BBC Radio 4 promotes unsupported allegation concerning Israel

The June 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item concerning the previous day’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Presenter Justin Webb first spoke to former US official James Clapper (from 01:36:48 here) before introducing his next guest: Labour peer Lord West of Spithead.

Webb: “Let’s talk to Admiral Lord West, chief of naval staff of course in this country between 2002 and 2006…”

After listeners had heard about the UK’s naval forces in the relevant region and an assessment that “should by any mistake a war start” the United Kingdom would be “very, very involved”, Webb went on (at 1:41:12) to ask his next question. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Webb: “Do we have a way, separately from the Americans, of making our own determination of what is actually going on because at the moment the foreign secretary I think has said he accepts the American view and you just heard James Clapper saying in his view there isn’t any other view of who is responsible. But do we have a kind of a way of sorting out for ourselves what’s actually going on and what our…our…our vital interests are?”

West: “Well certainly our agencies and the defence intelligence staff, for example, will be analysing the tapes and looking at that and our agencies will be looking at any other evidence they’ve got to ascertain whether we are absolutely certain the Iranians are doing it. It does…it does look as though they’re doing that but let’s not kid ourselves: there are powerful groups within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that would – I’m afraid rather stupidly – would rather like some sort of war with Iran because they think there could be some knock-out blow and there’d be a revolution in Iran. They’re deluding themselves; it would be a catastrophe. So because there are those groups and because within Iran itself there are splinter groups, you know I think we need to be quite careful about being sure who exactly is doing this. It does look as though the Iranians are doing it at the moment.”

Rather than asking his interviewee to name those “powerful groups” or challenging the claim that they “would rather like some sort of war with Iran” when that would undoubtedly put Israeli civilians in considerable danger, Webb proceeded directly to his next ‘question’.

Webb: “And also make our own political decisions as well I suppose on what degree of escalation we wanted to take part in.”

As the BBC’s researchers were presumably aware before seeking his participation, that bizarre and unevidenced claim had been made by Lord West of Spithead before – in the House of Lords on May 13th. [emphasis added]

There is no doubt that there are powerful factions within Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US that feel that an attack on Iran would be a good thing, believe it or not. They think that they would very quickly be able to suppress the enemy capability and then there would be regime change. They are wrong. It would be an absolute catastrophe. The passage of any shipping through the Straits of Hormuz would be problematic for weeks, there would be an outbreak of terrorist attacks throughout the region and there would possibly be some missile attacks.”

As we see, then too no evidence to support his claim was provided by Lord West of Spithead – who also believes that terrorism in the UK is caused by Israeli actions (or cannabis) and told BBC audiences (and others) in April 2018 that it did “not ring true” that the chemical attack in Douma that month was perpetrated by the Assad regime.

Not only did Justin Webb make no effort whatsoever to challenge West’s unsupported statement, but BBC Radio 4 even chose to further highlight it on Twitter.

So much, once again, for the BBC’s obligation to provide “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of…the wider world.”  

Advertisements

BBC News website showcases Paul Danahar’s Middle East narrative

An AFP report from May 14th about the WhatsApp security flaw story states: [emphasis added]

“”This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world” according to initial investigations, it [WhatsApp] added, but did not name the firm.”

AFP’s article goes on:

“The spyware appears to be related to the Pegasus software developed by Israeli-based NSO group, which is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services, according to Washington-based analyst Joseph Hall.

The spyware “could have gotten into someone’s hands” outside legitimate channels for nefarious purposes, Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told AFP.

It’s unclear who is doing this.””

Former BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Paul Danahar however has no such doubts and on May 14th he published an article on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages titled “Why the WhatsApp spies may have eyes on Iran”.

Readers got some early signposting in the form of the main photograph used to illustrate the article. The image – which has no connection whatsoever to the story itself – was captioned “Young Israeli soldiers take a selfie”.

Danahar opened his article as follows: [all emphasis added]

“Time to join some dots.

The WhatsApp hack, “sabotaged” oil tankers, the push in the US to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood and “plans” to deploy American troops to the Gulf are all strands of the same story. At its heart is the struggle between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Danahar then spent the next seven paragraphs establishing linkage between the Israeli army and tech companies while promoting an unsupported claim regarding the function of intelligence units.

“The Israeli army takes in every youngster, assesses their greatest strength and parks them where they can do the most national good.

The computer nerds who would otherwise be locked in their mum’s basement are forced out into the light and into doing their national service in cyber-warfare.

When they leave the army, they take the skills and the connections they made into the industrial sector and they form companies like the NSO Group.”

