Weekend long read

1) The IDC has a podcast in which Dr Amichai Magen holds a fascinating conversation with Dr Jonathan Spyer about the background to his book ‘Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars’. 

2) At the Algemeiner, Zvi Mazel discusses the significance of a story the BBC has so far ignored – the signing of a major gas deal between Israeli and Egyptian companies.

“A deal just concluded between Nobel Energy from Texas and Israeli Delek group on one side — and Egyptian private company Dolphinus on the other — to provide Egypt with 64 billion cubic meters of gas for a total of $15 billion over a period of 10 years may turn out to be the first sign that the Mediterranean is about to become a world hub of gas trade.

According to United States Geological Survey estimates, huge reserves of gas can be found in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea: some 325 trillion cubic feet, or 9.2 trillion cubic meters — more than all known US reserves.

Regional disputes, however, are likely to hinder exploration and exploitation of these areas.”

3) The FDD has produced a useful profile some of the Iranian-backed militias operating in the Middle East.

“Iran has built a network of Shiite militias, now fighting across the Middle East, whose fighters number in the tens of thousands. These militias include battle-hardened fighters as well as poorly trained recruits. They hail from countries across the Muslim world and have varying motivations and interests, but they have one thing in common: they project the Islamic Republic’s power and promote its revolutionary ideology. Iran’s Shiite foreign legion has played an indispensable role in preserving the Assad regime in Syria, but all the groups have expressed a readiness to wage war against all enemies of the Islamic Republic.

One of the earliest militias, whose success spawned others, is Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah is now a household name because of the terror attacks it has carried out against American and Israeli targets, from Lebanon to Argentina. The next generation of Shiite militias is less well known.”

4) On J-TV, Baroness Ruth Deech discusses the anti-Israel boycott campaign.

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A border dispute BBC audiences know nothing about

A long-running dispute between Lebanon and Israel concerning land and maritime borders has recently been making headlines again – although those getting their news from the BBC would not be aware of that fact. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s related visit to Beirut on February 15th (as part of a Middle East tour that was barely covered by the corporation) was not reported and neither were related threats from the head of a terrorist organisation.

As Ha’aretz reported:

“During a press conference in Beirut on Thursday, Tillerson, who arrived in Lebanon as part of his Mideast trip, discussed the growing tensions between Israel and Lebanon, and urged Lebanese leaders to ensure the border between the two countries remains calm.

Lebanon has an unresolved dispute with Israel over the territorial and maritime border issues, in particular concerning Block 9 in the Mediterranean sea which extends partly into waters claimed by Israel. Recently Lebanon has signed an offshore oil and gas exploration and production agreements for the contentious block.”

The US has been trying to mediate between Israel and Lebanon on that issue for some time – as explained in a comprehensive article by Oded Eran of the INSS.

“In late 2011, Israel, out of a willingness to compromise, began to look for diplomatic ways to resolve the developing dispute. In inter-ministerial consultations, the decision was taken not to grant new licenses for the area under dispute in order to facilitate a compromise solution. It was decided not to use UNIFIL as a channel for discussion between Israel and Lebanon, since the mandate of the Force does not refer to the maritime border, and Israel prefers to avoid UN mediation. The Israel interest in mediation led to several contacts by third parties, and ultimately American mediation was the preferred option.

In February 2012, State Department Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Frederic Hof, who was heavily involved in developments in Syria in the framework of the Arab Spring, undertook the task of mediation. Israel reiterated to him its willingness to resolve the dispute by reaching a compromise in direct talks with representatives of the Lebanese government. In April 2012, at separate meetings in London (in view of the Lebanese refusal to participate in a joint meeting), Hof submitted a proposed compromise involving division of the disputed area. On May 2, 2013, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman approved the American proposal, even though it granted Lebanon a larger share of the area. To this day no official response from Lebanon has been received, although according to reports of US diplomats in contact with the Lebanese government, they discussed inter alia depositing the proposal with the UN. From this it appears that the proposal was acceptable to the Lebanese government.”

As the Times of Israel reported, the dispute also includes a barrier which is being constructed by Israel along its border with Lebanon.

