Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA Dr Shimon Shapira discusses “Hizbullah’s Operational Plan to Invade the Galilee through Underground Tunnels“.

“One of the main lessons Hizbullah learned from the Second Lebanon War in 2006 was the necessity of changing the aims of its next war with Israel. The new goals included building up its defensive capabilities and developing methods of attack that would allow Hizbullah to fight the war within Israeli territory. Hizbullah’s military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, led this process of integrating these lessons. He asserted that during the next war, Hizbullah would invade the northern Israeli Galilee region and conquer it. Hizbullah set its sights on regions which have topographical superiority in comparison to Israel’s inferior topographical positions near the border.”

2) The ITIC sums up the first day and a half of ‘Operation Northern Shield’, including Lebanese reactions.

“According to the IDF spokesman, since 2014 a joint military intelligence-Northern Command team has been dealing with the intelligence, technological and operational aspects of the issue of the tunnels. Large IDF forces are participating in the operation to remove the threat of Hezbollah tunnels on the norther border, which are a gross violation of Israeli sovereignty and UN resolutions, especially UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The IDF has reinforced its forces in the north and is on high alert. The IDF spokesman in Arabic warned Hezbollah and the Lebanese army not to approach the attack tunnels being dealt with by the IDF.”

3) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the situation in south-west Syria.

“Evidence is also emerging of the presence of Hizballah personnel and other pro-Iranian Shia militiamen in Syrian Arab Army uniforms among the regime forces returning to the border area with the Golan Heights. This is despite the nominal Russian commitment to keep such elements at least 85 kilometers from the border.  This Iranian activity close to the border goes hand in hand with Teheran’s activity further afield, including the transfer of Shias from southern Iraq to deserted Sunni neighborhoods.”

4) The CST has published its report on Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2017.

“Antisemitism played an unusually prominent role in British public life in 2017, both in the expression of antisemitic attitudes and in the discussion of antisemitism as an important part of national politics and media debate.

Explicit hostility to Jews is still rarely expressed in public life without condemnation, but the expression and transmission of antisemitic attitudes about “Zionists” or Israel, including conspiracy theories and the abuse of Holocaust memory, are more common, and on occasion were even defended as a legitimate part of mainstream politics during 2017. Alternatively, the issue of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is sometimes inserted into unrelated discussions about antisemitism or other Jewish-related issues.”

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

As documented here previously, two BBC reports on Operation Northern Shield that appeared on December 4th both failed to provide audiences with the background information concerning UN Security Council resolution 1701 which would enhance their understanding of the story of the Hizballah constructed cross-border attack tunnels.

BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

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

So what happened the following day when a BBC presenter did actually manage to utter the words “UN Security Council” and “1701”?

The December 5th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item (from 29:19 here) introduced by Ritula Shah thus: [emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Expose and thwart: that’s what Israel’s calling its operation to block tunnels dug into its territory by the Hizballah movement in Lebanon. It said it was neutralising the terror tunnels before they became operational and a threat to civilian communities. Speaking at a press conference, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the tunnels posed a grave threat.”

Following that whitewashed description of an internationally designated terror group, listeners heard a recording of Netanyahu speaking at that press conference the previous evening, including his description of the tunnels as “a gross violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701”.

Shah immediately told listeners that:

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.”

That information of course would have done nothing to help listeners understand why Netanyahu referred to that UNSC resolution in his comments. But, like her colleagues, Ritula Shah obviously had no intention of telling her listeners that UNSC resolution 1701 also includes the following:

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

Shah’s listeners were also not told that the 2006 resolution calls for the area between the Lebanese-Israeli border and the Litani river to be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL”, that it calls for all “armed groups in Lebanon” to be disarmed, that it forbids the presence of “foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government” and “sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government”.

Neither did they hear any explanation of the fact that the task of implementing that resolution was given to UNIFIL and that it is now obvious that years of cross-border tunnel construction had taken place literally under that UN organisation’s nose.

Instead of supplying BBC Radio 4 audiences with that crucial information, Shah preferred to promote a theme advanced by her World Service colleagues the previous day.

Shah: “But the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni has accused the prime minister of blowing the incident out of proportion. 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. Anshel Pfeffer has written a biography of Benjamin Netanyahu and is also a correspondent for the Ha’aretz newspaper in Israel. He joins me now. […] Is this in a sense being exploited by Benjamin Netanyahu?”

