Whitewashing Hizballah on BBC Radio 4

The March 9th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item by Mishal Husain who is currently in Lebanon for a special broadcast from that country on March 11th to mark eight years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria.

Although the report (from 35:20 here) was introduced by both co-presenter Martha Kearney and Mishal Husain as being connected to the topic of “the war in Syria” and UK aid to Syrians displaced by that conflict, its focus soon shifted to a different topic.

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

Husain: “The UK’s just pledged an extra £100 million for Syrians in need and the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt has told me host countries like Lebanon need ongoing support too. He came to Beirut straight after the government’s decision to ban the political wing of Hizballah – an organisation that’s had elected MPs in the Lebanese parliament for years. It’s part of the current government, controlling three ministries. I’ve been speaking to Amal Saad, professor of political science at the Lebanese University and the author of a book on Hizballah.”

As we see, that introduction (notable for Husain’s promotion of the entirely false notion of separate ‘wings’ of Hizballah) was no more helpful in aiding listeners to understand that they were about to hear from a Hizballah supporter than were the introductions heard by audiences on previous occasions when the BBC brought in Amal Saad for comment.

Listeners also received no information which would help them understand that when Hizballah and its supporters speak of ‘resistance’ against Israel, they in fact mean the destruction of that state.

Saad: “It’s first and foremost priority is resisting Israel and now fighting jihadis.”

Husain: “How entrenched is it in Lebanese politics, in Lebanese society today?”

Saad: “For the past 15 years or so Hizballah has been deeply entrenched in the Lebanese state: in the civil service, also in municipalities – across the board basically. And of course there is also the military and security cooperation that Hizballah has with the Lebanese army and with Lebanon’s security services.”

Listeners heard no mention of the fact that the 2006 UN Security Council resolution 1701 stated that there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State” should be implemented. Predictably, neither Husain nor her interviewee bothered to inform listeners that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that UN resolution) by a foreign power.

Husain went on to once again promote the chimera of different ‘wings’ of the terror group.

Husain: “The UK says it can no longer make a distinction between the military and the political wing of Hizballah. Is it a false distinction to make?”

Saad: “I think it was an artificial one and it was a politically expedient one to facilitate dialogue and cooperation with Hizballah in Lebanon. In fact Hizballah is not a party with a military wing. It’s a resistance army and it has a political wing.”

Husain: “And that has meant fighting on the same side as President Assad in Syria and it’s been linked to the Houthi fighters backed by Iran in Yemen. One assumes that that is what the UK means when it says it’s destabilising the Middle East.”

The BBC’s domestic audiences then heard the claim that their own government’s policies are dictated by foreign interests.

Saad: “The British focused a lot on its role in Syria in the parliamentary report. The main argument was about Hizballah’s destabilising role in the region with emphasis on Syria. There was very little about actual terrorist incidents anywhere in the world. The UK is very troubled by Hizballah’s role in the region in the sense that it conflicts with US interests in the region. I think that’s the real problem.”

Despite having been told that Hizballah is a militia, Husain persisted in labelling it as a political organisation:

Husain: “But it is a party which has a history in what you call the resistance to Israel. It’s been responsible in the past for bombings, there were tunnels that have been dug into Israel. You look at all of that and around and then perhaps people say well, this is a valid decision for the UK to have taken.”

Saad: “This is part and parcel of an open war between Hizballah and Israel. There’s a balance of deterrence between the two. Even if we were talking about any transgressions that the UK has decided Hizballah has made, you know, they could try Hizballah for war crimes if they like. But that’s not the same thing as terrorism.”

That part of the item closed with that whitewashing of Hizballah’s terror activities and with no mention of UNSC resolution 1701 or Iran’s role as Hizballah’s mentor and supplier and no explanation of what the euphemism ‘resistance’ really means.

Despite having been told by Amal Saad in very plain terms that the notion of separate wings of Hizballah is “artificial”, Husain then went on to press her point (from 38:35) with Alistair Burt.

Husain: “We did make that distinction for more than a decade. So what has changed?”

Husain: “Last year a minister said that there wasn’t the evidence to proscribe the political wing of Hizballah. What changed between last year and this year?”

