Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Tomer Fadlon, Sason Hadad and Elisheva Simon discuss ‘Lebanon’s Political-Economic Crisis’.

“The two deep problems weighing on Lebanon’s economy are inter-linked. The first is endemic corruption: the organization Transparency International ranks Lebanon 138 among 175 countries assessed. Corruption in Lebanon is manifested especially in nepotism and budget-inflation to line the pockets of those close to power. Thus, for example, in July 2017 public sector salaries rose by dozens of percentage points, while private sector salaries did not enjoy any increase. The only way to fund the higher salaries and inflated budgets is through taxes on the population, which have ballooned in recent years and burdened the private sector.

The second problem is political instability, which is linked to Lebanon’s community structure and greatly limits the Lebanese government’s freedom of action and ability to implement reforms. The instability makes it hard for the government to meet the public’s basic demands, including sanitation services and electricity supply. As a result, there is a burgeoning market in private generators, though even this phenomenon is arguably linked to corruption: politicians are aligned with the generator suppliers, and thus, in fact, profit from government inaction.”

2) At the JCPA Yoni Ben Menachem takes a look at ‘New Tensions between Egypt and Hamas’.

“In recent days, signs of new tensions between Egypt with Hamas in the Gaza Strip have intensified in light of the recent assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States.

This new rift was created following a surprise move by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who decided to take a senior Hamas delegation to Tehran to attend Qasem Soleimani’s funeral. He met and comforted the Iranian leadership and Soleimani’s family.

Qasem Soleimani’s assassination caught Ismail Haniyeh during his visit to Qatar. Haniyeh left the Gaza Strip two weeks ago with special permission from Egyptian authorities. The Egyptian authorities had prevented him from going abroad for the past three years in an attempt to prevent Iranian and Turkish influence that would endanger Egypt’s efforts to calm the Gaza Strip and move towards national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Egyptian authorities had put conditions on Ismail Haniyeh before his trip, and he pledged to comply. They included a ban on travel to Iran or Lebanon and meetings with Iranian and senior Hizbullah officials.”

3) The ITIC presents an overview of Palestinian terrorism in 2019.

“Two main trends in attacks characterized Palestinian organized and popular terrorism in 2019: in Judea and Samaria, the annual decline in the scope of popular terrorism and its lethality continued; in the Gaza Strip there was a significant rise in the scope and intensity of terrorism and violence, especially rocket fire. In 2019 1,403 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel, an almost unprecedented number (with the exception of Operation Protective Edge, 2014).

The reduction in the scope of terrorism and the level of its lethality during the past year again illustrated Hamas’ failure to export terrorism to Judea and Samaria, while at the same time prompting a lull arrangement with Israel through Egyptian mediation. The main reason for Hamas’ failure was the great effectiveness of the counterterrorism activities of the Israeli security forces (with the contribution of the counterterrorism activities of the PA security services). In November 2019 Nadav Argaman, head of the Israel Security Agency, said that in 2019 the Agency had prevented more than 450 significant terrorist attacks, among them showcase attacks which were liable to have had many victims. Thus it can be determined that the relative quiet in Judea and Samaria in 2019 was to a great extent misleading, while beneath the surface attempts to carry out terrorist attacks continued.”

4) The ITIC also provides a profile of the Iraqi militia headed by Qais Ghazali who was featured in a BBC World Service radio programme three days after his designation by the United States.

“On December 6, 2019, the US Department of State announced the imposition of sanctions on Qais al-Khazali, the leader of the militia of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”), and on two other senior militia operatives. According to the American statement, members of the militia headed by Qais al-Khazali opened fire at Iraqi demonstrators which resulted in the killing of civilians. Furthermore, it was stated that Qais al-Khazali was handled by the Iranian Qods Force and authorized the use of deadly weapons against demonstrators in order to sow terror among Iraqi civilians.

Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (“League of the Righteous”) is an Iraqi Shiite militia handled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. It is one of the three most important Shiite militias which are prioritized by the Qods Force in terms of military and financial support. […] In recent years, these militias were handled by Iran in various missions promoting Iranian interests, including support of the Syrian regime, fighting against ISIS, and the suppression of protesters against the Iraqi regime. The US has imposed sanctions on all three militias.”

