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.”

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

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) At the INSS Gilead Sher compares the US Administration’s recently released ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal to previous initiatives.

“With its announcement of the “deal of the century,” the Trump administration has officially endorsed the two-state solution. The President thus continues the policy of all his predecessors in the White House over the last five decades, based principally on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), albeit with considerable deviations and disregard of longstanding internal balances. Regarding several core issues, the plan presents different models from those of previous plans, nearly all of them in Israel’s favor. This article […] offers a brief comparison with the main points of previous plans, with reference to the proposed solutions of each of the core issues in the conflict.”

2) Tony Badran gives his view of the US Administration’s proposal at the Tablet.

“President Donald Trump has finally unveiled his 180-page vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which came as a sweet balm to Washington think-tankers and Middle East opinion writers, who had been slumbering like Rip Van Winkle, waiting for a chance to rise and display their dilapidated peace-processing expertise. As if no time had passed between 1995, or 1999, or 2004, or 2007, and the present, they got right busy determining whether the president’s vision was indeed realistic and viable, and whether it measured up to the accumulated history of American peace processing, and whether it was “fair” or “just” to the Palestinians, and whether it might just “bring both sides back to the table,” and on, and on, and on.”

3) The ITIC analyses ‘initial Palestinian reactions’ to the US proposals.

“On January 28, 2020, Donald Trump, in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, revealed his plan to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called “Peace to Prosperity” (i.e., the “deal of the century”). The plan met with strong opposition and (as expected) led to a wave of Palestinian condemnations. The Palestinian Authority (PA) began making preparations for a diplomatic and media campaign to place obstacles in the path of the plan and to undermine its legitimacy. In the meantime the PA encourages demonstrations, protests and friction with IDF soldiers. So far there has been no broad Palestinian public response in Judea and Samaria to participate in the protests.”

4) The Friends of Israel Initiative has published its assessment of the Iranian nuclear archives.

“Thanks to an awe-inspiring covert operation successfully carried out by the Israeli intelligence service, a significant part of the Iranian nuclear files, hidden by Iran, was taken and revealed to the world over a year ago. The archives exposed not only important violations by Iran of its commitments to the non-proliferation regime, but a systematic plan of deception as to the goals, achievements and the ways to keep UN inspectors blind on any relevant aspect of their military nuclear program.”

BBC News again uncritically amplifies Iranian regime disinformation

On January 23rd the BBC News website published a report about the World Holocaust Forum event held that day at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The report – which was originally headlined “World leaders gather in Israel for Holocaust forum” – was updated and amended throughout the day and its final version (which will remain online as “permanent public record”) was retitled “Holocaust forum: Netanyahu urges world to unite to confront Iran”.

The report opened by telling BBC audiences that:

“Israel’s prime minister has vowed that “there will not be another Holocaust” in a speech at a forum in Jerusalem marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

Benjamin Netanyahu also called on the international community to “join the vital effort of confronting Iran”.

“We have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet,” he said.”

Later on readers were informed that in his speech the Israeli prime minister:

“…warned that, today, Iran “openly seeks to develop nuclear weapons and annihilate the one and only Jewish state”.

“Israel salutes [US President Donald] Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence for confronting the tyrants of Tehran, who subjugate their own people, who threaten the peace and security of the entire world,” he added.

“I call on all governments to join efforts in confronting Iran. Israel will do whatever it must do to defend its people and the Jewish future.””

BBC journalists then found it necessary to add the following:

“Iran has repeatedly called for the eradication of the State of Israel, but says that it is not anti-Semitic. It has also denied that it wants nuclear weapons.”

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism includes “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as one possible manifestation of antisemitism. The BBC however did not bother to clarify to audiences that calling for “the eradication of the State of Israel” is hence antisemitic, despite the Iranian regime’s claim to the contrary.

BBC audiences are frequently exposed to the corporation’s unquestioning amplification of the Iranian regime’s denials of pursuit of nuclear weapons. The BBC continues to uncritically promote that mantra despite evidence to the contrary which includes a December 2015 report produced by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

Notably, the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ box ticking excluded any mention of the relevant subject of the Iranian regime’s longstanding record of Holocaust denial – a topic described by the corporation in 2013 as ‘taking issue’ with the Holocaust.  