And when Burt mentioned the annual ‘Quds Day’ marches in the UK, Husain interrupted him with the following flippant remark:

Husain: “You made this decision on the basis of flags at a demonstration?”

Clearly this item, with comment coming from a Hizballah supporter and numerous grave omissions, comes nowhere near to providing licence fee paying listeners with the “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards” that is supposed to improve their ability to understand their own government’s decision to proscribe Hizballah.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

Usual mantras in BBC News report on Hizballah designation

 

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BBC world affairs editor’s holiday snaps exclude Hizballah

h/t ML

The February 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included – apropos of nothing – a report from Beirut by world affairs editor John Simpson.

Co-presenter Nick Robinson introduced that space filler (from 16:18 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “A civil war in the Middle East that risks destabilising the entire region. For years it was Lebanon and not Syria that merited that description. Today’s Lebanon – fragile but stable – is a very different country to that which our world affairs editor John Simpson reported on in the 1980s and 90s. He’s been back, more than 30 years after reporting on its conflict.”

The first part of the item is taken up by Simpson’s old war stories. After listeners discover that he is actually in Beirut on a family holiday, Simpson moves on to describing a “shopping area” and “a pleasant little café” before closing:

Simpson: “All these years later Lebanon still seems immensely fragile. Syria and its civil war is less than 50 miles away and Syria itself, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran are all inclined to interfere here and act like bullies. But the one thing everyone tells you is that the Lebanese themselves have learned their lesson. 15 years of ferocious civil war have left a terrible scar. Better to get on with your fellow citizens of whatever religion and make money than fall out with them and risk a fresh round of destructive horror.”

Remarkably the BBC world affairs editor’s holiday snapshots from “peaceful” Lebanon include no mention whatsoever of the heavily armed, foreign funded and directed, sectarian, theocratic terrorist group that dominates the country while threatening the neighbouring one described by Simpson as being “inclined to interfere…and act like bullies”. 

 

 

Hizballah video brings BBC narrative into focus

The Jerusalem Post reports:

“[The] Terror group Hezbollah published a video of the 2015 attack on an IDF convoy on the Israel-Lebanon border that killed two soldiers and wounded seven others.

The video shows the rocket launcher used in the attack, as well as the launch of a rocket and the explosion when the convoy was hit and Staff-Seargent Dor Nini and Major Yochai Kalengel were killed in January 28, 2015.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“Hezbollah operatives interviewed by al-Mayadeen [the Hizballah linked channel that recently aired the video] said the attack was ordered by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and was meant to demonstrate it had the willingness and ability to respond militarily, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

They said the decision to attack at Mount Dov, known to the Lebanese as Shebaa Farms, was because the Israeli territory is claimed by Lebanon. The operatives also said Hezbollah had observed the road on which the vehicles were hit for several days before attacking.”

That reference by the terror group’s operatives to the Shebaa Farms of course stems from Hizballah’s use of that issue as one of the pretexts for its continued existence.

As readers may recall, BBC reporting on the January 28th 2015 attack amplified that Hizballah narrative.

Patchy BBC reporting on Hizballah attacks in northern Israel

How the BBC framed the story of Hizballah’s latest attack

The recently released Hizballah video includes footage shot from a similar angle to that shown in a filmed report by Orla Guerin which is still available online under the interestingly punctuated title “Hezbollah ‘attack site’ near Shebaa Farms identified“ and which likewise promotes the terror group’s  “disputed border” narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘In Pictures’ compromises accuracy with sloppy caption

The BBC News website’s muddled geography confuses audiences

More soft focus BBC presentation of Hizballah

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Gatestone Institute, Khaled Abu Toameh reports on ‘“Journalism” Hamas Style’.