 

BBC WS radio gives uncritical amplification to Iranian ally’s Israel comments

On January 9th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Inquiry’ aired an edition titled “Why was Qasem Soleimani killed?” which was presented as follows in the synopsis:

“President Trump’s decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani came as a shock to America’s foes and allies alike. He was Iran’s top general and has been described as one of the country’s most powerful figures, second only to the Supreme Leader Ayotollah [sic] Ali Khamenei. He was, effectively, head of Iran’s foreign policy. He’s been credited as being instrumental in the fight against ISIS but has also been accused of arming and supporting terror groups. But why did Donald Trump order his death?”

Presented by Tanya Beckett and produced by John Murphy, that programme – which the webpage states will be “available for over a year” – includes a section (from 11:51) featuring a “witness” described to BBC audiences as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Beckett: “Our third witness, like our American military leaders, also encountered Qasem Soleimani in Iraq but he was on the same side in a militia working to bolster the position of Iraq’s Shia population. […] Qais Ghazali sees himself as a resistance fighter but to the Americans he was a terrorist. He was the leader of one of the most hard-line Shia groups in Iraq…”

Later on listeners hear that Ghazali (also spelt Khazali) “was part of a group that was attacking coalition soldiers” and that “in 2007 he was captured in a raid by British forces in southern Iraq”. Beckett goes on (from 14:19):

Beckett: “Qais Ghazali was released from prison in early 2010 in exchange for the British hostage Peter Moore, a computer consultant who’d been captured by Shia militiamen…”

As documented at ‘The Long War Journal’:

“In exchange for Qayis and his men, the U.S. government secured the release of a British hostage, Peter Moore, and the bodies of three of the four men who were kidnapped with him in the spring of 2007. Moore’s compatriots had been murdered by Khazali’s men; three of the bodies that were returned were riddled with bullet holes; the fourth was never recovered.”

Beckett goes on to tell BBC audiences that:

Beckett: “…Shia groups like Ghazali’s had been instrumental in increasing Iranian influence over the Middle East and making the reality of Soleimani’s master plan to build a continuous link or a Shia crescent stretching from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hizballah in Lebanon. This put the Iranians and Soleimani into direct conflict with America’s allies in the region such as Israel. Qais Ghazali himself travelled to the Israeli border, declaring his support for the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause against what he calls the unjust Israeli occupation that is hostile to Islam. So, should Israel fear his group and Iran?”

Listeners then hear a voice-over translation of a statement from Ghazali:

Ghazali: “If Israel doesn’t want to cause harm and expand its ambitions over the countries in the region, then it shouldn’t be afraid. But if what it really wants to be is an occupying force, expanding its reach over the Arab countries, then it should be afraid.”

The programme then moves on to another topic with listeners hearing no challenge to that propaganda from Ghazali and left unaware of the fact that when he and his Hizballah colleagues refer to “the unjust Israeli occupation” they are in fact referring to the very existence of Israel.

When Ghazali made that trip to southern Lebanon in late 2017 he was filmed describing himself as standing “on the border between southern Lebanon and occupied Palestine”.

As the veteran analyst Jonathan Spyer noted at the time:

“…a recording emerged of an Iraqi Shi’a militia leader called Qais al-Khazali visiting the Lebanon-Israel border area. The short video shows him in the company of two other uniformed men. They are in the village of Kafr Kila, which is adjacent to Metulla.

At a certain point in the recording, Khazali addresses the camera. ‘“I’m at the Fatima Gate in Kafr Kila, at the border that divides south Lebanon from occupied Palestine,” he tells his listeners. “I’m here with my brothers from Hezbollah, the Islamic resistance. We announce our full readiness to stand as one with the Lebanese people, with the Palestinian cause, in the face of the unjust Israeli occupation, [an occupation] that is anti-Islam, anti-Arab, and anti-humanity, in the decisive Arab Muslim cause. And, inshallah, all goodness and blessings to the mujahideen all over the world. And blessings and goodness to the Islamic resistance, which is ready to heed the call of Islam to pave the way to the State of Allah’s Justice, the State of the Possessor of Time [the Mehdi], peace and prayers be upon him.” […]

Khazali’s appearance at the border is the latest and most graphic demonstration that Israel can no longer consider its long standoff with Hezbollah as a closed conflict system between a state and a small, albeit well-armed militia. Iran has now breached the boundaries of this system.”

