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.”

BBC continues to snooze on Hizballah activity

On March 2nd – the day of Israel’s general election – an incident which the BBC did not find newsworthy took place in the Golan Heights.

Tel Fares from Ramtaniya

“The Israel Defense Forces bombed a Syrian vehicle that the military said was used in an attempted sniper attack on Israeli troops near the Golan border Monday.

The skirmish took place in the Quneitra region in the demilitarized buffer zone between the countries, the latest in a series of recent cross-border clashes in the area. However, this was the first of these to be acknowledged by Israel.

“A short time ago an IDF force identified an attempt at a sniping attack in the northern Golan Heights,” the military said in a statement. “The force attacked the vehicle involved in the attempted attack.””

Two weeks on, the IDF has published the results of the investigation into that incident.

“The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday accused the Hezbollah terror group and the Syrian army of being behind an attempted sniping attack against Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights earlier this month, which was thwarted by an Israeli strike on the suspects’ car.

The military said that in the months preceding the incident Israeli troops saw Hezbollah fighters and Syrian soldiers preparing for an attack, filming the border area with smartphones and professional cameras and measuring wind speed from different locations in the supposedly demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries — in what the IDF said appeared to be efforts to identify a target and improve snipers’ accuracy.

The military said that on March 2 fighters were seen preparing to carry out the attack from a car.

“When there was an operational opportunity, the car being used by the cell was attacked by an IDF helicopter,” the military said.” [emphasis added]

The demilitarized zone is of course intended to be exactly that: Syrian soldiers and Hizballah militia are not supposed to be present in that area. UN forces – UNDOF – are tasked with ensuring that the terms of the 1974 cease fire agreement, under which the demilitarized zone was established, are upheld. In light of the civil war in Syria UNDOF largely abandoned that mission in September 2014 but supposedly returned to oversee the DMZ in October 2018.  

Since then the BBC has failed to produce any serious reporting on the topic of Hizballah’s activities in the Syrian Golan and UNDOF’s failure to guarantee the demilitarized zone. It is hence unsurprising to see that the corporation chose to ignore this latest thwarted attack.

Related Articles:

BBC ignores revelation of Hizballah’s Golan network

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

 

Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Remi Daniel and Gallia Lindenstrauss explain why ‘Erdogan’s “Crazy Project” Raises Concerns’.

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is promoting the idea of building the Istanbul Canal between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara as a waterway parallel to the Bosphorus Strait. The idea itself is not new, but Erdogan hopes that its realization will be one of the major achievements of his presidency. Facing him, Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, who was elected to the post in spite of the President’s strong support for another candidate, is one of the leading opponents of the project. The main argument against the canal is that it will cause serious damage to the environment, and troubling scenarios also foresee an impact on the countries around the Mediterranean, including Israel.”

2) Jonathan Spyer discusses ‘Syria’s Wild South west’.

“The global spotlight has currently returned to Syria because of the Assad regime’s current bloody offensive in Idlib, Aleppo and Latakia Provinces.  The regime is trying to reduce the last enclave held by the Sunni Arab rebels in the country’s north-west.  The assault has precipitated one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the bloody, nine year war.  800,000 people have left their homes to flee the advance of regime forces and the relentless, indiscriminate bombing of Assad’s Russian allies.

Far to the south of Idlib, however, and largely ignored by the global media, events are under way which may offer a clue to the future direction of Syria.  These events are of direct interest to Israel.  The regime is currently seeking to consolidate its presence in Deraa and Quneitra provinces in Syria’s south west.  Assad’s army completed its ‘conquest’ of these areas in the summer of 2018.  Observation of the current situation on the ground in these areas suggests, however, that the situation remains far from a return to the repressive and stifling order of the pre-revolt days.”

3) The ITIC analyses ‘The Tenth Round of Escalation in the Gaza Strip’.

“On February 23 and 24, 2020, there was another significant round of escalation in the Gaza Strip, the tenth since the beginning of the return marches (March 30, 2018). It was instigated by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in retaliation for the IDF’s killing of one of its operatives who was placing an IED near the border security fence and the subsequent removal of his body with an IDF bulldozer. During the round of escalation 113 rocket and mortar shells were fired at the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip and at the southern Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashqelon. In response the IDF attacked PIJ terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip and Syria. Two PIJ operatives were killed in the attack near Damascus; no operatives were killed in the attacks on the Gaza Strip. Near midnight on February 24, 2020, the PIJ announced it had completed its retaliation for the death of its operatives. When the rocket fire ceased the IDF stopped attacking in the Gaza Strip.”