“Hamas, as part of its crackdown on freedom of the media, has imposed yet another restriction on the work of journalists in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas measure has left many Palestinian journalists worried about their ability to report on what is happening in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Foreign journalists, for their part, have yet to respond to the latest assault on public freedoms. […]

Earlier this week, the Hamas-controlled Government Press Office issued a directive in which it said that, as of April 1, journalists will not be permitted to conduct interviews or enter government institutions in the Gaza Strip unless they have obtained a “press card” issued by the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Information. […]

The new measure is Hamas’s way of controlling the story. Hamas clearly wants to make sure that the journalists who work in the Gaza Strip report only on issues that make the movement and its leaders look good in the eyes of Palestinians and the international community.”

2) At the INSS, Orna Mizrahi takes a look at “Challenges Facing the New Government in Lebanon, and Implications for Israel”.

“Following nine months of difficult and tiresome negotiations, a new government has been formed in Lebanon that includes 30 ministers: 18 from Hezbollah’s relatively united camp, and 12 from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s divided camp. Hariri was forced to accept almost all of Hezbollah’s demands, first and foremost control over portfolios that will provide the organization with access to national budgets (the Ministry of Health, with its large budget; and the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs), and the appointment of a Sunni minister from among Hariri’s opponents, which will enable Hezbollah to can gain support from the greater Sunni camp. […] From Israel’s perspective, Hezbollah’s continued takeover of the political system in Lebanon, along with its ongoing military buildup, is a negative development. At the same time, this trend deepens Hezbollah’s responsibility for the Lebanese state and strengthens Israel’s claims regarding Lebanon’s responsibility for the organization’s actions, including Iran’s influence over Lebanon.”

3) At Foreign Policy, Colin P. Clarke proposes that ‘Hezbollah Is in Venezuela to Stay’.

“Hezbollah has long maintained a presence in Latin America, especially in the infamous Tri-Border Area, a semi-lawless region where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil converge. But even beyond the Tri-Border Area, Hezbollah is well-entrenched in Venezuela, where the Shiite terrorist group has long worked to establish a vast infrastructure for its criminal activities, including drug trafficking, money laundering, and illicit smuggling. For example, Margarita Island, located off the coast of Venezuela, is a well-known criminal hotbed where Hezbollah members have established a safe haven. Under the regime of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the government took a more active approach to offering sanctuary to Venezuela-based supporters of Hezbollah.”

4) Philip Mendes presents a case study in ‘How the BDS movement is poisoning academic discourse’ at the Fathom Journal.

“In September 2018, the respected journal Critical and Radical Social Work (Policy Press, University of Bristol) published a remarkably simplistic and arguably non-scholarly paper by an academic from Scotland about the controversy concerning left-wing anti-Semitism within the British Labour Party (Maitles 2018). The paper, whilst of minimal importance in itself, can be seen as symbolising the extent to which sections of the academic Left, influenced by the Boycott, Divestment and Sections (BDS) movement, have abandoned even the pretence of applying core academic standards to debates regarding the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Instead, the presentation of historical facts and empirical evidence concerning Jewish history and experiences, and indeed the determination of political strategies towards anti-Jewish racism, is increasingly subordinated to the higher priority of fighting what is labelled ‘Zionism’ and to aiding the Palestinian nationalist agenda.”

 

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

Last month we noted that a report published on the BBC News website closed with the following paragraph:

“Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006 in which more than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 159 Israelis, including 43 civilians, were killed.” [emphasis added]

Similar statements had previously appeared in two BBC News website reports relating to Operation Northern Shield:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

While the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants during the 2006 war, Lebanese officials did report even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah personnel and UN officials gave similar figures while Israeli estimates stand at around 600 (of whom 450 were identified with certainty: see page 55 here).

In August 2006 the BBC News website acknowledged that “there are no reliable figures” for the number of Hizballah combatants killed in the war that had just ended at the time.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the BBC’s repeated promotion of that narrative portraying Lebanese casualties during the 2006 war as “mostly civilians” despite there being no evidence of its having been able to independently verify that claim.

A week after the complaint was submitted we received a response from BBC Complaints stating that the issue would take more time to address.

On February 7th we received a response from the BBC News website which presented links to statements supporting its claim from sources such as the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Higher Relief Council, the political NGO Human Rights Watch and two news agencies.

The BBC News website concluded its reply as follows:

“However after considering your point further we have since amended all three of these articles so as to attribute these figures to the Lebanese government.

