Weekend long read

1) Anyone who missed Howard Jacobson’s recent op-ed on antisemitism in the UK can find it here.

“The incantatory repetition of the charge that Jews cry antisemitism only in order to subvert criticism of Israel or discredit Corbyn is more than fatuous and lazy, and it is more than painful to those many Jews who own an old allegiance to the Labour party and who are not strangers to criticising Israel. It is the deepest imaginable insult. I cannot speak for all Jews, but a profound depression has taken hold of those I know. For myself, I feel I am back in that lightless swamp of medieval ignorance where the Jew who is the author of all humanity’s ills lies, cheats, cringes and dissembles. And this time there is no horse to punch.”

2) Ynet has a report on the subject of Hizballah activities in Colombia.

“The Spanish language news website Infobae reported that Hezbollah’s presence and activities were confirmed by the Colombian police in a three year investigation carried out jointly with the US Drug Enforcement Agency. 

The investigation allowed for the identification of commercial entities and platforms of which Hezbollah made use to cover-up its activities including drug dealing, selling and exporting stolen vehicles and money laundering; alongside the recruitment of locals for future terror related activities.”

3) Writing at Politico, Jonathan Schanzer discusses “How Putin’s Folly Could Lead to a Middle East War“.

“It was all very predictable, the moment that Putin began to partner with Iran and its lethal proxy, Hezbollah. They shared intelligence, patrolled together and fought together against the Sunni jihadists and other rebels who were warring against the Assad regime.

Iran’s motivations for this unlikely marriage were crystal clear: The regime viewed Syria as a crucial territory to maintain a land bridge from their borders to the Mediterranean. For Iran, Syria was key to regional domination. It was also key to maintaining military supply routes to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Russia, by contrast, had more global ambitions. For one, Putin was putting a finger in the eye of the Obama administration. The message was that Russia could dominate territory once seen as under American influence. Putin also sought to convey to the rest of the Arab world that Russia was a strong and reliable ally for the region, and that Russia was willing to provide advanced weaponry at the right price—and without American-style red tape and oversight.”

4) At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn takes a look at “Assad’s Horror, and Those Who Enable It“.

“There is no real question that Assad has continued to use chemical weapons even after he agreed to give them up. As the State Department was quick to note yesterday, the U.S. has concluded that he was responsible for the April 4, 2017, Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun—the same incident which prompted the Trump administration’s bombing. And both the U.S. government and the UN have found that Assad’s goons used other chemical weapons, namely crude chlorine bombs, more than once. While some of these bombs struck areas held by jihadi rebels, they have also indiscriminately killed civilians.

Assad’s principal international backer, Vladimir Putin, hasn’t stopped him from using of them. Nor has Iran, which is deeply embedded in Syria alongside Assad’s forces. In fact, the Assad-Putin-Khamenei axis has a legion of online apologists who argue that the high-profile chemical weapons assaults aren’t really the work of the Syrian “president” at all. This noxious advocacy on behalf of mass murderers is readily available on social media.

It gets even worse, as another rogue state has reportedly facilitated Assad’s acquisition of chemical weapons: North Korea. This facilitation is especially worrisome in light of the two nations’ previous cooperation on a nuclear reactor that was destroyed by the Israelis in 2007.”

 

 

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Weekend long read

1) MEMRI provides a translation of an article appearing on a pro-Hizballah website.

“A February 9, 2018 article on the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese website Dahiya claims that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad recently rejected an Israeli demand, relayed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to remove some 70,000 Iranian long-range missiles that Hizbullah has deployed throughout Syria and are aimed at Israel. The article claimed further that Syria and Hizbullah will wage a “joint missile campaign” against Israel, and that Iranian experts are ready to launch missiles at Israel from every part of Lebanon and Syria. According to the article, Assad has instructed his army to help Hizbullah construct and camouflage missile silos across the country; moreover, intense activity is underway to bring more Iranian missiles to Syria via Iraq, so that within a year Hizbullah will have 500,000 missiles in Syria, in addition to the ones it has already deployed in Lebanon.”

2) Writing at the JNS, Yaakov Lappin discusses Hizballah’s influence on the Lebanese military.

“For the United States, the LAF is a regional partner in the war against the Islamic State. It has received both U.S. funding and arms sales for that purpose.

