Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Gallia Lindenstrauss, Daniel Rakov and Remi Daniel analyse ‘The Ceasefire in Idlib: Turkey’s Tactical Successes alongside Political Weakness’.

“The accords reached in Moscow between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 5, 2020 regarding a ceasefire in the Idlib province are almost certainly temporary, and friction between the two countries over the region’s future is likely to resurface in the not too distant future. However, Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian terms (including Erdogan’s visit to Moscow, while Putin ignored a previous invitation from Turkey) demonstrates its weak position. Moreover, although the Turkish government presented the return to the Sochi agreement of 2018 as its political and military goal, the accords reached in Moscow actually nullify them: the ceasefire in Idlib is another step toward the province’s return to the Assad regime. “

2) Noam Blum discusses ‘How Iran Became a Global Vector of Infection for COVID-19’ at Tablet Magazine.

“Iran currently has the third-worst outbreak of COVID-19 following China and Italy, with as of Friday 514 official deaths since the first reported case on Feb. 19. Speculation that the situation there is far, far worse than official accounts indicate has been bolstered by the relatively large number of Iranian upper echelons—regime officials, clerics, and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—who have contracted the disease, some of them fatally.

Additionally, several countries have discovered cases of COVID-19 that originated with travelers from Iran in the early days of March. One of the first cases in New Zealand came from a family who had recently traveled to the Islamic Republic. At least three of the first 12 cases in Canada came via Iran, as did all 33 initial cases in Iraq. In the United States, the first confirmed COVID-19 case in New York City was a health-care worker who had returned from Iran, and Los Angeles also identified a coronavirus patient from Iran who passed through LAX. India evacuated hundreds of Indian Muslim pilgrims from affected areas in Iran, many of whom tested positive for the coronavirus.”

3) At the FDD Jacob Nagel and Andrea Stricker ask ‘As Coronavirus Hinders the IAEA, Who Will Monitor Iran’s Nuclear Program?’.

“While the Iranian regime continues to call for sanctions relief in response to the coronavirus crisis, the regime appears rather content with the pandemic’s debilitating impact on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Inspectors remain stuck in Vienna or quarantined in their hotels in Iran to avoid exposure to the virus, which continues to spread quickly throughout Iran. […]

Experts are now considering wider implementation of the remote monitoring technology installed at the Natanz enrichment plant and other Iranian facilities pursuant to the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”

4) Yoni Ben Menachem of the JCPA looks at Hamas’ response to the Coronavirus crisis.

“Hamas called on the 2,667 residents of the Gaza Strip who have recently returned to Gaza through the Rafah Crossing to maintain home isolation. […]

One of the issues that will require a decision by the various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip is the “Land Day” event that took place annually on March 31.

According to the original plan, March 31 was supposed to be the date when the “March of Return” against Israel would resume at the border of the Gaza Strip.

However, officials in the Gaza Strip believe that with the spread of the coronavirus and the possibility of it reaching Gaza, the resumption of demonstrations on the Gaza border is likely to be postponed to another date.”

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Carmit Valensi, Neta Nave and Ofek Mushkat discuss ‘The Fight for Idlib’.

“Idlib province in northwest Syria remains the last significant stronghold of the rebellion against the Assad regime. The campaign that was revived recently in this area is marked by traits of the civil war now entering its tenth year: cruel and indiscriminate regime fighting backed by Russia and Iranian-run Shiite militias; a humanitarian crisis, manifested inter alia in displacement and potential refugees; a Russian effort, so far fruitless, to mediate between the sides; a danger of the situation deteriorating – militarily and diplomatically – given the multiple actors in the field. However, the campaign in the Idlib area reflects two significant changes in the balance of power between the sides: first, unusual military confrontations between Turkey and Assad regime forces, which so far have led to the downing of two Syrian military helicopters and fatalities on both sides. The second is linked to Iran’s decision to send its proxies into the fight after previously abstaining from involvement in this war theater. These developments are shaking up the already fragile balance of power among the various involved actors.”

2) Also at the INSS, Dr Raz Zimmt analyses ‘Parliamentary Elections in Iran: The Predicted Conservative Victory’.

