn’t get enough attention; that there have been behind the scene, very discreet meetings between Israelis and Saudis. Very senior Saudis have come to Israel before because they do want to make common cause.”

Of course one of the media outlets not giving “enough attention” to that story is the BBC itself. Doucet continued:

“You’ve mentioned one of the biggest reasons to do so and that is their shared animosity towards Iran. That was one of the main issues in the centrepiece speech that President Trump delivered to a gathering of some 40 Arab and…leaders from the Arab and Islamic world. Not just the fight against extremism but a fight against Iran and he’s brought that message here. He spoke of…he said I’ve come from the Arab world with the common understanding that is shared by you that Iran is the main threat. So things are definitely shifting.”

Of course “things” actually ‘shifted’ quite some time ago – as Gulf state reactions to the 2015 P5+1 deal with Iran concerning its nuclear programme indicated – but neither Iqbal nor Doucet (who has written about that topic in the past) bothered to remind listeners of that.

Iqbal: “It’s interesting to hear you say they’re shifting because of course Iran on the ground in Iraq and in…in…certainly in Iraq is doing quite a lot to fight against the Islamic State group. So one wonders about these tectonic shifts, if you like, and how they’ll manifest itself [sic] given that President Trump is really keen to make inroads with eliminating Islamic State.”

Doucet: “Yes, and welcome, President Trump, to the Middle East. At some point we may hear him say – as he said about the Affordable Care Act in the United States; Obamacare, – I didn’t realise that it was so complicated. As you know, take Syria that you just mentioned [sic] – he wants to push back Iran; that is the Saudis’ main goal. But interestingly, President Trump did not mention Russia in his speech in Riyad. And arguably Russia and Iran are working together, first to bolster President Assad but also to fight against so-called Islamic State and at the same time to push back some of the forces which have been trained and financed by the United States.

And what the Iranians would say is that they are in Syria because they’ve been asked to be there. They’re in Iraq because they’ve been asked to be there and they see no reason why they should leave. I think there’s growing concern about what will come next at a time when Iranians have shown that in the re-election of Hassan Rouhani, they want an engagement with the wider world. The message from Riyad – and it will be the message as well from Jerusalem – is that their enemies want to isolate them in the world.”

Iqbal: “Just, Lyse, very briefly; his next trip is to the Palestinian territories?”

Doucet: “Yes. The Palestinians have been surprised. They thought that President Trump would be only focusing on Israeli interests and Israeli views but his ear has been bent by King Abdallah of Jordan, by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and this is why we’re not going to see the announcement of a move of the American embassy to Jerusalem. He is trying to be a friend of Israel and a friend of the Palestinians.”

Doucet offers no factual evidence for that extraordinary claim.

For years BBC journalists – and not least Lyse Doucet and Razia Iqbal in person – have been playing down the Iranian regime’s regional aggression and patronage of terrorism and the corporation has also repeatedly propagated the myth of ‘moderates’ within the Iranian regime.

If BBC audiences are to understand why Israel may have common interests relating to Iran with some of its neighbours in the Middle East, then clearly they need to be provided with a factually accurate and comprehensive portrayal of the Iranian regime’s policies, positions and activities rather than whitewashed, vacuous and unhelpful commentary of the type broadcast to millions worldwide in this item.  

Related Articles:

No wonder BBC WS presenter Razia Iqbal got Iranian threat to Israel wrong

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

BBC’s summary of Khamenei speech censors pledge to support terror

BBC WS Newshour promotes ‘apartheid’ smear in Trump visit coverage

 

BBC WS Newshour promotes ‘apartheid’ smear in Trump visit coverage

The lead story in the May 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was the visit of the US president to Israel which, at the time of broadcast, had commenced just a few hours earlier.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 01:07 here) as follows: [all emphasis in italics in the original, all emphasis in bold added]

“We begin though with President Trump’s continuing visit in the Middle East. He’s now in Israel having flown direct from Saudi Arabia; in itself a first as there are no diplomatic relations between those two countries. And he arrives having cast himself as the world’s greatest deal-maker, nodding towards what would be the world’s biggest deal: peace between the Israeli and the Palestinians…Israelis and Palestinians. More than two decades of failed peace talks show how difficult a deal between the two sides has been and despite Mr Trump’s deal-making claims, there is deeply held scepticism over what progress can be made. We’ll be assessing what scope there is for movement in what’s been a stand-off for some time.