Obviously the BBC’s editorial decision to provide amplification to the unchallenged and unexplained “occupation” propaganda of the leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militia group not only contributes absolutely nothing to answering the BBC’s question “should Israel fear his group and Iran?” but actually hinders audience understanding of a complex topic the BBC generally prefers to avoid.

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Assaf Orion analyses the ‘Report of the UN Secretary-General on Resolution 1701, November 2019’.

“The UN Security Council recently published its periodic report on Resolution 1701 (2006). Against the backdrop of severe security incidents and political challenges in Lebanon, and alongside traditional formulations, there are some salient new elements in this report: extensive and relatively detailed attention to the restriction on freedom of movement and access of UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon; exposure of the active role played by the Lebanese government and military in violating 1701 and impeding the implementation of the UN force’s mandate; Lebanon’s neglect of its obligation as a host country to protect UNIFIL soldiers from harassment and harm; and some features of the campaign conducted by Hezbollah to paralyze and blind UNIFIL: the operational role of the ”environmental organization” Green Without Borders in the service of Hezbollah, and the sweeping use by all elements in Lebanon of “private property” as grounds for blocking illicit military sites to UNIFIL.”

2) The ITIC takes a look at ‘Initial Palestinian reactions to the killing of Qassem Soleimani’.

“So far the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah have not issued an official reaction. Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), on the other hand, and the heads of their military terrorist wings, which receive military and financial support from Iran, were quick to express sorrow at Soleimani’s death. The mourning notices issued by Hamas and the PIJ stressed the aid and support Qassem Soleimani gave the Palestinian “resistance” in general and their military wings in the Gaza Strip in particular. […]

Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, led a Hamas delegation to Tehran to participate in the funeral. Members of the delegation included Haniyeh’s deputy Saleh al- ‘Arouri, Izzat al-Rishq and Musa Abu Marzouq. While in Iran the delegation can be expected to meet with the Iranian leadership. A PIJ delegation headed by organization leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah and his deputy Ikram al-Ajouri also arrived in Tehran to participate in the funeral.”

3) At the JCPA Shimon Shapira and Michael Segall document Soleimani’s record.

“Qasem Soleimani knew how to connect all the dots of Iran’s military, terrorist, and political strategies to make connections. He trained, armed, and provided funds to terror organizations and groups in the Middle East. He provided Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with rockets, anti-tank missiles, and sniper rifles, and formed the groups into what is known as the “Resistance Front.” He accomplished this by taking advantage of the unstable circumstances of the Arab Spring, the Second Gulf War, and the war against ISIS.

Soleimani, who had forged solid bonds with Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Imad Mughniyeh, gradually transformed Lebanese Hizbullah into a role model Iran sought to implement – using the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards and Hizbullah instructors – in various areas of conflict where Iran had an interest to further its religious (Shia revival), military, and political goals.”

4) The IDI provides a backgrounder concerning the ICC investigation against Israel.

“In her submission to the ICC, the Chief Prosecutor writes that on the basis of her preliminary investigation she believes that Israelis and Palestinians committed the following crimes:

Israelis: The transfer of civilian populations to occupied territory after 2014 (the activity to expand Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem); deliberate or disproportional attacks on civilians and on civilian and medical targets during Operation Protective Edge. In addition, it is possible that sufficient information may be collected in the future pointing to the use of disproportionate force to disperse demonstrations along the Gaza border fence, beginning in 2018, to the point where that constitutes an international crime.

Palestinians: Deliberate attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza against Israeli civilians, the use of human shields, depriving protected persons of the rights of fair and regular trial and willful killing and torture or inhuman treatment and/or outrages upon personal dignity.”

BBC News airbrushes Beirut clashes report

Early on December 15th the BBC News website published a report titled “Lebanon crisis: Dozens hurt as police and protesters clash in Beirut” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Here is how the BBC described what happened in Lebanon the previous day:

“Clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, have left dozens of people wounded, witnesses say.