“Official though not yet final results of the parliamentary elections held in Iran on February 21, 2020 show a landslide victory by the conservative right (200 out of 290 seats, versus under 20 seats won by reformist candidates). This victory was expected in view of the sweeping disqualification by the authorities of most of the reformist candidates. The low voter turnout (slightly over 40 percent) reflects the ongoing erosion of public trust in the political system. Over time this erosion could undermine the legitimacy of the regime, which to a large extent depends on its ability to maintain at least the appearance of popular representation in state institutions. The return of absolute control of the Majlis to the conservatives could create even more difficulties for President Hassan Rouhani in his last year of office, and is a possible preliminary sign regarding the next presidential elections, expected to be held in the summer of 2021.”

3) The Henry Jackson Society has published a report by Dr Simon Waldman titled ‘UNRWA’s Future Reconsidered’.

“UNRWA, the UN aid body established to support Palestinians, has been dogged by repeated allegations of mismanagement which led to the USA withdrawing all funding in 2018.  Following further allegations of misconduct in 2019; Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands froze funding to the body.  In contrast, the UK increased its annual contribution by over $25 million between 2017 and 2018.

Despite the UK’s continued support for UNRWA, allegations that educational materials provided by the body include extremism have dogged the organisation.  UNRWA blames the disturbing material within its schools on the local authorities whose educational ministries determine curricula within their respective jurisdictions. While UNRWA claims to routinely review its materials, the report argues that the problem is longstanding and measures to end the problem have been subsequently reversed.”

4) The ITIC reports on the Hizballah linked Lebanese organisation ‘Green Without Borders’.

“Green Without Borders is a Lebanese environmental organization dealing mostly with forestation. It operates in areas populated mainly by Hezbollah-controlled Shi’ites in south Lebanon and the Beqa’a Valley. An examination conducted by the ITIC revealed that the organization collaborates with Hezbollah’s civilian institutions, especially the Jihad al-Bina (the “construction foundation”) and the Hezbollah Association for Municipal Activity. Green Without Borders participates in Hezbollah’s campaign to glorify its shaheeds and turn them into role models for Lebanese youth. To that end Green Without Borders plants trees, some of them near the Israeli border, named for Hezbollah shaheeds, in collaboration with Hezbollah institutions and operatives. Green Without Borders’ chairman, Hajj Zuhair Nahle, a Shi’ite from Nabatieh in south Lebanon, is affiliated with Hezbollah. In his Facebook profile he refers to his loyalty to Iranian leader Ali Khamenei.”

Related Articles:

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Weekend long read

1) David May and Varsha Koduvayur discuss ‘Trump’s peace plan and the Gulf Arab States’ reaction’ at the Hill.

“Many Arab countries initially welcomed the Trump administration’s release of its long-awaited plan in late January. Ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates were present at the launch event. Those that weren’t — including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco — nevertheless expressed support for the administration’s efforts and praised some of the plan’s positive elements. It appeared that Israel and the Arab states were ready to move from discreet affairs to international affairs.

However, any hope of a full-fledged embrace of the plan by Gulf leaders was dashed when, just days later, the Arab League issued a sound and unanimous rejection of the entire plan, underscoring how Israeli ties to the Persian Gulf continue their delicate dance of two steps forward, one step back. Denouncing the plan as a “so-called ‘deal,’” the Arab League dubbed it a “setback” to the peace efforts undertaken in the past 30 years. The Palestinians initiated this public meeting of the Arab League, knowing they could shame the Arab states into denying their intrigue with Israel.”

2) At the INSS Orna Mizrahi analyses the situation in Lebanon.