 We have also added an update note at the bottom of each article outlining these changes.”

The December 4th article now reads:

“Tensions are high between Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006.

More than 1,189 Lebanese, most of them civilians, the Lebanese government says, and some 40 Israeli civilians were killed in that conflict.”

The December 19th article now reads:

“Tensions are high between the Iran-backed Shia Islamist group and Israel, which fought a month-long war in 2006.

More than 1,189 Lebanese, most of them civilians, the Lebanese government says, and 159 Israelis, including 43 civilians, were killed in that conflict.”

The January 17th article now reads:

“Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006 in which more than 1,189 Lebanese, most of them civilians, the Lebanese government says, and 159 Israelis, including 43 civilians, were killed.”

The footnote added to all three reports reads as follows:

 

BBC News gives anodyne portrayal of new Lebanese government

On May 7th 2018 the BBC News website published a report about the results of the first election held in Lebanon in nine years. The website’s readers saw no further reporting on the subsequent failure to form a government over the next nine months.

On February 1st 2019 a report titled “Lebanon forms new government after long delay” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

“Lebanese factions have agreed to form a new government of national unity, ending nearly nine months of wrangling.”

Readers were not given any meaningful insight into the background to that “wrangling”, which is explained by the FDD analyst Tony Badran as follows:

“Following its victory in the May 2018 parliamentary election, Hezbollah began orchestrating the formation of a new government. From the outset, the terror group laid out its non-negotiable demands and immediately received the acquiescence of Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri. Namely, Hezbollah wanted to control the lucrative Ministry of Public Health. It succeeded. The new minister, Jamil Jabak, reportedly is the former personal physician of Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah.

Then Hezbollah proceeded to manage the shares of the other sects and parties. The Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, gained seats in the election but Hezbollah marginalized it in the government formation process. Instead of obtaining the Defense portfolio, Hezbollah made sure that ministry went to one of their allies, Elias Bou Saab.

Hezbollah similarly managed the Druze share. Hezbollah forced Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt to give up one of the three allocated seats to a figure approved by Jumblatt’s rival, Talal Arslan, an ally of both Hezbollah and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah also demanded that Hariri offer a share in the government to a bloc of pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad Sunnis. Not only did Hezbollah force the inclusion of an anti-Hariri Sunni minister, but it also forced its Christian ally, President Michel Aoun, and Aoun’s son-in-law and foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, to vacate a slot from their share. In so doing, Hezbollah stripped any one party, even allies, of the ability to veto government decisions independently.

Hezbollah now controls a majority coalition of all the Lebanese sects.”

The BBC’s anodyne portrayal of the new government in Lebanon is as follows: [emphasis added]

“The 30-member cabinet has four women, including the interior minister – a first for Lebanon. […]

Mr Hariri’s new government will be composed of most of the country’s rival factions, including the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah which – with its allies – made gains in parliamentary elections last May.

One of the main sticking points until now has been how Hezbollah’s Sunni allies, who oppose the prime minister, would be represented in government. They were eventually awarded one position in cabinet, while Hezbollah took two seats.

Jamil Jabak was chosen as health minister by Hezbollah, although he is not a member of it.

Other key members of the new cabinet are Ali Hassan Khalil and Gebran Bassil, who both remain as finance and foreign ministers respectively.

Four women entered the government. Among them is Rhea al-Hasan, the country’s new interior minister.”

Nowhere in this report are BBC audiences informed that Hizballah is a terror organisation which is designated in whole by the US, Canada, Israel, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council and in part by the UK, Australia and the EU.

The BBC’s tepid portrayal of Hizballah as “Iran-backed” obviously does not facilitate audience understanding of the fact that Iran funds its proxy in Lebanon to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

And apparently the BBC finds nothing newsworthy about the fact that members of the new Lebanese cabinet belong to a terror organisation that has an arsenal of some 120,000 missiles, funds its terror activities through international drugs trafficking and money laundering and serially violates UN Security Council resolution 1701.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Hizballah’s lexicon and a false narrative

Nasrallah speech necessitates update of BBC’s Hizballah profile

BBC News website still not sure who dug Lebanon border tunnels

On the evening of January 17th an article titled “Lebanon arrests US man for crossing illegally from Israel” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

While the account of that still sketchy story is much the same as that seen in other media reports, the BBC also found it appropriate to add the following unrelated information.

