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.”

BBC WS radio framing of anti-Iran protests

Earlier this month we noted that an article written by the BBC’s Middle East editor on the subject of the demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon had avoided the issue of protests against Iranian intervention in those countries.

An item aired in the November 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The World This Week’ – titled “Iran in the crosshairs” – did relate to that issue, but from a remarkable viewpoint.

“There’s growing pushback against Iranian involvement in Iraq and Lebanon. Iran is being seen by some as the kind of interfering foreign state it often criticises.”

Presenter Caroline Wyatt introduced that lead item with the erroneous claim that Iran had fulfilled its JCPOA obligations concerning the Fordow nuclear plant. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Wyatt: “Iran turned the nuclear screw this week, bringing back into operation nuclear equipment it shut down under the terms of the nuclear deal agreed with Western powers in 2015 but which President Trump later walked away from. But was this a warning or a sign of weakness? The security think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London said this week that Iran was winning the struggle for strategic influence in the Middle East. But is that starting to change? Protests in Lebanon and Iraq against their political elites have focused much of their criticism on Iran with the Iranian consulate in the Iraqi city of Karbala coming under attack. So I asked Kasra Naji of BBC Persian how worried is Iran that it may now be in the process of losing the power and influence it’s acquired in Iraq and Lebanon.”

That IISS report was the subject of an article which appeared on the BBC News website on November 7th.

Kasra Naji gave listeners a highly sanitised view of the Iranian regime’s decades-old activities in other countries.

Naji: “Well I think Iran is very worried. I think Iran is concerned particularly about what’s going on in Iraq. Iraq is next door and the demands of those people on the streets of Baghdad and other cities in Iraq are not all that different to the demands of the Iranians within Iran. It could easily come this side of the border so they’re watchful of that. Over the years since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 Iran has invested heavily in setting up political parties, militias, its proxies, its political influence and that is suddenly in danger. If not danger, the prestige of Iran in the region and in Iraq is under serious question today and that doesn’t look good for Iran at all. And in Lebanon also Hizballah has been a major component of Iran’s influence in the region. Iran looks at southern Lebanon as basically a province of Iran. And they don’t want to see that coming under threat.”

Remarkably, neither Wyatt nor Naji bothered to explain to listeners what “the demands of those people on the streets” actually are. Neither did they make any effort to inform audiences even in passing that over 300 Iraqi protesters are reported to have been killed by security forces which allegedly include Iranian-backed militias and that rather than merely ‘worrying’ about the situation in Iraq as suggested by Naji, the Iranian regime is taking an active role in events there.

Both Wyatt and Naji seemed intent on framing objections to Iranian intervention in neighbouring countries as something recent.

Wyatt: “According to one commentator in Iraq, the shoes are out again so the public discontent is growing. Isn’t Iran now in danger of being seen as just the kind of regime that it likes to criticise?”

Naji: “That’s right. That’s another danger of all this. Iran is suddenly seen as a usurping power, a foreign power trying to influence events within those countries, particularly within Iraq.”

After an equally superficial discussion of Iran’s involvement in Syria, the conversation turned to Iran’s recent nuclear activities with Wyatt asking “so why is it continuing to risk more sanctions?”.

Naji: “Because it doesn’t have any other choice. It’s come under heavy pressure of US sanctions and they are crippling Iran’s economy. […] So what they’re trying to do is to put pressure on the Europeans particularly and say ‘listen, if you don’t come up and save this deal and do your part of the deal – your commitments in the deal – then there’s no point in staying in this agreement. It’s a cry for help. It’s like saying that we cannot continue like this; come and help us, save this deal, otherwise this deal is going to collapse.”

BBC World Service listeners were not informed what those allegedly unfulfilled European “commitments” supposedly entail before Wyatt closed with a final question about the opinions of “ordinary Iranians” on the nuclear issue and Naji’s reply failing to inform audiences that those opinions carry little weight as far as the Iranian regime is concerned.  

Obviously this item presented BBC audiences with a decidedly one-sided view of the story which focused on framing Iran as being “in the crosshairs” rather than the Lebanese and Iraqi people actually being attacked by its proxy militias on the streets of Beirut and Baghdad.