“On Monday, Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks that the border wall violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

Israel has been building the obstacle — made up of a collection of berms, cliffs and concrete barriers — for a long time, but it has only now angered Beirut.”

Prior to the US Secretary of State’s visit to Beirut:

“Lebanon’s top security body on Wednesday instructed the country’s military to confront any Israeli “aggression” on its land or maritime borders. […]

Hezbollah, a powerful terror group considered to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, recently threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported last week.”

Of course under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701, the border area is supposed to be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL”.  

The day after Mr Tillerson’s visit, Lebanon dismissed the US mediation efforts.

“The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament on Friday rejected a US proposal to resolve a maritime border dispute between the country and Israel.

“The proposal is unacceptable,” Nabih Berri was quoted as telling acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield by the official NNA news agency.”

And on the same day, the leader of the Hizballah terror organisation weighed in.

“Hezbollah on Friday urged Lebanon to stand firm in its offshore energy dispute with Israel and warned it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary, as the U.S. mediates between the two countries.

In a televised address, the leader of the heavily-armed, Iran-backed movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, described the issue as a “battle for all of Lebanon”.

“If Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council were to decide that (Israeli) offshore oil and gas plants…should be forbidden from working, I promise they would stop working within hours,” he told a rally.”

Yet oddly, while this dispute obviously has the potential to escalate into more than verbal sabre-rattling, BBC audiences are not even aware of its existence.

BBC News website promotes 3 year old inaccurate related reading

On March 27th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article about the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision concerning the government’s natural gas policy which was handed down on the same day.Bagatz gas art

Titled “Israel’s Mediterranean gas deal struck down by top court“, the report tells the specific story in an accurate manner – although those unfamiliar with its wider background may have had trouble understanding the court’s objections. Despite its usual interest in internal Israeli affairs, the topic of public objections and political wrangling surrounding the gas policy has not been covered by the BBC in recent months.

It was hence not very surprising to see that the article offered as additional reading on the topic both at the bottom of the report and on the main Middle East page is nearly three years old.

Unfortunately, that May 2013 article by Yolande Knell – titled “Gas finds in east Mediterranean may change strategic balance” – includes inaccuracies which the BBC has still not corrected.Knell article on ME pge

“Further south down the coastline of the Levant Basin, the Gaza Marine field, 30km off the coast of the Palestinian territory, has long been known about. In 1999, the Palestinian Authority awarded the exploration licence to British Gas.

However the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has prevented further development of the field. The situation became more complicated when the Islamist group, Hamas, took over by force in 2007, ousting its rivals from the Fatah faction. Israel then tightened its border and naval blockade of Gaza.”

As was noted here at the time:

“The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’. […]MoT notification naval blockade

However, Knell’s suggestion that the “naval blockade of Gaza” was “tightened” immediately after the 2007 Hamas coup (as any reasonable reader would understand her phrasing) is incorrect because the naval blockade was not put in place until January 2009. “

And:

“Is Knell’s wider claim that “the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has prevented further development of the [gas] field” an accurate representation of the situation? Well obviously, had the Palestinians chosen to develop the economy of Gaza Strip after Israel’s 2005 disengagement and had a terrorist organization not overrun the territory, turned it into a terrorist enclave which necessitated the implementation of maritime zones and later the naval blockade and had it not ousted the internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people authorized with signing agreements on their behalf, there may have been more opportunity for exploitation of offshore gas resources.”

Remarkably, despite having failed to make the necessary corrections to the factual inaccuracies in Knell’s report even after all that time, the BBC has now elected to promote it further.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell inaccurate on naval blockade of Gaza Strip

BBC wrongly blames Israel for cooking gas shortage in Gaza 

 

BBC wrongly blames Israel for cooking gas shortage in Gaza

h/t JK

In addition to the written version of Yolande Knell’s recent feature on offshore gas finds which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website, the subject was covered in an additional report by Knell which was broadcast on May 21st 2013 in ‘The World Tonight’ on BBC Radio 4. 

The World Tonight 21 5

The relevant section of the programme begins from 34:16 here, with Knell first visiting Lebanon and Israel. At 38:17 she reports from Gaza.

