BBC News passes up on an unusual Middle East story

Eighteen months have passed since the BBC last reported on the topic of the sick and wounded Syrians receiving medical care in Israel and so its audiences may not be aware of the fact that the provision of that humanitarian aid continues.

One of the patients arriving at the border earlier this year presented a particular challenge to the medical teams.

“The girl arrived at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa in recent weeks with very serious wounds that she received after finding herself caught in a firefight between rival militias […]

Some two weeks after she arrived at the hospital, after her wounds had nearly healed, Rambam doctors discovered the young girl had cancer.

They refused to release her, insisting that they could not let her cancer go untreated. […]

And so a search began for a bone marrow donor, a search that led to a relative living in a Middle Eastern country designated an “enemy state” under Israeli law, a designation that prevented the relative from entering Israel.

It was at this point that Israel’s security services stepped in, mounting a secret operation in the enemy country that helped smuggle the relative out of that country and into Israel.”

Rambam

Photo credit: Rambam hospital

The treatment was successful and this week the little girl was discharged from hospital.

“Rambam Health Care Campus has treated 140 Syrian civilians, men, women and children over the past three years. However, the departure, yesterday, of a six-year-old girl, “B”, was especially emotional for everyone.  Wearing a white dress, white shoes, and a little silver crown, “B” was the guest of honor at a farewell party held by an entire department, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze stood together with tears in their eyes, surrounding her with love and concern for the future that awaits her. […]

After all the parting messages, some of which were painstakingly read in Arabic by Jewish doctors and nurses, the mother asked to read her own thank you wishes. In a small voice, she said “I would lie if I said that I expected the kind of humanity I discovered here. I am grateful for your care and sensitivity; may God protect you. And we will always remember what you did for us.””

To date, BBC audiences have not been told this unusual story.

Weekend long read

1) With the British government having this week announced that it will not fund ‘World Vision International’ until its investigation into alleged diversion of funds to Hamas is complete, readers may find a background article on the organisation by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile useful. “Five Things You Need to Know About World Vision” is available here.Weekend Read

2) An interesting post about the Israeli perspective of the civil war in Syria is found at the IDF blog.

“In 2011, the population of the Syrian Golan numbered 1.2 million. The Syrian side of the border was fully functional with its farms, UN bases, towns and forests. […]

As of 2016, the population of the Syrian Golan is a mere 750,000 – 63% of its pre-war residents. 50,000 Syrians from the Golan alone have been killed, and the rest have fled inland or to other countries. Those who remain live in dire circumstances. Because of the fighting, they have little access to medical care, public works, food, and other basic necessities.”

3) Following on from this week’s rare BBC coverage of an internal Palestinian story, Khaled Abu Toameh provides some related background and context.

“Palestinians refer to Nablus as the “Mountain of Fire” — a reference to the countless armed attacks carried out against Israelis by residents of the city since 1967. Current events in Nablus, however, have shown how easily fire burns the arsonist. The Palestinian Authority is now paying the price for harboring, funding and inciting gang members and militiamen who until recently were hailed by many Palestinians as “heroes” and “resistance fighters.” Unsurprisingly, most of these “outlaws” and “criminals” (as the PA describes them) are affiliated in one way or another with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

Nablus, the so-called Mountain of Fire, is now threatening to turn into a volcano that is set to erupt in the face of Abbas and his PA government.”

Read the whole article at the Gatestone Institute.

4) Matthew Levitt has written a very interesting essay titled “Hezbollah’s Pivot Toward the Gulf”.

“Hezbollah’s status in the wider Sunni Arab world has dropped precipitously since its height a decade ago after the 2006 Lebanon War. In the wake of that conflict, Hezbollah rode a wave of popular support across the region. A decade later, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group and the Gulf States have cracked down on Hezbollah supporters and financiers within their borders. The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have issued statements condemning Hezbollah as well, leading to a war of words between the group and Gulf officials. In January 2016, the Saudi government released a report on Iranian-sponsored terrorism that focused heavily on Hezbollah, spanning the group’s militant activities from the 1980s to the present.

But increasingly tense relations—and the larger regional context of a proxy war between Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and sponsor, and the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia—may now be moving this schism from words to actions, threatening more overt violence between Hezbollah and its Shi`a allies and the Gulf States and their Sunni partners.”

