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.  

Related Articles:

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

 

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

With Israel braced for an anticipated attack by Iran and/or its proxies in the north, it is worth taking a look at how the BBC has to date covered the background to a story it may yet have to report.

On April 9th the BBC News website reported that “[t]he Syrian government and its ally Russia have blamed Israel for a deadly attack on a Syrian military airport”. The very relevant Iranian connection to the site of the attack was only mentioned much later on in the same report:

“The Israeli military said Iran and its Revolutionary Guards had long been active in the T4 base, and were using it to transfer weapons, including to Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, an enemy of Israel.”

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on April 15th were told that most of the people killed during that attack were “believed to be Iranians” but not that seven of them were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, including the head of its drone programme.

Following that April 9th incident a series of threats against Israel were issued by various Iranian officials but those threats and the resulting increased tensions did not receive any BBC coverage.

On April 30th the BBC News website reported further attacks on military installations (including what was described by other media outlets as a “depot for surface-to-surface missiles”) in Syria.

“Missile strikes on military sites in northern Syria overnight reportedly killed a number of pro-government fighters, including Iranians. […]

It is not known who was behind the attacks. But Western nations and Israel have previously hit sites in Syria.”

Additional threats from Iranian officials followed that incident.

On May 6th Israeli media outlets reported that:

“…the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.””

On May 7th visitors to the BBC News website saw the first generalised mention of Iran’s threats against Israel in a report titled “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” –which promoted superfluous qualification of Iran’s military build-up in Syria.

“His comments came amid reports that Israeli authorities were preparing for missile strikes by Iran or its proxies.

Iran has vowed to avenge recent air strikes on its military facilities in Syria that were attributed to Israel.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the strikes, but it has said it will stop what it considers Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria.” [emphasis added]

Additional threats by Iran’s chief of staff on the same day did not receive any BBC coverage.

On May 8th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel Golan Heights alert over Iran ‘irregular activity’ in Syria”.

“The Israeli military says it has detected “irregular Iranian activity” in Syria and has ordered residents of the occupied Golan Heights to prepare their bomb shelters.”

Despite there being no connection between that event and the same evening’s US announcement concerning the JCPOA, BBC audiences were told that:

“The alert came as President Trump announced the US was pulling out of a nuclear agreement with Iran.”

The report was later retitled “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus” and – despite having got it right earlier – the BBC managed to inaccurately describe the location of the “irregular Iranian activity”.

BBC audiences were told that:

“Syrian state media says Israel has launched an air strike against an army position south of the capital Damascus.

The Sana news agency said Syrian air defences had shot down two Israeli missiles in the Kiswah area on Tuesday. […]

A commander supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters news agency that the strike had targeted a Syrian army position.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said the target was an arms depot.

The dead included members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or other Shia militiamen, it added.”

Other media outlets quoted the same source cited by the BBC as specifically saying that the site (which last November was mentioned in a BBC report about Iran’s establishment of military bases in Syria and last December was also described in a BBC report as “an arms depot”) was an “arms depot belonging to Hezbollah and the Iranians” while at least one Israeli media outlet described it as a storage facility for Iranian missiles rather than “a Syrian army position” as touted by the BBC.

Although Iran has been repeatedly threatening to attack Israel for the past month, the few headlines seen by BBC audiences in relation to that story have focused on Israel: “Israel minister threatens Assad over Iranian attacks from Syria” and “Syria blames Israel for air strike near Damascus”. Obviously BBC audiences have not been provided with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of this still ongoing story.

Related Articles:

Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

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

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

As we have recorded here in the past, the BBC has often failed to give its audiences a clear and accurate portrayal of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and Iranian financing and supply of weapons to the Lebanese terror group Hizballah.

The BBC, Iran and faux objectivity

Iranian military activity in southern Syria under-reported by BBC

BBC audiences have been repeatedly encouraged to view Israeli actions against the supply of Iranian arms to Hizballah as ‘involvement’ in the Syrian civil war.

BBC says what it said was happening in 2013 may be happening now

BBC News again claims Israeli involvement in Syria’s war

BBC Syria war backgrounder recycles inaccurate claim

Moreover, the BBC rarely reports on Iran’s serial threats against Israel.

BBC ECU upholds complaint concerning Iranian threats to Israel

BBC News promotes Iranian missile ‘deterrent’ propaganda

It was therefore refreshing to see BBC Radio 4 taking a step in the right direction – albeit only for domestic audiences – in the April 15th edition of ‘The World This Weekend’.

