Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer analyses the background to “Generals Vs. Islamists in Libya”.

“While the fight may appear to be simply a tussle for resources and power between an ambitious military man and a government of shaky legitimacy, the chaotic Libyan battle is in fact a proxy war pitting clients of two key power axes in the Middle East against one another. For this reason, its outcome is of interest to Western powers – and to Israel.

To understand this, it is necessary to observe who is supporting whom in Libya. Haftar and his LNA have benefited since 2014 from the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. […]

On the other side, Turkey and Qatar (and the now-deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir) are strongly supportive of the Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood associated elements that share power with the government in Tripoli.” 

2) At the JCPA Pinhas Inbari takes a look at the new PA prime minister’s economic policy.

“The Palestinian Authority returned hundreds of millions of shekels that the Israeli government deposited into its accounts in recent months, it was revealed on April 29, 2019. Israel traditionally collects tax revenues for the PA on Palestinian purchases, but when Israel began deducting monthly the sum of 41.8 million shekalim, equivalent to the amount the PA pays in terrorists’ salaries and grants, the Palestinians declared they would refuse to accept any of their monthly payment. Israel’s unilateral deposit into the PA accounts was a response to the growing concern of a financial collapse of the Palestinian government.

In parallel to the rejection of the funds, the Palestinian Authority declared it would not cover medical costs for Palestinian medical patients sent to Israeli hospitals.”

3) At the ITIC Dr Raz Zimmt has a profile of “Hossein Salami The New Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps”.

“On April 21, 2019, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, appointed Hossein Salami to the position of the new Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC); Salami is the eighth commander of the force. Salami, who served as the Deputy Commander of the IRGC over the past decade, replaced Mohammad-Ali Jafari, who served at the IRGC Commander since September 2007. […]

Over the past decade, Salami has emerged as one of the IRGC’s prominent commanders, mainly due to his hardline statements reflecting adherence to the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the strategic goals of the Islamic Republic on issues related to internal and foreign policies. He gained attention for his extreme rhetoric and defiant statements targeting the United States and Israel, and consistent rejection of any possibility for compromise or concessions on the part of Iran in light of Western demands and growing pressure on Tehran.”

4) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has produced a new video about “the connection between Judaism and Israel”.

 

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BBC WS ‘Business Matters’ sails close to antisemitic trope

The lead story in the April 10th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ (which ostensibly provides listeners with “global business news”) was, for reasons unknown, the previous day’s general election in Israel.

Listeners first heard (from 1:07 here) some of the more sensible commentary concerning the election aired on BBC stations in recent weeks from the Jerusalem Post’s Knesset correspondent Lahav Harkov.

Referring to Netanyahu, at 5:32 presenter Roger Hearing asked her “why do they keep voting for him?” and – noting the absence of good foreign press reporting on the topic – Harkov responded by citing the fact that the Israeli economy is doing well, that unemployment is down and that international relations are thriving.

Hearing next briefly and superficially discussed aspects of Israel’s economy with one of his two guests before turning to the other – previously introduced as Ralph Silva of the Silva Network but with listeners having been given no indication of what makes a “Broadcasting Analyst Focused on Banking, Technology and Media” qualified to comment on the topic of Israel or the Middle East.

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

[7:21] Hearing: “And…err…Ralph: I suppose the thing also, Israel’s slightly got pushed to the back of the news agenda with everything else that’s been happening in the world and even in the Middle East itself but it is still a very…a place that matters a great deal more that its size would indicate in political terms and of course Mr Netanyahu’s quite closely aligned to Donald Trump.”

Silva: “Well he is and I think that there are some concerns there, especially considering the election campaign. We’ve heard quite a bit about developments in the West Bank and pushing that process forward and making it more stable and more secure and with the US government such as it is, it’s basically in support of that so I think that while we haven’t seen a huge amount of developments in relation to the West Bank in the past couple of administrations, now the situation’s a bit different where they do have support especially from the US now. So I am a little bit concerned because there’s been a lot of rhetoric about the West Bank and about how aggressive they’re going to be in the West Bank and of course an aggressive move there could cause some problems. But I think it’s going to be a space to watch and I think we’re going to see a lot of developments in the next elec…in the next 4 to 5 years.”

With that commentary being as clear as mud, listeners would likely have taken away little more than the notion that some party – apparently either Israel or the US – is going to be “aggressive…in the West Bank”.