“Despite the January 21, 2020 formation of a government of technocrats in Lebanon, presumably in response to demonstrators’ demands, protests have persisted throughout the country. In addition, there is marked popular dissatisfaction with the composition of the government and a lack of confidence in its ability to advance reforms necessary to alleviate the country’s dire situation. Nor is it clear that how long this government can survive. Since the October 17, 2019 launch of the protest, demonstrators have demanded the formation of a government composed of professionals who are not members of the corrupt, ruling political elite, in the hope they might properly address Lebanon’s deep-set problems. However, the demands met with only a partial response; although most of the 20 members of the government – including Prime Minister Hassan Diab – are academics without formal political affiliation, they are perceived as a “Hezbollah government,” because the list was effectively decided, behind the scenes, by Hezbollah and the parties in the March 8 camp. The Sunni party of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, along with other parties from the rival March 14 alliance, did not support the new Prime Minister and opted not to join the government. Thus while only two ministers are officially Hezbollah members, the rest represent the organization’s partners. As such, the new government in fact reflects Hezbollah’s strengthened influence over the political system in Lebanon and challenges Western countries, chief among them the United States, and the Gulf States with a dilemma regarding their economic aid to Lebanon, which is crucial for the struggling state.”

3) At the JISS Jonathan Spyer asks ‘Do Syria-Turkey clashes presage a wider confrontation in the Middle East?’.

“This week saw the first direct clashes between Turkish government and Syrian regime forces since the commencement of the Syrian civil war in mid-2011. According to a statement issued by the Turkish defense ministry, seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian were killed on Monday, February 3, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, when their position was shelled by advancing regime forces.

Turkish forces responded to the fire, claiming to have killed 76 regime soldiers. The Assad regime itself denies that its forces suffered any fatalities. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is opposition-associated but regarded by many news outlets as generally reliable, reported that at least 13 regime soldiers were killed by Turkish fire. […]

So does this event presage a wider confrontation between Assad and Erdogan? And what are the implications for Russian attempts to maintain a diplomatic process intended to finally bring the war in Syria to a close? Will the Turkish-Russian rapprochement which has formed a notable presence in regional diplomacy over the last year suffer serious damage as a result of ‘the week’s events?”

4) The ITIC reports on ‘Iranian support for Palestinian terrorism’.

“In late January 2020, the Al-Ansar Charity Association, affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), distributed Iranian financial support to families of shaheeds killed from the beginning of the Second Intifada (2000) until Operation Protective Edge (2014). The funds were delivered to the association by the Iranian Martyrs Foundation, which is used by the Iranians as a channel for funneling funds intended for social institutions supporting the terrorist organizations. The amount distributed in the Gaza Strip among the families of shaheeds was not specified. However, in the ITIC’s assessment, similarly to 2018, the total amount was close to $2 million, paid to about 4,800 families (each family received the sum of $300-600).”

BBC News yet again promotes conspiracy theories

Since July 2018 we have been documenting the BBC’s promotion of what just three months earlier it had itself described as “conspiracy theories”:

BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

BBC News website readers get yet another dose of Assad’s propaganda

Amplification of Assad propaganda on BBC World Service radio

New BBC report on ‘White Helmets’ again amplifies falsehoods

BBC News amplifies Syrian and Russian propaganda yet again

A report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on December 16th – “James Le Mesurier: White Helmets co-founder died from fall, Turkey says” – yet again gives amplification to Syrian and Russian government propaganda.  

“…the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran have accused the White Helmets of aiding terrorist groups – something the organisation has denied.

A week before he died, the Russian foreign ministry accused Le Mesurier of being a former agent of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. The UK’s ambassador to the UN said the claim was “categorically untrue”.”

The BBC knows that those accusations are nothing more than the propaganda of totalitarian regimes and yet it has continued to amplify and mainstream them for seventeen months.

The BBC media editor’s complaints (published on the same website on the same day) about “Tweets or Facebook posts that go viral, including those that espouse conspiracy theories” would of course carry more weight were his own organisation to cease engaging in the same practice from its far more influential platform.

Related Articles:

The BBC examines conspiracy theories – but not its own

BBC News amplifies Syrian and Russian propaganda yet again

Readers may recall that over the past sixteen months the BBC has repeatedly given amplification to Syrian and Russian government propaganda concerning the ‘White Helmets’ rescue teams in Syria.

BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

BBC News website readers get yet another dose of Assad’s propaganda

Amplification of Assad propaganda on BBC World Service radio

New BBC report on ‘White Helmets’ again amplifies falsehoods

More false balance in BBC News report on Douma chemical attack

On November 11th the BBC News website published an article about the death of the ‘White Helmets’ co-founder James Le Mesurier in Turkey and readers of that report were told that:

“…the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran have accused the White Helmets of openly aiding terrorist organisations and the Russian foreign ministry last week accused Mr Le Mesurier of being a former agent of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.”

The BBC also thought it appropriate to embed a screenshot of the Tweet from the Russian foreign ministry in which that accusation was made before telling readers that a UK official had denied the allegation.

In April 2018 BBC Trending produced a report titled “Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories” which included a whole section on conspiracy theories relating to the ‘White Helmets’. The BBC is certainly aware that the Russian and Syrian propaganda was exposed and debunked two years ago and it also surely comprehends why such propaganda is spread by those regimes.

“Since 2015, the year the Russians began fighting in Syria, the White Helmets have been filming attacks on opposition-held areas with GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets. Syria and Russia have claimed they were attacking only terrorists, yet the White Helmets have captured footage of dead and injured women and children under the rubble. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as eyewitness accounts, Putin’s bombers have targeted civilians, schools, hospitals, and medical facilities in opposition-held areas, a clear violation of international law. “This, above all, is what the Russians hated,” Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council specializing in Russian disinformation, told me. “That the White Helmets are filming war crimes.””

Nevertheless, the BBC continues to amplify that baseless propaganda despite the fact that it contributes nothing to audience understanding of the topic and notwithstanding its legal obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news…of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

 

Half a story time with the BBC’s Middle East editor

The August 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item described as follows in its synopsis:

“The humanitarian disaster in Syria continues to unfold but there’s little pressure from outside to stop the killing of civilians. Our correspondent considers the contradictions.”

And:

“Television footage from Idlib in northern Syria continues to provide distressing evidence of civilian suffering. But the world’s leading nations are unwilling or unable to intercede. Jeremy Bowen recalls his visits to the region in former, peaceful times but sees no end to the current violence.”

Presenter Kate Adie introduced the item (from 00:38 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Events in Idlib province in Syria in 2011 led to a devastating war and Idlib still remains a centre of resistance to Bashar al Assad’s regime. Civilians there are enduring appalling conditions as the Syrian army has driven rebel groups out of other towns and villages elsewhere in the country. Idlib is now the last major bolt-hole against Assad but, says Jeremy Bowen, that may not be for much longer.”

The following day – August 4th – a slightly different version of the same item was aired on BBC World Service radio’s version of ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

“As President Bashar al Assad’s forces advance on Idlib province, one of the last pockets of armed resistance to his regime in Syria, the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen weighs up what is really at stake, and what course the civil war might take from here onwards.”

Presenter Anu Anand introduced the item (from 06:20 here) as follows:

Anand: “In recent weeks there’s been a surge of violence in the civil war still tearing away at the fabric of Syria and particularly at the country’s north-west and the province of Idlib. This is a part of the Middle East that’s seem millennia of human history and been witness to many an autocratic regime, to countless bloody conflicts and innumerable fighting forces. And since the protests broke out in the Spring of 2011 it’s always been a centre of resistance to the regime of Bashar al Assad. By 2017, as President Assad’s military drove rebel groups out of one urban centre after another elsewhere in Syria, Idlib became the last major bolt-hole for his opponents. But, as Jeremy Bowen explains, that may not be true for much longer.”

Both those introductions – including the highlighted sentences – fail to adequately clarify to listeners that the Assad regime methodically ensured that ‘evacuation agreements’ reached after fighting in other parts of the country often included the transportation of rebels and their families to Idlib province. For example in March 2018 in eastern Ghouta near Damascus:

“Fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which holds Harasta, agreed to lay down arms in return for safe passage to opposition-held northwestern Syria and a government pardon for people who wished to stay, the opposition sources said.

Some 1,500 militants and 6,000 of their family members will be transported to rebel-held Idlib province in two batches starting on Thursday, the Hezbollah military media unit said.”