“Tensions have been high in the region in recent weeks, with the Israeli military launching an operation to destroy six “attack tunnels” under the border that it says were dug by Hezbollah. Hezbollah has not commented on the tunnels.”

Apparently the BBC is still not convinced that Hizballah dug those cross-border tunnels or of their purpose. Yet again however the corporation refrained from providing audiences with an alternative explanation for tunnels hundreds of meters long quarried through solid limestone under the international border by a terror group dedicated to Israel’s destruction. And once again the BBC inaccurately stated that the terror group “has not commented” when in fact Hizballah’s second in command did just that.

The article closed with the following claim:

“Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006 in which more than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 159 Israelis, including 43 civilians, were killed.” [emphasis added]

The same statement previously appeared in two BBC News website reports relating to Operation Northern Shield:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

While the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants during the 2006 war, Lebanese officials did report even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah personnel and UN officials gave similar figures while Israeli estimates stand at around 600 (with 450 identified by name: see page 55 here).

In August 2006 the BBC News website acknowledged that “there are no reliable figures” for the number of Hizballah combatants killed in the war that had just ended at the time. Nevertheless, the BBC now promotes a narrative that portrays Lebanese casualties during the 2006 war as “mostly civilians” despite there being no evidence of its having been able to independently verify that claim.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

An overview of BBC reporting on Operation Northern Shield

On January 13th the IDF announced that with the discovery of a sixth tunnel, it had completed the mission to expose the tunnels dug by the Lebanese terror organisation Hizballah which passed under the international border, infiltrating Israeli territory.

“The tunnel, which had been dug at a depth of 55 meters (180 feet), was the most important one detected since the operation began in December, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said.

According to him, the stairs were built in the tunnel which contained “railroads to transport equipment, garbage, lighting equipment and ladders to enter Israeli territory. A lot of resources were invested in this tunnel.”

With the latest tunnel discovered and its destruction in the coming days, he added, “the threat posed by the tunnels has been eliminated.” […]

While the military announced the end of the operation, it noted that it “is simultaneously monitoring several locations where Hezbollah is digging underground structures which have yet to cross into Israel.””

With Operation Northern Shield now coming to an end, this is an appropriate time to review the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of that story throughout the six weeks of the mission.

The story of an internationally recognised terrorist group tunneling under an international border into a neighbouring country with the intention of carrying out a large-scale attack actually got remarkably little BBC coverage.

Visitors to the BBC News website saw two reports throughout the six-week operation:

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation  December 4th 2018

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels December 19th 2018

Listeners to BBC World Service radio also heard two reports on the same days:

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels December 4th 2018

Razia Iqbal: “Well given that a war with Israel would not be in the interests of Hizballah, one wonders about the…err…the accuracy or the factual accuracy of those tunnels being potentially used for the way in which Israel is alleging that Hizballah might use them.”

Razia Iqbal: “Why do you think that Israel has made the announcement of cutting off these tunnels today? Is there any sense that this is a diversionary tactic to take attention away from Benjamin Netanyahu’s shaky coalition?”

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701 December 19th 2018

The BBC’s domestic Radio 4 audiences heard one report the day after the story broke:

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701 December 5th 2018

Ritula Shah: “UN Security Council 1701, by the way, called for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war between Israel and Hizballah back in 2006.”

Ritula Shah: “Mr Netanyahu’s critics argue that he’s using the discovery of the tunnels to bolster his image at a time when his governing coalition is faltering and he faces mounting legal problems.”

In addition to Razia Iqbal’s unwarranted questioning of the purpose of the tunnels and the promotion by both her and Ritula Shah of the baseless notion that the operation was motivated by political considerations, audiences saw three main characteristics throughout the BBC’s reporting on this story.