Hearing: “And of course there’s also Iran. Within the last few days they’ve advanced moves against Iran, making the Revolutionary Guard there an illegal organisation as far as – a terrorist organisation – as far as the US is concerned. And a lot of people see the moves towards Iran including the sanctions that have been put on – the economic sanctions – as being to some extent dictated by Israel or at least influenced by Israel.”

Silva: “Well certainly and if you listen to the press in the United States that’s exactly what is being said. It’s being said that Trump’s administration is supporting them and I think that there’s this new bravado going on because they feel that – the Israelis right now feel like they got a lot of backing right now and clearly they do. Ahm…and there’s been a lot of aggression and what we have to see is sort of a calming down and so I think after this election – during the election we saw that – but as soon as this election is decided I think we’re going to see a calming down of that. At least history has shown us that there is the calming down right after an election so that’s good news.”

Once again it is difficult to imagine how the BBC can claim that such commentary from a guest whose credentials concerning the Middle East were not clarified can possibly be said to contribute to audience understanding of the topic.

What listeners did hear however was the BBC sailing very close to an antisemitic trope by advancing the unsourced and facile notion that American policy on Iran is “dictated by Israel” rather than based on the US’s own considerations.

That, apparently, is the dismal level of ‘analysis’ that the BBC is capable of providing to its worldwide audiences.

Weekend long read

1) Alan Mendoza of the HJS explains why “Israel has voted for a dose of reality when it comes to the peace process”.

“Israeli settlements are often cited as the cause of the peace roadblock, but these are a legacy issue from the 1967 Six Day War. They have not been the foundering point in any of the many failed peace deals that have fallen by the wayside. The principle of land swaps and abandonment of more isolated settlements as part of any agreement has been well established.

Rather, it is the 1948 issues of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem – which stem from the refusal of the Palestinians at a core level to accept the very existence of the Jewish state – that are responsible for the failure to progress peace.

Israeli voters have realised this, which is why this election was not fought on peace process grounds. Western observers have not.”

2) The ITIC reports on “The 6th Palestinian BDS Campaign Conference” in which BBC ‘frequent flyer’ Mustafa Barghouti participated.

“The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) held its sixth conference in al-Bireh (Ramallah) on March 16, 2019. Present were Palestinian BDS campaign activists; representatives from the PLO, Fatah and the National Initiative Movement (a leftist Palestinian organization headed by Mustafa Barghouti), and other representatives. Workshops were held at the conference dealing with various aspects of the BDS campaign. Workshop participants presented their recommendations to the conference plenary session. The conference organizers hoped for 1,000 participants but apparently fewer people attended. In addition, it is not clear if BDS representatives came from abroad. The conference was covered by the Arab and local Palestinian media, but apparently was not widely covered by the Western media.”

3) At the FDD’s ‘Long War Journal’ Thomas Joscelyn explains the background to the US State Department’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation.

“The US government has previously sanctioned and designated the IRGC, IRGC officials and proxies, as well as the IRGC – Qods Force (IRGC – QF), using other executive branch measures. More than 900 “Iran-related individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels” had already been sanctioned under the Trump administration for “human right abuses, censorship, ballistic missile program, malign cyber activities, support to terrorism, or associations with the Government of Iran,” according to State.

But the new designation technically goes beyond those past actions, as the entire IRGC will now be considered a FTO. It is the first time that part of a foreign government has been targeted with such a designation.”

4) The Fathom Journal has published a report titled “Institutionally Antisemitic Contemporary Left Antisemitism and the Crisis in the British Labour Party”.

“This major Fathom report finds the Labour Party is now ‘institutionally antisemitic’ as the term is defined in the Macpherson Report: ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.’ Citing over 130 examples of antisemitism or antisemitism denial in the party, our editor Professor Alan Johnson shows how Labour has failed to: understand contemporary antisemitism, prevent the party becoming host to three different forms of antisemitism, develop ‘appropriate and professional’ processes to deal with antisemitism and safeguard members, or eradicate the party’s culture of antisemitism denial and victim-blaming.

The report also places the party’s crisis in four larger contexts, which make the crisis much harder to resolve than has been assumed: the history of left antisemitism and the current fashion for dressing up that antisemitism as ‘anti-Zionism’; the increasing sway of a crude ‘two camps’ world-view; the sharp increase in far-Left influence over the party; and the political record of indulging antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism on the part of the leader, Jeremy Corbyn and some of his key advisors and supporters.”