A significant proportion of that programme was devoted to the previous day’s strikes on targets in Syria by the US, the UK and France. After domestic aspects of the story had been discussed, presenter Jonny Dymond introduced (from 09:50 here) another Syria related topic.

Dymond: “106 years ago today the captain of the Royal Merchant Ship Titanic breathed a sigh of relief. Thanks to some sharp steering, the ship had apparently avoided the iceberg poking out of the freezing seas. Those allowing themselves to exhale after the airstrikes on Syria by the West early on Saturday morning might bear the fate of the Titanic in mind. There was much more to the iceberg than met the eye. Saturday’s attacks were not the only strikes from beyond Syria’s borders this week.”

Listeners heard a recording of a related news bulletin before Dymond continued:

Dymond: “On Monday war planes widely believed to be from Israel sent missiles into a Syrian airbase known as T4 situated between the city of Homs and the ruins of Palmyra. More than a dozen people were killed, most of them believed to be Iranians.”

It would of course have been helpful to listeners had they been informed that seven of the Iranians killed were members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Dymond went on:

Dymond: “It was not the first time T4 had been struck. Back in February Israeli war planes hit the base, amongst other targets, in retaliation for the incursion of a drone into Israeli airspace and the subsequent downing of an Israeli jet.”

Two days before this programme was aired Israel had announced that the Iranian UAV was armed with explosives but listeners were not given that information.  Dymond then continued with what is for the BBC an unusually lucid portrayal of Iranian activities in Syria.

Dymond: “Iran now reaches deep into every nook and cranny of Syria. Its military advisors direct operations on the ground. It sponsors Hizballah, the Lebanese militia that has thousands of fighters in Syrian territory. It pays and arms the thousands of Shia faithful that have come from around the world to fight for Bashar al Assad. It has established a web of military positions and bases up and down the west of the country. Its cash has sustained Syria’s war economy. Salman Shaikh runs a political consultancy firm that mediates on conflicts in the Middle East.”

Shaikh: “It’s been very, very determined. It had understood from the start that Syria was a state – even a failed state – which needed to belong in its column rather than in the Western alliance and it’s done everything it can since this war started – this civil war, this conflict started – to make sure of that. It was the one that first rescued Assad’s forces in 2012 by sending in military advisors and since then it’s probably 50,000 or so Iranian backed Shia militias coming from around the world who are now part of the conflict in Syria. But on top of that, they have been trying to exact a price – economic – from the regime, social and of course on the military. This is a full full-court press from the Iranians to establish themselves.”

Dymond: “To its regional rivals Iran is an imperial threat. The talk is of a crescent of influence stretching from Iran itself, west through Iraq – now led by Iran-friendly Shia Muslim politicians – into Syria and on into Lebanon where Iranian sponsored Hizballah is in government. For the Sunni Muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia such influence is deeply troubling. But Israel, which borders both Syria and Lebanon, perceives the expansion in Iranian might as a threat to its very existence.”

Unfortunately, as noted above, BBC audiences have long been denied the background information which would help them understand why Israel’s perceptions are such but at least listeners to this programme did get to hear an accurate portrayal of Israel’s view of Iran related issues in Syria.

Dymond: “Jerusalem-based political analyst Jonathan Spyer.”

Spyer: “Israel’s key concerns throughout the conflict have been, I think, twofold. Firstly that the conflict should not allow the transfer of sophisticated…certain sophisticated weapon systems from Iran via Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon. And then secondly Israel’s concern has been to prevent the Iranians and their allies from reaching the border with the Golan Heights. Israel’s becoming increasingly concerned about the build-up of Iranian infrastructure in southern Syria and that’s, I think, the context in which you see the recent raid on the T4 airbase near Palmyra.”

No BBC programme is of course complete without a tick of the impartiality box – however irrelevant.

Dymond: “Iran is traditionally presented as the aggressor in the region; an expansionist power that is dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel. But as Azadeh Moaveni – former Middle East correspondent for Time Magazine and co-author of ‘Iran Awakening’ – says, Iran sees itself very differently.”

Moaveni: “I think they do see themselves in marked contrast to how they’re perceived, you know, in the West and certainly by the Arab Gulf states as on the back foot. They see these policies that they pursued in Yemen, in Syria, as what they call forward defence. You know this is their perception of it – they’re conventionally militarily very weak. They are shut out of the global financial system. They kind of hobbled along but they do not see themselves in a position of any kind of potential normalcy. And I think that feeling of solitude, as was mentioned in a recent report, kind of drives its security view.”

