Weekend long read

1) MEMRI provides a translation of an article appearing on a pro-Hizballah website.

“A February 9, 2018 article on the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese website Dahiya claims that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad recently rejected an Israeli demand, relayed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to remove some 70,000 Iranian long-range missiles that Hizbullah has deployed throughout Syria and are aimed at Israel. The article claimed further that Syria and Hizbullah will wage a “joint missile campaign” against Israel, and that Iranian experts are ready to launch missiles at Israel from every part of Lebanon and Syria. According to the article, Assad has instructed his army to help Hizbullah construct and camouflage missile silos across the country; moreover, intense activity is underway to bring more Iranian missiles to Syria via Iraq, so that within a year Hizbullah will have 500,000 missiles in Syria, in addition to the ones it has already deployed in Lebanon.”

2) Writing at the JNS, Yaakov Lappin discusses Hizballah’s influence on the Lebanese military.

“For the United States, the LAF is a regional partner in the war against the Islamic State. It has received both U.S. funding and arms sales for that purpose.

According to Israeli military assessments, however, the LAF is increasingly coming under the sway of the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon politically and militarily. […]

A recent visit to the Lebanese-Israeli border by a high-ranking Iranian official, Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, offers an accurate illustration of who is in control of Lebanon. Raisi was given a tour by armed Hezbollah members, vowing during his visit that “soon, we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem.””

3) At the Asia Times, former UNHCR official Alexander Casella addresses the debate surrounding UNRWA.

“The creation of UNRWA 70 years ago corresponded to a real humanitarian need. However, inbuilt in the fulfillment of that need were two political considerations, the so-called “right of return” and the fact that Palestinian refugee status would be handed down from generation to generation. Both these notions were predicated on what was at the time the core of Arab policy as regards Palestine, namely the obliteration of the State of Israel.

Not only did this not happen but with the recognition of Israel by Jordan and Egypt and the de facto rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, what started off as a political expedient is today a major handicap, and the Palestinian refugee issue is one that both the Arab states and Israel could well do without.

While addressing it is a major political issue that continues to bedevil the Middle East, UNRWA, which started off as a solution, is now part of the problem. And, perversely, while it continues to discharge its assistance mandate, doing so has created among many of its wards as well as among several Arab governments a dependency, not to say a premium for inaction, of which Gaza is a prime example.”

4) Jonathan Spyer discusses the recent Russian sponsored Syrian peace conference.

“The Russians first of all failed even to bring the main protagonists of the war around the table.

The main, UN-recognised Syrian opposition formation, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, did not attend.  One senior member of the commission described the conference as a ‘meeting between the regime and the regime.’  An opposition website produced a picture of a beaming Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with himself as a representation of the Sochi gathering. […]

The United States, France and Britain also did not attend the gathering, seeing it as a Russian attempt to circumvent the UN-sponsored process in order to bring about an outcome more favorable to the Assad regime.

Representatives of the Kurdish Federation of Northern Syria, which controls Syria east of the Euphrates, were not at the conference. The Syrian Kurdish leadership has sought to maintain working relations with Moscow, despite the Kurdish cooperation with the US in Syria.  But Moscow’s acquiescence to the current Turkish assault on the Kurdish Afrin canton in north west Syria has led to widespread anger among the Kurds.  Kurds belonging to rival factions also did not attend.”


BBC News ignores a media freedom story from Lebanon

Last year BBC Radio 4 produced a couple of programmes about a call from Gulf States to close certain media organisations – including Al Jazeera and Middle East Eye – in which the story was framed as an assault on media freedom.

BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

Also last year, the BBC produced reports concerning Israeli complaints about Al Jazeera that were described as “an attack on free and independent media”.

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part one

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

BBC journalists protest imprisonment of Al Jazeera journalists by Egypt in 2014

Given that proclaimed interest in freedom of the press and the BBC’s track record of calling out some past cases of prison terms given to journalists, one might have therefore expected to see at least one report about a journalist sentenced to imprisonment in absentia by a military court.