 

BBC News framing of Iranian forces in Syria

On January 10th an article was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “US to expel every last Iranian boot from Syria – Pompeo”.

“The US will work with allies to “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.

Mr Pompeo warned there would be no US reconstruction aid for areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad until Iran and its proxies had left.”

Most versions of that report go on to include a section headed “Why did Pompeo mention Iran?” in which BBC audiences are told that:

“Iran, alongside Russia, has been supporting the Syrian government in the Syrian civil war, providing arms, military advisers, and reportedly combat troops.” [emphasis added]

The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of the word ‘reportedly’ is as follows:

“According to what some say (used to express the speaker’s belief that the information given is not necessarily true)”

Apparently therefore we can conclude that the BBC is of the opinion that the articles in British papers such as the Telegraph and the Guardian along with reports from media outlets in other countries and agencies such as Reuters about the presence of Iranian troops and militias in Syria are not necessarily true.

Apparently too the BBC believes that statements made by France’s foreign minister on that issue and a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch are not necessarily true.

And it would seem that in the BBC’s view the work done by researchers at a variety of think-tanks on that topic – such as the Washington Institute, the Atlantic Council, the FDD and the Carnegie Endowment – all hinges on information that is not necessarily true.

“Based on a meticulous reading of press reports of funeral services held in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon for Shia foreign fighters killed in Syria and Iraq, 535 Iranian nationals were killed in combat in Syria between January 2012 and January 2018. In comparison, at least 841 Afghan, 112 Iraqi, 1,213 Lebanese, and 153 Pakistani Shia foreign fighters were killed fighting in Syria during the same period.”

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. Clearly that obligation is not met when the BBC unnecessarily qualifies information that has been in the public domain for years – and especially when that qualification dovetails with Iran’s long-standing policy of claiming that its presence in Syria is solely in an ‘advisory’ capacity.

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Orna Mizrahi provides an interim assessment of Operation Northern Shield.

“This display of IDF intelligence and operational capabilities strengthens Israeli deterrence somewhat, evident in Hezbollah’s “thunderous silence” over the past month and the lack of any significant response by its fighters or leadership, be it a public announcement or activity on the ground, except for the limited effort to show its presence along the border. Moreover, it made no attempt to disrupt the IDF activity, despite the impact of this activity on the Lebanese side (the sound of explosions and flow of liquid concrete poured into the tunnels). One way to explain Hezbollah’s restraint is the caution taken by the IDF to operate solely on the Israeli side. However, the restraint also strengthens the assumption that Hezbollah, like Israel, is not interested in an all-out conflict at this time. It appears that Israel’s cognitive and public diplomacy campaign surrounding the operation also had an impact, as it presented a clear picture regarding the IDF’s goals and activity, including updates given to UNIFIL and through it to the Lebanese army. This in turn reduced the possibility of military conflict, miscalculations, and escalation.”

2) At the CFR Elliot Abrahams takes the pulse of Palestinian democracy.

“On January 9, 2005—exactly 14 years ago today—Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority. For a four-year term.

Today Abbas begins serving the fifteenth year of his four-year term.

That 2005 election was actually a milestone for Palestinians. Yasser Arafat had died the previous November, and this election was to choose his successor as head of the PA. It was a good election—free and fair in the sense that the votes were counted accurately and people could campaign against Abbas. […]

As Abbas marks his anniversary in power, those who had hoped for positive political evolution in the Palestinian territories can only mourn the way he has governed, especially in the last decade. He has outlawed politics in the West Bank. Under the guise of fighting Hamas, he has outlawed any criticism of the corrupt Fatah rule and prevented any debate on the Palestinian future.”

3) At the FDD Saeed Ghasseminejad and Tzvi Kahn take a look at Iran’s new budget. 

“Iran’s military spending will significantly decrease while its domestic security expenditures will modestly increase, according to a draft of the 2019-2020 budget that President Hassan Rouhani submitted to parliament in late December. The new figures suggest that reimposed U.S. sanctions, which intensify the pressure on a regime already rocked by ongoing nationwide protests, have forced Tehran to prioritize its stability over its expansionary ambitions. […]

To be sure, Iran’s military establishment, especially the IRGC, does not depend solely on the state budget for its funding. The military establishment controls a fifth of the market value of companies listed on the Tehran Stock Exchange and owns thousands of other companies, all of which generate revenue for the armed forces. Additionally, the IRGC controls a significant portion of Iran’s underground economy.”