According to Israeli military assessments, however, the LAF is increasingly coming under the sway of the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon politically and militarily. […]

A recent visit to the Lebanese-Israeli border by a high-ranking Iranian official, Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, offers an accurate illustration of who is in control of Lebanon. Raisi was given a tour by armed Hezbollah members, vowing during his visit that “soon, we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem.””

3) At the Asia Times, former UNHCR official Alexander Casella addresses the debate surrounding UNRWA.

“The creation of UNRWA 70 years ago corresponded to a real humanitarian need. However, inbuilt in the fulfillment of that need were two political considerations, the so-called “right of return” and the fact that Palestinian refugee status would be handed down from generation to generation. Both these notions were predicated on what was at the time the core of Arab policy as regards Palestine, namely the obliteration of the State of Israel.

Not only did this not happen but with the recognition of Israel by Jordan and Egypt and the de facto rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, what started off as a political expedient is today a major handicap, and the Palestinian refugee issue is one that both the Arab states and Israel could well do without.

While addressing it is a major political issue that continues to bedevil the Middle East, UNRWA, which started off as a solution, is now part of the problem. And, perversely, while it continues to discharge its assistance mandate, doing so has created among many of its wards as well as among several Arab governments a dependency, not to say a premium for inaction, of which Gaza is a prime example.”

4) Jonathan Spyer discusses the recent Russian sponsored Syrian peace conference.

“The Russians first of all failed even to bring the main protagonists of the war around the table.

The main, UN-recognised Syrian opposition formation, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, did not attend.  One senior member of the commission described the conference as a ‘meeting between the regime and the regime.’  An opposition website produced a picture of a beaming Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with himself as a representation of the Sochi gathering. […]

The United States, France and Britain also did not attend the gathering, seeing it as a Russian attempt to circumvent the UN-sponsored process in order to bring about an outcome more favorable to the Assad regime.

Representatives of the Kurdish Federation of Northern Syria, which controls Syria east of the Euphrates, were not at the conference. The Syrian Kurdish leadership has sought to maintain working relations with Moscow, despite the Kurdish cooperation with the US in Syria.  But Moscow’s acquiescence to the current Turkish assault on the Kurdish Afrin canton in north west Syria has led to widespread anger among the Kurds.  Kurds belonging to rival factions also did not attend.”

 

Superficial BBC News reporting on southern Syria ceasefire

Anyone getting their news exclusively from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that heavy fighting has been taking place for some weeks in the Daraa district of south-western Syria. The BBC also did not report any of the numerous recent cases of spillover fire into Israel: ‘side effects’ of fighting between regime and opposition forces in the Quneitra area.

BBC audiences might therefore have been rather puzzled to find an article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 7th titled “Syria crisis: US, Russia and Jordan agree ceasefire deal“.

“The US, Russia and Jordan have agreed to put in place a ceasefire across south-western Syria, which is due to begin on Sunday. […]

This agreement, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said would cover the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, is reported to be the result of several months of undisclosed meetings between Russia and the US on Syria.”

A follow-up report appeared on the Middle East page on July 9th under the headline “Syria ceasefire: US and Russia-backed deal in effect“.

“A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has come into force in south-western Syria.

It was announced after Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met for the first time at G20 talks on Friday. The truce is also backed by Jordan.

It is in force along a line agreed by Syrian government forces and rebels. […]

The ceasefire, which Russia has said covers the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Sweida, was reported to result from months of undisclosed talks between Russian and US officials.”

Neither of those articles informs readers that – as the Jerusalem Post reported:

“… it was not clear how much the combatants – Syrian government forces and the main rebels in the southwest – were committed to this latest effort.”

While the second report does not clarify at all how that ceasefire is to be enforced, the earlier report includes the following ambiguous statement:

“Mr Lavrov said Russia and the USA would coordinate with Jordan to act “as guarantors of the observance of this [ceasefire] by all groups”.”

The Times of Israel reports that:

“There has been no official comment from Syria’s government on the announcement, and there was no mention of the ceasefire on state television’s noon news bulletin. […]

The truce is to be monitored through satellite and drone images as well as observers on the ground, a senior Jordanian official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with reporters. Syria ally Russia is to deploy military police in the area.”

Although at least one BBC journalist is aware of concerns raised by Israel relating to Russian enforcement of the ceasefire along its border, that issue is not mentioned in either article. Ha’aretz reports:

“…Israel wants the de-escalation zones in southern Syria to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. […]

One of Israel’s main concerns is how the cease-fire would be enforced in areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders and who would be responsible for enforcing it. A senior Israeli official said Russia has proposed that its army handle the job in southern Syria. But Israel vehemently opposes this idea and has made that clear to the Americans, he said.”