Related Articles:

BBC News mantra on ‘peaceful’ Iranian nuclear programme returns

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Those who read the BBC Middle East editor’s online article titled “Is a new Arab Spring unfolding in the Middle East?” this week may have noticed that the sole reference to Iran in Jeremy Bowen’s 705 word analysis was presented as follows:

“But reports also say that men dressed in black, some masked, have been opening fire [on demonstrators in Iraq]. One theory is that they are from pro-Iranian militias.”

The JCPA’s Iran desk documents how “Iraqis Take to the Streets to Oppose Iran’s Involvement in their Country”.

“Iranian media also refrained from reporting the burning of Iranian flags at the Iranian consulate in Karbala. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the consulate building with the cries of “Iran, Get Out, Get Out from Iraq … Baghdad Will Remain Free.” They burned Iranian flags and caused heavy damage to the consulate building. The protesters also trampled on the pictures of Al-Quds force commander Qasem Soleimani (a grave insult in the Arab world). The Iranian consulate building in the port city of Basra was also set ablaze despite attempts by Shi’ite militias to protect it. With cries of “Stop the Persian Occupation of Arab Iraq,” the protestors set ablaze the building.”

2) Also at the JCPA, Dr Jacques Neriah looks at the protests in Lebanon.

“Observers of the Lebanese political scene have been struck by one significant development. Protests are directed for the first time since the Arab spring in 2011 against Hizbullah and its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and against Hizbullah’s ally, the Shiite Amal Movement led by Nabih Berri. Protesters attacked the offices and houses of deputies affiliated to these two political factions, burned posters bearing the pictures of Berri and Nasrallah, and expressed their anger over what the demonstrators perceived as Hizbullah and Amal corruption. Specifically, they claim that the organizations are plundering the coffers of the Lebanese state and skimming the budgets allocated to their ministries, at the expense of the Lebanese people.”

3) Yoram Schweitzer of the INSS analyses the significance of “The Elimination of al-Baghdadi from the Arena”.

“The death of caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an important intelligence, operational, and moral achievement for the United States, as well as for its partners in the ongoing international campaign against global terrorist threats. However, the practical significance of this event is less than its symbolic significance. Indeed, the main challenge facing ISIS is far greater than the elimination of its leader, as the organization has struggled in recent months to survive physically and to maintain its position as the dominant organization on the global Salafi-jihadi stage. Thus the elimination of al-Baghdadi from the scene – as important and dramatic as it may seem – is far from heralding the downfall of ISIS or any significant reduction in the dangers posed by the organization, due to the capability attributed to it to recover and to launch terrorist attacks and guerilla warfare in the Levant and beyond.”

4) Jonny Gould sits down with David Collier (alternative links here).

“In this detailed interview profiling his work and background, we get behind the computer screen to reveal more about the man and his mission.

He says his undercover work online has uncovered extraordinary levels of Jew hate at the highest levels of British politics and explains the antizionism he’s encountered as nothing more than antisemitism.

David’s most recent projects have been to lodge a complaint against the publisher, Pearson over a textbook about the Middle East, which he says has been lifted in large part from Wikipedia – and a report into Amnesty, which he believes over obsesses about Israel.

He doesn’t mince his words over the EHRC investigation into the Labour Party either, which he worries will not tell it like it is: that there is a growing alliance between the hard-left and Islamists.”

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA Dr Jacques Neriah asks “Was the American Decision to Abandon the Kurds a Surprise?”.

“The withdrawal of American troops ordered by President Donald Trump from Kurdish-held territories in north-eastern Syria was no surprise to the Kurds. The Kurds had been expecting this move since mid-summer 2019 and were preparing their options in case of such a prospect. The only surprise came from the timing of Trump’s announcement.

According to sources close to the Syrian opposition, the Syrian-Kurds prepared themselves based on their conviction that Turkey’s goal was to take over the Kurdish-held territories along its southern border under the pretext of combating and eradicating terrorism. Turkey further sought to declare the Syrian city of Aleppo as the capital and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army, a Turkish proxy armed, financed, and trained by Turkey.”