Speaking shortly after arriving in Tel Aviv, President Trump said he had found new reasons for hope during his recent travels. [recording of Trump speaking]. And the prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. [recording of Netanyahu speaking]”.

Iqbal then introduced the person that ‘Newshour’ bizarrely deemed appropriate to provide the opening comment on this lead story – BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti.

Iqbal: “Well in contrast to the public rhetoric, underlining the mammoth task ahead of anyone attempting to tackle the possibility of peace in the Middle East [sic], a Palestinian official, Mustafa Barghouti, speaking to the BBC reminded President Trump that achieving peace would not be an easy process and would require significant concessions from Israel.”

Barghouti: “There is a military occupation of the Palestinian territories since 50 years and without ending the occupation there will be no peace. We want him to remember that this occupation has become a system of apartheid much worse than what prevailed in South Africa at one point in time. And we want him to remember that there is a need for the Palestinian freedom; a need for Palestinians to have their own independent and sovereign state. Without a Palestinian state there will be no peace.”

There is nothing to indicate that Barghouti was speaking live with Iqbal. Rather, this apparently pre-recorded statement with its promotion of the politically motivated ‘apartheid’ calumny  – which the BBC knows full well to be a falsehood used as a propaganda device to delegitimise Israel – was selected by the programme’s editors for inclusion in the item. Not only did Iqbal fail to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s smear is baseless, she subsequently repeated it, as we shall see later on.

Iqbal continued:

“Palestinian official Mustafa Barghouti. Let’s speak now to our correspondent Tom Bateman who joins us live from Jerusalem. So, ah, Tom – the…eh…arrival of President Trump and his wife – there was quite a lot of warmth and friendliness at the airport. How’s the visit gone so far?”

After Bateman had described the security arrangements in the Old City of Jerusalem as the US president visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall he went on:

Bateman: “And these are really the symbols of this visit. What we have yet to have is the substance and that is on two really key issues, I think. Firstly, following on from his visit to Saudi, as you heard there from the president himself, he wants to create a regional coalition which will include Israel. And this is really his attempt to reset US foreign policy after that of President Obama about whom he was so critical because he believes, as he said, that he thinks there is a common threat here to the Gulf states, to the majority Sunni countries and to Israel and that is in the form of Iran.”

Following Bateman’s outlining of his second ‘key issue’ – “peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians” – Iqbal picked up on his previous reference to Iran.

Iqbal: “You mentioned Iran and there was some criticism of Iran when the president was in Saudi Arabia and he has underlined that criticism again today in Israel hasn’t he?”

Bateman: “That’s right and, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be the last of it and of course it’s a message that resonates with Israel because Israel’s government is extremely concerned about Iran. They believe that…ah…because of its action, that they say it’s arming Hizballah just north of Israel here in Syria [sic], that that brings an even greater threat – in fact its greatest threat in the form of Hizballah just over its border in Lebanon.”

One would of course expect a BBC correspondent based in Jerusalem – new or not – to be capable of informing BBC audiences that Iranian financial and military support for Hizballah (in violation of UNSC resolution 1701) is not just something that the Israeli government ‘says’ but a fact about which Hizballah has been open and at least one Iranian official has admitted.

The Iranian angle to this story reappeared again in a later item in the same programme which will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Following her conversation with Bateman, Razia Iqbal introduced her next guest – former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. During that conversation Iqbal recycled Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ calumny (10:52):

Iqbal: “I mean there are huge, huge challenges on both sides and there has been of course a stalemate and no real peace process for…for many years now. What do you think he [Trump] will make of the line he is almost certainly going to get from the Palestinians which we heard a sense of from Mustafa Barghouti: that there is this military occupation, that it’s really become a system of apartheid and it’s much worse than what prevailed in South Africa. How do think that will be…that will go down with President Trump?”