That section also promotes a link to another report on the WhatsApp story written on the same day by the BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee. In that report Lee linked to an article he wrote in 2016 in which he made some dubious claims concerning NSO and the IDF’s 8200 unit which remain in situ.

Danahar next managed to bring Palestinians into the story:

“The NSO Group makes hacking tools to sell to governments to fight crime and terrorism.

But – and it is a big but – they’ll only get an export licence from the Israeli government if it deems that the sale does not harm the national interest.

In the past that meant no sales to Iran and nothing to Arab Gulf states either.

That’s because in the past the Gulf states stood with the Palestinians against Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council states ditched the Arab League boycott of Israel in 1996, Danahar went on to claim that:

“In the post-Arab Spring period, the Gulf states (apart from Qatar) have all but abandoned the Palestinian cause and moved to side with Israel against Iran.

This slow shift was accelerated by the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of so many anti-Iran hawks to his administration, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.”

The Gulf states’ recognition of threats posed by Iran was of course amply evident long before Donald Trump ran for president. Providing no concrete supporting evidence, Danahar then promoted “speculation”.

“There’s much speculation that the Israeli government would, to build relations with their new friends in the Gulf, have allowed the NSO Group to sell their software to Gulf states.

What suggests that? Well it’s perhaps not a coincidence that among those reportedly targeted by the WhatsApp hacking software were lawyers investigating human rights abuses in Gulf states, a Saudi dissident and a Qatari citizen.”

Failing to inform readers of Iran’s financing and support of terror groups such as Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and ignoring the regular Iranian threats against Israel, Danahar continued:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his reason for being (and his only political legacy) his effort to contain Iran, which he projects as Israel’s only existential threat.”

Danahar – now the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor in Washington then went on to promote his notion of how US foreign policy is made.

“The Saudi rulers see two existential threats. One from without: Iran. And one from within: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are scared of Iran because of its military might.

They are scared of the Muslim Brotherhood because they offer political Islam as an alternative to the dynastic rule of the royal family.

The Trump administration is made up of people who hate the Iranian regime and everything it stands for.

So, this new “Axis of Egos” is all doing each other favours to position themselves collectively to fully unite against Iran.

Lots of trades are taking place.

Some involve arms sales, some involve the price of oil and gas, some involve political trades like the one that some in the White House are doing for the Saudis by trying to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

A photo caption tells readers that: “The Trump administration decided to pursue sanctions against the Muslim Brotherhood following an April meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi”.

As was noted here when the BBC previously promoted that claim in late April, “the idea of designating the Brotherhood” predates both the Trump administration and that meeting.

Danahar next invoked the Iraq war spectre while a photo caption once again used scare quotes around the word “sabotaged” to suggest to readers that damage done to four ships off the coast of the UAE on May 12th may not have been deliberate.

“In a replay of what happened before the invasion of Iraq, it appears that any strand of intelligence that can be spun into a reason to ratchet up the pressure on Iran is being used.

This atmosphere is all very familiar to those of us who were around to witness the build-up towards the war in Iraq.”

Danahar closed his polemic by trying to persuade audiences that if the US did go to war with Iran, it would ultimately be because of Israel. 

“The present occupant in the White House has far fewer ideological bones in his body, perhaps none. […]

He’s unlikely to sign up to another war in the Middle East, certainly not this side of the 2020 election, unless he is seriously provoked.

That would require being able to pin some very bad action on Tehran. The best way to do that is to gather intelligence.

And the best way to gather intelligence is for all your allies to be spying on as many people in the region as you can.

One of the best ways to do that is to hack into the Trojan horse we all voluntarily carry with us, our smartphones.”

As we saw in November 2012 when Paul Danahar – then head of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau – signed off and personally promoted inaccurate reports concerning the death of a child in the Gaza Strip, he apparently does not find it necessary to have verified evidence before promoting a version of events which fits in with his chosen political narrative.

And as we see in this item, Danahar’s chosen narrative includes an Iranian regime which is so passive and innocuous that it would have to have “some very bad action” pinned on it by underhand actors.

Notably, that is being presented to BBC audiences as “news that you can trust”.  

Related Articles:

Odd claim from BBC Technology appears – and disappears – on Wikipedia

Superficial BBC News reporting on Muslim Brotherhood

 

Context lacking in BBC report on developments in Strait of Hormuz

On April 30th a short report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “US Navy to assist US-flagged ships through Strait of Hormuz“. The article’s subject matter is portrayed as follows:SoH story

“Defence officials have said that US Navy ships will accompany US-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, to make sure they are not interfered with by Iran. […]

The US navy will not be escorting the ships – a different procedure from accompanying them. Instead, it will monitor the area as the ships pass across the strait.”

