Reviewing a BBC News Online Six Day War backgrounder

Fifty years ago today, the build-up of events that led to the Six Day War had already begun.

After fourteen Palestinian terror attacks had been carried out with Syrian support since April 7th, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol warned Syria of retaliation on May 13th 1967.    

Also on May 13th, the USSR promoted disinformation about a fictitious planned Israeli attack on Syria to the Egyptians and Syrians.

On May 14th Egyptian troops were mobilised around the Suez Canal and two days later Nasser demanded the removal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula: an ultimatum that was met by the UN Secretary General on May 18th.

On May 17th two Egyptian warplanes flew a reconnaissance mission over Israeli territory and on May 19th tens of thousands of Egyptian troops and hundreds of tanks massed in the Sinai.

Three days later, on May 22nd 1967, Egypt created a casus belli by blockading the Straits of Tiran.

So how are those events portrayed to the BBC’s audiences? In the past we have looked at some of the BBC produced material concerning the Six Day War that remains accessible online (see ‘related articles’ below). Another item still available is a backgrounder titled “1967 Middle East War” which is undated but appears to have been compiled about a decade ago.

The first page of that backgrounder ostensibly provides an introduction to the topic and the events that led to the conflict. Subsequent pages give day-by-day accounts of the fighting which are notable for their significant omissions, perhaps the most glaring of which is the absence of any mention of the message conveyed by the Israeli prime minister Levi Eshkol via a UN official to the king of Jordan on the morning of June 5th informing him that:

“We are engaged in defensive fighting on the Egyptian sector, and we shall not engage ourselves in any action against Jordan, unless Jordan attacks us. Should Jordan attack Israel, we shall go against her with all our might.”

In other words, the BBC erases the fact that Jordan’s decision to attack despite that communication was the precursor to its defeat in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

The introduction is noteworthy for the fact that it promotes a theme seen in additional BBC material: a passively worded portrayal of the 1948 invasion of territories designated as part of the homeland for the Jewish people at the San Remo conference in 1920, without any clarification of the fact that the conquered areas were subsequently occupied (and in the case of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, subjected to unrecognised annexation) by the belligerents.  

Rather, BBC audiences are told that:

“The 1967 Middle East War, also known as the Six Day War, was the third conflict between Israel and neighbouring Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

The first, in 1948, left East Jerusalem and the River Jordan’s West Bank under Jordanian control and the coastal Gaza Strip under Egyptian control.”

The build up to the Six Day War as described by the BBC includes a portrayal of Arab League backed terror organisations established three years earlier as “newly-formed Palestinian militant groups”:

“Tensions continued to rise and newly-formed Palestinian militant groups began cross-border raids with Arab support. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was keen to unite the Arab world and spoke of “the destruction of Israel”, while Israel feared it could be wiped out.

In May 1967, President Nasser demanded the removal of Unef troops from the Sinai, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and signed a defence pact with Jordan. Some historians question whether Nasser planned to go to war, but all three factors, and Egyptian troop deployment in the Sinai, led to a pre-emptive strike by Israel.” [emphasis added]

The BBC refrains from informing its audiences of the fact that Nasser had been warned in advance that blockade of the Straits of Tiran would bring about war.

“In a desperate attempt at de-escalation, on May 19, Israeli diplomats frantically dispatched cables to capitals around the world, declaring that as long as Egypt did not close the Straits of Tiran – its artery to the East, including access to oil from Iran – it would not initiate any hostilities. Through Paris, Washington and Moscow, Jerusalem was sending an explicit message to Cairo: A naval blockade would be considered a casus belli. At that point, tens of thousands of Egyptian troops and hundreds of tanks had already deployed in the previously demilitarized Sinai – a buffer zone filled with UN peacekeepers designed to prevent a surprise attack. Three days later, despite the Israeli warning, Egypt nonetheless announced it was closing the Tiran Straits. “The Israeli flag shall not go through the Gulf of Aqaba,” Nasser said in a speech.”

A noteworthy omission from the BBC’s account is any information concerning the part played by the USSR in stoking tensions.

“In mid-May, Soviet meddling severely escalated the brewing conflict. On May 15, Israel Independence Day, plans for a parade involving large numbers of Israeli troops in western Jerusalem drew outrage in Arab countries. Wishing to defuse the situation, Eshkol forbade bringing heavy weapons into the capital. This decision was used by the Soviets to stoke tensions; on May 15, Anwar al-Sadat, then speaker of the National Assembly, visited Moscow, where he was warned (falsely) by the Soviets that Israel was planning to invade Syria sometime between the dates of May 16 and May 22. The Soviets cited the absence of weapons in the Jerusalem parade as proof that the Israelis were preparing for war and falsely claimed that Israel was massing brigades along its norther border with Syria. Syria also quickly passed the disinformation to Egypt’s President Nasser, who on May 14 declared a state of emergency and made a show of parading his troops through Cairo on their way to Sinai. During this period, Arab leaders and the media spoke daily of eliminating Israel.”