The violence began as demonstrators, who had been attacked during a sit-in by masked counter-protesters, tried to move into a square near parliament.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, while protesters threw stones. At least 20 officers were also wounded.” [emphasis added]

Here is how AP reported the same story (along with the Guardian):

“The trouble started Saturday when dozens of men, some wearing masks, threw stones and firecrackers at security forces on one edge of the protest camp in central Beirut. They were supporters of the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal groups, angered by some of the criticism of their leaders by anti-government protesters.

It was the second time this week the groups tried to attack the protest camp.”

Deutsche Welle reported that:

“The clashes were sparked Saturday afternoon when an anti-government protest camp in central Beirut was raided by a group of Hezbollah and Amal supporters opposed to the anti-government protest movement.

Security forces intervened, firing teargas to disperse the men who attacked the camp with stones and firecrackers. […]

Shiite Amal and Hezbollah are partners in Lebanon’s cross-sectarian government, and supporters of Hezbollah and Amal have attacked anti-government protest camps in several cities in recent weeks, angered by demonstrators’ criticism of their leaders.” 

The Times of Israel’s report states:

“The violence Saturday started when young men from a neighborhood known as a stronghold for supporters of the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah groups attacked the epicenter of anti-government protests, chanting “Shiite, Shiite.”

It was the second time this week that pro-Hezbollah and Amal supporters tried to attack the protest camp, angered by demonstrators’ criticism of their leaders.”

So while other media outlets were perfectly capable of informing their readers to which factions those “masked counter-protesters” belonged and what part they played in instigating the violence in Beirut, the BBC carefully avoided any mention of the words Hizballah and Amal – thereby concealing an important part of the story from its audiences and from its permanent public record.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

BBC’s ME editor ‘joins the dots’ but dodges issues

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

Weekend long read

1) The FDD reports on ‘The Consolidation of the Turkey-Qatar Axis’.

“On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, enacting a land, sea, and air blockade. Qatar’s neighbors charged the country with supporting terrorists, collaborating with Iran, and sowing the seeds of chaos around the Middle East. The sudden move closed Qatar’s only road link to foreign markets, through which it received nearly 40 percent of its food requirements. Qatari residents panicked, picking clean supermarket shelves. But the panic subsided less than 48 hours later, as Turkey began sending cargo planes with food and other goods.

Turkey’s assistance was not simply a humanitarian gesture. Rather, it was the most visible sign of Ankara and Doha’s strategic convergence. This was also evident when Qatar was one of the few actors, alongside Hamas and Pakistan, that supported Turkey’s cross-border operation into northeast Syria in October 2019.”

2) The ITIC analyses ‘Hezbollah’s Position on the Wave of Protests in Lebanon’.

“When the wave of protests began in Lebanon, Hezbollah avoided criticizing them, possibly assuming they would wane of their own accord, not expecting them to pose a significant threat. However, as the demonstrations continued, the more they posed a challenge to the Lebanese government, the more Hezbollah openly came out against them. Hezbollah was concerned that they might spin out of control and threaten its political power, and possibly even erode the foundations of Lebanon’s sectarian regime, of which Hezbollah is an integral part.

Hezbollah’s propaganda accused the demonstrators of causing chaos and possibly leading the country to a civil war. Hezbollah supporters threatened the “thugs” and “terrorists” who blocked the roads leading to Beirut’s southern suburb (the Dahia), and the highway linking Beirut to the south, thereby imposing a “siege” on the [Shi’ite] population living there. Hezbollah also initiated a campaign claiming that the United States and its allies were behind the protest demonstrations, which automatically delegitimized them. On the ground there were instances in which road-blocking demonstrators were attacked by Hezbollah (and Amal) supporters, but no prolonged frontal confrontation developed.”

3) At the Times of Israel, David Horovitz ponders ‘Why Israel’s third elections might not be such a disaster, after all’.

“Elections are designed to be decisive. We don’t have time to run our democracies ourselves, so we have systems designed to install a new batch of competent people every few years to do so on our behalf. Clearly, that hasn’t been working for us in the past year — even though, in Israel, we have an electoral system that so purely and accurately represents the will of the voter. It’s not like America, where only a few states are really in play. It’s not like in Britain, where parties can win millions of votes and get no seats in parliament. It’s a system where every vote counts. Undiluted proportional representation.

But rather than look at round three of elections as proof of that system’s failure and paralysis, perhaps, in its purity, it is enabling the electorate to work through the hugely sensitive decision of who should lead this country, and thus how and where it should be led, a little more protractedly than is the norm. Perhaps our system is actually working for us rather than against us.”