4) The JCPA has published a collection of essays titled ‘Israelophobia and the West: The Hijacking of Civil Discourse on Israel and How to Rescue It’.

“This volume evaluates the intensifying anti-Semitism against diaspora Jewry in Western countries and the converging rhetorical assaults on “sovereign” Jews in Israel – condemning them and their nation-state as “Nazi, apartheid, racist, genocidal, war criminal, illegal, illegitimate, colonialist, and anachronistic.” This invective has been characterized and justified as legitimate political criticism of Israel in mainstream Western discourse. It has become standard practice among faculty and “pro-Palestinian” student organizations on American university campuses, the United Nations, associated international bodies such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, as well as European institutions and parliaments. For the first time, anti-Semitic tropes cloaked as political critique of Israel have even been voiced by several members of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

 

 

 

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:

Another UN SC resolution violation goes unreported by the BBC

BBC continues to ignore Hizballah violations in south Lebanon

BBC News report on PIJ attacks focuses on Israel’s response

On the morning of February 24th the BBC news website’s ‘Middle East’ page published a report concerning a sequence of events that took place the previous day.

Those events were presented in reverse chronological order with the article’s headline  – “Israel says it struck Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza and Syria” – telling audiences only of the last episodes in the series of incidents.

The report’s first five paragraphs related to Israeli strikes against Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip and Syria. The PIJ was presented as a “Palestinian militant group” (a euphemistic portrayal twice repeated later on in the report) despite the fact that it has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the UK government since 2001. Once again readers found unqualified BBC promotion of standard Syrian regime propaganda. [emphasis added]

“The Israeli military says it has launched air strikes against a Palestinian militant group in Gaza and Syria in response to rocket fire.

Israel’s military said it had struck Islamic Jihad targets in southern Damascus and the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

In a rare acknowledgement of a strike on Syria, the Israeli military said it targeted “a hub of Islamic Jihad’s activity”.

Syria said its air defences shot down most of the Israeli missiles.

Four people were wounded in Gaza, health officials say, but there have been no immediate reports of fatalities from the Israeli strikes.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the nature of the PIJ targets in Syria (although a BBC Jerusalem correspondent knows what they were) or that at least two members of the terror group were killed in that strike. The Times of Israel reports:

“The IDF said its fighter jets targeted the main base of the Iran-backed terror group in Syria, which it said was used to develop new weapons and to manufacture “tens of kilograms of [ammonium perchlorate]” rocket fuel each month.

The military said the site, in the Damascus suburb of al-Adleyeh, was also used for training exercises for members of the organization “both from the Strip and on the northern front,” referring to Lebanon and Syria.”

The BBC’s report continued in reverse chronological order:

“The strikes were launched after southern Israel was hit by a barrage of at least 20 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip earlier on Sunday. There were no reports of casualties.”

The BBC’s portrayal of “at least 20 rockets” reduces by a third the number actually launched. As is more often than not the case, BBC audiences were told nothing of how those rocket attacks had affected local residents or of the related closure of schools, roads and railway lines on the day this article was published.

The article went on to portray events which preceded the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

“The hostilities began on Sunday morning, when Israel said it killed an Islamic Jihad member along its border fence with the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military said the the [sic] man was attempting to plant an explosive device.

A video shared widely on social media showed an Israeli bulldozer scooping up the body of the man, provoking anger among Palestinians.

Some Palestinians called for retaliation and hours later, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, setting off air raid sirens.”

The IDF released filmed evidence of the two PIJ terrorists planting the IED at the border fence but the BBC nevertheless chose to portray that event as something that ‘Israel says’ took place. While the BBC did tell readers of “a video” showing “an Israeli bulldozer”, they were not informed of the related fact that two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Neither were audiences informed that the mourning tent set up for the person the BBC chose to describe as “the man” included a photograph of him in military uniform carrying a weapon.  

The BBC found it appropriate to remind audiences of previous incidents:

“Violence between Israel and Islamic Jihad flared up last November, when an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of the militant group in Gaza.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians were seen earlier this month too, days after US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan.”

Audiences were not however informed of a much more recent incident in which Palestinian Islamic Jihad snipers opened fire at is Israeli forces.

To summarise: two Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists tried to plant a bomb intended to kill Israelis at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel but were thwarted. Additional PIJ terrorists then fired over 30 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians in ‘retaliation’. The Israeli army responded with strikes on the terror group’s military assets in the Gaza Strip (including a rocket launching squad) and in Syria. The following day the BBC News website published a report with a headline and first five paragraphs relating to the last chapter in that chain of events, while having produced no stand-alone reporting on the rocket attacks against Israeli civilians which had commenced eleven hours earlier and devoting one sole two-sentence paragraph to that topic in this report.