4) The Times of Israel carries a story about a new shopping mall that BBC audiences are unlikely to hear.

“The parking lot is open, but the escalators aren’t working yet at Atarot Mall, a new, two-floor, NIS 200 million ($54 million) mall built by supermarket king Rami Levy on the seam between Arab and Jewish Jerusalem. […]

Officially, the mall will open for business on January 29, Levy said. For now, about one-third of the stores were open, while others were still stocking inventory. Some 35 percent of the store owners in the mall are Palestinian and some of the branches of chain stores are owned by Palestinian franchisees.

Customers, a mix of Palestinians and Israelis, were drinking coffee and eating pastries at Cafe Neeman, and wandering in and out of the stores that were open. […]

The Cafe Neeman chain opened its 56th outlet in the mall, said Yaniv Neeman, scion of the family, who was working the sandwich counter on Tuesday morning. The manager is Amjad Awadalla, who franchised this branch.

“That’s how we always do things,” said Neeman. “Jews and Arabs always work together at every Cafe Neeman.””

Omissions and additions in BBC News Syria blasts report

Early on the morning of September 2nd a report appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Syria blasts at Mezzeh military airport ‘not Israeli strikes’“. BBC audiences were told that:

“Syria has denied reports that a series of blasts at a military airport near Damascus on Sunday were from Israeli air strikes, state media say.

The loud blasts, reported at the Mezzeh airport, were caused by an explosion at a munitions dump, Sana news agency said, citing Syrian military sources.

The incident was the result of an electrical fault, the agency added. […]

The airport is believed to house Syrian Air Force intelligence.”

Readers were not informed that the same site is also believed to house facilities used by Iranian forces and Shiite militias under the command of the IRGC.

Having told readers that the Syrian military says that Israel has no connection to the incident, the BBC’s 269 word report went on to amplify versions of the story contradicting that statement which were attributed to an anonymous “official in the regional alliance backing the Syrian government” and a “monitoring group” based in the UK.

Curiously, the BBC decided to devote over 35% of a report on an incident it had told readers was unrelated to Israel to listing alleged and acknowledged Israeli actions.

“Israel has launched air strikes against Syria in the past and was accused of targeting Mezzeh airport last year. […]

In May, Israel said it had attacked Iranian military infrastructure in Syria following what it said was an Iranian rocket attack on Israeli-held territory.

The following monthIsrael said it had shot down a Syrian warplane which entered its airspace – a rare incident between the two foes.

In January last year, Syrian state media quoted the army as saying that several rockets had landed at the Mezzeh airport compound, accusing Israel of bombarding the area.” [emphasis added]

The first of those links leads to a BBC report dated May 9th which was discussed here. That report does not relate to events “following” the Iranian rocket attacks which actually took place on May 10th.

The second link leads to a BBC report from July 24th – obviously not “the following month” – which was discussed here before its headline was amended.

The incident referred to in that final paragraph – which took place on January 13th 2017 – was discussed here.

Notably, the BBC refrained from informing readers of this article of the context of Iranian weapons supplies to the terror group Hizballah and the build-up of Iranian forces in Syria.

The fact that Mezzeh airbase was among the sites in Syria linked to the regime’s chemical weapons programme that were attacked by the US, the UK and France in April 2018 was likewise omitted from this report.  

Related Articles:

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

BBC News report on Syrian plane interception won’t say where it happened

In which BBC News manages to avoid Syrian propaganda for a change

BBC’s Bowen tells WS listeners Israel bombs Syria ‘regularly’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC News ignores brewing Red Sea tensions

Back in late June we highlighted a report by the INSS on the topic of the Red Sea.

“Although the threat posed by pirates in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait has declined in recent years as a result of international action, a new threat to freedom of navigation has emerged there due to the war in Yemen, which assumed a distinctively regional character with the onset of the Saudi campaign against the Houthis in 2015. The Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have mined areas along the coast of Yemen, used explosive boats and anti-ship missiles to attack primarily American and Saudi military maritime vessels, and on at least one occasion (in April 2018) struck a Saudi oil tanker. […]

The Red Sea arena possesses considerable economic importance. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 29 kilometers wide and constitutes a maritime chokepoint and strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  A significant volume of the world’s maritime traffic passes through the Strait, including a daily average of some five million barrels of oil. The Suez Canal constitutes an important source of income for Egypt, as does the port of Aqaba for Jordan and the port of Jeddah for Saudi Arabia (its most important port). It is also the route of passage to the port of Eilat.”