4) The Tel Aviv Review of Books carries ‘Our Men in Al Sham: An Interview with Seth Frantzman and Jonathan Spyer’.

“The Americans haven’t totally left. They have no real strategy, but as long as they’re there, the Kurds in Syria will be happy to work with them, because the alternative is not working with them. So even if they’re furious about what’s happened, they’re going to carry on working with the Americans.

As for the future, it’s fascinating. Contrary to the impression we had, that the regime is rolling in and it’s all over, on the ground remarkably little has changed. The Kurdish internal security forces are still responsible for security in all the urban areas. Right now a journalist can go through the Kurdish-controlled border crossing with Iraq at Faysh Khabur down to Qamishli on the Turkish border without ever coming across a regime roadblock or even seeing a regime soldier. That’s because the regime is decrepit. I spent some time with the regime forces on the border in a place called Tell Tamer, and they are in lousy shape. I personally witnessed a regime medical officer petitioning an American medical NGO for medical equipment: “I don’t have any aspirin for my boys,” it was like that, you know. People tell me that they’ve seen regime soldiers asking SDF guys for food. The regime has won the war because of Russia and Iran, not because of any strength of its own. And that has implications for them taking control of the whole area.”

Radio 4 listeners fed breakfast-time Hizballah propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

BBC’s Bowen plays dumb to weave tangled web

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Orna Mizrahi and Yoram Schweitzer give their analysis of ‘The Demonstrations in Lebanon’.

“The ongoing protests in Lebanon are a threat to both stable governance and to the dominant role of Hezbollah within the political system. Hezbollah is not interested in change to a status quo that has allowed the organization to wield significant influence without being perceived as a lead actor, all the while preserving its independence, primarily as an armed militia. Consequently, Hezbollah has been working to quell the upheavals without thus far resorting to wide scale violence, while pointing the finger of blame at outside actors, chiefly the United States, as those responsible for fomenting the protest. In parallel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has labored to prevent a political solution in the form of the technocrat government demanded by the demonstrators, which would undermine his clout.”

2) Yoni Ben Menachem discusses ‘A Non-Aggression Agreement between Israel and the Arab Countries’ at the JCPA.

“According to senior diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, Israel is trying to advance a non-aggression agreement with four Arab countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel. These countries are Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco.

This agreement would be a stepping-stone toward full normalization between Israel and these four countries, which are already conducting ties behind the scenes.

The agreement includes maintaining friendly ties between Israel and these Arab countries based on UN treaties and international law and the adoption of steps required to prevent hostile actions, such as the threat of war or terror activities, violence or incitement between both sides.”

3) At the Fathom Journal Ezra Friedman writes about ‘Gas and foreign policy’.

“Israel’s solidification of the ‘Tripartite Alliance’ with Greece and Cyprus, in the face of increasingly aggressive policies by a revisionist Turkey, is becoming a stabilising fixture in the region. This is enhancing cooperation on a host of critical economic and security issues for Israel, while also providing Jerusalem with critical advocates within the European Union (EU). The formation and integration of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) with Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is creating the necessary diplomatic space to facilitate a competitive and sustainable regional gas market. The EMGF is providing Israeli gas with export opportunities to its neighbours while increasing regional economic interdependence. Both of these developments present Israel, a country long perceived as sidelined on the international stage, with several unique avenues to pursue foreign policy objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe, and the broader Middle East.”

4) Writing for Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick reviews some American media coverage of the UK Labour party.

“By writing of a British Jewish community that is painfully divided over Labour anti-Semitism, The New York Times, whether wittingly or not, is playing into the Corbynist narrative that the whole, four-year-long saga of Jeremy and the Jews is just another partisan issue. And if that is the case, if complaints of anti-Jewish prejudice within Labour ranks are like party political disagreements over National Health Service funding or railway nationalization, then it is a short journey to the belief that those expressing concern about said anti-Jewish prejudice are not sincere actors but rather cynical, right-wing agitators drumming up outrage against a thoroughly decent, “lifelong anti-racist” whose only sin is that he cares too much about the Palestinians.”