Dymond was not however distracted:

Dymond: “Forward defence may be how it seems to Iran but Israel’s alarm grows week by week and month by month as it sees Iran establishing military bases in Syria, transferring drone technology there and building a supply route through to Hizballah in Lebanon. Salman Shaikh.”

Shaikh: “It now takes us to a very dangerous situation because the Israelis will not allow that to happen. They may be too late – and I think within Israeli circles there is that fear – but that only just means that we’re actually at a heightened sense of tension.”

Dymond: “And within Israel, where once there was division between the military and political establishment over the need to face down Iran, now – says Jonathan Spyer – there is unity.”

Spyer: “Unlike in the period six, seven years ago when the issue of a possible raid on Iranian nuclear facilities was coming up, now the sense is that the conception whereby Iranian entrenchment in Syria represents a grave and urgent danger to Israel is as much emerging from the security echelon as from the political echelon. So given that, the near unanimity of the system makes it quite likely that that will be acted upon. It’s a very serious professional red line being expressed and it’s not simply political rhetoric.”

Dymond: “Bashar al Assad has consolidated his position mightily over the past year. Both rebel groups and so-called Islamic State have been driven back with the help of Russian air power and Iranian sponsored boots on the ground. You might think stability would follow but as US policy twists and turns in the breeze of President Trump’s Twitter feed, US allies are thinking of how they might have to act on their own. Israel will not stand idly by as its enemy moves ever closer to its borders.”

Next time the BBC tells its audiences that Iran has “been accused” of building up its military presence in Syria or “been accused” of supplying weaponry to Hizballah, this programme will serve as a useful reminder that in fact the BBC is well aware of Iran’s activities and that the corporation’s habit of qualifying that information with faux ‘objectivity’ is nothing but a barrier to the understanding of its funding public.

 

Weekend long read

1) MEMRI has published an analysis of Palestinian Authority schoolbooks.

“In July 2017, the Palestinian Authority (PA) schoolbooks for the 2017-18 school year were published. Some of the books are new, and some remained unchanged. An examination of the middle-school books for Islamic Education, some of which have been replaced, shows a significant increase in focus on the early Islamic tenets of shahada (martyrdom), fidaa (self-sacrifice) and tadhiya (sacrifice) as part of jihad for the sake of Allah, and their modern manifestations as part of the Palestinian struggle against Israel.”

2) BICOM has produced a briefing on Iranian forces and Shia militias in Syria.

“The BICOM research team has produced a briefing identifying the location of the Iranian military bases in Syria, detailing the role of the various Shia militias in the Syrian War and explaining the role of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the conflict.

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Iran has sent thousands of troops and Shiite volunteers to support President Bashar al-Assad. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Syrian National Defence Forces, Hezbollah, and several other Shiite militias have played a major role in the regime consolidating control and regaining territory, especially in the Battle for Aleppo in 2016. Iran has also reportedly established between 10-13 military bases across Syria.”

3) At the Times of Israel Avi Issacharoff discusses terrorism and the upcoming anniversaries.

“At the end of this month, huge protests are being planned for “Land Day” under the theme of “processions of the great return,” which will likely feature Palestinians storming the West Bank security barrier as well as Israel’s border with Gaza.

These protests will be followed by similar events to commemorate Nakba (“Catastrophe”) Day — how Palestinians refer to Israel’s Independence Day — which falls around the same time as the holy month of Ramadan this year.”

4) Shmuel Rosner writes about “The Truth of Deir Yassin“.

“What happened in Deir Yassin in April 9, 1948, became a seminal event of Israel’s War of Independence. This Palestinian village was located to the west of Jerusalem, and was attacked by Jewish fighters of the Irgun, one of Israel’s pre-state underground forces (the main force, Haganah, was the established force; Irgun was an opposition force, under the leadership of Menachem Begin).

The battle was bloody and many Arabs were killed, including women and children. It was followed by a propaganda campaign, claiming that what happened in Deir Yassin was a massacre. This campaign was very much responsible for the decision by many thousands of Arabs to flee their homes. Their decedents are today’s Palestinian “refugees.””