On July 25th another attack on Saudi Arabian ships in the Bab el-Mandeb strait took place and Saudi Arabia subsequently temporarily halted oil exports via that route.

“Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. […]

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage.

“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” he said. […]

Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated at around 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to analysts and Reuters data. Most Gulf oil exports that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline pass through the strait.”

Ha’aretz reported that the incident was “attracting a great deal of attention among intelligence organizations in the region and from the oil industry”.

“The tanker, the Arsan, was flying a Saudi flag and transporting some 2 million barrels of oil to Egypt. It was struck by missiles near the port of Hodeida in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacking the Houthis for the past few months. According to the Washington Institute the tankers were hit by a rocket fired from a fast-attack vessel or a ground-to-sea missile fired from Yemen, possibly a C-802, which Iran supplies to the rebels. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and the Saudis announced that they were suspending tanker shipments in the Red Sea until the situation was sorted out and marine traffic was safe again.”

Despite an extensive search on the BBC News website – including its Saudi Arabia and Yemen pages and its business section – we have not been able to find any BBC reporting whatsoever on that incident.

The following day – July 26th – the BBC News website published an article headlined “Iran general warns Trump war would ‘destroy all you possess’” in which readers were told that:

“An Iranian special forces commander has warned President Donald Trump if the US attacks Iran it “will destroy all that you possess”.

Major General Qassem Soleimani vowed that if Mr Trump started a war, the Islamic Republic would end it, Iranian news agency Tasnim reported.

It follows Mr Trump’s all-caps-lock tweet warning Iran’s president to “never, ever” threaten the US. […]

Maj Gen Soleimani – who leads the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – was quoted on Thursday as saying: “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats. […]

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.

“If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”

The BBC did not inform its readers that Soleimani’s threats included – as reported by the Guardian and others – a specific mention of the Red Sea.

“The senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani has hit back at Donald Trump’s tweeted threats against Tehran in colourful language, likening him to a gambler and a cabaret owner, and saying Iran would be the one to “end” any war between their two countries. […]

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] … The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” added Suleimani, according to the Tasnim news agency. […]

Suleimani’s warning to the US about the Red Sea comes on the same day Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, suspended oil exports through the strategic shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb due to missile attacks on two oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels off the Yemen coast.”

Clearly any Iranian threats concerning the potential disruption of international shipping in the Red Sea are of considerable significance – and not only for countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel

Moreover, MEMRI reports that:

“On August 6, 2018, the Iranian news agency Fars published statements by Gen. Naser Sha’bani, a top official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in which he noted that the regime of the Islamic Revolution had ordered the pro-Iran Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia in Yemen to attack two Saudi tankers, and that it had carried out those orders. […]

It should be emphasized that the quote about the order to attack the tankers was deleted from the Fars website after the statements were published. MEMRI has in its possession a copy of the original prior to the deletion.”

To date, however, the BBC’s funding public has seen no reporting whatsoever on this story.

 

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Last week BBC Radio 4 ran a five-part series of programmes – presented by Edward Stourton and featuring Fawaz Gerges and additional guests – under the title “How Syria Changed the World“.

The fourth episode – titled “Sectarianism” – opened with Stourton telling listeners that:

Stourton: “In early May the Israeli military authorities ordered the opening of bomb shelters on the Golan Heights. Then on the night of May the 9th to 10th the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet on Iranian positions inside Syria.”

Listeners then heard part of what appears to be a news report:

“The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman told Iran ‘if you bring us rain, you’ll get a flood’. The wave of overnight airstrikes by Israel on Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria has borne his words out.”

In fact, Lieberman’s comment was made after the events of the night of May 9th/10th.

Stourton did not bother to inform Radio 4 listeners that the May 8th order to open shelters on the Golan Heights came as a result of “abnormal movements of Iranian forces in Syria” – detected after a month of threats against Israel from Iran.

Neither did he bother to mention (not for the first time) the rather relevant fact that those “overnight airstrikes by Israel” were preceded by Iran having launched 32 missiles at Israel.