Read the whole essay here.

 

Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

On August 12th 2006 the BBC News website reported that:

“The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Resolution 1701 calls for “a full cessation of hostilities”, and UN and Lebanese troops to replace Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were also provided with the text of that UNSC resolution which of course includes the following:1701 text art

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

The resolution calls for:

  • “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;
  • no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;
  • no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

The same resolution expanded the mandate and capabilities of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and charged it, inter alia, with aiding the Lebanese government to prevent Hizballah’s rearmament.

While that UNSC resolution brought an end to the 2006 war, it has obviously failed to achieve its long-term goal of avoiding the next round of conflict by preventing Hizballah’s rearmament and entrenchment in southern Lebanon.

The BBC’s public purpose remit commits it to keeping its funding public “in touch with what is going on in the world” and to building “a global understanding of international issues” and so it would be reasonable to assume that audiences have been kept up to date on the issues pertaining to implementation of Resolution 1701 throughout the decade since it was adopted – but is that the case?

The ‘timeline’ in the BBC’s online profile of Lebanon (last updated in August 2016) makes no mention at all of the existence of UNSC Resolution 1701.

“2006 July-August – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging in 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border, followed by Lebanese army troops for first time in decades.”

The profile itself includes a generalised reference to the disarming of militias without specifically recalling Resolution 1701 and without clarifying the current status of that ‘demand’. 

“The UN has demanded the dismantling of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Palestinian militias and the military wing of Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon.”

The BBC’s current profile of Hizballah (last updated in March 2016) tells audiences that:

“After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah resisted pressure to disarm and continued to strengthen its military wing, the Islamic Resistance. In some ways, its capabilities now exceed those of the Lebanese army, its considerable firepower used against Israel in the 2006 war.”

And:

“Hezbollah survived the [2006] war and emerged emboldened. Although it is has since upgraded and expanded its arsenal and recruited scores of new fighters, there has been no major flare-up along the border area, which is now patrolled by UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese army.”

No mention is made of Resolution 1701 and the obligation to disarm the terrorist organisation, prevent its rearmament and remove it from southern Lebanon in either of those profiles currently appearing on the BBC News website.

Immediately after the 2006 war, the BBC was able to tell its audiences that:

“UN Security Council resolutions call for armed militia groups like Hezbollah to disarm.” 

Nearly a year after the adoption of Resolution 1701, the BBC sent Martin Asser to southern Lebanon to ‘examine UNIFIL’s performance’. The caption to the main photograph illustrating his article informed audiences that “Unifil troops are meant to prevent Hezbollah bearing arms”.1701 Asser art

“After the July 2006 war, the [UNIFIL] force received new orders and thousands of reinforcements under the ceasefire resolution 1701, which also stipulated the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area.

Previously the area had become the fiefdom of Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist and militant movement whose cross-border raid on 12 July – snatching two Israeli soldiers – was the catalyst for the 34-day conflict.

The post-conflict objective was for Unifil to help the Lebanese government extend its sovereignty to the southern frontier, so Hezbollah’s armed wing would no longer be free to menace nearby Israeli towns or troops patrolling the border.”

Asser added:

“Hezbollah fighters are masters of concealment and guerrilla warfare – their weapons were never on show before the war, so they are unlikely to be caught red-handed by Unifil or Lebanese troops now.”

An old profile of Hizballah from 2010 states:

“Despite two UN resolutions (1559 passed in 2004, and 1701, which halted the war) calling for disarming of militias in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s military arm remains intact.”

In 2013 BBC audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Beirut, Jim Muir, that “Hezbollah has scrupulously observed the ceasefire that ended hostilities in 2006”. In 2015 Orla Guerin reported from south Lebanon but failed to use the opportunity provided by a rare BBC visit to that area to inform audiences of Hizballah’s use of civilian villages to store weapons and as sites from which to launch attacks against Israel.

The BBC has also consistently avoided or downplayed the topic of Iranian breaches of UNSC Resolution 1701 in the form of its transfer of arms to Hizballah. In 2013 BBC audiences heard Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen playing dumb (and some Hizballah spin) on the issue of Syrian transfers of weapons to the terrorist organisation. 