BBC WS Newshour coverage of Iran drone story –part one

Earlier we saw (here and here) how BBC News website reporting on a story that began with the infiltration of an Iranian UAV into Israeli airspace on February 10th focused audience attentions on a subsequent effect rather than on the cause. We also saw how the BBC News website unquestioningly gave amplification to disinformation put out by Iran and Syria while implying to audiences that there is room for doubt regarding the veracity of official Israeli accounts of the events. So did BBC radio do any better?

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ devoted considerable airtime to that story on February 10th. The webpage of the afternoon edition of the programme presented the subject under the title “Israeli Airstrikes Hit Targets In Syria” without any mention of what began the sequence of events: the Iranian drone that infiltrated Israel.

“Israel has carried out large-scale airstrikes against targets in Syria. The Israeli Defence Force says it attacked air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. Earlier an Israeli fighter jet was brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire after a strike on what the Israelis say was an Iranian drone-launch site.”

Presenter Julian Marshall opened the programme with a similarly slanted view of the story:

Marshall: “In a moment: Israel attacks a dozen targets inside Syria. One of its planes is shot down.”

Marshall introduced the item itself (from 01:44) with a description that failed to adequately clarify that previous Israeli airstrikes against targets in Syria have been specifically aimed at preventing the transfer of weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon and are not connected to the civil war in Syria. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes on the Syrian armed forces and their allies since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. But the latest are potentially the most serious: large-scale attacks against a dozen targets in Syria including, says Israel, air defence systems and sites linked to Iran. Earlier an Israeli jet crashed in Israeli territory as it encountered massive Syrian anti-aircraft fire. It had been attacking what the Israelis say was a site from which an Iranian drone aircraft was launched. The drone was shot down after it penetrated Israeli airspace. People in northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights reported hearing sirens and explosions.”

Listeners next heard very brief ‘man in the street’ interviews with two anonymous speakers before Marshall went on to unquestioningly parrot Syrian and Iranian propaganda.

Marshall: “Well Syrian state media has acknowledged the Israeli air raids and says more than one plane has been hit. Iran’s foreign ministry has rejected the Israeli claim of an Iranian drone while the deputy head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said that Iran had no military presence in Syria and were only there as advisors. And this is how state controlled TV reported the downing of that Israeli plane.”

Audiences then heard a translated recording from Iranian TV.

“The end of the Zionist regime’s era of hit and run in Syria. For the second time in less than a week, the Zionist regime sent its fighter jets to Syria in the early hours of this morning. But this time, despite the expectations of Israeli officials, Syria’s air defence shot down an Israeli fighter jet.”

Marshall: “And as for Syrian government ally Russia, it’s called on all sides to exercise restraint and avoid escalation.”

Listeners next got an additional copious dose of Syrian regime messaging from a journalist who has in the past promoted the Assad regime’s denials of use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on the Russian government’s RT channel and who was described by Iran’s Press TV as ‘our correspondent’ in a report amplifying previous false Syrian regime claims regarding Israeli planes.

Marshall: “A short while ago I spoke to Alaa Ebrahim; a journalist in Damascus who works for Syrian state TV and international media. What have the Syrian authorities been saying?”

Ebrahim: “Well officially the Syrian government issued a statement this morning from the command of the Syrian army in which they said that Israeli fighter jet tried to attack Syrian army bases in central Syria and that Syrian aerial defences intercepted that airplane and managed to actually damage it without saying whether the plane went down or not. Well the Syria…what the Syrian government is saying right now is that they actually did not provoke the Israeli airstrike. The airstrike was initiated by Israel – it wasn’t a retaliatory act by Israel. On the other hand the Syrian government is saying that they were reacting to Israeli aggression against them. Later on the state news agency SANA said in its reports that aerial defences from the Syrian army intercepted several missiles fired from Lebanese air space from Israeli fighter jets targeting several bases belonging to the Syrian army both south and west of the Syrian capital Damascus and later on we got the statement that came out from what the Syrian government calls the operation room of the Syrian government allies in Syria which is usually a reference to Iranian advisors and Hizballah fighters fighting alongside the Syrian government and in that statement they said that there was not an Iranian operated drone flying over Israeli airspace and that all the drones belonging to the allies – which is a term used to refer to Iranian and Hizballah fighters – were accounted for, operating in the deserts of central Syria looking over positions belonging to terrorist groups such as ISIL and other groups. So these are the official statements we have been getting since dawn today about the latest developments and I think we can recap once again and say that the Syrian government is saying that they did not initiate anything – they were just reacting to an Israeli airstrike against them.”