The BBC report does not expand on the meaning of the term “monitor”, but some explanation of what that means in practical terms has been provided by retired US Navy officer JE Dyer:

“The Navy won’t be running convoys through the strait, or pulling literal “escort” duty.  It appears that the Navy will be on-call to monitor Iranian activity in the strait while U.S.-flagged ships are in transit, a posture that can be ramped up to dedicated escort at need, but without naval escort being imposed on U.S. merchant ships as a routine condition of passage (something the president has authority to do).

The profile of operations is thus as open-ended as the timeframe for the requirement.  The best way to put it is to say we’ll be having to keep a duty warship in the SOH [Strait of Hormuz] for escort contingencies.”

CNN adds:

“Pentagon officials provided clarification Thursday afternoon that not every ship will necessarily be accompanied by the Navy. But this is still a significant change in the U.S. military posture in the Strait.

The classified plan was approved by the Pentagon earlier Thursday, according to a senior defense official.

While the Navy maintains a routine ship presence in the Persian Gulf and the North Arabian Sea, this new effort specifically requires an armed warship to be in the narrow channel between Iran and Oman when a U.S. commercial vessel passes through.”

The BBC report notes the incidents which took place last week in the Strait of Hormuz:

“Iranian patrol boats surrounded a US cargo ship in the strait on Friday.

Earlier this week, Iranian naval ships reportedly fired warning shots near a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship before seizing it and its crew. […]

The crew of the Marshall Islands-flagged container ship seized by Iran in the strait on Tuesday are safe and “in good spirits”, Danish shipping company Maersk said.

Maersk said it still did not know the reason why the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was seized, and noted it had been in an international shipping lane.

Iranian media cited an official as saying the ship was seized based on a court order in connection with a complaint made by a private Iranian company about debts.”

Neither in this report nor in its two previous related articles (see here and here) did the BBC clarify the significance of the Iranian actions. JE Dyer again:

“Iran purports to be at war with no one, and hasn’t claimed a national-defense need to take the unusual and arguably criminal step of detaining a ship exercising the right of innocent passage in an international strait.

Maersk Tigris isn’t an asset of the Maersk Line – the ship’s not owned by Maersk – and neither is the cargo she carries. Iran has impounded the assets of innocent third parties, in an alleged attempt to collect a debt from 2005 owed by Maersk because of an Iranian court judgment.

A coastal state’s prerogatives in an international strait don’t give it the right to do this.  In fact, the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prohibits what Iran did on Tuesday.  The only prerogative it recognizes for a coastal state to stop a ship exercising innocent passage is to enforce national laws which that specific ship may be in violation of.  (See Article 28.)  According to the reason Iran gave for detaining her, Maersk Tigris is a third party in breach of no Iranian law or judgment.” [UNCLOS text here]

Writing on the legal aspects of Iran’s seizure of the Maersk Tigris, Professor Eugene Kontorovich notes that:

“Iran’s seizure clearly violates international law, and one might add, a branch of international law that is ordinarily well-respected, and quite fundamental for global commerce. Moreover, no maritime lien gives Iran any authority to detain the crew.

Given the flagrant breach of international law, there seems to be a surprising silence from the “international community” and proponents of global governance.”

With regard to conventions concerning the Strait of Hormuzthrough which approximately 30% of all seaborne traded oil is transported – the BBC states:

“The strait connects the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. […]

The narrow strait lies partly in Iranian waters.

Shipping traffic is allowed to pass through under an internationally-recognised protocol called “innocent passage”, so long as the ships are not carrying weapons, collecting intelligence, or violating other restrictions.”

Clearly then the latest move by Iran – and the US reaction to it – is of prime significance, as noted by JE Dyer.

“The decision to accompany U.S.-flagged shipping in the SOH is a finger in a dike, and what it actually means is that the international convention that has governed safe transit of the Strait of Hormuz for decades has already collapsed.  Appointing a U.S. Navy escort in the conditions of 2015 is an acknowledgment that there’s nothing we can do about the chaos that is now cracking the pillars of international order.  We can try to protect our own shipping, but there will be no enforcement of a principle of safe passage through international straits, as a basic building block of order among the nations.”

Obviously a lot of context essential for comprehensive audience understanding of this story and any related future developments is absent from this BBC report and others.