In April 2018 civilians and rebel fighters from southern Damascus were also sent to Idlib and in July 2018 some 4,000 people were evacuated from south-west Syria to Idlib, with AP noting at the time that:

“The U.N. and human rights organizations have condemned the evacuations as forced displacement. More than half of Idlib’s population of two million is of displaced Syrians from other parts of the country, following similar military offensives and evacuations.”

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

“Backed by Russia, the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have conquered swathes of territory in recent months. In a now-familiar pattern of evacuation agreements, they have effectively corralled fleeing civilians, moderate rebels and also hardline jihadis into the northern province. The battle Assad is expected to launch on Idlib will likely be one of the final showdowns against the embattled opposition, and possibly mark a bloody end to the civil war.

The United Nations has expressed deep concern for the nearly 3 million people trapped in Idlib. […]

The UN said this week it was bracing for “the most horrific tragedy” in Idlib and dubbed it a “dumping ground” for fighters and civilians. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, warned on Thursday that as many as 800,000 people could be displaced if the fighting does begin. He said he feared the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime and al-Qaeda.” 

That important context – along with the fact that in September 2018 Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib province – was likewise absent from the account given by Jeremy Bowen, which began with a description of his own family trip to the district in 2010 before going on:

Bowen: “Since the [Syrian] regime and its Russian allies launched an offensive against the province three months ago, 450 civilians have been killed. Idlib is the last big piece of land and major population centre they still haven’t recaptured. A few days ago, in a speech overflowing with frustration and anger, the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that 440,000 people had been displaced within the Idlib enclave and the biggest humanitarian disaster of the 21st century was in the making. ‘Are you going to shrug your shoulders?’ he asked them ‘or are you going to listen to the children of Idlib and do something about it?’. But the Security Council will not, cannot act. The five permanent members are deeply divided over Syria. The result is a deadlock that discredits an organisation that’s only as strong as the political will of its members.”

Bowen however stopped short of clarifying to audiences that his euphemistic portrayal of a “deeply divided” UN Security Council in fact means Russian vetoes – as reported by AP in June.

“Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council on Monday from issuing a statement sounding alarm about the increasing fighting in and around Syria’s Idlib province and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster, a council diplomat said. […]

The Security Council has struggled to speak with one voice on Syria in recent years. In one notable example, a 2017 Russian veto put an end to an initiative that determined accountability for chemical attacks in Syria. That effort was run jointly by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

“Russia has used its security council veto powers 11 times to block action targeting its ally Syria.”

After reminiscing about another trip to the Idlib region in 2012, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “Turkey and Russia are the outside powers that matter in Idlib. The regime needs Russia’s power. Turkey wants a big say in the future of land just across its border and to destroy the power and national aspirations of Kurds who did the hard fighting on the ground against IS. And caught in the centre of it all are three million people in Idlib province. That includes tens of thousands of armed men loyal to a range of militias under an alliance led by a Salafist jihadist fighting group, some of whose leaders come from Al Qaeda. The regime and the Russians say they’re fighting terrorists. Many in the West would not disagree even as they deplore their methods.”

Just as was the case when he reported from Syria in 2015, Bowen made no effort to balance that promotion of a Syrian regime talking point by clarifying to BBC audiences that many more Syrian civilians have been killed by regime forces than by Jihadists of various stripes.

And so, once again, BBC audiences get a carefully framed story on Syria which omits relevant information essential for its proper understanding from the man charged with making news from the Middle East “more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.  

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More false balance in BBC News report on Douma chemical attack

A report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 1st was presented as follows:

The article itself – titled “Syria war: Chlorine likely used in Douma attack – OPCW” and tagged “Suspected Syria chemical attack” – similarly told readers that:

“The global chemical weapons watchdog has concluded chlorine is likely to have been used in an attack on the Syrian town of Douma last April.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said data gave “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place”.

“This toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine,” it added, without assigning blame.” [emphasis added]

With readers having been told that the OPCW had not specified which party had carried out the attack (but not why), the short report then went on to uncritically amplify Syrian regime denials which have already been proved to be baseless and Russian regime propaganda concerning the ‘White Helmets’.

“The US, UK and France accused Syrian government forces, who were besieging Douma, of using chemical weapons in the 7 April attack, and carried out air strikes in retaliation.