The all too common BBC practice of uncritically promoting the disinformation of authoritarian regimes (such as Iran, Russia and Syria) without providing audiences with the background information necessary to put that propaganda into its correct perspective obviously obstructs the fulfilment of the BBC’s first public purpose of helping its funding public to understand and engage with the world around them”.

Related Articles:

Are BBC audiences positioned to ‘judge’ Iranian denials of antisemitism?

BBC’s Marcus promotes ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial

BBC continues to portray a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime

BBC News website recycles misleading map

On January 14th a report headlined “Iran nuclear deal: European powers trigger dispute mechanism” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

The article includes a map which was previously seen in a BBC report published last November. As noted here at the time, that illustration informs readers that “changes agreed” under the JCPOA included Fordo being “converted from fuel enrichment to technology centre”.

Iran did not comply with that requirement (as documented in this report) but nevertheless the BBC continues to promote a map which tells audiences of “changes agreed” but does not provide any information concerning the reality of Iranian compliance with those agreements.

A report published by the Institute for Science and International Security in November states:

“Iran has rendered defunct the JCPOA’s provision that the Fordow plant be converted to a nuclear, physics, and technology research center. Instead, as we warned in our previous analysis, Iran retained its enrichment plant at Fordow four years into the JCPOA’s implementation. [Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) spokesman, Behrouz] Kamalvandi recently emphasized that reality, stating on November 9, “In fact, we can say that we have abandoned a number of clauses of the JCPOA, including the 44th, which stipulates that Fordow should be transformed into an international nuclear and physical center.””

One must therefore ask why the BBC continues to use a map which does not reflect the situation on the ground and hence misleads audiences.

Related Articles:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

BBC News still promoting faux impartiality in Iran reporting

On December 5th a report headlined “Iran developing nuclear-capable missiles, European powers warn UN” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

“Three European powers have warned the UN that Iran is developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in violation of a Security Council resolution.

A letter sent by the UK, France and Germany says Iran tested a Shahab-3 missile variant “equipped with a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle” that could deliver a nuclear weapon.

Such activity is “inconsistent” with a resolution endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it argues.”

It would of course have been helpful to readers had it been pointed out at that stage in the report that the UK, France and Germany – also known as the E3 – were part of the P5+1 which negotiated the JCPOA with Iran. However that information was only revealed three paragraphs from the end:

“The five other parties to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – have tried to keep it alive.”

Readers were told that:

“Iran has breached a number of commitments under the deal in recent months in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to abandon the deal and reinstate economic sanctions.

Mr Trump wants to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran has refused to negotiate unless the US first lifts its sanctions.”

They were not however informed that the context to the US president’s decision was the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – passed in 2015 – which required the US administration to certify to Congress every ninety days that Iran was fully implementing the JCPOA.

The BBC report also stated:

“In a separate development, US officials said a US Navy warship deployed in the Gulf of Oman had seized advanced missile parts believed to be headed from Iran to Yemen. The parts were on board a small boat stopped last week, they said.”

Readers were not informed that smuggling weapons into Yemen is a violation of other U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The most predictable aspect of this BBC report, however, is its amplification of Iranian spin.

“Iran has denied the allegation.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the letter was a “desperate falsehood” put out by the European powers “to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum” of their obligations under the nuclear deal.”

And:

“Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and denied that its ballistic missile programme violates the resolution.”

The BBC News website has of course repeatedly amplified such messaging in the past – for example:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

More superficial BBC reporting on Iranian nuclear programme PMDs

BBC News promotes Iranian missile ‘deterrent’ propaganda

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

It also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues and that just last month the IAEA reported the finding of multiple particles of natural uranium of “anthropogenic origin” at an unnamed site in Iran.

Nevertheless, the BBC News website continues to amplify Iran’s denials without qualification (presumably in the name of ‘impartiality’) in every report it produces in connection to the Iranian nuclear programme. That editorial policy has clearly not been revised in light of reports by the IAEA or this letter from the E3 and so the promotion of Iran’s talking points continues, even though it contributes nothing to audience understanding of the issue.