Already in 2007 – just over a year after the war and the resolution which brought it to an end – the UN admitted that Hizballah had “rebuilt and even increased its military capacity” and since then its weapons stocks have vastly increased and diversified. The BBC is of course aware of that fact – as indicated in an article by BBC Monitoring’s Lamia Estatie published on July 11th 2016 under the headline “Hezbollah: Five ways group has changed since 2006 Israel war“.1701 Estatie art

“Its weapons arsenal grew from from [sic] 33,000 rockets and missiles before the 2006 war to an estimated 150,000. Similarly, it swelled from a few thousand members in 2006 to an estimated 20,000-plus.

After 2011, Hezbollah’s military support for the Iran-backed Syrian government – its weapons supply line – gave its fighters considerable combat experience and exposure to Russian military planning.”

No mention of UNSC Resolution 1701 appears in that report either.

It is apparent that as the decade since the UNSC’s adoption of 1701 progressed, BBC audiences saw less coverage of the topic of the existence of the resolution itself and the fact that its terms have been serially violated. Given the obligations to its funding public laid out in the public purposes remit, it is difficult to see how the BBC can justify that pattern of reporting.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

 

Weekend long read

1) This coming Sunday CAMERA on Campus’ annual student conference will open in Boston, US.

“Students are coming from as far away as England, Scotland, and Canada to attend our training program,” said Aviva Slomich, CAMERA’s international campus director. “This in itself shows that campus anti-Zionism is a global problem, affecting many students.”

Read more about the conference here.Weekend Read

2) At the Tower, Jamie Palmer returns to the issue of the British Labour party and its recent inquiry into antisemitsm within its ranks.

“The Chakrabarti Report was a missed opportunity, the importance of which extends far beyond the parlous state of the Labour Party or the wider British Left. Across Europe, Islamist assassins and vandals are targeting Jewish schools, businesses, museums, synagogues, cemeteries, and kosher food establishments. It has become a cliché that a wave of anti-Semitism is washing over Europe.

Some on the Left have taken notice. Four days after the murder of four Jewish hostages during the siege of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, France’s Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, described “the intolerable rise in acts of anti-Semitism in France” as a “symptom of a crisis of democracy [and] the French Republic.” But such urgent and necessary diagnoses from the political Left have been notable for their scarcity.”

3) At the Jerusalem Post, Seth Frantzman ponders the question of “Why Western leftists adore right-wing religious extremists abroad”.

“On a fairly consistent basis people in the West embrace values abroad that they shun at home. 

This is particularly odd and contradictory among those who self-identify as “Left” and “liberal” and then embrace movements, leaders, ideologies and religions that are manifestly illiberal and right- wing extremist abroad. For instance American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler said in 2006 that “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important.””

4) At the Fathom Journal, Oxford academic Michael Yudkin discusses the academic boycott promoted by the BDS campaign.

“These days the phrase ‘academic boycott’ seems to have acquired a thoroughly restricted meaning. It has nothing to do with China, which has been in occupation of Tibet since 1949 and which routinely imprisons or ‘disappears’ human-rights lawyers; nothing to do with the US or the UK, which invaded Iraq in 2003 without the authorisation of the UN Security Council; and nothing to do with Russia, which seized 27,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory two years ago and has (with the enthusiastic support of Iran) been helping the government in Damascus to bomb Syrian civilians. Instead, ‘academic boycott’ is a term of art to describe a means of punishing Israeli academics for the actions of a government over which they have little or no power.”

5) An interesting paper titled “Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict” has been published by the RUSI.  

“Iran’s role in Syria is critical not only to the course of the latter’s five-year civil war, but also to longer-term developments in the wider region, not least because the country’s relations with key players, including Russia, Hizbullah, the Gulf States and the Syrian regime, will inevitably be affected by the outcome of the conflict.

The alliance between the Syrian regime and the Iranian leadership is, on the face of it, puzzling. The former is Arab, Alawite and secular, while Iran is Islamic, Shia and deeply religious. Nevertheless, since the civil war in Syria erupted in March 2011, Iran has been one of the key supporters of the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, and has maintained significant influence over the evolution of the conflict.

This paper presents the findings of a project designed to establish a better understanding of Tehran’s ultimate ambitions in Syria, its relations with the other state and non-state actors involved in the conflict, and its influence on Damascus and the outcome of the civil war.”

Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza

On July 31st the Associated Press reported an airstrike (allegedly not the first) on a hospital in the Dara’a province of southern Syria.