Unsurprisingly given that, as the programme’s producers probably knew, he had published a column promoting that very claim earlier the same day – Pfeffer replied that it “feels that way” and claimed that the exposure of the tunnels on Israel’s northern border is “not a new operation”. As he claimed that the “timing and especially the media fanfare which has accompanied this” were aimed at “boosting the standing of the new defence minister” (but without telling listeners that the operation had actually been approved by the cabinet before Netanyahu became defence minister), Shah interrupted:

Shah: “So why? Why would he choose to do this now?”

Pfeffer replied that critics claim that Netanyahu is “using this to deflect attention from his own legal troubles” and that “it’s certainly a useful diversion for Netanyahu”.

Shah: “So he faces legal issues, his coalition is fragile, but what about his popularity? Isn’t he someone that Israelis trust in a sense with their security?”

Pfeffer responded by referencing opinion polls.

Shah: “So he’s involved in a couple of separate criminal investigations but could you argue that Tzipi Livni – the opposition leader – in a sense is being just as politically opportunist in pointing up these issues?”

Pfeffer described that as a “fair argument”, pointing out that the opposition is “not popular with the public” and “so when Netanyahu uses this opportunity to present himself as the commander-in-chief, their frustration naturally only grows.”

So what did the BBC’s domestic radio audiences learn from this item about the cross-border attack tunnels dug by a terrorist organisation into the territory of a neighbouring country and the twelve year-old UN Security Council resolution that should have prevented that violation of Israel’s sovereignty from taking place? Absolutely nothing.

Related Articles:

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

 

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

The December 4th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item billed “Israel targets Hezbollah tunnels” which related to the IDF’s announcement concerning the commencement of Operation Northern Shield earlier in the day.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the item (from 14:07 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Israel now and the army has launched an operation to cut off tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon. The military accuses the Lebanese militia Hizballah of having dug the tunnels with a view to using them for a surprise attack inside Israel. I’ve been speaking to Anna Ahronheim who is military reporter for the Jerusalem Post newspaper. She’s on the Israel-Lebanon border in the town of Metulla.”

By the time this item was broadcast the IDF had announced the discovery of the first cross-border tunnel (which later in the day was revealed to be meters away from a UNIFIL observation post) running from inside a ‘civilian’ building in the Shia village of Kfar Kila in Lebanon some 40 meters into Israeli territory. Anna Ahronheim began by describing that tunnel.

Ahronheim: “From where I’m standing there’s about maybe 200 – 250 meters away from the tunnel they just announced that they found. The tunnel is closer to the border fence than homes in Metulla but a quick walk in the middle of the night at a brisk pace, it’ll take less than five minutes for them to reach homes. So the army said that this tunnel that was discovered has been neutralised, therefore won’t be able to be used by Hizballah forces.”

Although she failed to clarify to listeners that Hizballah is a widely designated terrorist organisation, Iqbal’s three initial questions were relevant to audience understanding of the story.

Metulla

Iqbal: “And they’ve also said that they’re only operating within territory that is…ah…Israeli and will not cross the border into Lebanon and that is possible for them to do, given the geography?”

Ahronheim:  “I think what the army will do is right now they are operating strictly within Israeli territory but this is not going to be an operation for just several hours or several days. The army believes it’ll take several weeks for all the tunnels to be – or most of the tunnels – to be identified and neutralised and that might mean having to cross into the blue line, into the demilitarised zone in order to deal with the threat.”

Iqbal: “So how many tunnels are we talking about if it’s going to take them several weeks?”

Ahronheim: “They haven’t given any number yet. Right now we only know of one but there’s likely many more.”

Iqbal: “And if there is any…ah…suggestion or indication that they are going into Lebanese territory, that would be extremely serious?”

Ahronheim: “Definitely but of course the army has said today that they communicate a message both to UNIFIL and to the Lebanese army about what was happening and the seriousness of it. I don’t think anyone either in Lebanon or in Israel want to go to war with each other. It’s been 12 years of quiet up on the northern border. I think they want to keep it that way. I think Hizballah also understands that they’re quite occupied in Syria and across the region. A war with Israel is just not on the plate right now.”