 

 

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include the following in the section concerning ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’:

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

Hizballah was designated in its entirety by the UK earlier this year and so we must presume that an interview with the terrorist organisation’s deputy leader by Jeremy Bowen that was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 6th (as well as a longer filmed version which was promoted by BBC News) was approved in advance by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.

The question that therefore arises is of what journalistic value was that specially approved interview? Did it provide BBC audiences with “a range and depth of analysis and content” which could not otherwise be achieved and did it contribute to their being better “informed citizens”?

‘Today’ co-presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:36:22 here) with a pinch of Iranian propaganda.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “Protests in Iraq, Lebanon and in Iran where Iranian state television has said that those killed by security forces during last month’s mass protests against the petrol price rise were thugs and rioters. Our Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen joins us now. What’s your reading of those protests, Jeremy?”

Bowen: “Well Mishal, you know, what’s interesting is that there are others who say that they weren’t thugs and rioters but they were protesting and they started protesting as well against the regime and that is why the security forces opened fire in the way that they did and killed so many people. Now it’s clear that the Iranians have got a big set of problems at the moment. Ah…the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home. Maximum pressure as Trump calls them, American sanctions and also what’s important for them is they project power through their allies and in Iraq and Lebanon where there’ve been demonstrations – and those are generally regarded as Iranian allies – many people there see Iran as part of their problems.”

It is not clear what Bowen intended to communicate with that reference to “the kind of thing we’ve been talking about at home” and his description of Lebanon – rather than Hizballah – as an Iranian ally clearly does not enhance audience understanding of the topic.

Bowen: “It’s really hard for us to try and work out what’s going in Iran [laughs] partly because they won’t let us in there. Ahm…so one good way of doing it is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah who are in Lebanon and they are Iranian proteges but they’re very powerful as well. One of Israel’s big enemies along with Iran itself. Now I’ve just come back from Beirut and while I was there I talked to the deputy leader of Hizballah who’s a man called Naim Qassem. He’s late 60s, he wears robes, he’s got a white turban, gives the impression of being very shrewd actually, and intelligent and strong views about the region. And he doesn’t talk much so it was a good opportunity to talk about the Middle East and they’re uncomfortable about what’s happening. They like the status quo. So anyway I started off by asking Naim Qassem of Hizballah about the crisis in Lebanon.”

Obviously any interview with a representative of a terrorist organisation needs to be very carefully edited and presented so that audiences can put its inevitable propaganda into the appropriate context. Bowen’s sartorially focused introductory portrayal of Qassem clearly did not provide any meaningful background information about the terror group’s record or agenda. Neither were listeners given sufficient information about the current political crisis in Lebanon before they were exposed to Qassem’s allegations.  

Qassem [voiceover]: “Of course the situation in Lebanon is very dangerous. Consequently you can see how the economic situation is collapsing. And you can see how people are suffering from the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. We cannot accept things to continue like this. So for this reason we said very clearly that the government has to be formed in order to put an end to this collapse and decline. And unfortunately there are some who are trying to cause damage to Lebanon and especially the United States. And every two or three days the US Secretary of State Pompeo makes statements and says he doesn’t want to see Hizballah in the government. And Hizballah is part of the people. So let America put a stop to its meddling.”

Bowen: “Now Secretary Pompeo in the US, like the British government, regard your organisation as a terrorist organisation. That’s why he says the things that he says.”

Qassem: “What concerns us is how our people view us. We as Hizballah in the minds of our people, we are a resistance that liberated the land. A party which serves the interests of the people and also serves for a better future for the people. And because America and Britain support Israel which is an occupying power, a power of aggression, a criminal power, they are taking political stance against Hizballah. If they label us as terrorists this doesn’t mean that their designation is right. We consider America to be the leading terrorist entity because it does not serve the interests of the people. The same goes for Britain as well.”

Bowen made no effort to inform listeners of the real background to the designation of Hizballah by the US, the UK and other nations and bodies or to provide factual information concerning the threats posed to Israel by Iran and Hizballah, including their military entrenchment in Syria.