The Syrian government has denied ever using chemical weapons. Its ally Russia has said the attack was “staged” by rescue workers.”

Only some thirteen hours later did the BBC find it appropriate to amend the article in order to inform visitors to the BBC News website that:

“In June, the OPCW was given new powers to assign blame for chemical attacks. However, it was not the mandate of the fact-finding team sent to Douma to do so.”

As we see the BBC continues its policy of promoting false balance in the form of claims from Syria and Russia – despite both those regimes having been shown to have lied about previous chemical attacks.

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Reviewing the sourcing of BBC Radio 4 December 26 news bulletins

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 on December 26th heard some interestingly sourced news bulletins concerning an alleged Israeli attack on sites in Syria late on the evening of December 25th. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Among the headlines at the start of BBC Radio 4’s December 26th “Midnight News” programme was:

Israel has attacked a weapons site in Syria and says it’s intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards its territory.”

There was however no confirmation at that stage of that highlighted claim.

Later on (from 02:31 here) listeners were told that:

Newsreader: “Syria says its air defences have intercepted missiles fired by Israeli aircraft close to the capital Damascus but it acknowledged that an arms dump had been hit. Youssef Taha has more details.”

Taha: “A Syrian military official said that most of the missiles were brought down before they reached their targets but he acknowledged that a weapons dump near Damascus was hit. Video footage shown on state media showed an object moving over the city being intercepted and then the sound of a loud explosion followed by a burst of artillery shelling. Israel confirmed the attack and said it later activated its air defence system to bring down a Syrian missile. Israel has on numerous occasions targeted Iranian and Hizballah sites in Syria that it regards as threats to its own security. An Israeli army spokesman said there were no injuries among Israeli troops and no damage.”

Contrary to the claim from Youssef Taha that “Israel confirmed the attack”, at that stage – a few minutes after midnight UK time on December 26th – Israel had not confirmed anything of the sort and in fact no official statement has been made to date. The only Israeli announcement at that stage concerned the activation of an aerial defence system “in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria“.

As we see Taha’s newsgathering was based entirely on unverified claims made by the Syrian military and Syrian state media – neither of which is renowned for its honesty and accuracy.

Despite the absence of official confirmation from Israel, later that morning listeners to a news bulletin broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were likewise told that (from 02:53 here):

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked an arms depot near Damascus. It said it had also intercepted a Syrian missile heading towards Israeli territory. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

The IDF statement did not actually include the word ‘intercepted’ in either Hebrew or English but Knell went on to repeat that claim.

Knell: “Syrian air defences shot down missiles fired by Israeli war planes from Lebanese air space according to the official Syrian news agency. But it says that an arms depot was damaged by an Israeli strike. The Israeli military declined to comment on the report but said that Israel’s aerial defence system had intercepted a rocket launched from Syria. Israel has previously carried out dozens of airstrikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah, the Iranian backed Lebanese militant group.”

Once again BBC newsgathering consisted of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media and the same unreliable source was quoted in a news bulletin aired in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘World at One’ (from 04:22 here) on the afternoon of the same day.

Newsreader: “Israel has attacked a weapons storage site near the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian state media says three soldiers were injured. Reports say that two suspicious cargo planes bound for Iran had taken off from Damascus just before the airstrikes. The Israeli military hasn’t commented but says its air defences intercepted a missile fired from Syria last night. From Jerusalem, Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying over southern Lebanon fired missiles at targets near Damascus according to the official Syrian state news agency. It says most were shot down but an arms depot was damaged. Israeli media say that 2 Iranian planes bound for Tehran left Damascus airport just before and at around the time of the airstrikes. Reports have previously linked their airlines to weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. The Israeli military has only confirmed that its air defences intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria after the time of the reported air raids. Israel has previously said it struck some 200 targets in Syria over the past 2 years, saying it acts to stop Iranian entrenchment and to prevent advanced weapons being handed to Hizballah.”

A news bulletin in the radio 4 programme ‘PM’ (from 03:19 here) on the afternoon of the same day promoted claims from a source which – like official Syrian media and the Syrian military – had been shown to have repeatedly lied about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in recent years.