BBC’s ME editor ‘joins the dots’ but dodges issues

Readers may recall that in late October the BBC’s Middle East editor published an article titled “Is a new Arab Spring unfolding in the Middle East?” in which he ignored the anti-Iran component of popular demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon.

Since then the BBC News website has produced related content which has included a filmed report claiming “common causes” between the protests in Iraq and Lebanon and those in Ecuador, Chile, Spain and Hong Kong and a written article on the protests in Iraq which claims to provide “all the background you need to know” but which offers just 51 words of explanation in answer to the question “Why are the protesters also angry at Iran?”.

“They accuse the country of complicity in Iraq’s governance failure and corruption.

Iran’s influence over Iraq’s internal affairs has grown steadily since 2003. It has close links to Shia politicians who are part of the ruling elite, and has backed the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force, which is dominated by Shia militias.”

On December 5th – over a month and a half after the protests in Lebanon began – the BBC News website published a long filmed report by the BBC’s Middle East editor titled “What’s behind the wave of Middle East protests?”.

“You might remember the uprisings in the Middle East in 2011. As dictators were toppled hundreds of thousands of protesters called for change, for freedom and a new start. Their high hopes came to very little and the region lurched back towards war and repression.

But the grievances that drove the 2011 uprisings – the so-called Arab Spring – never went away. 2019 might be the year it started again. Already protests have forced the resignations of two Prime Ministers – in Lebanon and Iraq.

Since October there have been big, mainly peaceful protests in Lebanon and extremely bloody ones in Iraq. And in Iran, hundreds have been shot dead at protests in the last few weeks.

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen has been trying to make sense of it all in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.”

Most of that almost ten and a half minute-long video relates to the protests in Lebanon, with focus on their economic aspects. From 06:45 however viewers see an unidentified Lebanese woman describe the demand of the protesters in Iraq as “to live better in a country free of militias”. She goes on to say “we [in Lebanon] want to live in dignity in our country, free of any foreign influence” but viewers see no explanation of her words.

Only nearly eight minutes into the report does Bowen inform viewers that:

“They [protesters in Iraq] don’t just blame their own inept politicians, they’re also targeting Iraq’s alliance with Iran, torching its consulates in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. For Iran this was supposed to be friendly territory.”

Mentioning the Lebanese terrorist organisation for the first time, Bowen goes on:

“Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran have serious problems at home too. Big protests started in Iran in the last fortnight after a rise in petrol prices. Crushing American sanctions have made matters worse in an economy already weakened by corruption and mismanagement. BBC Persian estimates that more than 200 were killed by the regime.”

Offering no explanation as to why those “crushing American sanctions” were imposed, Bowen returns to Lebanon:

“Iran’s ally Hezbollah sent thugs to try to break up the demonstrations in Beirut, without success. But that’s not the end of it. Hezbollah is powerful and heavily armed and it’s worked for 40 years to dominate Lebanon. The status quo suits them and they don’t want it to change.”

With less than a minute and a half of the report left, Bowen presents his concluding analysis:

“Well the time’s come now to try to join the dots. Let’s say there are two main camps in the Middle East. One of them we can call ‘Team America’. It also includes Saudi Arabia and Israel. The other one is ‘Team Iran’. It also includes the Assad regime in Syria, Iraq and the strongest single group here in Lebanon, Hezbollah, which is a Shia Muslim movement. Now the Iranians need their allies. They use them to try to project power. But they’ve got a real problem at the moment because the demonstrations have shown that anti-Iranian feeling is growing in Iraq and here in Lebanon. Across the region there are demonstrations against local grievances and their shared deep-seated anger that crosses borders among the young, who want to sweep away discredited, corrupt and inept leaders. It all feeds into the geo-political instability of the world’s most turbulent region. Another storm is brewing in the Middle East.”

So although it took over a month for Bowen to “join the dots”, BBC audiences did finally get to hear something about the anti-Iran component of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon. However the man tasked with “providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience” made no attempt to explain to audiences what lies behind either Iran’s efforts to “project power” or the “anti-Iranian feeling” in Iraq and Lebanon, while portraying an internationally active terrorist organisation merely as “a Shia Muslim movement”.  

One of the conclusions of the 2012 report into the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’ was that it required more “breadth and context”. 