“Further south along the coast we reach the Gaza Strip, where dozens of men are dragging their empty gas canisters along the street as they queue to refill them. The Palestinian Authority awarded British Gas the licence to develop an offshore gas field here back in 1999, but so far it’s brought no benefits to locals. Gaza currently has serious shortages of cooking gas, partly due to border restrictions imposed by Israel.”

To drive the point home, listeners then hear an anonymous ‘man in the street’ say:

“Animals live a better life than us. Everyone here had to leave his business and stand in this long line to get a can of gas for his family. We pay a high price and we don’t get it easily.”

Knell continues:

“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has long held up plans to exploit Gazan gas. In 2007 the situation got more complicated when the Islamist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and ousted their political rivals Fatah. Mohammed Shtayyeh is President of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Construction.”

Dr Shtayyeh says:

“Overall it is for us as Palestinians extremely frustrating that, you know, you have that natural resource there that should be a real wealth for the nation and you’re really not utilising it. There are some problems related to excavations and technical problems, but mainly political problems.”

Beyond the euphemistic  statement that “in 2007 the situation got more complicated”, Knell does not make any real attempt to explain to her listeners that the main stumbling block preventing the exploitation of offshore gas near the Gaza Strip is the fact that the recognised representative of the Palestinian people (and hence the body tasked with administrating their natural resources) – the Palestinian Authority – has no control over the Gaza Strip due to the violent takeover of that territory by a terrorist organisation. Instead, Knell churns out the old mantra according to which it is “the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians” which is to blame. 

Especially insidious is Knell’s treatment of the subject of the shortage of cooking gas in the Gaza Strip, which she claims is “partly due to border restrictions imposed by Israel” – without making any attempt to clarify to listeners what the other part of that “partly” might be – and hence portraying the problem as an Israeli-created one.

So what are the facts behind the issue? Here is some recent (April 2013) relevant background information: [emphasis added]

“According to the data of the Land Crossings Authority at the Ministry of Defence, the infrastructure of Kerem Shalom meets the requirements and provides the necessary needs to transfer all goods into Gaza, including cooking gas, but the crossing infrastructure are not being exploited to its fullest when the volume of orders by gas suppliers from the Gaza Strip does not match the needs of the public. Here it should be noted that as part of the expansion of civil policy, in quarter A of 2013 Israel approved the transfer of tens of thousands of gas cylinders for domestic use.

From the data at the District Coordination Office in Gaza, we understand that there is a constant shortage of 1,300 tons of cooking gas (monthly average), about 60 tons of gas per day (daily average). Last year, gas smuggling from Egypt were reduced from 700 to 200 tons per month due to an internal crisis in the energy sector in Egypt. This reduction limits the amount of cooking gas in the market (and the ability to cope with its constant lack) and harms the population of the Gaza Strip.” […]

“There is no public entity in the Gaza Strip that supervises the cooking gas field and there is no public storage facility that allows accumulating surplus for “a rainy day”. During the summer months, the demand for cooking gas in the Gaza Strip declines as well as utilization of the infrastructure in Kerem Shalom crossing. In addition, the credit policy of the Palestinian  Authority ‘s Energy Authority limits the local merchants in Gaza from holding sufficient supply. Extending credit lines will allow accumulating larger stock toward the winter.

Gaza have the option of  diversifying its gas import sources and allow various Israeli companies to supply gas to the Gaza Strip, but the Palestinian Authority restricts import to one company and actually prevents from local merchants to import gas from competing companies and by this use the capacity at Kerem Shalom to its full extent.

During 2012 the Palestinian Authority reached a decision regarding reduction of cooking gas prices due to public pressure exerted around the protest of cost of living in the West Bank, decision that merchants from Gaza claim caused significant losses to those holding stocks at the stations. Therefore, there is concern among local merchants that the PA will reduce again the fixed gas prices set by law (and the lack of a mechanism for compensation), a move that reduce the economic interest of the merchants to hold stocks in the Gaza strip.”