“A Lebanese military court has handed down a six-month prison sentence to a journalist for comments critical of the Lebanese army, highlighting the close ties the army has with Hezbollah, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Hanin Ghaddar, a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy known for her vocal criticism of the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah, as well as Iran’s efforts to spread its Islamic revolution across the Middle East, stands accused of “undermining the Lebanese army.”

The court ruled that Ghaddar, a U.S. resident, was guilty of “defaming the Lebanese army, harming its reputation and accusing it of distinguishing between Lebanese citizens,” because of an expose she delivered at a conference held by the Washington Institute in May 2014. […]

The Beirut-based SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom condemned the court’s ruling as “a dangerous precedent in Lebanon, in which the military judiciary intervenes in a civil case.”

The sentence is “a new step toward turning the Lebanese government into an authoritarian regime, similar to other regimes in the region, where military judiciary is used for oppressing the public under vague terms and false arguments,” the statement added.”

Curiously however, BBC audiences have to date seen no reporting whatsoever of Hanin Ghaddar’s story.

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores a story about press freedom

A media story the BBC ignored surfaces again


BBC News yawns over another violation of UNSC resolution 1701

One might have assumed that the blatant violation of a UN Security Council resolution by a terrorist group and a government’s armed forces would have been of interest to a media organisation that has described itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism”.

Hizballah flag viewed from Metulla

However, when Hizballah took journalists on a tour of the border between Israel and Lebanon on April 20th – accompanied by armed terrorists and the Lebanese army – right under the noses of the UNIFIL troops that are supposed to implement UN SC resolution 1701’s ban on armed paramilitary groups, the BBC stayed mum.

Neither did BBC audiences get any coverage of the next day’s ‘damage control’ visit to the same location by the Lebanese prime minister.

“The Lebanese leader criticized the media tour organized by Hezbollah during which armed gunmen from the group appeared in a UN-created border buffer zone meant to be free of Hezbollah presence, calling it “unacceptable in our opinion.” […]

Hariri, on his visit Friday, met with United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the area and renewed Lebanon’s commitment to international resolutions.

“What happened yesterday is something that we, as a government, are not (involved) with and do not accept,” Hariri said. He struck a conciliatory tone, however, saying “there are political differences (with Hezbollah) that we put aside, and this is one of them.”

“I came here to emphasize that our role as a government is to preserve Resolution 1701,” Hariri said.”

Writing at the Tablet, Tony Badran analyses those events and their broader meaning.

“Last Thursday, Hezbollah organized a tour for journalists along the border with Israel, where the Iranian proxy highlighted the various topographical alterations the IDF has done near the border in preparation for a future war. As part of this event, Hezbollah fighters posed for pictures in the area carrying arms, including a man-portable air-defense system—an overt violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701. The resolution, passed in 2006 to conclude the Second Lebanon war, stipulates that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani river should be free of “any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).” To be sure, Hezbollah has been violating that resolution for a decade, but what makes this latest episode all the more egregious is that the Hezbollah tour was chaperoned by the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and in the presence of UNIFIL forces in the area. Afterwards, Hezbollah clarified that its tour was “coordinated” with the LAF and UNIFIL. The latter subsequently issued a statement clarifying that the LAF gave it notice of the event “shortly before the media delegation arrived.” In other words, the LAF and Hezbollah were both in on the joke and UNIFIL, at best, was the butt of it. […]

Following the Hezbollah tour, Hariri paid a visit to UNIFIL headquarters, accompanied by the Hezbollah-allied defense minister and LAF commander, where, for added comedic effect, he reaffirmed his “government’s commitment, with all its components” to UNSCR 1701. That is to say, Hariri was mopping up after Hezbollah—a “component” of the government, which had just violated 1701, in collusion with the LAF. Never mind that. “The government is not interested in, nor does it accept, what happened,” Hariri said. And so, the “government” both violates and is committed to UNSCR 1701. Everyone, really, is committed to the charade.”

As has been noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC not only routinely ignores the topic of Hizballah’s continuous violations of UN SC resolution 1701, but has even whitewashed them.