“In southern Syria, an airstrike on a hospital in an opposition-controlled town put the facility out of service Sunday.

The hospital in Jasem was targeted in one of several airstrikes to hit the town in Deraa province, located some 35 miles (57 kilometers) south of Damascus, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. The group said six people were killed in the strikes, blaming them on the government.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the hospital strike killed a pharmacist and put the facility out of service.

In a statement later Sunday, the president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, said the group was “dismayed” and “angry” at the attack on the hospital, which it was supporting. It said six people had been killed in the strike, and many more wounded. It said that across Syria “aid workers and civilians are being targeted in a merciless way on a daily basis,” and called for all those involved to be held to account.

Hospitals are regularly targeted in Syria’s war, drawing condemnation from the U.N. and the international community. The New York-based Physicians for Human Rights says over 90 percent of attacks on medical facilities in Syria have been carried out by pro-government forces.”

While the BBC News website has not yet reported that attack, it did publish cautiously worded written and filmed reports on an attack on another hospital in the Idlib province the previous day.

“It’s not yet known who was responsible for the attack…”

“These unverified pictures…”

“Amnesty International say the latest bombing appears to be part of what they describe as a despicable pattern of attacks in Syria deliberately targeting medical facilities.”

The BBC has also covered previous attacks on medical facilities in Syria, including in Aleppo in June and in April. In an article from February 2016 titled “Syria crisis: Air strikes on hospitals ‘war crimes’“, the BBC News website took the trouble to provide audiences with a short guide to the legal background to the topic.

insert bombing hospitals

So as we see, the BBC is aware of the fact that medical facilities can be a legitimate military target in certain situations but notably, it did not go to the trouble of informing its audiences of that fact two years ago during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Moreover, the corporation went out of its way at the time to conceal Hamas’ use of hospitals in the Gaza Strip for military purposes and to provide amplification for denial of that tactic, thereby implying that Israeli actions were unnecessary, unjustified and even unlawful. For example:Op pe Adams vers 2

Hospital on Gaza conflict’s front line” by Paul Adams, BBC News website, July 18th 2014 – discussed here.

“Israel says rockets have been fired from Basman al-Ashi’s hospital, a charge his staff deny completely.”

“World Update” interview with ISM activist, BBC World Service radio, July 31st 2014 – discussed here.

Damon: “Because you will know that there have been all kinds of rumours on the internet about hospitals being used to hide men and indeed weapons. Any evidence?”

Catron: “Oh yes; I’ve heard all these…all kinds of these rumours. I’ve seen numerous claims that al Wafa hospital where I stayed for a week in Shuja’iya was the centre of a Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant command centre. Now every journalist that came into the hospital from every major news agency had full run of the place. They could go anywhere in it they liked. How none of them ever noticed this command centre….”

Gaza conflict: Contrasting views on targeting” BBC News website, August 4th 2014 – discussed here.

“The Israelis say they have to bomb the hospitals and shelters because there are fighters here, but that is not true. The only people we have are sick people.” 

The BBC also amplified the false notion that Israel indiscriminately and unjustifiable targeted medical facilities – for example:Shifa Sahti tweet 1

Gaza crisis: Israel releases ‘aborted airstrike’ video” by Orla Guerin, BBC News website, July 31st 2014 – discussed here.

“This is a crowded area. People have nowhere to go. In many cases they have no transport, they have no means of escape. And you’re attacking hospitals where the wounded are being treated.”

Gaza ceasefire ends as Israel reports rocket fire” and “Israel air strikes resume in Gaza amid rockets” BBC News website, August 8th 2014 – discussed here.

“On Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into what it said was mounting evidence that Israeli forces had deliberately attacked hospitals and health professionals in Gaza. The attacks have left at least six medics dead.”

It has continued to promote that falsehood since the conflict ended – for example here – and also to broadcast additional denial of Hamas’ use of hospitals for military purposes.Knell Beit Lahiya 1

So as we see in Syria, where there is cause to believe that medical facilities really are being attacked indiscriminately, the BBC uses very cautious wording and informs its audiences of the legal background to the issue. In contrast, in its reporting from the Gaza Strip in 2014, the BBC failed to provide any such background information, repeatedly promoted the theme of Israeli wrongdoing and actively misled its audiences with regard to the reason for Israeli actions against institutions such as Wafa hospital: Hamas’ use of that medical facility for military purposes.