Shapiro: “I don’t think he will accept that narrative as a complete and accurate narrative of the situation. […] I don’t think he will accept that narrative – nor do I think he should.”

Iqbal: “Well if you don’t think he should accept that narrative, what’s your assessment then of both President Trump and his son-in-law and special envoy Jared Kushner and their attempts to really try and bring about something that has been so elusive?”

The editorial decision to promote Barghouti’s patently false and baseless ‘apartheid’ calumny in this item is further underscored by Iqbal’s repetition of the smear. This is not a case of a presenter inadequately responding to an inaccurate statement made by a guest during a live interview. This is the BBC World Service intentionally providing amplification for a falsehood used as part of a political campaign to delegitimise Israel and it clearly does not meet the BBC’s supposed standards of ‘impartial’ journalism.

Related Articles:

Nasrallah speech necessitates update of BBC’s Hizballah profile

An Iranian story the BBC chose not to translate

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

Weekend long read

1) At the Middle East Quarterly, Efraim Karsh discusses “An Inevitable Conflict“.

“It has long been conventional wisdom to view the June 1967 war as an accidental conflagration that neither Arabs nor Israelis desired, yet none were able to prevent. Had Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser not fallen for a false Soviet warning of Israeli troop concentrations along the Syrian border and deployed his forces in the Sinai Peninsula, the standard narrative runs, the slippery slope to war would have been averted altogether; had Israel not misconstrued the Egyptian grandstanding for a mortal threat to its national security, if not its very survival, it would have foregone the preemptive strike that started the war. In short, it was a largely accidental and unnecessary war born of mutual miscalculations and misunderstandings.

This view could not be further from the truth. If wars are much like road accidents, as the British historian A.J.P. Taylor famously quipped, having a general cause and particular causes at the same time, then the June 1967 war was anything but accidental. Its specific timing resulted of course from the convergence of a number of particular causes at a particular juncture. But its general cause—the total Arab rejection of Jewish statehood, starkly demonstrated by the concerted attempt to destroy the state of Israel at birth and the unwavering determination to rectify this “unfinished business”—made another all-out Arab-Israeli war a foregone conclusion.”

2) At the Tablet, Israel’s State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick reveals previously unpublished transcripts from the Six Day War.

“The Six-Day War was run by a committee. A highly classified committee, whose transcripts have never been seen for 50 years. Until now: here they are.

Israel has no commander-in-chief. The military is subordinate to the cabinet, where each minister, prime minister included, has one vote. Often the cabinet sets up a smaller committee called the security cabinet (SC), to which it delegates supervising and commanding the military. Facing exceptional decisions, the prime minister may declare that the entire cabinet is the SC. This ensures secrecy, because leaking information from the SC has serious penalties. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol often reminded his colleagues that the very fact that they had met was itself a state secret.

The security cabinet of 1967 appears in these never-published transcripts as a group of serious, professional, and responsible decision-makers. While the ministers brought their worldviews to the table, they often didn’t vote on party lines, often did listen to one another, and generally managed to make decisions, albeit slowly and through compromises. These characteristics were not helpful in the maelstrom of the Six-Day War, when the cabinet receded in the face of its two most enigmatic members: Levi Eshkol, who can be read either as a weak figure or a master manipulator; and Moshe Dayan, who comes across as an arrogant but talented prima donna.”

A link to the Israel State Archives website section on the Six Day War is available in the ‘Library’ section on the menu bar above.

3) At the Algemeiner, Ben Cohen interviews Iran analysts on the topic of the presidential election in that country.

‘“The election in Iran is a tightly controlled and stage-managed process that has been designed to produce the favorable result to the regime,” said Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian political analyst.

Saeed Ghasseminejad — an Iran Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) — observed that Rouhani was starting his re-election bid from a weak position, having achieved little over his four-year term other than the nuclear deal with six world powers in July 2015, which many ordinary Iranians complain has not yielded any meaningful economic benefits.

“However, Raisi is an even weaker candidate,” Ghasseminejad said. “He does not speak well, he is known for his ruthlessness (as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor) in the 1980s, he is inexperienced. The middle-class Iranians are really afraid of him, which pushes them to reluctantly vote for Rouhani.”’