Bowen: “You’re part of a coalition led by Iran that faces off against Israel and by implication against the United States as well. Iran is in real trouble at the moment, isn’t it? There are anti-Iran demonstrations in Iraq, there is feeling against Iran in this country and there’ve been big demonstration inside…demonstrations inside Iran itself. Your friends in Iran are in trouble, aren’t they?”

Qassem: “First of all we don’t deny that we are part of an axis led by Iran because Iran advocates the causes of the people’s rights and also supports the resistance. It believes in justice. It believes in the liberation of Palestine. Now, when it comes to the problems within Iran because of the decision to increase the price of gasoline, this is a domestic matter related to Iran.”

Audiences should of course have been informed at this point that in Hizballah-speak “the liberation of Palestine” means the annihilation of Israel.

Bowen: “Now with your allies in Iran you have amassed an enormous arsenal of rockets and missiles including guided missiles that presumably you’d use in a war with Israel. Under what circumstances would you use that arsenal of weapons?”

Qassem: “We are a resistance and we are defending. If Israel were to launch an aggression or attack us, we will respond. And so we don’t have any plans when it comes to initiating any confrontation with Israel. But we are determined to respond to Israel if it were to attack. Israel understands this language only. It won’t be deterred except if we are strong.”

Bowen made no effort to counter that propaganda by, for example, reminding listeners that it was Hizballah which initiated the 2006 conflict and Hizballah which just a year ago had its cross-border tunnels exposed and destroyed. Neither did he bother to clarify the background to any hypothetical attack on Iran’s “nuclear facilities”.

Bowen: “What if Israel or the US attacked Iran; attacked its nuclear facilities? Would you then use your weapons against Israel?”

Qassem: “I don’t know what could happen but what I do know is that any aggression of such scale could ignite the whole region. And those who initiated the aggression will take a big responsibility and also take responsibility for very large-scale reactions. My estimation is that war with Israel is unlikely at this stage. The balance of deterrence is what contributes to the absence of war because they are not convinced of what the results would be if a war were to take place.”

The interview ended there with a laconic statement from co-presenter Martha Kearney.

Kearney: “And that report was by Jeremy Bowen.”

In his introduction Bowen claimed that “one good way” to try to “work out” what is going on in Iran “is talking to their friends like the organisation Hizballah”. Whether or not that was also the rationale given when approval was sought to interview a senior figure in “an organisation […] designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary” is of course unknown but obviously this interview contributed nothing at all to that supposed aim.

In fact all audiences heard was over four minutes of barely challenged propaganda from the number two in a notorious terrorist organisation: propaganda that they could just as easily have found on Hizballah’s own media channels – and without paying a licence fee.

Related Articles:

Why the new BBC editorial guidelines may not mean less terror showcasing

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

Earlier this month we noted that an article written by the BBC’s Middle East editor on the subject of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon had avoided the issue of protests against Iranian intervention in those countries.

An item aired in the November 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The World This Week’ – titled “Iran in the crosshairs” – did relate to that issue, but from a remarkable viewpoint.

“There’s growing pushback against Iranian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon. Iran is being seen by some as the kind of interfering foreign state it often criticises.”

Presenter Caroline Wyatt introduced that lead item with the erroneous claim that Iran had fulfilled its JCPOA obligations concerning the Fordow nuclear plant. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Wyatt: “Iran turned the nuclear screw this week, bringing back into operation nuclear equipment it shut down under the terms of the nuclear deal agreed with Western powers in 2015 but which President Trump later walked away from. But was this a warning or a sign of weakness? The security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said this week that Iran was winning the struggle for strategic influence in the Middle East. But is that starting to change? Protests in Lebanon and Iraq against their political elites have focused much of their criticism on Iran with the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Karbala coming under attack. So I asked Kasra Naji of BBC Persian how worried is Iran that it may now be in the process of losing the power and influence it’s acquired in Iraq and Lebanon.”

That IISS report was the subject of an article which appeared on the BBC News website on November 7th.

Kasra Naji gave listeners a highly sanitised view of the Iranian regime’s decades-old activities in other countries.