2) At the BESA Center Dr Doron Itzchakov looks at “Turkey’s Invasion of Syrian Kurdistan as Seen from Tehran”.

“Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s announcement that US troops would be evacuated from northern Syria was welcomed in Tehran, which had considered the presence of US troops on Syrian soil a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty. However, Erdoğan’s decision to invade Kurdish territory in Syria led his Iranian counterpart, Rouhani, to condemn it on the grounds that it would increase regional instability.

Notwithstanding that criticism, Tehran does not want to risk its relationship with Ankara, which allows it to circumvent US sanctions and constitutes an essential channel for the supply of Iranian gas to major European countries.”

3) The ITIC analyses “Turkey’s Invasion of Syria and Its Influence on ISIS”.

“The dramatic developments weaken the SDF and its ability to continue to play the central role in fighting ISIS it has played so far – not only because of the blow to SDF morale, but because the Kurds lost American political support against Turkey, which had enabled it to turn most of its force and attention to fighting ISIS. In such circumstances ISIS, which has already proved its ability to change its modus operandi and adapt itself to new situations on the ground, can be expected to increase its terrorist and guerrilla attacks in eastern and northern Syria. However, in ITIC assessment, in the short term ISIS will not exploit the new situation to re-establish the Islamic State with territorial borders and control over the population.”

4) Orna Mizrahi discusses “The Mass Demonstrations in Lebanon: What Do They Portend?” at the INSS.

“The demonstrations throughout Lebanon over the last week erupted spontaneously and saw a full range of the population participating and calling on the leaders of all communities to form a new government and change the current order. […] The mass protest reflects the despair and exasperation with a corrupt leadership. On the other hand, there are signs that all components of the leadership, including Hezbollah, are not interested in changing the current system, and therefore supported a “recovery plan” that was hastily drafted by the cabinet. The plan entails placing the tax burden on the stronger socio-economic levels, but implementation is expected to be difficult. Clearly the public, which continues with the protests, has little faith in the plan. It is difficult to assess whether the protest will ebb soon or lead to the cabinet’s resignation or even to anarchy. It seems that Lebanon’s salvation can only be achieved with generous foreign aid, preferably from the West and from Gulf states so as to prevent Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, from assuming complete control over the country.”

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC takes a look at Hezbollah’s media empire.

“The “resistance society,” created by Hezbollah with massive Iranian support, is based on three legs: The first leg is Hezbollah’s military system. This system is designed to operate against Israel but also supports Hezbollah’s hold of the Shiite population. The military system places Hezbollah in a political power position in the internal Lebanese scene and provides it with major influence on the decision-making process in Lebanon; the second leg is a large-scale network of institutions contributing to the improvement of the socioeconomic situation of the Shiite population and strengthening its support of Hezbollah; and the third leg is a media empire which plays an important role in disseminating the ideology and political messages of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the rest of the world. Such an extensive media empire in the possession of a terrorist organization is unprecedented among terrorist organizations operating around the world.”

2) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran proposes that Any Way You Slice it, Hezbollah Had a Very Bad Month.

“The dust is still clearing, but what’s clear is that Israel’s operation reflects a new security footing towards Hezbollah that is being put into effect at the same time the U.S. increases pressure on the group on other fronts. All told, it’s plain that August did not end auspiciously for Hezbollah. First, Israel seemingly resumed operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Iranian missile capabilities. Then shortly after, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned the Lebanon-based Jammal Trust Bank, which it described as Hezbollah’s “bank of choice.” These actions mark an important shift in both Israeli and U.S. policies, which is likely to deepen Hezbollah’s strategic dilemma.”

3) At the BESA Center, Professor Hillel Frisch explains how The EU Is Battling Israel in Area C.

“Ever since a decision in January 2012, the EU has been expressly committed to the expansion of illegal Palestinian settlement in Area C in conjunction with the PA. This is in blatant disregard of the Oslo accords, which the EU purports to uphold. The object is to create continuous Palestinian settlement throughout the West Bank and thereby isolate and strangle Israeli communities.”

4) Yoram Schweitzer and Orna Mizrahi discuss The Complexity behind Hezbollah’s Response to Israel’s Attacks at the INSS.