4) David Andrew Weinberg and David Daoud discuss the Saudi Arabian approach to Israel at the Forward.

“Breathless observers have recently declared that Saudi Arabia and Israel are becoming cozy allies due to their shared concerns about Iran. Analysts have claimed that Riyadh’s “government and the establishment media – and their spin-offs and allies – are pursuing a deliberate strategy” of conveying praiseworthy tolerance toward Israel and Jews. Rudy Giuliani, a figure close to President Donald Trump, even went so far as to argue that Riyadh has done an about face on Israel and that this should guide U.S. policy toward the kingdom.

These observers are fundamentally wrong.” 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Ahead of the upcoming presidential election in Iran, Potkin Azarmehr provides a useful guide to the electoral system in that country.

“Iran’s next presidential elections are scheduled to be held on 19th May. Iranians are given a choice of six candidates to choose from for the next president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The question I am often asked these days is ‘who will be the next president of Iran? Will Rouhani have a second term or will it be one of the other five candidates?’

Islamic Republic of Iran is a unique system of governance with no precedence in history prior to 1979. It is the first time the Shia clerics experience running the government and there is currently no other similar form of governing a country anywhere else in the world.

It is therefore important to understand how this unique system of governance works and not to assume this is a presidential elections similar to what takes place elsewhere.”

2) Jonathan Spyer reports on his extraordinary visit to Syria.

“I should explain first of all how I came to be in Damascus.   I have been writing about Syria now for over a decade.  I have visited the country numerous times since the outbreak of its civil war in mid-2011.  My visits, though, were always to the areas controlled by the Sunni Arab rebels or the Kurdish separatist forces.  This was a notable gap in my coverage.  I wanted to remedy it.

The Assad regime makes it hard for journalists to acquire visas.  The authorities are keen consumers of media, and keep track of the names of reporters who have spent time among their enemies.  The number of journalists who have managed to report from both the government and rebel sides is very small.  I  had tried on a number of occasions to acquire a visa, but made little progress.

Finally, a colleague suggested the idea of joining a delegation of foreign supporters of the regime.  With the war going its way since late 2015, the Syrian government has begun to cautiously open up to visitors. But like other authoritarian regimes, it prefers to welcome these in groups, and under careful supervision.

I made contact with the organizers of one of these delegations. The process was surprisingly straightforward.”

3) At the Tablet, Tony Badran takes a look at the current state of Lebanese politics.

“A high-level delegation of Lebanese politicians and bankers reportedly will visit Washington later this month to try and convince Congress to soften impending sanctions legislation designed to squeeze the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah. Already, there have been visitors from Lebanon in recent weeks for this purpose, and there’s been speculation in Lebanese media that prime minister Saad Hariri, who has expressed his hope to “change” the legislation, might himself come to town to make the case for going easy on Lebanon.

Generally speaking, the function of Hariri and what is known as “the Lebanese government” in the power configuration in Lebanon is confined to this sort of activity, which could be summarized as running interference for and mopping up after Hezbollah, the real authority in the country. It is principally for this reason, among others, that Hariri’s erstwhile patrons in Saudi Arabia effectively have washed their hands of Lebanon, and pulled a grant they had pledged to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Why waste money on an Iranian satrapy?

Hariri is stuck. In order to return as prime minister, he had to sign on to Hezbollah’s terms. This has meant endorsing Hezbollah’s ally, Michel Aoun, for president, in order to form a new government. And the new government was stacked with Hezbollah allies in key ministries.”

4) Writing at Ynet, Ben Dror Yemini gives his view of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike and its initiator.

“We want peace. We fight for peace. But in the meantime we must remember that we are in a state of war. Not one war, but two wars. One is taking place on the battlefield. Hamas drags us there every few years. This war is being waged on a lower key, both through the knifing and stone-throwing terror attacks and through different other measures targeting Israel nonstop.

The second war is a war on the collective consciousness. A war of demonization. A war that seeks to present Israel as a monster. This war has had quite a lot of achievements.