Also noteworthy is the fact that readers are not informed of the terror attacks against Israeli civilian communities launched from Syria in the Spring of 1967 or the Arab League’s Jordan River Headwater Diversion Plan.

Like other BBC produced material on the topic of the Six Day War which is still available online, this backgrounder is deficient in providing audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the build up to the conflict.

In particular, the failure to properly explain the status of the Gaza Strip, Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem before they were belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt 19 years prior to the Six Day War hinders full audience comprehension and lays the foundations for misunderstanding of events throughout the subsequent fifty years and until this day – particularly given the BBC’s penchant for presenting history in the Middle East as having begun on June 10th 1967.  

Related Articles:

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

Article ruled not impartial by ESC five years ago remains on BBC website

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

Yom Yerushalayim

What does the BBC News website tell audiences about the Khartoum Resolutions?

Reviewing original BBC reporting on the Six Day War

 

BBC’s context-free Strait of Tiran backgrounder appears again

A year has passed since the BBC began reporting the story of the proposed transfer of the Red Sea islands of Sanafir and Tiran from Egyptian to Saudi Arabian control.

In that time, the BBC News website has published several articles on the topic, none of which has adequately clarified to audiences that the purpose of Egypt’s occupation of the islands was to block shipping to and from the Israeli port of Eilat or that such moves led to military action in 1956 and 1967 which twice brought Tiran and Sanafir under Israeli control.

Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger 10/4/16

Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore 13/4/16 (discussed here)

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

Egypt court quashes Red Sea islands’ transfer to Saudis 21/6/16 (discussed here)

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

Egypt court upholds ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia 16/1/17 (discussed here)

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

On April 2nd 2017 the BBC News website revisited the story in an article titled “Egypt court voids ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia” that once again carried an insert of background information that includes the following context-free statement:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

Yet again, while the BBC has found fit to include Israel in its portrayal of “why the Red Sea islands matter”, it has not informed audiences of the Egyptian actions which prompted Israel to ‘capture’ the islands.

The BBC bases much of its Middle East reporting upon a version of history which begins with the Six Day War but ignores the background and build-up to that event. As the fiftieth anniversary of that war approaches (and with it the prospect of extensive BBC coverage) this story presents an opportunity for the BBC to provide its audiences with some of the background and historic context which is serially absent from its reporting.  

Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

BBC: Nasser ‘asked’ UN peacekeepers to leave Sinai in 1967

BBC online description of Six Day War: not accurate, not impartial, barely informative

 

 

Compromised BBC backgrounder surfaces again

On January 16th the BBC News website published an article titled “Egypt court upholds ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia“. Included in that report was an insert of background information titled “Why the Red Sea islands matter”, which previously appeared in an article concerning the same story in June 2016.tiran-art-jan-17

The insert includes the following context-free information:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

As was noted here over six months ago:

“The BBC did not bother to inform readers why that was the case.

“In 1949, Egypt established itself on two small and deserted islands in the straits that had never belonged to it – Tiran and Sanafir. Later, they were leased to it by Saudi Arabia. In January 1950, Egypt assured the United States Government that the occupation of the islands was in no way intended to interfere with shipping in the waters of the gulf. But soon Egypt broke its word, fortified the entrance to the straits and blockaded Israel. Having failed to conquer the southern Negev during the War of Independence or to bring about its cession by Israel through political pressure, Egypt now tried to land-lock Eilat and block Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, which meant cutting Israel’s present and future communications with Asia and East Africa. The closure of the Straits of Tiran was one of the main factors that led to the Sinai campaign of 1956. Israel’s refusal to withdraw its forces from Sharm el Sheikh unless its freedom of passage through the straits were effectively safeguarded led to the stationing there of the UN Emergency Force. The blockade was lifted and Israel could freely develop its trade with countries in Asia and East Africa, import oil from the Persian Gulf, and redeem the southern Negev from its desolation. Israel declared solemnly that any interference with its rights of navigation in the gulf would be regarded as an attack, entitling it to exercise its inherent rights of self-defence. […]

On 23 May 1967, President Nasser re-imposed the naval blockade in the Straits of Tiran in a deliberate attempt to force Israel to forfeit its internationally-acknowledged rights or else go to war. Five days earlier the UN Emergency Force was expelled by Nasser, and the units stationed at Sharm el-Sheikh were evacuated. […] The Israeli army reached Sharm el-Sheikh on 7 June 1967 and lifted the blockade. From 1967, freedom of navigation prevails in the Gulf of Aqaba, benefiting shipping bound for Israel and Jordan.”

