As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.
The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.
“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”
Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”
Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”
Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”
Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.
Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”
Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”
Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”
Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”
Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.
Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”
Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.
Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”
Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”
Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:
Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”
Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”
Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”
Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.
It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:
“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”
The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.
By His Own Admission, Wilkerson Cannot Be Trusted (Gatestone Institute)