The jailed terrorists, from Fatah and Hamas, have become full partners in both wars. Some of them try to launch and plan terror attacks from prison. Others try to present themselves as martyrs fighting for “an end to the occupation” or for “liberation.” Every other prisoner tries to present himself as a freedom fighter, and every other prisoner is actually Nelson Mandela. It’s true that they murdered civilians and babies and women and elderly people. And it’s true that when they say “an end to the occupation,” they are referring to Tel Aviv as well. And it’s true that their liberation is sort of like the Islamic State is liberating Iraq and Hamas is liberating Gaza. But in the war on the collective consciousness, they are winning.” 

Weekend long read

1) It is not rare for BBC audiences to be told that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the central issue behind jihadist violence in the Middle East and beyond. At the JCPA, Dr Dore Gold examines that claim.

“There is one area in which many European diplomats connect the terror against Israel and the activities of the jihadist movements like ISIS. For decades it has been broadly assumed that if Israel would only solve the Palestinian problem, then one of the grievances driving the jihadi movements would be removed and the West would be more secure. This thesis has been proven to be false time and time again.

Looking back at the 1990s, the first major breakthrough between Israel and the Palestinians was reached with the signing of the 1993 Declaration of Principles, also known as the Oslo Accords. In the years that followed, a series of implementation agreements were signed like the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, the 1995 Interim Agreement, the 1997 Hebron Agreement, and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum.

But looking in the same parallel period, there was no correlation between Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy and the reduction of the hostility from the jihadist threat. For in those very years, al-Qaeda’s threats on the West seemed to only worsen: in 1993, the first World Trade Center attack took place; in 1995 was the first al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia; followed in 1998 with the attacks against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; in 2000, the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen; and finally in 2001, the United States was struck in the 9/11 attacks.”

2) At the INSS, Dr Raz Zimmt provides a view of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ post JCPOA involvement in the country’s economy.

“The Revolutionary Guards’ expanded involvement in infrastructure and development projects throughout Iran is highly evident. However, the lifting of the economic sanctions following the implementation of the JCPOA provides an opportunity to reduce Revolutionary Guards involvement in the economy by means of encouraging foreign companies to invest in Iran once again. Indeed, the corps is well aware of the challenges it faces following the nuclear agreement that endanger the organization’s economic interests. However, it feels the need to control the state economy not only to finance its own activities in Iran and beyond, but also to solidify its political status, and hence the group’s increased efforts to entrench its involvement in development and infrastructure projects.”

3) In late February and early March we noted that the BBC had not covered two stories relating to the suspensions of UNRWA employees following allegations of their election to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip. The ITIC has now produced a report concerning Hamas opposition to proposed changes to the curriculum in UNRWA-run elementary schools.

“Hamas recently attacked UNRWA for its intention to introduce changes in the curriculum of the lower grades of elementary schools in the Gaza Strip operated by the agency. Hamas claimed the proposed changes served Israel and were intended to have a negative effect on the national identity of young Palestinians. In several refugee camps, “popular” protests were held against UNRWA. One was also held near UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip during events marking Land Day (March 30, 2017).

During the protest near UNRWA headquarters calls were heard to reinstate Dr. Suhail al-Hindi, suspended by UNRWA after he was elected to Hamas’ new political bureau in the Gaza Strip. Sabri Sidam, Palestinian minister of education, and the Palestinian ministry of education in Ramallah stated their objection to any change UNRWA might make in its curriculum.”

4) Writing at the New York Times, Benjamin Pogrund explains why the ‘apartheid’ smear so frequently amplified in BBC content is invalid.

“The idea that Israel is an apartheid state is a staple of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has made the South African comparison practically the lingua franca of anti-Israel activism. It’s a grave charge: If the accusation is valid, Israel deserves the censure, boycotts and isolation that the B.D.S. movement demands. But announcing it loudly and ceaselessly, as the movement does, doesn’t make it true.

Here’s why the apartheid comparison does not stack up.

Apartheid in South Africa maintained privilege for the white minority and doomed people of color to subservience; it determined every aspect of life — the school you attended, the work you did, where you lived, which hospital and ambulance you used, whom you could marry, right down to which park bench you could sit on without facing arrest.

I know this because I lived it.”