Related Articles:

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

Clarifications required for BBC reports on Shati incident

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?

Those visiting the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of July 29th learned the following:

Nusra on ME pge

The article to which that link leads is titled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” and readers are told that:

“Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant].

He said the move was intended to remove the pretext used by powers, including the US and Russia, to bomb Syrians.”

But is the repeated claim that Jabhat al-Nusra has “split from al-Qaeda” an accurate representation of what actually happened? A senior fellow at the FDD doesn’t think so and his analysis (which includes a mention of this BBC article) is well worth reading in full.

“…Al Nusrah’s overt relationship with al Qaeda made it easy for Russia and the US to justify bombing Syria. For this reason, others in the Syrian insurgency objected to Al Nusrah’s status as an al Qaeda branch. (To date, American airstrikes have mainly targeted individual al Qaeda leaders embedded in Al Nusrah’s ranks, not the organization’s overall paramilitary force. However, the proposal for cooperation with Russia may have led to a change in that focus.)

Julani and Al Nusrah’s other leaders are sensitive to the complaint and so they wanted to eliminate this supposed pretext.

“For the aforementioned reasons, we declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat Al Nusrah, and the formation of a new group operating under the name ‘Jabhat Fath Al Sham,’ noting that this new organization has no affiliation to any external entity,” Julani says.

Press outlets and many analysts seized on this phrasing to argue that Julani had announced Al Nusrah’s “split,” or “break” from al Qaeda. Some even reported that Julani had thanked “commanders of al Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties.”

But that is not what Julani actually said. His remarks were far more nuanced and require careful analysis.

Julani did not explicitly say that Al Nusrah had broken or split from al Qaeda, which is the language used by the press. He made no such claims.

Instead, Julani said Jabhat Fath Al Sham would have “no affiliation to any external [or foreign] entity.” If Julani wanted to argue that he and his men no longer had any ties to al Qaeda, he could have said so. He didn’t. And his precise wording allows for a considerable amount of wiggle room.”

Later on in the BBC’s article readers are told that:Nusra art

“Analysts say the Nusra Front decided to rebrand itself after the US and Russia stepped up their military efforts against the group.

It is understood the group hopes to form closer alliances with other Islamist groups fighting in Syria.”

The article goes on to offer readers a link to a previous BBC report from March 2015.

“Al-Nusra first announced its existence in a video posted online in early 2012, some months after the Syrian civil war began.

It has been claimed that Qatar has relatively close ties with the group, probably through intermediaries.”

In that article (previously discussed here) audiences were told that:

“This is why Qatar is hoping to bring the Nusra Front in from the cold. If the state can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria.” [emphasis added]

But does Jabhat al-Nusra’s rebranding and potential “closer alliances” with additional groups really signal a step down the road to ‘moderation’? Analyst  Jennifer Cafarella does not think so:

“The cancellation of Jabhat al Nusra’s operations and rebranding of Jabhat al Nusra fighters does not remove the group from the global Salafi-jihadi movement, which believes in the use of violence to establish shari’a-based governance. Jabhat al Nusra will continue to fight to advance Syrian Salafi-jihadi interests under its new name. It has not renounced its vision of establishing an Islamic emirate in Syria. It has instead improved its chances of success by removing obstacles to unify the opposition under its leadership. 

 Syrian Salafi-jihadi groups want to unify opposition groups to increase the effectiveness of their war against the Assad regime. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper today noted that the formation of Jabhat Fatah al Sham likely aimed to “create the image of being more moderate in an attempt to unify and galvanize and appeal to other oppositionist (sic) groups in Syria.” […]

The decision to form Jabhat Fatah al Sham removes the primary source of the opposition’s resistance to a merger. Opposition groups have been hesitant to merge with Jabhat al Nusra for fear that affiliation with an al Qaeda branch would justify Russia’s air campaign and cause the U.S.-led coalition to target them. […]

It was certainly part of a plan coordinated with al Qaeda’s central leadership. Al Qaeda sanctioned the decision to form a new group in a message released today. This was no break from al Qaeda, but rather the execution of a deliberate global strategy on behalf of the movement. The al Qaeda statement emphasized that “the brotherhood of Islam that is between us is stronger than all the finite, ever-changing organizational links.” “

At the time of writing, the BBC’s profile of Jabhat al-Nusra has not been updated to include this latest development or to correct previously noted inaccuracies.