At that point Razia Iqbal put relevant questioning aside, instead choosing to indulge her own irrelevant speculations.

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.”

Iqbal did not enlighten listeners as to her opinions on alternative uses for a 200 meter-long tunnel quarried through solid limestone and under the international border by a terror group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

Ahronheim: “Of course but again, Hizballah has for years – and I can go back to 2012 of Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah saying…talking about, you know, the conquest of the Galilee and that there would be surprise tunnels that would be infiltrating into Israel. So this is something that they’ve been planning for several years.”

Iqbal then went on to promote another bizarre theory:

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?”

In fact this operation had been in the pipeline for years and was given final security cabinet approval on November 7th – i.e. before the coalition government’s majority in the Knesset was reduced in the wake of Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation.

Ahronheim: “There’s a lot of talk about that; the corruption charges that he faces, the shaky coalition. The army says that this has been planned for over two years; that they’ve been having meetings every two weeks – the Chief of Staff and senior officials and the cabinet. Again, the timing of it really might be tied to Netanyahu’s troubles as a diversion but it also could be that, you know, this is a message to Iran. There were reports the other day of Iran flying in directly to Beirut international airport and not via Syria [unintelligible] weapons for Hizballah. So it could be a message in return of Iran’s message to Israel.”

Iqbal closed the interview there, having devoted 40% of her questions to promotion of the notions that Israel might be lying with regard to the purpose of the tunnels and that an operation to thwart an obvious threat to Israeli civilians might have baser political motives.

BBC World Service listeners however heard nothing whatsoever about the highly relevant context of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC resolution 1701 and the impotency of the UNIFIL force charged with overseeing implementation of that resolution.

Related Articles:

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BBC News omits crucial background from report on IDF operation

Following the IDF’s announcement of the commencement of ‘Operation Northern Shield’ on the morning of December 4th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel targets Hezbollah ‘terror tunnels’“.

Illustrated with a photograph taken three months ago, the first two versions of the report opened by telling readers that:

“The Israeli military says it has begun an operation to block what it calls “terror tunnels” dug into its territory by the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.”

The IDF announcement actually used the term “cross-border attack tunnels”.

The original version of the report failed to inform readers that Hizballah is a terror organisation that is designated in whole or in part by many bodies and nations including the EU, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the US and the UK. Later versions included the following paragraph:

“Hezbollah emerged with the help of Iran during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. It sees itself as a resistance movement against Israel, but it is designated a terrorist organisation by Western states, Israel, Gulf Arab countries and the Arab League.”

While readers of later versions of the article were told that Hizballah is an “Iran-backed Shia group”, audiences not only learned nothing of Iran’s funding and supplying of that terror organisation but saw an opaque reference to “arms being transferred to the group through Syria”.

Readers were told that:

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

More than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and some 40 Israeli civilians, were killed in that conflict.

It began when Hezbollah militants launched a raid into Israel, killing eight soldiers and kidnapping two others, who also died.”

As we see the BBC’s portrayal of the commencement of the Second Lebanon war erases the fact that in addition to the cross border raid that sparked the conflict, Hizballah simultaneously fired missiles at Israeli civilian communities. We also see that – as usual – the BBC cites Lebanese casualty figures that are devoid of any mention of Hizballah combatants.

While the Lebanese authorities did not differentiate between civilians and combatants during the 2006 war, Lebanese officials nevertheless reported 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).

The most glaring omission, however, in all versions of this BBC report is the obviously highly relevant topic of the UN Security Council resolutions relating to southern Lebanon and the UN force which is supposed to oversee the implementation of those resolutions.

UNSC resolution 1701 includes the following:

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

The 2006 resolution calls for:

  • “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require 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;
  • no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;
  • no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

The same resolution expanded the mandate and capabilities of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and charged it, inter alia, with aiding the Lebanese government to prevent Hizballah’s rearmament.

As has frequently been noted on these pages, the BBC’s record of reporting violations of UNSC resolution 1701 by Hizballah and Iran is very dismal. Obviously that serial omission means that BBC audiences lack the background information crucial to full understanding of this latest story. 

Related Articles:

A retrospective look at BBC coverage of the Second Lebanon War – part three

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