BBC reports development in Hizballah story, fails to update original report

Earlier this month we revisited a BBC story from May 2016 in which audiences were initially told that Israel had killed a Hizballah commander.

“…the final version of the article – which is still available on the BBC News website – points BBC audiences towards the assumption that Israel may have been responsible for the killing.”

In that post we noted that an investigation conducted by the Al Arabiya network (unreported by the BBC at the time) suggested that Mustafa Badreddine’s assassination was in fact carried out by Hizballah and its Iranian backers and hence:

“…we would of course now expect to see the BBC revisiting this story, reviewing its steering of audiences towards the default conclusion that Israel was likely to have been involved and checking the accuracy of this particular example of “historical record”.” 

On March 21st the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel: Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine ‘killed by own men’” which opens as follows:

“The Israeli military’s chief of staff has added weight to Arab media reports that Hezbollah was behind the killing of its own commander in Syria in 2016.

Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot said Israeli intelligence had similarly concluded that Mustafa Amine Badreddine was assassinated by his own men.”

Later on readers were told that:

“Earlier this month, the pan-Arab news network al-Arabiya said its investigation into Badreddine’s death had concluded that the commander was killed on the orders of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The report said Hassan Nasrallah was put under pressure to remove Badreddine by Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite overseas operations arm and a key adviser to the Syrian military.”

And:

Tweet to 14.3 million followers promoting the BBC’s original article on May 13, 2016

“On Tuesday, Gen Eisenkot said the Arab media reports that Hezbollah had killed Badreddine matched the “intelligence we have”.”

The BBC’s original article – including the repeated suggestion that Israel may have killed Badreddine – is of course still available online. In light of the developments in the story, best practice would of course necessitate its amendment to include the information in this latest BBC report.

To date, such an update has not been added.

Related Articles:

BBC News amplifies unreliable source on Hizballah commander’s death

Revisiting a BBC ‘Israel did it’ story from May 2016

Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Dan Efrony – former Military Advocate General of the IDF – writes about “The law of armed conflict: legality vs. legitimacy“.

“Since the 1980s, all of Israel’s armed conflicts have been fought against non-state actors, prominent among them, the terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.

These non-state enemies systematically and deliberately violate international humanitarian law, and specifically its basic principles which reflect customary international law that binds any state or non-state actor engaged in an armed conflict.

At the same time, they view the commitment of democracies like Israel to the rule of law as a weakness, which they can exploit to boost their gains in each front of the conflict, and within each level of activity, both tactical and strategic.”

2) Writing at ‘Fathom’, former MK Einat Wilf discusses what’s holding up a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“For most Israelis, the repeated Palestinian failures to say ‘yes’ to clear and distinct opportunities to end the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to build a peaceful state for themselves in territories evacuated by Israel, reinforced the view that more than the Arab Palestinians wanted a state for themselves, they wanted to deny a state to the Jewish people. Seventy years after the British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on the eve of partition that ‘for the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state’, while ‘for the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of the land’, it seems the Arab Palestinians still see no reason to compromise with a project they view as ‘unjust’ and temporary. After all, if the crusader state lasted 88 years (including Jerusalem), then in 2017 – when Israel will mark 69 years – all the Arab Palestinians have to do is wait a mere 19 more years until the second crusader state will disappear.”

3) BICOM has produced a backgrounder to the Six Day War which can be accessed here.

4) At ‘The Long War Journal’ Amir Toumaj profiles the group behind the recently formed ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’.

“The Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba this week announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade.” While it is not uncommon for entities to name themselves after areas they aim to “liberate,” the militia’s spokesman has said that the unit could assist the Syrian regime in taking the Golan Heights, a region in the Levant that has been controlled by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

If true, the unit would likely participate in a future offensive to capture territory from Syrian opposition in the part of the Golan Heights still controlled by Syria, before moving on to the much taller order of dislodging the Israelis across the border. This week’s announcement reflects Tehran’s priorities in southern Syria since finally taking the fiercely contested city of Aleppo late last year: crush Syrian opposition, and pose military threat to Israel from the Golan Heights.” 