In all but the first BBC News website report – where the information was added later – audiences were not given an accurate portrayal of Hizballah’s designation as a terror organisation by numerous countries and bodies. The subject of Iran’s funding and supplying of the terror organisation was grossly downplayed in the two written articles and ignored in the three audio reports.

In all of the reports the crucially relevant topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 was either completely ignored or inadequately presented. Not one of the five BBC reports gave audiences an accurate explanation of that resolution or how it has been repeatedly violated by Hizballah for over twelve years. Moreover, in the second BBC WS radio report listeners were inaccurately led to believe that the only violation of that resolution comes in the form of tunnels that cross into Israeli territory.

Relatedly, BBC audiences were not given the full picture of the UN peacekeeping force’s failure to identify cross-border tunnels dug over a significant period of time literally under its nose and its serial failure to prevent violations of the UNSC resolution. In the second BBC WS radio report a UNIFIL spokesman’s statements went unchallenged.

Martin Patience: “Israel has accused the United Nations peacekeeping force which patrols the border area of turning a blind eye to the movement but Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force, says that the troops are doing their job.”

Not only was it suggested to audiences in forty percent of the BBC’s reporting that Operation Northern Shield was actually a cynical politically motivated exercise but the corporation failed throughout six whole weeks to produce even one item which would provide its funding public with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of the story of a complex operation which, had it been managed and executed less efficiently, could have sparked a major conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘World Update’ misleads on UN SC resolution 1701

More lazy BBC reporting on Hizballah’s tunnels

BBC News side-lining cross border tunnels story

A BBC Radio 4 presenter ‘explains’ UN SC resolution 1701

BBC WS radio host questions “factual accuracy” of purpose of Hizballah tunnels

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

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

 

Weekend long read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published an assessment of “The impact of the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria on the campaign against ISIS“.

“From a military perspective, the end of American activity in Syria is liable to be detrimental to the campaign currently being waged by the Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates against last important ISIS-controlled area in Syria. The blow is expected to be particularly hard if America stops its aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, in ITIC assessment, the most serious impact of the American pullout is expected to be its influence on morale and the political situation: the Kurds, who control extensive areas in the northeastern part of the country, feel betrayed and their cohesiveness may be harmed. Thus they can be expected to look for new strategic support, especially from the Syrian regime and Russia. The Kurds’ motivation to continue fighting ISIS may be reduced and they may retreat to the heart of their area of control in northeastern Syria and stop clearing the lower Euphrates Valley of ISIS fighters.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the Turkish aspect of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

“The contradiction between the western attempt to appease Turkey, and the tentatively emergent strategy vis-a-vis Syria had been apparent for some months. It now looked set to be resolved – one way or the other.

If the US indeed now follows through with the rapid withdrawal of the American military presence in Syria in its entirety, as a number of news outlets have reported and the President appears to have confirmed, then we have an answer. It means that the US has indeed blinked first, and is set on reversing course in Syria – by embarking on a hurried exit from the country. This will be interpreted by all sides as a strategic defeat, an abandonment under pressure of allies, and a debacle.”

3) MEMRI reports on recent criticism of Hizballah in Lebanon.

“Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa’d Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government’s makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. […]

This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon’s, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel ‘Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.”

4) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Electing the Palestinian Attorney-General to the ICC Nominations Committee for Judges“.

“The election of the Palestinian Attorney-General, Dr. Ahmad Barrak, to serve as a member of the “Advisory Committee on Nominations” of judges of the International Criminal Court, if it were not so serious, could be seen as comical. It cannot but invoke the ancient Latin maxim “ovem lupo commitere,” or in its literal and colloquial version “to set the wolf to guard the sheep.”

This perhaps sums up the acute absurdity to which respected international institutions in the international community, and particularly the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have descended. Sadly, they have permitted themselves to be abused and manipulated by an irresponsible Palestinian leadership, intent on hijacking international organizations for obvious and blatant political purposes. 

However, the election of a Palestinian representative to the judges’ Nominations Committee, as unwise and ill-advised as it may be, is indicative of a far wider and more serious problem facing the International Criminal Court, with the admission of what purports to be “The State of Palestine” as a party to its Statute.”