As we see, less than a month after it took place the BBC has reframed the incident in which Iran’s IRGC forces attacked Israel, turning it into a story in which “the Israelis launched their biggest attack yet” – and making 32 Iranian missiles completely disappear from audience view.  

Related Articles:

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part two

 

BBC inconsistency on Iran’s Syria build-up continues

On the afternoon of May 22nd the BBC News website published a report headlined “F-35 stealth fighter sees first combat, in Israeli operation“. Readers were told that:

“The US-made F-35 stealth fighter has seen its first ever combat action, flying in an operation for the Israeli air force.

The air force chief showed an image of jets over Beirut, Lebanon, and said the planes had “already attacked twice on two different fronts”. […]

Maj Gen Amikam Norkin told heads of 20 foreign air forces meeting in Israel: “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East and have already attacked twice on two different fronts.” He did not specify the targets.”

However, as local media had reported earlier the same day, Maj Gen Norkin also gave the conference participants some additional information concerning an incident earlier this month:  

“During his speech, Norkin also revealed that earlier this month Iranian forces in Syria had fired more rockets at Israeli military bases on the Golan Heights than the army had previously acknowledged.

“The Iranians fired 32 rockets, we intercepted four. The rest landed outside Israeli territory,” he said.”

The BBC apparently did not consider that new information newsworthy because no mention of it appears in this report. Readers were also not told that in the same speech Maj Gen Norkin said:

““We’re watching what the Iranians are doing around us. The al-Quds Force has set up on the T-4 air base, some 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Israel,” Norkin told the visiting air commanders.

“From this base, they tried to attack [us] with a drone that infiltrated into Israel a few months ago. After that, we noticed they were continuing to store weapons on that base, including the air defenses that we attacked a month ago,” he said, referring to an April 9 air raid on the T-4 base, in which at least seven IRGC members were killed, including the senior officer in charge of its drone program.”

Earlier this month Israeli military officials clarified the nature of the target of the strike on the T4 airbase on April 9th.

“According to the army, the specific target of the strike on the T-4 base was a shipment of advanced air defense weapons, including one with a range of 110 kilometers (70 miles). […]

According to IDF assessments, in recent weeks Iran has stepped up its efforts to bring a number of advanced munitions into Syria, notably air defense systems, with which the IRGC could fire on Israeli fighter jets.

The anti-aircraft systems Iran has been bringing into Syria are meant to threaten Israel’s air superiority in the region, providing a cover for Iranian forces in Syria to carry out attacks against the Jewish state, the military believes.”

The BBC did not report on that May 11th statement but had around the same time, to one degree or another, noted the IRGC’s entrenchment in Syria that includes the import of weapons such as missiles and anti-aircraft batteries – for example here, here, here and here.

Nevertheless, in this May 22nd report the build-up of Iranian weapons in Syria was once again portrayed as something that Israel “believes” is happening rather than as fact. [emphasis added]

 “The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says Israel’s claim to have used it [the F-35] in an operational strike even before the Americans may be designed as a further show of military strength, as it believes elite Iranian forces are trying to entrench themselves in Syria to threaten Israel.”

When some BBC journalists report frankly about Iran’s transfer of weapons to Hizballah and the IRGC’s entrenchment in Syria while others continue to promote faux ‘objectivity’ by unnecessarily qualifying information, the losers are obviously the members of the BBC’s funding public whose understanding of this story depends on which particular report they happen to stumble.  

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 manages to report on Iran without the usual distractions

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

Iranian propaganda goes unchallenged on BBC radio – part one

The BBC’s public purposes – set out by the Royal Charter and Agreement – include the obligation to:

“…provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

In coverage of the May 10th Iranian missile attacks on Israel on both domestic and international radio stations, we learned that the BBC apparently believes that public purpose can be met by providing its audiences with unchallenged Iranian propaganda.

The May 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme included several items relating to that story. At 0:62 listeners heard a news bulletin with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and at 10:26 Knell gave another rather garbled report. At 01:08:53 co-presenter Nick Robinson introduced an interview with Maj Gen Yaakov Amidror with promotion of false linkage between the missile attacks and the decision to withdraw from the JCPOA announced by the US president a day earlier.