Newsreader: “Russia says that 2 passenger planes were directly threatened last night by Israeli airstrikes on Syria. The defence ministry in Moscow said that the endangered flights had been landing in Damascus and Beirut. Israeli war planes damaged an arms depot near Damascus and wounded three soldiers. Israel hasn’t commented.”

On the evening of December 26th the same unverified claim was amplified in a news bulletin aired in the Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 03:20 here).

Newsreader: “Russia says an Israeli missile strike on targets in Syria last night directly threatened 2 civilian planes. The Russian foreign ministry described the attack as a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty. In the past Israel has acknowledged carrying out 200 missile strikes in Syria over 2 years with the aim of stopping Iran entrenching itself in the country and preventing advanced weapons reaching the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Yolande Kell.”

Knell: “Israeli war planes flying in Lebanese air space targeted an arms storage site near Damascus according to the official Syrian news agency. Russia’s defence ministry says 14 of the 16 missiles they fired were shot down and that Israel’s actions threatened 2 passenger planes, one landing in Beirut and the other in the Syrian capital. Israel’s military hasn’t commented on the reports but said that its air defences had intercepted a missile fired from neighbouring Syria. Relations between Israel and Russia became strained in September when Syria shot down a Russian military plane during an Israeli airstrike, killing 15 people on board. Afterwards Russia announced that it had delivered its advanced S300 air defence system to Syria despite Israel and the US urging it not to.”

Late on the evening of December 26th the AP news agency published what it said was confirmation of the strikes in Syria – and a response to the Russian claims – from an anonymous “Israeli security official”.

However as we see, the BBC’s presentation of the story during the first 24 hours after it broke was primarily based on statements put out by official Syrian and Russian sources which the BBC repeated unquestioningly without independent verification.

Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news bulletins.

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BBC News website promotes an ‘Israeli attack’ that wasn’t

Despite evidence, the BBC won’t let go of Assad propaganda

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Julie Masis tells “The unknown story of Moroccan Holocaust survivors“.

“Between 1940 and November of 1942 when the Americans landed in Morocco, Moroccan Jews also had to abide by discriminatory laws: Jewish children were expelled from schools, Jews were fired from government jobs, and there were quotas on how many Jews could attend universities or work as doctors, lawyers and pharmacists, said Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who wrote a book about the Holocaust in Arab countries. […]

Historians also say that had American troops not landed in North Africa in 1942, Moroccan Jewry — which numbered approximately 250,000 during WWII — may have also been sent to the death camps.

According to documents that outline the Final Solution, Hitler had planned to exterminate 700,000 French Jews – a number that makes sense only if the Jews in French North Africa are included, Satloff said.”

2) Terry Glavin documents “The untold story of the dramatic, Canadian-led rescue of Syria’s White Helmets“.

“It started with a telephone call, just before the Canada Day weekend. It was Nadera Al-Sukkar from Mayday Rescue, the British-based foundation that serves as the Syria Civil Defence White Helmets’ administrative agency in Jordan. “She sounded really scared,” is the way Peter MacDougall, Canada’s ambassador to Jordan, remembers the call. Al-Sukkar wasn’t the type of person who scared easily. “She’s usually really impressive, but really low key.”

The way Al-Sukkar remembers it, the situation was desperate, and calling MacDougall was a long shot. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were streaming out of the towns and cities of Dara’a and Quneitra, Syria’s southern governorates. Medical clinics were being targeted and bombed. The White Helmets—Syria’s famous civilian emergency first responders—were in Bashar al-Assad’s crosshairs again, just as they had been in the hellholes of Aleppo, Douma, Ghouta and Homs.”

3) At the Algemeiner Shiri Moshe reports on a new study of Palestinian Authority school books.

“Israel is routinely referred to as the “Zionist Occupation” within the curriculum, including in contexts before the 1967 Six-Day War, in which it came to control the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and eastern portions of Jerusalem.