“Alison Hastings, chair of the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee […] added that the trust was also “keen to see if improvements can be made”. “These would be both in the scope of coverage to provide a fuller picture of events, and in providing better context for audiences.” 

Should Bowen’s predictions of a ‘brewing storm’ materialise, BBC audiences will once again lack the context which will help them understand the broader picture.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

 

 

 

 

BBC News ignores story of Hizballah operative convicted in the US

On December 3rd the US Department of Justice announced that a Hizballah operative had been sentenced to 40 years in prison after having been convicted of crimes that included “help[ing] the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States”.

As reported by the Times of Israel:

“Ali Kourani, 35, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein after the Lebanon-born Kourani was convicted at a May trial. […]

US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a release that Kourani spent years conducting surveillance for the terror group at federal buildings, airports including Kennedy International Airport and even daycare centers after he was recruited, trained and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization.”

One might have assumed that a story about an operative for an Iranian-sponsored terrorist organisation being imprisoned in connection to potential attacks in the USA – particularly given that the terrorist organisation concerned has been part of the Lebanese government since 2005 – would be covered by a major media organisation with offices in both those countries.

To date, however, neither the BBC News website’s ‘Lebanon’ page nor its ‘United States’ page carry any reporting whatsoever on that story.

Related Articles:

Hizballah London explosives story not newsworthy for the BBC

 

Weekend long read

1) At Tablet magazine Liel Leibovitz has been ‘Debunking the latest claptrap on American policy and Israeli settlements’.

“You’re free to like President Trump or dislike him. You’re free to consider his latest Middle East  policy move to be a welcome bit of truth-telling, or a political maneuver to help Bibi, or a rash and potentially ruinous bit of grandstanding aimed at evangelical voters in the US. But one thing is abundantly clear: By promoting the false narrative about the president reversing 40 years of American policy, it is Trump’s credulous critics who are using their ignorance of history to push a radical viewpoint that was widely and repeatedly rejected by actual US policy makers for the vast majority of the past four decades.”

2) Raz Zimmt of the INSS provides an initial assessment of the recent protests in Iran.

“Protests have been underway across Iran since November 15, 2019 in the wake of the government’s decision to increase gasoline prices sharply and ration gasoline consumption. These moves reflect the intensity of the economic crisis facing Iran following the re-imposition of sanctions. The government, which had previously backtracked on its intention to implement economic austerity measures out of fear they would lead to a resumption of popular protests, found itself having to take a calculated risk in an attempt to boost its ability to weather the effects of the sanctions. On the political level, the government’s decision may further weaken President Rouhani’s already shaky public and political status, especially ahead of parliamentary elections in early 2020. At this point, the regime appears to have significant repression capabilities and be ready to use them if and when necessary. However, the protests sharpen the dilemma faced by the authorities who are committed to austerity and streamlining measures, but fear the intensification of popular protests.”

3) At WINEP, Hanin Ghaddar examines the implications of the protests in Lebanon.

“For a month, nationwide protests have swept Lebanon due to deteriorating economic conditions and the persistent corruption of the ruling class. Two weeks into the protests, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned. When asked to form a new government, he faced a deadlock because he sought one composed of independent technocrats. This type of government is what the protestors are demanding; it is also a requirement for outside financial assistance to Lebanon. No other outcome would generate confidence at home or internationally. Yet it is still unclear who will form the new government, and none of the names proposed so far are suitable given that current authorities are still influenced by Hezbollah.”

4) Also at WINEP, Assaf Orion documents ‘Hezbollah’s Campaign Against UNIFIL’.

“In summer 2006, the United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 1701 with the goal of ending the war between Israel and Hezbollah and preventing a recurrence. Among its terms was an expansion of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, a multinational peacekeeping body created in 1978. UN reports over the past thirteen years have emphasized the general calm in southern Lebanon—but calm does not mean safety and security. Since the 2006 war, Iran has invested billions of dollars in building its Lebanese proxy military force, Hezbollah, throughout Lebanon, including in the south. Hezbollah, in turn, has carried out a relentless intimidation campaign against UNIFIL forces, seeking to undermine their mission and prevent its own exposure. An August 2018 attack by the group near Majdel Zoun, which included seizing peacekeepers’ weapons and setting fire to their vehicles, epitomized Hezbollah’s modus operandi.”