Related Articles:

BBC News again recycles Syrian regime propaganda

 

 

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 Radio 4 promotes a redundant comparison

The February 5th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’, presented by Shaun Ley, included a pre-recorded interview with David Miliband, president and CEO of the NGO the International Rescue Committee.

During that interview (from 24:42 here) Miliband spoke about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria, which is under attack from the Assad regime and its Russian allies along with Iranian militias. He noted that hospitals and health centres are being bombed and that vehicles “carrying displaced people are also being targeted”. Ley raised the topic of war crimes in relation to ambulances being targeted and Miliband referred to “international humanitarian law” and “war crimes”.

However in the course of that interview, Miliband also made the following statement (from 26:43):

Miliband: “I want to say to your listeners, we already have one Gaza in the Middle East, in Gaza itself, with about two million people crammed in. There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

One can of course find several points on which to take issue with Miliband’s simplistic, if not sensationalist, comparison of Idlib to the Gaza Strip. For example, in that province in Syria hospitals have – as the BBC knows – been deliberately bombed by Russian jets. In the Gaza Strip, not only is that not the case but hospitals receive medical supplies transferred by Israel (139 tons in the week in which this programme was aired alone) and additional products such as food and building materials are also supplied.

For the producers of ‘The World Tonight’, however, that redundant comparison was apparently the most important thing that Miliband said during his five-minute interview – as shown by the fact that it was used to promote the item in the programme’s introduction (from 00:55) along with a reference to war crimes.

Ley: “Also in the programme, the UN Security Council meets tomorrow to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria. The former foreign secretary David Miliband tells me that Western indifference has contributed to a situation in which war crimes are being committed.”

Miliband: “There’s a new Gaza being created in the west of Syria with three and a half million people, with terrorist groups in control and with civilian life at daily risk from bombardment and other fighting.”

Apparently the BBC considers that invalid and irrelevant comparison to be consistent with its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza

BBC News again recycles Syrian regime propaganda

On February 6th the BBC News website published a report titled “Syria war: Israel ‘hits Iran-backed fighters near Damascus’” (and bizarrely tagged “Syrian civil war”) on its Middle East page.

At the beginning of the report the two sources upon which it is based are noted:

“Israeli warplanes have fired missiles at targets near Syria’s capital, Damascus, Syrian state media report.

The Sana news agency said air defences intercepted most of the missiles, but that eight people were wounded.

A monitoring group said Syrian army positions and those of Iran-backed militias were hit, killing 23 people.”

Only in the article’s ninth paragraph is it clarified that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group is based in the UK.

As has often been the case in the past, readers found unqualified promotion of propaganda from Syrian regime media – including a link – such as the standard claim that “air defences intercepted most of the missiles”.

“Sana cited a Syrian military source as saying that Israeli warplanes flying over Lebanon and the occupied Golan Heights launched two waves of missiles at southern Syria early on Thursday.

The first wave targeted military positions in the suburbs of Damascus, while the second targeted those in Deraa, Quneitra and Damascus Countryside provinces, according to the source.

“[The] vigilance of our air defence personnel contributed to destroying large numbers of the hostile missiles and the aggression caused the injury of eight fighters, in addition to a material damage,” the source added.”

The BBC’s report even provided (not for the first time) amplification for the Syrian regime’s conspiracy theories:

“The Syrian military accused Israel of launching an “aggressive escalation” in an attempt to “save the armed terrorist organisations which have been collapsing in Idlib and western Aleppo in front of the strikes of the Syrian Arab Army”.”

At no point in the report were readers provided with any warning concerning the lack of reliability of reports put out by the Syrian regime and its mouthpieces and their history of lying about events in Syria.

Readers of the BBC’s report were told that:

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said strikes on Iran-backed militia positions in Kiswa, Muqaylabiya, Jisr al-Baghdad and Izra killed 15 fighters, including five Syrians and at least three Iranians.

And eight Syrian soldiers were killed by missiles that hit air defence batteries near Damascus, it added.”

The SOHR’s report also includes the claim that some of those killed were Iranian-backed militia fighters.

Curiously, the BBC’s 2017 report concerning Iran’s establishment of a military base in Kiswa (also al Kiswah) was not included in the related reading appended to this report but readers were directed to an article about cats. Although readers learned nothing about Iranian military assets in Syria – including the IRGC base near Izra in southern Syria which according to reports includes a base for surface-to-air missiles – they were told that:

“Israel did not comment, but it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years to stop Iranian “military entrenchment”.”