Related Articles:

Confusing and conflicting messaging on Jabhat al Nusra in BBC reports

 

 

 

 

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

As noted in part one of this post the BBC’s correspondent in Beirut, Rami Ruhayem, produced both audio and written reports on the tenth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War on July 12th.

The written report – which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page – is titled “Ten years on, is Hezbollah prepared for another war with Israel?” and it opened with the use of euphemistic terminology to describe that internationally designated terror organisation and further promotion of the questionable ‘mutual deterrence’ theme found in Ruhayem’s radio report. [emphasis added]Ruhayem written 12 7

“In a region transformed by the wars in Syria and Iraq, the stand-off between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shia jihadist group it last confronted in full-scale warfare in 2006, appears to be one thing that has not changed.

Ten years is the longest period without major fighting between them – a sign, perhaps, that the mutual deterrence established after 2006 is here to stay.”

It went on to amplify unfounded rumour disseminated by a pro-Hizballah Lebanese newspaper.

“But earlier this year, rumour spread in Lebanon that Israel was preparing to attack and finish off Hezbollah, sparking media speculation that the summer of 2016 will see an even bloodier re-run of the war of 2006.”

That was followed by a partial description of the events which sparked the Second Lebanon War in which the missile attacks on Israeli civilian communities that took place together with the infiltration into Israeli sovereign territory were erased.

“Back then, Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross-border raid, and demanded an exchange of prisoners with Israel.”

Ruhayem again presented a picture of Lebanese casualties during that war which – although better than his audio report – failed to provide audiences with accurate information.

“According to official figures, 1,191 people were killed in Lebanon, the majority of them civilians. In Israel, 121 soldiers and 44 civilians were killed.”

As noted previously, Lebanese figures do not differentiate between civilians and combatants but Lebanese officials reported even before the conflict was over that some 500 of the dead were Hizballah combatants and UN officials gave similar figures. Israeli estimates stand at around 600 – more than half of the total Lebanese casualty figures.

Having told readers that “Israel lost and Hezbollah won”, Ruhayem went on to describe the effects of the war in Lebanon but provided no comparative information about the number of people displaced or infrastructure and homes damaged on the other side of the border.

“Up to a million people were displaced, and around 15,000 homes and 900 factories were destroyed, along with roads, bridges, the runway at Beirut International Airport, and other infrastructure.”

As in his audio report, he then went on to describe the ‘Dahiya doctrine’ but without clarifying that the Dahiya neighbourhood of Beirut is Hizballah’s command and control centre.

“Israel laid out a strategy of deterrence, first made public by Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot in 2008 when he was head of the Israeli army’s Northern Command.

He said that what happened in Dahiya, the southern suburb of Beirut in which neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes in 2006, would “happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel”.

Gen Eizenkot, now Israeli chief of staff, articulated what came to be known as the Dahiya Doctrine.

“We will wield disproportionate power,” he said, “and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn’t a suggestion. It’s a plan that has already been authorised.

“Harming the population is the only means of restraining Nasrallah.””

But the most remarkable feature of this article is its problematic presentation of Hizballah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war – once again without any mention being made of Iran’s role in that development.

“From early on in the war, Hezbollah sent its fighters across the border to support President Bashar al-Assad. […]

Their rationale for involvement in support of President Assad has evolved, but a dominant theme is that Syria has been the backbone of the resistance against Israel, and that the attacks on the regime are aimed at undermining Hezbollah by depriving them of an ally that has provided much needed logistical support.

According to their narrative, the war in Syria was a continuation of the 2006 war by other means, with the Americans, Israelis and Saudis trying to finish off the “axis of resistance”, by destroying the glue that holds it together – the Assad regime.”

Ruhayem did not present any challenge to that very transparent Hizballah propaganda or even bother to remind readers that the Syrian civil war began as a popular uprising against the repressive Assad regime and that Israel is not involved in the war in Syria.

In contrast to his audio report, Ruhayem did note Hizballah’s augmented missile arsenal but failed to tell readers where it came from or that it is a clear breach of UN SC resolution 1701.