Channel 10’s military analyst Alon Ben David notes:

“One must remember that the Russians in Syria are not separate from the Shia axis. The soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian support forces and even often with Hizballah.”

Ynet’s analyst Ron Ben Yishai points out that:

“The agreement does have a serious disadvantage from an Israeli perspective: It halts the advance of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, but fails to completely remove them from the area, as Israel likely demanded behind the scenes. This means that if and when the ceasefire is violated, the forces supported by Iran and Hezbollah would be able to continue their advance towards the Syrian-Jordanian border and the Syrian-Iraqi border, which will make it possible for them to create a strategic corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Even worse is the fact that they would be able to advance and establish a stronghold in the Golan Heights.

Another disadvantage of the ceasefire deal is that the Assad army and the Russians, which both have an interest in keeping Assad and his people in power, will be responsible for the agreement’s implementation on the ground. If Assad stays in power in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will stay there too. […]

The Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran have a totally different interest in a ceasefire: Assad and the Iranians have realized that they are incapable of conquering the city of Daraa on the Jordanian border and that the rebels—to ease the pressure on Daraa—are successfully attacking them near new Quneitra in the Golan Heights, where the spillovers that Israel responded [to] originated. The Syrian army is pressed in the Quneitra area. It’s failing to advance in Daraa despite help from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, and therefore has no other choice but to agree to a ceasefire.

This is also why this ceasefire may not last very long. The moment the Syrian regime and the Iranians reach the conclusion they are strong enough to reoccupy Daraa and the border crossings between Syrian and Iraq, they will do it without any hesitation.”

Obviously there is a much broader story to tell than the one presented in these two superficial BBC News reports that cannot be said to meet the BBC’s mission of providing news “of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

BBC News amplifies PA’s spin on Abbas KGB story

On September 8th an article titled “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ‘was KGB agent’” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The article relates to a story first promoted by Channel 1 in Israel the previous day and it informs readers that:abbas-kgb-story  

“Israeli researchers have alleged that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, worked for the Soviet intelligence agency the KGB in the early 1980s.

Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem say a Soviet-era document lists him as an agent. […]

Researchers Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor said the document, in an archive at Cambridge University, shows that Mr Abbas was a KGB spy when he lived in Damascus in Syria.

The document, which the University of Cambridge’s Churchill Archives Centre confirmed was authentic, was smuggled in to the UK by a defector called Vasily Mitrokhin.

It is entitled “KGB developments – Year 1983” and Mr Abbas identifies him [sic] by the codename “Krotov” or “mole”.

“‘Krotov’ – Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935, origin Palestine, member of the executive committee of Fatah, PLO, Damascus, agent of the KGB,” says the brief entry.”

However, the report also promotes irrelevant linkage between that story and a completely unrelated topic.

“The [PA] president’s spokesman described the claim as an absurd Israeli “smear”.

He suggested it was made to derail attempts to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. […]

An adviser to the [PA] president told the BBC the allegation was made up by Israel.

He said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained reluctant to meet Mr Abbas in a potential new round of peace talks organised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB staff member.””

Readers of the article are not told how “Israel” supposedly “made up” documents in the Cambridge University archives and despite uncritically amplifying the spin of PA officials, the article does not adequately clarify that the academic researchers have no connection to the Israeli government.  

Towards the end of the article, readers are told that:

“Mr Abbas was born in 1935 in what was then British mandate of Palestine. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 his family fled to the Syrian capital, where he was educated.”

In fact, historical record shows that it is more likely that Abbas’ family decided to leave Tsfat (Safed) before Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948.

“And what about Safed? Having declined an offer by Gen. Hugh Stockwell, commander of the British forces in northern Palestine, to mediate a truce, the Arabs responded to the British evacuation of the city with a heavy assault on the tiny Jewish community, less than a quarter their size. “Upon the British evacuation on April 16, we occupied all the city’s strategic positions: the Citadel, the Government House, and the police post on Mount Canaan,” recalled a local Arab fighter.

“We were the majority, and the feeling among us was that we would defeat the Jews with sticks and rocks.”