Marshall: So the Syrians are…are denying that they were in any way involved with the flying of that drone over Israeli territory?”

Ebrahim: “No, I don’t think the Syrians are denying that they were involved with the flying of the Iranian drone. What the Syrians and their allies – Iran, Hizballah – are saying [is] that they have never flown a drone into Israeli airspace and as a result they say that the Israeli attack was unprovoked.”

Refraining from challenging any aspect of that long repetition of Syrian regime propaganda, Marshall then changed the subject and went on to ask what Damascus residents had heard on the morning of February 10th and whether “any kind of retaliation” is to be expected. After concluding that interview, Marshall introduced both his next guest and the redundant theme of ‘narratives’.

Marshall: “And we’ve approached the Israeli Defence Force for an interview but no-one is available. Anshel Pfeffer is an Israeli journalist with Ha’aretz newspaper and the author of a forthcoming book ‘The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. He joins us from Jerusalem. And Mr Pfeffer, the Israelis have a very different narrative of the events of the past 24-36 hours and for them the original provocation was the flying of this drone over their territory.”

Pfeffer: “Yes, that’s the Israeli version of events: that round about 4:30 am local time an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace, was intercepted and shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter and that was what sparked off the chain of events of the last few hours.”

Marshall: You say an Iranian drone: why the certainty?”

Pfeffer: “Well that’s…like you said that’s the version of the Israeli government. They claim to have been tracking the drone, to have known its source at a launch site near Palmyra in northern Syria. According to the Israeli military they have the fragments of the drone and it’s an Iranian model. I’m assuming that at some stage they’ll present those pieces and we’ll be able to see whether it was indeed an Iranian drone. But it’s not new that there are Iranian…there is a significant Iranian military presence in Syria – has been since almost the start of the Syrian war in 2011 – and that this presence also has drone capabilities. So it’s not…the Israeli version of events is rather believable in this case.”

The conversation continued with discussion of the war in Syria and Russia’s role in the region.

By this time listeners could be forgiven for being confused. Was there an Iranian drone or wasn’t there? Is there an Iranian military presence in Syria or not? Rather than providing audiences with clear, concise and factually accurate information that would (as the BBC’s public purposes require) help them understand this story, the corporation once again opted to promote a ‘he said-she said’ account of events that actively hinders audience understanding.

When the BBC World Service launched a new foreign language service last year the then director of the division’s said that “[f]or more than 80 years the BBC World Service has brought trusted news to people across the globe” and the BBC’s Director General said:

“The BBC World Service is one of the UK’s most important cultural exports. In a world of anxieties about ‘fake news’, where media freedom is being curtailed rather than expanded, the role of an independent, impartial news provider is more important than ever.”

As we see, a considerable portion of this item was devoted to unquestioned amplification of unsupported claims and disinformation from two regimes that curtail media freedom – and much worse. But rather than providing listeners in those countries and others with the accurate and impartial information which would be the antidote to such propaganda, the BBC World Service simply facilitated a wider audience for Iranian and Syrian disinformation and added insult to injury by justifying it as ‘narrative’.

And as we will see in part two of this post, that practice continued in a later edition of ‘Newshour’.

Related Articles:

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two

 

Weekend long read

1) A transcript and a video of the much acclaimed speech recently given by BBC presenter Andrew Neil at a Holocaust Educational Trust dinner can be found here.

“When I was growing up, the obvious antisemites were the knuckle draggers in the National Front in this country, what was left of the KKK in America, the Holocaust denier like Jean-Marie Le Pen. Now these people and their kind are still around but they are more marginal than they have been and they are less significant than they have been. They have not gone away, they are still there, but they do not matter as much. What has surprised me, for I think it was entirely unpredictable, was that the new development in this area is the rise of antisemitism on the far left. And that is more dangerous, than the knuckle-dragging right. […]

I don’t say that the antisemitism of the left is entirely new. Those of you who know your history of Soviet Russia will know that it is not new, that there is a strain of antisemitism that has always run through parts of the British intellectual left. But I believe that it is more prevalent, that it is on the rise, and that it is given far too easy a pass. It gets away with it in the way that the antisemitism of the far right is not allowed to get away with it.”

2) Emily Landau of the INSS discusses the JCPOA.

“The starting point for any assessment of the Iran nuclear deal—or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—is the recognition that Iran remains a determined nuclear proliferator, and that the deal does not prevent it from achieving its nuclear goal. In fact, if the international community is lulled into believing that the deal “is working,” this will actually provide Iran with much needed breathing space to strengthen itself economically, regionally and in the nuclear realm. If left alone, when the deal expires, Iran will ironically be much better positioned to move to nuclear weapons than it was before the deal was negotiated.”