Various areas within Israel are described as Palestinian, with a geography textbook for 12th graders stating that the “Negev Plateau is located in southern Palestine,” while a entrepreneurship textbook for the same grade claims that the Israeli city of Nazareth is located in the “Palestinian North.””

4) Amos Yadlin, Zvi Magen and Vera Michlin-Shapir analyse “The Crisis over the Downed Russian Plane” at the INSS.

“The downing of the Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrians on the night of September 17, 2018 has become one of the most complex incidents in the framework of Russia-Israel relations, at least since the start of Russia’s intervention in Syria in October 2015. Following an Israeli attack in the Latakia region, a Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft battery struck a Russian reconnaissance plane, which crashed into the sea, killing its crew of 15. Although it was Syria that failed to identify the Russian plane, Russia chose to blame Israel for the incident. However, it appears that both Russia and Israel still have a fundamental interest in continuing the good relations between them and maintaining their understandings in Syria. The recent announcement by the Russian Ministry of Defense about the transfer of advanced S-300 systems to Syria changes little in this regard, since Israel is well-equipped to withstand this challenge. However, it puts Russia and Israel on a precarious path and may signal that Russia has broader political motivations in this crisis.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Gatestone Institute, Douglas Murray discusses “The Great British Foreign Office Fantasy“.

“According to the British Foreign Office, the Golan Heights are ‘occupied’. They have been ‘occupied’ – according to the logic of the UK Foreign Office – since 1967, when Israel took the land from the invading forces of Syria. Ever since then, the Israelis have had the benefit of this strategic position and the Syrian regime has not. This fact, half a century on, still strikes the British Foreign Office as regrettable, and a wrong to be righted in due course. […]

The ongoing madness of the British Foreign Office’s position has been highlighted in recent days thanks to a request which came from the British government, as well as the governments in other European capitals and in Washington. A request which also involved the Golan.”

2) The ITIC has updated its report on a study of Palestinian Authority school textbooks.

“An examination of the new textbooks issued by the PA shows they continue expressing, and in some instances by radicalizing, the same basic principles that appeared in previous textbooks: the delegitimizing of the State of Israel, demonizing the State of Israel, encouraging violence against it and an absence of education for peace. The books, which are strongly hostile to Israel and the Jewish people, are also used by UNRWA-run school, half of whose budget is devoted to education.”

3) The ITIC has also published a report on a ‘flotilla’ bound for the Gaza Strip and expected to arrive in the area next week.

“Three small boats of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip set sail on July 21 and 22, 2018, and are expected to arrive around the end of July. Before they left for the Gaza Strip they conducted a series of propaganda visits to various European ports. The flotilla’s objective is to help the Palestinian propaganda campaign that accompanies the “return marches” by raising awareness to the demand to lift the “siege” on the Gaza Strip. That is supposed lead to international solidarity with the Gazans while defaming Israel.

On July 16, 2018, four boats anchored in the port of Palermo, Sicily, and from there three of them set sail together for the Gaza Strip on July 21, 2018. The most prominent figure in organizing the flotilla is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian anti-Israeli activist living in Britain, affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Birawi has many years of experience in organizing flotillas and convoys to the Gaza Strip. His official title is “coordinator of the international committee for breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip.””

Readers may recall that Birawi is also linked to ‘Great Return March’ agitprop which has been staged along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel since late March. The ITIC has also published an update to that report with details of the identities of the flotilla’s participants, one of whom is the founder of ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) who has in the past been interviewed by the BBC.

4) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran discusses “Putin’s New Rules for the Golan Heights“.

“Since the start of the offensive in southern Syria last month, there have been all kinds of optimistic takes on how Russia will agree to rein in the Iranians in Syria. But what Putin actually wants to do, his language suggests, is to establish Russia as the central interlocutor for everyone in the region. To that end, what could be better than the tried and true path of hosting talks between Israel and its adversaries in Syria?

Of course, the notion that Israel would restart talks about the Golan when the Iranians are entrenching themselves in Syria is laughable in the extreme—and the Russians clearly know this. Instead, they might start with technical talks, say, about how best to implement the Separation of Forces agreement, or about the modalities of the return of the Assad regime to the area. That, as Putin said, would be the first step.”