Apparently the BBC considered it necessary to ensure that its audiences know that “Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967” – but not why.”

That observation obviously still applies.

Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

 

 

 

Context missing from BBC News’ backgrounder on Strait of Tiran

On June 21st an article was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Egypt court quashes Red Sea islands’ transfer to Saudis“. At the bottom of that article concerning an internal Egyptian debate appears a background insert titled “Why the Red Sea islands matter”.Tiran art backgrounder

There, BBC audiences were correctly informed that:

“Sanafir and Tiran are islands that lie about 4km (2 nautical miles) apart in the Red Sea. Tiran sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access the Red Sea”

However, they were also given the following context-free information:

“Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times”

The BBC did not bother to inform readers why that was the case.

“In 1949, Egypt established itself on two small and deserted islands in the straits that had never belonged to it – Tiran and Sanafir. Later, they were leased to it by Saudi Arabia. In January 1950, Egypt assured the United States Government that the occupation of the islands was in no way intended to interfere with shipping in the waters of the gulf. But soon Egypt broke its word, fortified the entrance to the straits and blockaded Israel. Having failed to conquer the southern Negev during the War of Independence or to bring about its cession by Israel through political pressure, Egypt now tried to land-lock Eilat and block Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, which meant cutting Israel’s present and future communications with Asia and East Africa. The closure of the Straits of Tiran was one of the main factors that led to the Sinai campaign of 1956. Israel’s refusal to withdraw its forces from Sharm el Sheikh unless its freedom of passage through the straits were effectively safeguarded led to the stationing there of the UN Emergency Force. The blockade was lifted and Israel could freely develop its trade with countries in Asia and East Africa, import oil from the Persian Gulf, and redeem the southern Negev from its desolation. Israel declared solemnly that any interference with its rights of navigation in the gulf would be regarded as an attack, entitling it to exercise its inherent rights of self-defence. […]

On 23 May 1967, President Nasser re-imposed the naval blockade in the Straits of Tiran in a deliberate attempt to force Israel to forfeit its internationally-acknowledged rights or else go to war. Five days earlier the UN Emergency Force was expelled by Nasser, and the units stationed at Sharm el-Sheikh were evacuated. […] The Israeli army reached Sharm el-Sheikh on 7 June 1967 and lifted the blockade. From 1967, freedom of navigation prevails in the Gulf of Aqaba, benefiting shipping bound for Israel and Jordan.”

Apparently the BBC considered it necessary to ensure that its audiences know that “Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1967” – but not why.

 Related Articles:

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

The missing chapter in the BBC’s coverage of the Red Sea islands story

The BBC’s coverage of the Egyptian move to hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabian control has been rather superficial. Announced during a visit by the Saudi king to Egypt, the move was not mentioned in an April 8th BBC report on that visit.

On April 10th the BBC News website published an article devoted entirely to the topic of online reactions to the agreement – “Saudi-Egyptian deal on Red Sea islands sparks anger” – and that was followed on April 13th by an article titled “Egypt’s Sisi hits out at ‘evil conspirators’ amid islands furore“.

There, readers found unchallenged amplification of the following statement:

“Mr Sisi said that Saudi Arabia had asked Egypt in 1950 to protect the two islands, situated at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, from Israel.”

In fact, the two islands were occupied by Egypt in 1949 – with Saudi consent – in order to enable Egypt to impose a blockade on shipping bound for the Israeli port of Eilat.

Remarkably, in none of its coverage has the BBC informed its audiences that additional parties also have a stake in this story – as the Times of Israel’s Raphael Ahern explains:map Tiran

According to article V of the peace treaty between Jerusalem and Cairo, the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba are considered international waterways “open to all nations for unimpeded and non-suspendable freedom of navigation and overflight.” Both countries pledged to “respect each other’s right to navigation and overflight for access to either country” through the strait and the gulf.”

So how did the handing over of the two islands to a third party not bound by the terms of that peace treaty go down in Israel? Ahern has some interesting answers to that question.

“Given that the islands are in a strategically crucial location for Israel, it was significant that officials in Jerusalem were quick to assert that they were unperturbed about the deal.

Riyadh gave Jerusalem written assurances that it intends to respect Israel’s rights to free passage through the Strait of Tiran, a crucial lifeline to Israel’s only Red Sea port in Eilat, officials said. Equally noteworthy is the fact that the deal was only struck after an agreement was reached between all four major stakeholders — Cairo, Riyadh, Washington, and Jerusalem.

“We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the [1979 Israel-Egypt] peace agreement,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told reporters Tuesday.”

The BBC, however, apparently found that significant development much less newsworthy than the Twitter and Facebook comments of anonymous Egyptians and Saudis.