3) At the JCPA, Pinhas Inbari examines “How the Palestinian “Unity” Talks Put Iran in the Mix”.

“On October 16, 2017, the Fatah leadership met in Ramallah (the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority) and took no decision to remove the penalties they imposed on Gaza. Hamas’ official website reacted angrily. The movement’s mouthpiece Al-Risala sought the views of the spokesmen of “the organizations,” and they all said they were disappointed that Fatah was not responding to Hamas’ positive measures and was acting to scuttle the reconciliation efforts. 

Why is this important? Because the next stop in the “road map” prepared by Egypt is a large conference of “the organizations” in Cairo aimed at hitching them to the reconciliation train and committing them to an agreement if it is reached.”

 4) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “The Fall of Kirkuk: An IRGC Production“.

“The capture of Kirkuk recalls other swift and decisive assertions of control that the Middle East has witnessed in recent years. Perhaps the closest parallel might be the Hezbollah takeover of west Beirut in May-June 2008. Then, too, a pro-Western element (the March 14 movement) sought to assert its sovereignty and independent decision-making capabilities. It had many friends in the West who overestimated its strength and capacity to resist pressure. And in the Lebanese case as well, a sudden, forceful move by an Iranian client swiftly (and, it seems, permanently) reset the balance of power, demonstrating to the pro-Western element that it was subordinate and that further resistance would be fruitless.

There is, of course, a further reason to note the similarity between Kirkuk in October 2017 and Beirut in 2008. Namely that in both cases, the faction that drove its point home through the judicious use of political maneuvering and the sudden application of force was a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.”

BBC’s chief international correspondent misleads on IRGC terror designation

Visitors to the BBC News website last weekend found no shortage of reading matter concerning the US president’s decision not to recertify (under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – INARA) the JCPOA.  

What will Trump do about the Iran nuclear deal?” Jonathan Marcus 12/10/17

Iran nuclear deal: Trump ‘will not sign off agreement’” 13/10/17

Trump’s ‘new’ Iran policy and the difficulties ahead” Jonathan Marcus 13/10/17

Trump aims blow at Iran and threatens landmark nuclear deal” 13/10/17

Trump hands Iran chalice to Congress” Anthony Zurcher 13/10/17

Europe backs Iran deal, Saudis hail Trump’s move” 13/10/17

Iran nuclear deal: Global powers stand by pact despite Trump threat” 14/10/17

Some of those BBC articles include statements concerning Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps  – IRGC.

“The activities of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its missile-research effort have continued. […]

One suggestion is that the Trump administration might decide to brand the whole of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity.

This body – part security force, part military, part ideological vanguard – also controls a significant part of the Iranian economy.” [source]

“It is thought he [Trump] will also focus on its non-nuclear activities, particularly those of the Revolutionary Guards (RIG), which has been accused of supporting terrorism. […]

Who are the Revolutionary Guards?

Set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system, they provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.

They are a major military, political and economic force in Iran, with some 125,000 active members, and oversee strategic weapons.

They have been accused of supporting Shia Muslim militants in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.” [emphasis added] [source]

“He [Trump] also called for new sanctions on Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, which he called the “corrupt personal terror force of Iran’s leader”, and restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which is not covered by the deal.” [source]

Two of the reports (see here and here) include an insert of analysis by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet in which readers are told that:

“The new approach imposes new sanctions but stops short of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group – a step Iran says would be tantamount to a declaration of war.” [emphasis added]

But is that an accurate portrayal?

On October 13th the US Treasury Department issued a statement headlined “Treasury Designates the IRGC under Terrorism Authority and Targets IRGC and Military Supporters under Counter-Proliferation Authority”.

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pursuant to the global terrorism Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 and consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.”

Executive Order 13224 was created in 2001 and it is one of two ways by which groups or individuals can be designated under US law.

“There are two main authorities for terrorism designations of groups and individuals. Groups can be designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under Executive Order 13224 a wider range of entities, including terrorist groups, individuals acting as part of a terrorist organization, and other entities such as financiers and front companies, can be designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).”

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) came into effect in August 2017 and inter alia it:

“…directs the President to impose sanctions against: (1) Iran’s ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs, (2) the sale or transfer to Iran of military equipment or the provision of related technical or financial assistance, and (3) Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated foreign persons.”