So while the BBC saw fit to qualify the topic of Iranian military entrenchment in Syria by means of punctuation, it did not bother to provide any objective background information concerning that issue.

Once again we see that BBC newsgathering for this report consisted mainly of repeating claims from Syrian state media linked to the regime’s Ministry of Information and from the Syrian regime itself without any evidence of independent confirmation by the BBC.

Given the record of those sources, one would expect a serious media outlet (especially one which promotes itself as an authority on ‘fake news’) to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements and conspiracy theories to its funding public in supposedly factual news reports.

Related Articles:

BBC News yet again promotes conspiracy theories

Looking behind a BBC News website tag

BBC News website tones down Assad regime propaganda

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

More false balance in BBC News report on Douma chemical attack

BBC newsgathering again relies on Syrian state outlets

 

BBC Arabic publishes an edited timeline of Syria’s Jewry

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

On November 6th the BBC Arabic website reported Vladimir Putin’s reference to Russian aid he purportedly directs at Jews who still remain in Syria and their properties (“Putin helps the Jews of Syria, but where are they?”). The report included a timeline of Syrian Jewry, whose history spreads well over two millennia. This is how it was introduced to the readers (translation by CAMERA Arabic):

“TIMELINE

The San Francisco-based JIMENA website, interested in documenting the history and heritage of oriental Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, summarizes the history of Jews in Syria as follows:”

In fact, the timeline is not directly taken from any of JIMENA’s three relevant webpages – two brief summaries elaborating on the history of Syria’s Jews in English and Arabic, and one timeline in English – but it is apparently based on all three. In comparison to JIMENA’s original webpages, the BBC’s version is heavily edited; its anonymous writer added entries that did not appear in any of the three webpages but removed other historical events that were mentioned in all three. For instance:

  1. The BBC added Paul the Apostle’s successful attempt to convert a large group of Damascus Jews to Christianity in 49 AD.
  2. The BBC added the Mongol capture of Aleppo in 1260, resulting in the slaughter of many Jews.
  3. The BBC removed JIMENA’s description of the Aleppo Codex’s arrival to Aleppo, allegedly in 1375.

The BBC’s cherry-picking of historical details – which goes against basic principles of trustworthy quoting and its own editorial guidelines – could have been quite unnoticeable had it been limited to antiquity and medieval times. However, once modern era entries were altered, the history of the Jews of Syria was distorted to such an extent that anyone even slightly familiar with Jewish history of the 19th century could notice at least some of BBC’s edits.  For example:

  1. The BBC removed JIMENA’s account of the 1840 Damascus blood libel, a true landmark of 19th century history of the Jewish people as a whole. To quote the original JIMENA timeline (originally in English, in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic): “1840 –Eight members of the Jewish community were falsely accused of ritual murder of a Christian monk during the Damascus Affair. The men were tortured, killed and forced to convert to Islam [all tortured, and some of them were either killed or forced to convert]. The Jewish synagogue of Jobar is destroyed [its interior was pillaged and vandalised by an angry mob]”. Notably, the affair influenced not only the Jews in Damascus (and the Ottoman Empire which controlled it between 1516-1918) but was also pivotal to world Jewry – operating globally to protect fellow Jews in a way that was unbeknown to remote communities until then. To get a better idea of just how gross of an omission it is to remove the Damascus blood libel from a chronicle of Jewish history in Syria, it should be emphasised that it appeared not only in all of JIMENA’s three webpages, but also in many other online chronicles of the history of Syrian Jews.
  2. The BBC kept the following entry in place: “In 1850, many Jewish families leave Syria for Egypt, then [depart] from it to England”. However, it removed JIMENA’s phrase that made a connection between the departure and the blood libel, thus creating the false impression that it was spontaneous or due to an unknown reason.
  3. The BBC added an entry, stating that “in the 1800s Jews were granted a legal status known as ‘Dhimmis’, and they were required to pay the head tax [Arabic: Jizya جزية]”.
    In fact, the Dhimmi legal status, historically granted to members of some religious minorities who were subjected to Muslim rule, as well as the obligatory Jizya tax that was imposed on them along with it, are both thought to be almost as old as Islam itself; a few of the most ancient Islamic texts (in the case of Jizya, even the Qur’an) refer to them. Specifically regarding the Jews of the areas which now consist modern Syria, their designation as Dhimmis who owe mandatory tax to the state was in effect up to 1856, under the Ottoman Empire as well as under the Muslim rulers that preceded it. Between 1856-1909 Jizya was replaced with a different tax, “Badal Askari”, that Jews and Christians paid in order to become exempt from military service. However, at least some of them considered the new tax as “Jizya with a new name”.