So in fact, the shortage of cooking gas in the Gaza Strip actually has nothing to do with “border restrictions imposed by Israel” as claimed by Knell, but it does have rather a lot to do with the policies of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell obviously made no effort whatsoever to fact check the accuracy of her claim blaming Israel for the shortage of cooking gas in Gaza. In fact, she merely parrots the politically motivated propaganda surrounding the issue as put out by Hamas.

The knee-jerk blaming of Israel for any and every problem in the Gaza Strip may well be the quickest, easiest – and most fashionable – option, but BBC audiences expect far more from journalists committed to accuracy and impartiality. 

BBC’s Knell inaccurate on naval blockade of Gaza Strip

An article entitled “Gas finds in east Mediterranean may change strategic balance” by Yolande Knell which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website on May 13th 2013 is on the whole fairly balanced and accurate. 

Gas Knell

However, towards the end of the article when Knell discusses gas reserves off the coast of the Gaza Strip, we find the following statement:

“Further south down the coastline of the Levant Basin, the Gaza Marine field, 30km off the coast of the Palestinian territory, has long been known about. In 1999, the Palestinian Authority awarded the exploration licence to British Gas.

However the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has prevented further development of the field. The situation became more complicated when the Islamist group, Hamas, took over by force in 2007, ousting its rivals from the Fatah faction. Israel then tightened its border and naval blockade of Gaza.”

Let’s examine the accuracy of that last sentence first of all. The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken control of the Gaza Strip and turned it into hostile territory. This organization engages in hostile activity against the State of Israel and its citizens and bears responsibility for this activity.

In light of the foregoing, it has been decided to adopt the recommendations that have been presented by the security establishment, including the continuation of military and counter-terrorist operations against the terrorist organizations. Additional sanctions will be placed on the Hamas regime in order to restrict the passage of various goods to the Gaza Strip and reduce the supply of fuel and electricity. Restrictions will also be placed on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip. The sanctions will be enacted following a legal examination, while taking into account both the humanitarian aspects relevant to the Gaza Strip and the intention to avoid a humanitarian crisis.”

However, Knell’s suggestion that the “naval blockade of Gaza” was “tightened” immediately after the 2007 Hamas coup (as any reasonable reader would understand her phrasing) is incorrect because the naval blockade was not put in place until January 2009. 

MoT notification naval blockade

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords – willingly signed by the representatives of the Palestinian people – Gaza’s coastal waters remained under Israeli responsibility. The agreements divide those waters into three different zones named K,L and M.

“Subject to the provisions of this paragraph, Zones K and M will be closed areas, in which navigation will be restricted to activity of the Israel Navy.”

Zone L was designated for “fishing, recreation and economic activities”, subject to specific provisions, including the following:

“As part of Israel’s responsibilities for safety and security within the three Maritime Activity Zones, Israel Navy vessels may sail throughout these zones, as necessary and without limitations, and may take any measures necessary against vessels suspected of being used for terrorist activities or for smuggling arms, ammunition, drugs, goods, of for any other illegal activity. The Palestinian Police will be notified of such actions, and the ensuing procedures will be coordinated through the MC.” [Emphasis added]

Following the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the November 15th 2005 agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (Agreed documents on movement and access from and to Gaza) made no change to the above provisions. 

After the violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in 2007, Israel did introduce maritime zones off the coast of the Gaza Strip as part of efforts to reduce arms smuggling into the territory – for example see the Notice to Mariners No. 6/2008 of August 13th 2008 – but that is not the same thing as a naval blockade (which has a specific legal definition) and hence Knell’s claim of a 2007 tightening of “the naval blockade” is inaccurate.  

Is Knell’s wider claim that “the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has prevented further development of the [gas] field” an accurate representation of the situation? Well obviously, had the Palestinians chosen to develop the economy of Gaza Strip after Israel’s 2005 disengagement and had a terrorist organization not overrun the territory, turned it into a terrorist enclave which necessitated the implementation of maritime zones and later the naval blockade and had it not ousted the internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people authorized with signing agreements on their behalf, there may have been more opportunity for exploitation of offshore gas resources.

But of course it is much easier just to vaguely lay any blame at Israel’s door rather than to trouble BBC audiences with an exact and detailed account of events for which Palestinians might be perceived to have some responsibility.