Naji: “Well I think Iran is very worried. I think Iran is concerned particularly about what’s going on in Iraq. Iraq is next door and the demands of those people on the streets of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq are not all that different to the demands of the Iranians within Iran. It could easily come this side of the border so they’re watchful of that. Over the years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 Iran has invested heavily in setting up political parties, militias, its proxies, its political influence and that is suddenly in danger. If not danger, the prestige of Iran in the region and in Iraq is under serious question today and that doesn’t look good for Iran at all. And in Lebanon also Hizballah has been a major component of Iran’s influence in the region. Iran looks at southern Lebanon as basically a province of Iran. And they don’t want to see that coming under threat.”

Remarkably, neither Wyatt nor Naji bothered to explain to listeners what “the demands of those people on the streets” actually are. Neither did they make any effort to inform audiences even in passing that over 300 Iraqi protesters are reported to have been killed by security forces which allegedly include Iranian-backed militias and that rather than merely ‘worrying’ about the situation in Iraq as suggested by Naji, the Iranian regime is taking an active role in events there.

Both Wyatt and Naji seemed intent on framing objections to Iranian intervention in neighbouring countries as something recent.

Wyatt: “According to one commentator in Iraq, the shoes are out again so the public discontent is growing. Isn’t Iran now in danger of being seen as just the kind of regime that it likes to criticise?”

Naji: “That’s right. That’s another danger of all this. Iran is suddenly seen as a usurping power, a foreign power trying to influence events within those countries, particularly within Iraq.”

After an equally superficial discussion of Iran’s involvement in Syria, the conversation turned to Iran’s recent nuclear activities with Wyatt asking “so why is it continuing to risk more sanctions?”.

Naji: “Because it doesn’t have any other choice. It’s come under heavy pressure of US sanctions and they are crippling Iran’s economy. […] So what they’re trying to do is to put pressure on the Europeans particularly and say ‘listen, if you don’t come up and save this deal and do your part of the deal – your commitments in the deal – then there’s no point in staying in this agreement. It’s a cry for help. It’s like saying that we cannot continue like this; come and help us, save this deal, otherwise this deal is going to collapse.”

BBC World Service listeners were not informed what those allegedly unfulfilled European “commitments” supposedly entail before Wyatt closed with a final question about the opinions of “ordinary Iranians” on the nuclear issue and Naji’s reply failing to inform audiences that those opinions carry little weight as far as the Iranian regime is concerned.  

Obviously this item presented BBC audiences with a decidedly one-sided view of the story which focused on framing Iran as being “in the crosshairs” rather than the Lebanese and Iraqi people actually being attacked by its proxy militias on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad.

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BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

 

 

 

 

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

Iran’s latest breach of the 2015 JCPOA was portrayed by the BBC as “rolling back another commitment” in the opening line of an article headlined “Iran nuclear deal: Uranium enrichment to resume at underground facility” which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on November 5th.

As is inevitably the case in BBC reporting on that deal and Iran’s nuclear programme, audiences were told that:

“Iran has insisted that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.”

The BBC knows that in December 2015 (after the JCPOA had already been agreed) the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – produced a report which stated that:

“…the agency “assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place” up to 2009.”

The BBC also knows that in April 2018 Israel revealed documents from Iran’s nuclear archive which raised new issues. Nevertheless, it once again chose to amplify Iranian propaganda but not to inform readers of those relevant parts of the story.

Regarding the Fordo (or Fordow) facility at which Iran’s president announced centrifuges would resume operation, the BBC’s report states:

“Before 2015, the country had two enrichment facilities – Natanz and Fordo – where uranium hexafluoride gas was fed into centrifuges to separate out the most fissile isotope, U-235. […]

Iran also agreed to install no more than 5,060 of the oldest and least efficient centrifuges at Natanz until 2026, and not to carry out any enrichment at Fordo until 2031. The 1,044 centrifuges there were supposed to spin without uranium hexafluoride gas being injected.”

An illustration informs readers that “changes agreed” under the deal included Fordo being “converted from fuel enrichment to technology centre”.

Iran did not however comply with that requirement – as explained in this report – but the BBC made no effort to inform readers of that obviously relevant information.