The way BBC chose to assemble the part of its timeline that deals with the 20th century, based on JIMENA’s webpages, is also misleading and far from perfect. The report made absolutely no mention of several violent attacks against Syrian Jews that JIMENA’s English timeline and summary do document.

  1. The 1947 government-encouraged Aleppo pogrom, killing 75 local Jews and displacing around 7,000 (the BBC timeline counted this group along with the Jews who left Syria in the late 1940s following state-sanctioned persecution: dispossession of properties and dismissal of all government jobs).
  2. The 1949 Damascus synagogue bombing, carried out by a militant group composed of Syrians, Egyptians and Palestinians, killing 12 Jews.
  3. The 1974 rape and murder of four Jewish women – the three sisters of the Zeibak family and their cousin, Eva Saad – who tried to flee Syria in disguise. Their mutilated bodies were discovered in a cave near a town adjacent to the Lebanese border, along with the bodies of two young Jewish men who were murdered there earlier – Natan Shaya and Kassem Abadi. All bodies were returned to their families by the Syrian police shortly after the discovery, apparently with no further investigation ever conducted.

By editing out hostilities and atrocities carried out against the Jews of Syria by some of their neighbors and fellow citizens, often with the indirect support of local authorities, the BBC’s timeline whitewashes these ugly episodes from the country’s history. Specifically, by removing the Damascus blood libel from the chronology, BBC also knowingly avoided an opportunity to combat one of the Arab world’s, and particularly Syrias, most common and venomous antisemitic myths.

Weekend long read

1) The IDI provides a backgrounder on Israel’s immunity law.

“Procedural immunity protects MKs from standing trial while in office, and relates to any offense for which they have been indicted. In the past, MKs enjoyed procedural immunity automatically; the Attorney General had to specifically request the Knesset to revoke it when he deemed that appropriate. In the wake of several cases in which the Knesset declined to revoke an MK’s immunity, and which triggered harsh public criticism of the Knesset and forced the High Court of Justice to intervene, the law was revised in 2005. Today, no MK enjoys automatic immunity, but he or she can request the Knesset to grant immunity on various grounds. This means that having no immunity is now the default rule; the Knesset must specifically vote to grant it.”

2) The ITIC takes a look at Turkey’s relations with Hamas.

“A Hamas delegation headed by Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, recently paid a visit to Turkey. The delegation was accompanied by Jihad Yaghmour, who for the first [time] was officially mentioned as Hamas’ representative in Turkey. Yaghmour is a Hamas terrorist operative from Beit Hanina in east Jerusalem who was involved in the abduction of IDF soldier Nahshon Waxman 1994. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel but was deported to Turkey in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. In Turkey he liaises between Hamas and the Turkish government and the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT). At the same time, in ITIC assessment, he has also been involved in covert activities, mainly the handling of terrorist squads in Judea and Samaria. In Hamas’ perspective, his past experience as a field operative may have prepared him for the role of terrorist handler. As Yaghmour’s cover for his activities in Turkey he is president of a Turkish organization called the Association of Jerusalem and Our History.”

3) At the JCPA Michael Segall analyses Iran’s strategy in Iraq.

“Iran continues to view Iraq and the Shiite militias operating there as critical elements in its efforts to store and transfer weapons to Syria and Lebanon, particularly precision rockets and missiles, and as a way to mobilize Shiite fighters for future battles with Israel and the United States. The ongoing Israeli efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria have prompted Iran to redeploy and store some of its weaponry in Iraq, thereby advancing its plans in the region with the help of the militias under its authority. This strategy has provoked widespread criticism in Iraq of this conduct, in particular, and Iran’s overall activity and presence in Iraq, in general. This resentment erupted in the ongoing demonstrations in Iraqi cities and in the attacks on the Iranian consulates in southern Iraq, along with recent calls by Iraqi demonstrators to boycott Iranian products.”

4) Jonathan Spyer explains the current situation Syria.

“North east Syria, two months after the US redeployment and the subsequent Turkish invasion, now constitutes a chaotic kaleidoscope of opposing forces. No less than eight separate armed forces may be discerned in the area. These are the SDF, the US Army, the Turkish Army, the Turkish associated Sunni Islamists of the Syrian National Army (SNA), the Syrian government army (SAA), the Russians, the IRGC-supported Shia militias and of course the Sunni jihadis of Islamic State. The Saudis, if indeed they are there, would constitute a 9th force.”