Robinson: “Has it begun? The wider Middle East war which many said was presaged by the decision of Donald Trump to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. A decision celebrated by Israel which has long warned that Iran is terrorising the region. Last night Iranian missiles based in Syria hit Israel for the first time. The residents of one town in the Golan Heights were instructed to go to bomb shelters. In response Israel launched one of its heaviest barrages in Syria since the conflict began in 2011. Syrian state television broadcast footage of air defences and played patriotic songs.”

In fact, some 24,000 residents of ten communities in the Golan Heights – rather than “one” – had to rush for shelters shortly after midnight.

Amidror pointed out to Robinson that there is no link between Iranian aggression against Israel and the US president’s decision, reminding him that an armed drone was sent by Iran into Israeli territory three months before that decision was announced. In response to Robinson’s reference to “Iranian forces that are in Syria to support President Assad”, Amidror clarified that there is no need for long-range missiles, anti-aircraft missiles or Republican Guards units in order to fulfil that mission.

At 02:36:51 the programme returned to the topic, with co-presenter John Humphrys telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Humphrys: “Israel has carried out a wave of airstrikes on Syria aimed at what it says were Iranian targets. The Israeli military said it was because Iranian forces inside Syria had been attacking its positions in the Golan Heights. The former head of the Israeli national security council Major general Yaakov Amidror says his country will not let Iran get a foothold in Syria. Well, Professor Mohammad Marandi of the Tehran University, who is close to the Iranian regime, is on the line. […] Your country will not let…the Israelis say your country will not get a foothold in Syria. Is that what you’re after – a foothold in Syria?”

Marandi: “No of course not. The Iranian presence in Syria is due to the fact that since 2011 the Saudis and unfortunately Turkey and others, along with US support, they started supporting extremists in the country, taking advantage of the unrest. And they helped create this civil war. I think if your listeners read the US defence intelligence agency document of 2012 which was partially released – this is the largest military intelligence organisation in the world; it’s in the Pentagon – they pointed out that from the very…almost the very beginning in Syria the extremists had the upper hand among the opposition. And the Iranians since 2015 began to become increasingly involved, only after tens of thousands of foreign fighters – including unfortunately many thousands of European fighters – came into Syria.”

Humphrys: “But whatever the motives for going into Syria in the first place were, we now know – don’t we? – that Syrian [sic] forces have been attacking Israel, attacking positions in the Golan Heights, from within Syria.”

Marandi: “Yes because in…the Israelis have struck Syrian positions over a hundred times over the past few years in support of the extremist groups. We know…you know that ISIS is alongside the Israeli border as we speak. The Israelis never strike ISIS. The Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda in Syria, they are on another part of the Israeli border with Syria and the Israelis admittingly [sic] have helped them.”

Humphrys: “Is this…sorry…I do beg your pardon. I’m going to have to shorten; we’ve very little time. But could this be the opening shots in a sense of a new war between Iran and Israel and perhaps then ultimately including many others – in other words a Middle East conflict?”

Marandi: “Well we have to see because it depends on the Israeli regime. The Israelis have already murdered seven Iranian soldiers who were there fighting Al Qaeda. The Iranians have not struck Israel. So you know it’s just…the Israelis are looking for a provoke…to provoke just like what we saw with regards to the JCPOA and the nuclear deal with the show that Netanyahu put on display. Remember just a few years ago Obama and the former French president Sarkozy, they were having a private conversation which there was a hot mike and they were both saying that Netanyahu is a serial liar and a very unpleasant person…”

Humphrys: “Alright.”

Marandi: “This is you know…so I don’t think you should really trust the Israeli narrative.”

Humphrys: “Professor Marandi; many thanks for talking to us.”

While obviously one would not expect anything other than such blatant propaganda from a regime apologist such as Mohammad Marandi, notably John Humphrys made no effort whatsoever to relieve Radio 4 listeners of the multiple false impressions given by his interviewee including the inaccurate claim that “the Israelis never strike ISIS” and the lie that Israel ‘helps’ the group known as Jabhat al Nusra. Likewise, Humphrys refrained from informing listeners that the seven “Iranian soldiers” Marandi described as having been “murdered” by Israel were actually members of the IRGC located at the T4 airbase from which the armed drone was launched in February.

Apparently though the BBC believes that such blatant but completely unchallenged propaganda meets the corporation’s supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality and that it enhances audience understanding of this story because this was not Marandi’s last appearance on BBC radio on May 10th.  

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