What this prognosis failed to consider was the tenacity of the Jewish resolve to hold on to Safed, awarded by the partition resolution to the prospective Jewish state, on the one hand, and the intensity of Arab flight psychosis, on the other. As tens of thousands of Arabs streamed out of Tiberias and Haifa within days of the British evacuation of Safed, members of the city’s leading families and ordinary residents alike decided that now was the time to escape – which is probably when Abbas’s affluent family fled. In the words of a British intelligence report, “Such is their state of fear [that] Arabs are beginning to evacuate Safed although the Jews have not yet attacked them.” […]

On May 2, following the bombing of the Arab quarter by the deafening albeit highly ineffective home-made “David’s mortar,” scores of Arabs fled Safed en route to the Jordan Valley, accompanied by a substantial number of Arab Liberation Army fighters. Four days later, the ALA’s regional commander reported that “the majority of the inhabitants have left [Safed’s neighboring] villages.

Their morale has collapsed completely.”

Heavy artillery bombardments of Jewish neighborhoods failed to do the trick, and as the final battle for the city was joined on the night of May 9 a mass flight ensued. By the time fighting was over the next morning, Safed’s entire Arab population had taken to the road; a day later, Hagana patrols reported that “the [Arab] quarter had emptied to a man,” with evacuees leaving behind “a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition.””

The article’s penultimate paragraph quotes a newly arrived BBC journalist currently visiting the Middle East.

“Although the biographical details are correct, the BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Jerusalem notes that the document does not say how and when Mr Abbas would have been recruited, whether he was paid, and how long he might have worked for the KGB.”

Interestingly, the article does not reflect an additional observation from Fessy.

fessy-tweet

As Reuters noted:

“Adding to the intrigue, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, whom Putin has tasked with arranging the Moscow summit, served two stints in the Soviet embassy in Damascus between 1983 and 1994, covering the period in which Abbas was purportedly recruited.

Bogdanov was in the area this week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.”

Clearly the BBC’s unchallenged amplification of vacuous spin from PA officials detracts from audience understanding of this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC News misleads on Russian S-300 missiles and Iran sanctions

Notwithstanding the confusion surrounding the story, the BBC News website published an article on April 11th titled “Russian S-300 air defence missiles ‘arrive in Iran’” which opens as follows:S 300 art

“Russia is reported to have started delivering S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran, under a deal opposed by Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi-Ansari said “the first stage of the contract has been implemented”.

It is not yet clear how many missiles may have been delivered.

The controversial contract got the go-ahead after international sanctions on Iran were lifted last year.” [emphasis added]

The link in that last sentence leads to a BBC report from April 13th 2015 titled “Russia lifts ban on S-300 missile system delivery to Iran”. The following day the BBC produced an additional report on the same topic – “US concern as Russia lifts ban on Iran arms delivery” – which was discussed here.

When those two articles were published the P5+1 had just reached (on April 2nd 2015) a framework deal with Iran concerning its nuclear programme which – as the BBC itself reported at the time – imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the gradual lifting of sanctions following verification of Iranian compliance.

Later on in this report readers are correctly informed that:

“The $800m (£562m) contract, signed in 2007, was frozen by Russia in 2010 because of the international sanctions. President Vladimir Putin unfroze it a year ago.” [emphasis added]

The JCPOA was finalised on July 14th 2015 with October 18th 2015 designated as ‘Adoption Day’ and January 16th 2016 as ‘Implementation Day’. According to the agreement the various relevant sanctions imposed by the UN, the EU and the US were to be lifted on ‘Implementation Day’ pending the release of an IAEA report confirming implementation of the terms of the deal by Iran.

In other words, the BBC’s claim that Russia gave the go-ahead to the delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran “after international sanctions on Iran were lifted last year” is inaccurate and materially misleading because the sanctions were not lifted “last year” but nine months after the Russian announcement.

More BBC amplification of the ‘ISIS worse than Assad’ meme

Just three weeks ago the synopsis to a filmed report appearing on the BBC News website told its visitors that:

“Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, has said that the refugee crisis unfolding in Europe is the direct result of terrorist aggression against Syria.

He blamed Islamist militants for forcing thousands from their homes and said the government had helped millions of displaced people.”

In the report itself, BBC audiences heard Faisal Mekdad say:

“The Syrian army has never, ever attacked or initiated any attack against a city or against a village and if you see at least the most recent attacks you will see them initiated by the terrorist factions and when these terrorist groups attack villages and cities you see a very big flood of people leaving those areas.”