The US Treasury clarified that while the IRGC has not been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it had been designated under the second possible route.

“Consistent with that requirement of CAATSA, OFAC designated the IRGC on October 13, 2017, pursuant to E.O. 13244 for providing support to the IRGC-Qods Force, which previously had been designated for its support to various terrorist groups.”

At the FDD, Amir Toumaj explains:

“President Donald Trump has levied a terrorism designation against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. […]

A decade ago, the US sanctioned the IRGC’s exterritorial branch, the Qods Force, for terrorism pursuant to E.O. 13224 for its role in providing material support to terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Iraqi-Shiite militias. […]

Per the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which passed in August, the US president was to by Oct. 30 designate the IRGC as a whole pursuant to E.O. 13224, or justify to Congress why a waiver is in America’s vital national security interest.”

Lyse Doucet’s claim that the US administration “stops short of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group” is hence inaccurate and materially misleading.

 

 

 

 

Filling in the blanks in BBC reports on Hamas, Qatar and Iran

As readers may recall, while early BBC News website coverage of the rift between Qatar and several other Arab states did clarify that one of Saudi Arabia’s demands was for Qatar to cut ties with Hamas, it did not inform BBC audiences of Qatar’s reported demand that a number of Hamas officials leave that country.

Yolande Knell later produced two reports on the topic of Qatari funding of Hamas which made vague, brief references to that subject.

“Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.” BBC Radio 4, 15/6/17

“Many leaders of the group [Hamas] – including its former head, Khaled Meshaal, have been living in luxurious exile in Doha.

Now as Hamas seeks to ease pressure on its patron, several have reportedly left at Qatar’s request.” BBC News website, 20/6/17

As was noted here when the story broke:

Among those reportedly asked to leave [Qatar] was Saleh al Arouri – the organiser of Hamas operations in Judea & Samaria who was previously based in Turkey and was designated by the US Treasury in 2015. Arouri is said to have relocated to Malaysia or Lebanon.”

At the beginning of this month al Arouri made an appearance in Beirut.

“A senior Hamas terrorist believed by Israel to have planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank was spotted publicly in Lebanon’s capital Beirut for the first time since he was expelled from Qatar in June.

In photos published Wednesday, Saleh al-Arouri can be seen meeting with senior Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian — a former deputy foreign minister — and a number of other members of Hamas, among them senior spokesman Osama Hamdan and the terror group’s representative in Lebanon, Ali Barka. […]

After his expulsion from Qatar in June, al-Arouri moved to Lebanon, where he is being hosted by the Hezbollah terror group in its Dahieh stronghold in southern Beirut, Channel 2 reported last month.

Citing Palestinian sources, the report said that Arouri and two other senior Hamas figures have relocated to the Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, an area heavily protected with checkpoints on every access road.”

Meanwhile, on August 5th the BBC News website published a report about the Iranian president’s inauguration:

“Dozens of world dignitaries attended Mr Rouhani’s inauguration at Iran’s parliament, reflecting an easing in Iran’s isolation since the nuclear deal.

Guests included EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the chairman of the North Korean parliament, Kim Yong-nam, signalling a growing closeness between Tehran and Pyongyang particularly over defence matters.”

The BBC did not however report that the inauguration’s guest list also included Hamas officials.

“A senior Hamas delegation arrived in Tehran on Friday in a bid to bolster the relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The visit included senior Hamas figure Izzat al-Rishq, currently based in Qatar, and head of the Hamas administration Saleh al-Arouri. They were formally invited to the swearing-in ceremony of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is beginning his second term in office.”

That Hamas delegation apparently also met with IRGC representatives.

“Senior members of the Hamas terror group met on Monday in Iran with representatives of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to Arabic media reports.

A high-level Hamas delegation arrived in Tehran on Friday in order to attend the inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and to “turn a new page in bilateral relations” between the two sides, according to a statement by Hamas.

This is the first Hamas visit to Iran since the group elected new leadership earlier in 2017. The rapprochement between Hamas and Iran is reportedly being facilitated by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which is supported by Tehran.

The delegation consisted of Hamas political bureau members Ezzat al-Resheq, Saleh Arouri, Zaher Jabarin, and Osama Hamdan.

During its stay in Iran, the group met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday, as well as a number of other senior Iranian officials. […]

Hamas also needs to re-establish ties with Iran, as its current top backer Qatar is under fire from Gulf allies for supporting the Palestinian terror group.”