The adoption of that editorial policy of course means that if and when conflict between Israel and Hizballah does break out again, BBC audiences will be unaware of over a decade of violations of that UN SC resolution that are crucial context to any such conflict.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

BBC website replaces article on shooting of Israeli soldier with ‘last-first’ report

At around 8:30 pm on Sunday, December 15th, IDF navy officer Shlomi Cohen aged 31 from Afula was driving in his vehicle near Rosh Hanikra, some 50 meters south of the border between Israel and Lebanon, when he was hit by cross-border sniper fire. Master Sgt. Cohen was evacuated to Nahariya hospital, but died of his wounds. He is survived by his wife and baby daughter. 

The report on the incident which appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website – with the later version titled “Israeli soldier killed by shots from Lebanon” – has undergone many changes since its initial publication. Below are screenshots (click to enlarge) of the report as it appeared late on Sunday night and after amendment on early Monday morning.

BBC art shooting Leb border

BBC art shooting Leb Brdr vers 2

The report’s later version is reasonably accurate and impartial with regard to the incident itself. The article states that “Lebanese sources say they have lost contact with one of their soldiers” although Lebanese media sources reported that the sniper returned to his base on Monday morning.

Less accurate is the additional general background information provided in the report. Versions 2, 3 and 4 of the article closed with the statement “In 2006, Israel fought a war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group” but failed to inform readers that the war began as a result of another cross-border incident in which Hizballah attacked an IDF patrol in Israeli territory, killing three soldiers and kidnapping two others whilst concurrently firing missiles at Israeli civilian communities.

That information is also omitted from the article’s fifth and final version which states:

“There has been sporadic cross-border violence since 2006, when Israel and the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah fought a month-long war.

In the most serious incident, an Israeli officer was shot dead in 2010 by a Lebanese sniper, sparking clashes in which three Lebanese soldiers were killed.”

Contrary to the impression created by the BBC, cross-border violence also occurred before 2006, with the most well-known example being the kidnapping and killing of Adi Avitan, Benny Avraham and Omar Sueid in October 2000. 

The BBC’s reference to the 2010 incident in which Lt. Col. (res) Dov Harari was killed and Cpt. Ezra Lakia was injured as having been carried out “by a Lebanese sniper” does not sufficiently clarify the fact that – as in this latest incident – the sniper was a member of the Lebanese Armed Forces and no attempt is made to inform audiences of the intricate background to such sniping incidents.

However, the BBC’s approach to this story took a curious turn on the morning of Monday December 16th. The above mentioned report on the killing of Shlomi Cohen had appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on Sunday evening as the event unfolded.

Lebanon border shooting on HP

On Monday morning local time, the Tweet below was sent from the BBC Breaking News account.

tweet BBC breaking 16 12

The report on the incident in which Shlomi Cohen was killed disappeared from the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

main page ME 16 12 new story

That report was replaced by another – later titled “Troops shot on Israel-Lebanon border” – the original version of which (headlined “Israel army shoots Lebanese soldiers”) merely stated:

“Israeli army shoots two Lebanese soldiers on border, hours after Israeli soldier killed by Lebanese army sniper.

More details to follow.”

The report’s second version looked like this:

Troops shot story 16 12

The article’s third version appears below.

V3 troops shot art 1

V3 troops shot art 2

In other words, an editorial decision was taken to replace a serviceable report on an incident which was sparked by the deliberate shooting and killing of an Israeli soldier on Israeli territory with a headline which initially informed audiences only that “Israeli army shoots LebaneseMost popular soldiers” (see the BBC website’s “Most Popular” side-box as it appeared early on Monday afternoon). 

That report was expanded into yet another example of “last-first” reporting which, despite it being stated in the body of the article that the Lebanese authorities had not confirmed the incident, opens:

“The Israeli army has shot two Lebanese soldiers, hours after an Israeli soldier was killed by a Lebanese army sniper, the Israeli military has said.”

The overall effect of those editorial decisions is of course to promote the notion of equivalence between the reported shooting of two Lebanese soldiers during a military response to a serious cross-border incident and the completely unprovoked killing of an Israeli soldier on Israeli territory.