Revisiting a BBC ‘Israel did it’ story from May 2016

As was documented here back in May 2016:

As was noted here at the time, although that information did not in fact come from Hizballah, subsequent versions of the BBC’s report inaccurately told readers that the terror group had “rolled back” the claim.

Nevertheless, the final version of the article – which is still available on the BBC News website – points BBC audiences towards the assumption that Israel may have been responsible for the killing.

“An initial report by Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV said that Badreddine, 55, died in an Israeli air strike. But a later statement by Hezbollah on al-Manar’s website did not mention Israel.

Israeli media reported that the government refused to comment on whether it was involved in Badreddine’s death.

Israel has been accused by Hezbollah of killing a number of its fighters in Syria since the conflict began.”

And – under the sub-heading “Key questions”:

“Who could have killed Mustafa Badreddine?

Any of the armed groups seeking to overthrow Mr Assad might have sought to kill the man co-ordinating Hezbollah military activities. However, suspicion is likely to fall on Israel, which fought a war against Hezbollah in 2006.

Israel has been accused of killing several of the group’s leaders over the years, although it has never officially confirmed its involvement.

Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh was killed in a car bombing in Damascus in 2008 that US intelligence officials said last year was a joint operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

In January 2015, a suspected Israeli air strike in the Syrian Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters, including Mughniyeh’s son Jihad, and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general.

And in December, Hezbollah said one of its senior figures, Samir Qantar, was killed when missiles fired by Israeli jets struck a block of flats in Damascus.

Israel has also reportedly conducted air strikes aimed at preventing advanced weapons shipments from Iran from reaching Hezbollah via Syria.”

On March 8th 2017 the Israeli news website Walla reported that an investigation by Al Arabia suggests a different answer to the question “who could have killed Mustafa Badreddine?” than the one promoted by the BBC.  

“According to an investigation by the ‘Al Arabia’ network, the General Secretary of the organisation [Hizballah – Nasrallah], together with the commander of the Iranian Quds Force [Soleimani], planned the assassination of the organisation’s senior figure [Badreddine], who died in a ‘mysterious explosion’ at Damascus airport. Hizballah blamed the Syrian opposition – which in turn blamed Hizballah.”

Whether or not that allegation is true is unclear but Al Arabia’s report is certainly no less reliable that the one from Al Mayadeen claiming that Badreddine had been killed by an Israeli airstrike which the BBC elected to amplify without independently confirming the claim.

As we know, the BBC relates to its online content as “historical record”:

“Our online news is far more accessible today than the newspaper archives of libraries. But in principle there is no difference between them: both are historical records. Fundamentally it is in the public interest to retain them intact.”

Given that, we would of course now expect to see the BBC revisiting this story, reviewing its steering of audiences towards the default conclusion that Israel was likely to have been involved and checking the accuracy of this particular example of “historical record”. 

 

‘What’s he doing here?’ – BBC 5 live breakfast on Israeli PM’s London visit

h/t RS

The February 6th edition of the BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast programme included an item (from 02:18:32 here) in which presenter Rachel Burden discussed the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London with Jeremy Bowen.5-live-breakfast-6-2

That conversation was particularly interesting for its lack of focus on issues of interest to the British audiences who hear the show as well as for its politicised messaging and distortions. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Burden: “Theresa May will meet the Israeli prime minister Bendamin…Benjamin Netanyahu in Downing Street later. It’ll be the first time the two leaders have met in person since she took office. Let’s speak to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Morning.”

Bowen: “Morning.”

Burden: “What’s he doing here?”

Bowen: “Well he’s […] he is doing a round of visits in advance of his big meeting next week with President Trump in Washington and he – Mr Netanyahu – is going to focus very much on Iran. They did a ballistic missile test lately in the last week or so and he’s…as he got on the plane he said they tried to test the boundaries with extraordinary aggression, gall and defiance. So Iran is his big thing. I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories and of course post Brexit, I think Mrs May’s going to be concerned about trying to do a few good trade deals with the Israelis.”

Having laid out those three topics, Bowen then chose to completely ignore throughout the rest of the item both the Iranian issue and the potential trade deals which would probably have interested UK domestic audiences, instead focusing on his own “big thing”.