On September 21st the BBC News website’s Europe and Middle East pages carried a filmed report by the corporation’s correspondent in Moscow, Sarah Rainsford, which was promoted under the headline “Russia says Islamic State, not Assad, the danger in Syria” and that message was repeated in the synopsis:Rainsford report Russia

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Moscow to voice concerns over reports of a Russian military build-up in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

The US has already warned that Russian action risks complicating the conflict further.

However Russia says that the real threat in Syria is Islamic State, not the country’s leader.” [emphasis added]

In the report itself viewers heard Rainsford say:

“Russia’s line is clear: the real danger in Syria today is Islamic State.”

They then heard from a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson:

“Absolutely for sure we know that [the] terrorist threat in Syria is something very dangerous and it’s very dangerous not only for [the] Middle East region but also for Europe and also for Russia.”

It is of course perfectly reasonable for the BBC to report statements from interested parties such as the Syrian deputy foreign minister or his regime’s Russian and Iranian allies just as long as audiences are also given the background facts which would enable them to put such statements into their correct context.

These two examples join previous reports in which no such background information has been provided, with the result being that BBC audiences are being steered towards a grossly simplistic and distorted view of the conflict in Syria which does nothing to meet the corporation’s obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues”.

 

Superficial BBC report on Russian missile deal with Iran

Over the last couple of weeks BBC audiences have been repeatedly informed that the essence of the framework agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran on April 2nd is restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the gradual lifting of sanctions following verification of Iranian compliance.

For example: [all emphasis added]

“”Under the agreed-upon parameters, sanctions will be suspended in a phased manner upon verification that Iran has met specific commitments,” [US State Department] spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.” [source]

“According to the framework agreement, sanctions will be gradually phased out as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.” [source]

“The deal aims to prevent Tehran making a nuclear weapon in exchange for phased sanction relief.” [source]

“Under the terms reached last Thursday, Iran must slash its stockpile of enriched uranium that could be used in a nuclear weapon, and cut by more than two-thirds the number of centrifuges that could be used to make more.

In return, UN sanctions and separate measures imposed unilaterally by the US and EU will be gradually suspended as the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirms Iranian compliance.” [source]

So, when one of member of the P5+1 group which negotiated that framework agreement announced that it was unilaterally terminating a five year-old ban on the supply of missiles to Iran before the terms of a final deal have been reached and before the IAEA has given any confirmation whatsoever of Iranian compliance with an agreement not yet even written down, one might have thought that the many obvious issues that raises would feature in the report on the subject produced by the self-declared “standard-setter for international journalism”.

However, in the article titled “US concern as Russia lifts ban on Iran arms delivery” which appeared on the BBC News website on April 14th, readers were not even reminded that Russia is one of the P5+1 nations.Russia S 300 art

Audiences were informed that:

“The US has expressed concern after Russia lifted a ban on supplying Iran with the sophisticated S-300 air defence missile system. […]

Russia said the embargo was no longer necessary after an interim deal was reached on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Tehran and six world powers aim to reach a final deal by 30 June.”

No questions were raised by the BBC regarding the issue of whether the framework agreement means that sanctions repeal is open to individual interpretation by countries and organisations or, alternatively, subject to a joint P5+1 decision-making process on which specific sanctions would be lifted when and under what conditions. The potential effects of this unilateral Russian decision (and pre-existing ones) on the functioning of the P5+1 were also not addressed by the BBC.

“Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, later confirmed statements by a Russian diplomat that Russia was already supplying Iran with various goods in exchange for oil. Peskov said this trade was not barred under the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.

The moves raised alarm bells in Israel and the US, which said a Russian-Iranian barter deal would raise serious concerns and could interfere with sanctions that the United States and other Western nations imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.”

The article states:

“Russia agreed to sell the S-300 system in 2007, but blocked delivery in 2010 after the UN imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The S-300 is a surface-to-air missile system that can be used against multiple targets including jets, or to shoot down other missiles.”

However, readers were not informed of the implications of the Russian move – and in particular its potential to complicate the option of military action in the event that Iran does not comply with the pending agreement. That omission is particularly remarkable in light of the fact that just days before the publication of this report, the BBC had seen fit to amplify statements made by the US President regarding Israel’s safety – which included the claim that:

“…we still have the options available to me — or available to a future president – that I have available to me right now.”

Once again the self-imposed limitations of BBC reporting on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran are glaringly evident.