At the end of that August 5th BBC report on Rouhani’s inauguration audiences were told that:

“Last month, the US state department accused Iran of undermining stability, security and prosperity in the Middle East.

It criticised Iran’s support for the Syrian government and groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas and accused it of prolonging the conflict in Yemen by providing support for Houthi rebels.”

Had BBC audiences seen any coverage of Salah al Arouri’s relocation from Qatar to the Hizballah ruled suburb of Beirut and of the Hamas delegation’s visit to Tehran, they would of course be much better placed to understand what lies behind those US State Department statements. 

Related Articles:

The figures behind a story the BBC chooses not report  

Weekend long read

1) At Mosaic magazine, Martin Kramer explains why “The Balfour Declaration Was More than the Promise of One Nation“.

“In 1930, the British Colonial Office published a “white paper” that Zionists saw as a retreat from the Balfour Declaration. David Lloyd George, whose government had issued the declaration in 1917, was long out of office and now in the twilight of his political career. In an indignant speech, he insisted that his own country had no authority to downgrade the declaration, because it constituted a commitment made by all of the Allies in the Great War:

In wartime we were anxious to secure the good will of the Jewish community throughout the world for the Allied cause. The Balfour Declaration was a gesture not merely on our part but on the part of the Allies to secure that valuable support. It was prepared after much consideration, not merely of its policy, but of its actual wording, by the representatives of all the Allied and associated countries including America, and of our dominion premiers.

There was some exaggeration here; not all of the Allies shared the same understanding of the policy or saw the “actual wording.” But Lloyd George pointed to the forgotten truth that I sought to resurrect through my essay. In 1917, there was not yet a League of Nations or a United Nations. But, in the consensus of the Allies, there was the nucleus of a modern international order. The Balfour Declaration had the weight of this consensus behind it, before Balfour signed it. This international buy-in is also why the Balfour Declaration entered the mandate for Palestine, entrusted to Britain by the League of Nations. Those who now cast the Balfour Declaration as an egregious case of imperial self-dealing simply don’t know its history (or prefer not to know it).”

2) Yaakov Lappin reports on a worrying development in Lebanon.

“Israeli leaders are continuing to issue public statements on an Iranian underground missile factory that was apparently built in Lebanon. […]

The first report about this missile factory surfaced back in March, in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.

That report quoted “an aid to the IRGC commander” who said that “Iran has built factories [for manufacturing] missiles and [other] weapons in Lebanon and has recently turned them over to Hizbullah.”

The original story (translation by MEMRI) has some interesting initial information:

“In response to statements by Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan several days ago – who said that Hizbullah is capable of manufacturing missiles [that can] hit any part of Israel [but] gave no details or explanations – a knowledgeable source who wished to remain anonymous said that, after Israel destroyed an Iranian arms factory in Sudan several years ago that had supplied arms to Hizbullah, and after [Israel also] bombed an arms convoy that was intended to reach Hizbullah via Syria, the IRGC launched a project for establishing arms factories in Lebanon [itself].””

3) With a BBC presenter having promoted and endorsed the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence‘ only last week and that group currently making headlines, an op-ed by Ben Dror Yemini at Ynet concerning an ongoing story makes interesting reading.

“Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak is furious about the investigation against the organization’s spokesperson, Dean Issacharof, who stated that he had committed a war crime of beating a Palestinian until he bled. Why is he being interrogated of all people, Novak complained. There are, after all, hundreds of other testimonies. […]

The Military Advocate General wanted to investigate the testimonies that point to a suspected offense, but the organization’s members demanded protection of its sources. And now Novak is complaining that testimonies are not being investigated.”

4) At the Tablet, Tony Badran has more on a story we reported here last week.

“After the second Lebanon war in 2006, when the IDF uncovered the elaborate network of underground Hezbollah tunnels and bunkers in southern Lebanon, the Israelis dubbed these fortifications “nature reserves.” Hezbollah used the “nature reserves,” which were built in forested areas and hillsides, to launch short-range rockets on northern Israel continuously as its fighters hunkered inside, safe from aerial and artillery bombardment.

Eleven years later, the term, intended as a joke, has proved more apt than perhaps the IDF initially imagined. Last week, Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council in which it charged that Hezbollah had set up observation outposts along the border under the cover of an environmental group called Green Without Borders. Israel released photos and a video backing up its claim.”

 

 

 

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