“Hezbollah’s limited and calculated response so far points to its desire to avoid, at this stage, a widening of the confrontation with Israel, both out of considerations linked to the situation facing its patron Iran and due to its interest in preventing a calamitous war in Lebanon. Compounding these considerations are also independent reasons. Hezbollah is currently under political pressure: additional countries have designated it as a terrorist group, and Arab countries, responding to the attack on IDF vehicles in Avivim, even accused it of irresponsible behavior. In addition, Hezbollah is in economic distress due to the direct sanctions imposed on it by the United States.”

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotes inaccurate claims on Hizballah, Israel

The September 2nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item described in its synopsis thus:

“…concerns grow over clashes between Israel and Hezbollah on the Lebanese border”

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that item (from 30:05 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now to the Middle East and there has been over the weekend a sharp escalation of already high tensions between Israel and Hizballah – the Shi’ite Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon. The group is headed by Hassan Nasrallah and its military wing is considered to be a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the Arab League and the EU among others.”

That portrayal of designations of Hizballah is inaccurate and misleading. The organisation as a whole is proscribed by the US, Canada, Israel, the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Netherlands, Bahrain, Japan, the UAE, Kosovo, Argentina, Paraguay and of course the BBC’s own home country, the UK. Hizballah’s so-called “military wing” (a distinction which even Hizballah leaders say does not exist) is proscribed by Australia, New Zealand, France and the EU.

Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “It’s widely acknowledged that Hizballah acts as a proxy for Iran and the group fired anti-tank missiles into northern Israel on Sunday: retaliation it says for a drone strike by Israel in Beirut and the killing of two commanders in an Israeli strike inside Syria. That prompted Israel to retaliate against three villages in southern Lebanon and also, fears that what appears to have been a contained exchange could become a bigger deal.”

Israel did not “retaliate against three villages in southern Lebanon”. As reported by the Times of Israel:

“In response to the attack, the Israeli military said its artillery cannons and attack helicopters fired approximately 100 shells and bombs at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. […]

“The IDF returned fire at the [missile-launching squads] at targets in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement. […]

Lebanese media reported that the IDF bombed sites near the Lebanese border town of Maroun al-Ras.”

AP reported that:

“The Lebanese army says Israeli forces have fired some 40 shells on the outskirts of several border villages…

In Lebanon, the Israeli shelling was concentrated on areas close to the border near the villages of Maroun el-Ras and Yaroun, triggering some fires.”

In other words, not only did Razia Iqbal fail to clarify to listeners that Hizballah is entrenched among the civilian population of southern Lebanon in violation of UN SC resolution 1701, she also gave them the erroneous impression that Israel had ‘retaliated’ against civilian communities – “three villages”.

The item continued with an interview with Brigadier General (Res.) Assaf Orion during which Iqbal unnecessarily qualified Israeli intelligence findings.

Iqbal: “I wonder if we can just focus on the extent to which Israel believes that these precision missiles are already in possession of Hizballah [sic]; how advanced that programme is from Israel’s point of view.”

Following that interview listeners heard from Barbara Plett Usher in Jerusalem and that conversation included more irrelevant qualification from two people who are not military correspondents and without the BBC as far as we know having carried out any independent investigation into the subject.

Plett Usher: “They [Israel] have been bombing…ah…Iranian bases and convoys in Syria, thinking that they’re trying to get weapons to Hizballah and now if the Iranians are indeed trying to convert Hizballah rockets in Lebanon, that by the Israelis would be seen as an even bigger threat. So they have this campaign out there – information campaign – claiming that this is happening and providing details about it.”

Significantly though, neither Iqbal nor Plett Usher bothered to clarify to listeners that Iran’s supply of weapons to Hizballah violates UN SC resolution 1701 and so once again BBC audiences were exposed to inaccurate and superficial reporting which fails to contribute to their understanding of this story.