Despite having inaccurately suggested to listeners that Netanyahu had ‘authorised settlements’ in numbers large enough to cause concern to the UK government, we later (unsurprisingly) discover that Bowen knows full well that such a portrayal is in fact inaccurate. We can also assume that he knows full well that all Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are located in Area C, the final status of which – under the terms of the Oslo Accords – is to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians and hence his portrayal of the region as “Palestinian territories” is premature. 

Listeners next heard Burden promote the equally inaccurate – and downright bizarre – notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is “the Middle East conflict”: a theme that was repeated throughout the item.

Burden: “Do we know what her [Theresa May] position is on the Middle East conflict?”

Bowen: “Well, she’s flip-flopped a bit quite frankly. To start with, when President Trump was about to be inaugurated, she did say some things which seemed to be really cow-towing to what she believed his beliefs to be, which was…there was a fairly controversial – from the Israeli point of view – resolution in the UN Security Council which Britain didn’t just vote for; it helped to plan, which was essentially condemning the…ah…expansion of settlements and Britain after that – Mrs May – criticised that resolution and criticised the US Secretary of State for supporting it when Britain itself had voted in support of the motion – the resolution – in the Security Council. In fact the Obama administration at the time said, rather cuttingly, that what Kerry had said – the US Secretary of State at the time – was entirely in line with long-held British policy which Britain – Downing Street – then went on to condemn.”

Contrary to the impression fostered by Bowen, Mrs May’s remarks did not relate to UNSC resolution 2334 but to the speech made by John Kerry the following week.

“[Downing Street] said her criticism was directed at Mr Kerry’s decision to attack the make-up of the Israeli government.

“We do not… believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

The spokesman added: “The British Government continues to believe that the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution. We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal.”

Bowen continued:

“Now since then they have…Britain has said that it’s against the further expansion of settlements. However, I think that Mr Netanyahu will be well aware that Prime Minister May is quite concerned to stay in Donald Trump’s good books.”

Burden: Well what about Mr Trump? Has he shown any indication he wants to get involved in all this?”

Bowen: “Ah he’s…well his Middle East envoy is going to be his son-in-law, so keep it in the family. Ahm…and he has…well, the feeling was to start with that he might have given Mr Netanyahu essentially a blank cheque to go and do what he wanted whereas in terms of settlement building in the Palestinian territories, and which is something that President Obama very much did not. And so since the inauguration, Mr Netanyahu has authorised the…ah…six thousand new dwellings in the settlements plus the first all-new settlement in about thirty years. So that’s something that even the Trump administration said well, hang on a second, you know, don’t get too carried away here.”

Bowen is apparently referring to the statement put out by the White House press secretary on February 2nd which of course made no mention of getting “carried away” and which it is very clear that Bowen is interpreting according to his own world view. He continues:

“But they’ve certainly been very soft on the Israelis when it comes to that and I think that the right-wing in Israel – of which Mr Netanyahu is just one representative – is very excited about the possibilities that they will have under President Trump. They feel that they can really start changing things permanently in their favour.”

Burden: “Yeah. It’s interesting as well with Theresa May – now I guess under pressure with the prospect of Brexit looming, to demonstrate herself as a global leader – how much of an opportunity she’ll see this to take some kind of position while at the same time that balancing act of her relationship with Donald Trump. Is this a kind of lose-lose situation for the British prime minister in a way?”

Bowen: “You know it is a balancing act and I think that Britain has always taken, you know…has said ‘after you’ to the Americans when it comes to Middle East peacemaking, even though – as a permanent member of the Security Council – we do have a certain degree of influence. Ahm…I think that Mrs May is so tied up with issues of Brexit that I don’t see her trying to do her own solo Middle East peace bid. But, you know, the key…the difficulty of trying to make Middle Eastern peace is that you have to be tough on both sides and Western governments – particularly the Americans, the British – find it very easy to be tough on the Palestinians and they find it very difficult to be tough on the Israelis.”

And with that downright amazing unsubstantiated claim, the conversation ends – with listeners to Radio 5 live Breakfast none the wiser about either the Iranian issue or the nature of any potential trade deals between Britain and Israel.