Related Articles:

Limited BBC coverage of latest Hizballah designation

BBC News promotes a claim it previously amended in February

BBC reporter who “breached the requirements of due impartiality” back in Israel

Through the Smoke, Reuters’ double standard: fires in Lebanon, Israel (CAMERA)

 

 

BBC reporter who “breached the requirements of due impartiality” back in Israel

The September 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to events from the previous day which was introduced by presenter Martha Kearney (from 38:20 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “There’ve been clashes between Israel and the militant group Hizballah along the Lebanese border. Let’s talk now to Barbara Plett Usher, our correspondent in Jerusalem. And at the outset, Barbara, just explain to us why this is…ahm…such an important area. There has been actually war – hasn’t there? – between Israel and Hizballah…eh…around southern…southern Lebanon.”

As readers may know, while posted in Israel in 2004 Barbara Plett Usher produced a report which is still available online about Yasser Arafat that was described in a Telegraph editorial thus:

“Many listeners to the BBC were rightly outraged last week by the broadcast from its Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett, in which she cloyingly described how she wept as Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment.

She said: “When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning.” Almost as a footnote, she later admitted that an “ambivalence towards violence” was one of his failings. […]

Ms Plett’s flood of feeling is just the most overt and recent manifestation of a pro-Palestinian bias endemic within the BBC. As a publicly-funded organisation, it should remember that it is not paid to take sides. As things stand, however, we might conclude that Mr Arafat’s culpable “ambivalence towards violence” is echoed by our national broadcaster.”

The BBC received a large volume of complaints concerning that item and in 2005 the BBC governors ruled that Plett Usher’s report “breached the requirements of due impartiality”.

That apparently has not deterred the BBC from sending Barbara Plett Usher – who has been reporting from the US in recent years – back to Israel.

Radio 4 listeners heard the following:

Plett Usher: “It is an important area because it’s the front line for conflict between Israel and Hizballah but the thing that’s interesting is that there hasn’t been much conflict between them for the past thirteen years. They fought a major war in 2006 but there’s been a sort of uneasy ceasefire between them since, so this flare-up is the first kind of clash we’ve seen like this in years.”

That of course is inaccurate. Incidents that have taken place along the Israel-Lebanon border since the end of the 2006 conflict include the planting of explosive devices in February 2007, the detonation of two explosive devices in March 2014, the detonation of explosive devices and the injury of two IDF soldiers in October 2014, the killing of two IDF soldiers and wounding of seven others in an attack using anti-tank missiles in January 2015 and the detonation of an explosive device in January 2016. In December 2018 the IDF commenced Operation Northern Shield to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hizballah which were definitely not part of any “sort of uneasy ceasefire”.

Kearney: “And what’s been happening?”

Plett Usher: “So the Hizballah [sic] fired a number of anti-tank missiles at Israeli military positions and they received quite a large incoming return fire as a result. They claim to have killed a number of people although the Israelis said that wasn’t the case. Now the point here is that the Israelis had been expecting some kind of confrontation because there’s been tensions rising over the past week. A number of drone strikes in Lebanon and Syria attributed to Israel has meant that Hizballah has said it would retaliate.”

The August 25th strikes in Syria – which were not “attributed” because Israel immediately claimed them – were not carried out using drones as claimed by Plett Usher but did target IRGC drones intended for use in an attack against Israel. Plett Usher failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that that two Hizballah operatives were killed in that strike before continuing:

Plett Usher: “In particular there was a drone strike in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, which Hizballah felt that’s its stronghold and it needed to respond. Now the Israelis did not confirm they carried out that strike but they did say that they were trying to prevent the…eh…the development of long-range precision missiles which is something they’re very concerned about. They believe Iran is helping Hizballah do that. So that was what was building ahead of time and then you had this flare-up.”

Israel does not “believe” that Iran is helping Hizballah to develop precision-guided missiles – it has solid evidence some of which was made publicly available four days before Plett Usher made this report, meaning that there was no justification for her use of the term “believe”.

As we see Barbara Plett-Usher produced a report which, despite being relatively short, was replete with basic inaccuracies and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with the wider context of UN SC resolution 1701 and its relevant call for all armed militias to be removed from southern Lebanon.

What Barbara Plett-Usher is doing in Jerusalem and how long she is scheduled to be there is unclear. What is already apparent is that BBC audiences are not getting accurate reporting which will “build people’s understanding”.

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