“There seems to be agreement that Hezbollah has amassed a much larger missile arsenal. Various estimates from both sides suggest they have more than 100,000 missiles, and Hassan Nasrallah insists Israeli missile defence systems are incapable of effectively neutralising them in a new confrontation.”

He yet again whitewashed Hizballah’s origins while promoting a scenario unsupported by any evidence.

“”We are talking about a defensive war, in which we are the ones who are on the receiving end of aggression,” Hassan Nasrallah said.

This reflects Hezbollah’s new posture and priorities. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they kept up a persistent guerrilla campaign against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, and it was through attrition over almost two decades that they forced them out in 2000.

Some in Israel believe it is better for them to wait and watch than wage war now.

Deputy Chief of Staff and head of the Northern Command Maj Gen Yair Golan said Israel should be in no rush to wage pre-emptive war against Hezbollah.”

It is of course highly unlikely that Israel would do any such thing unless Hizballah took steps which left it no alternative. But if conflict between Israel and Hizballah did break out again, BBC audiences would obviously be seriously lacking the background information crucial to their understanding of that event because reports like these two from Rami Ruhayem fail to provide them with information concerning relevant issues such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, the rearming of Hizballah and its use of communities in southern Lebanon as human shields and Iran’s patronage of the terror organization which the BBC refuses even to describe in accurate terminology.

One might have perhaps thought that a media organisation that describes itself as “the standard-setter for international journalism” would at some point in the last decade have got round to conducting a serious investigation into why the UN Security Council resolution which ended the 2006 conflict has failed to prevent the conditions being put in place for a third devastating war in Lebanon.

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Weekend long read

Dr Jonathan Spyer of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at the IDC in Herzliya has written a sober, sombre and insightful retrospective of his five years of visits to Syria throughout the developing civil war.Weekend Read

“By summer, the stage was set for the civil war to come. The death toll was rapidly mounting. Western leaders called for Assad’s resignation in August. But Assad was going nowhere. These were the days of the Arab Spring. People power and demonstrations were supposed to be enough to bring down the dictators. This happy narrative neglected to note a fact of salient importance. Deposed dictators – Zine El Abidine Bin-Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ali Abdullah Salah in Yemen – had fallen not only or mainly because of popular unrest against them. They were deposed because their patron, the United States of America, chose to abandon them in their hour of need. Assad had chosen different friends. He wasn’t aligned with the West, but with Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the response of these two powers, from the very outset, was to provide the dictator with whatever level of support he required to stay in his seat.”

Read the whole article here.

Over at the Gatestone Institute, Douglas Murray ponders the topic of “Excuses” for Terrorists.

“When Israel is attacked, the steps of the Israeli embassies in London and other European capitals are not littered with flowers, teddy bears or candles, or scrawled notes of sympathy. Indeed, whenever Israelis are attacked and murdered, there is a response at Israel’s embassies. It tends to be less teddy-obsessed; it consists more of crowds roaring in rage against Israel and having to be held back from further antagonism by the local police.

It is possible that there are those who believe Israel is simply on a different continent from Europe and that, despite being an essentially Western society, it is not one to which we feel sufficiently close. Whenever a terrorist outrage occurs in a Western capital these days, there are always those who ask why the mourning for Paris or Brussels, say, is stronger than the mourning for Ankara or Beirut.

But the Paris/Brussels question for Jerusalem rarely, if ever, gets asked. One could take the lowest road and say it is because in Israel the victims are Jews. But there is also an explanation just as true. It is that Israel is seen as different because when Israel is attacked by terrorists, it is seen by a great number of people in the West not to be an innocent victim. It is seen as a country which might have in some way brought the violence upon itself.”

With the surge in terrorism against Israelis that began last autumn having reached its six-month landmark, political scientist Dr Daniel Polisar takes a look at the Palestinian opinion polls which might provide some insight into where it is heading.

“The uprising has also failed to elicit substantial sympathy for the Palestinians or to blacken Israel’s reputation in significant circles in the West—despite the potential “David versus Goliath” appeal of teenage boys and girls wielding knives and scissors and dying or being disarmed and arrested at the hands of Israeli policemen and soldiers. To be sure, there have been the occasional egregious pieces of reporting, most notably by the BBC when it headlined a story about the stabbing deaths of two Israeli civilians by diverting attention to police actions aimed at stopping the perpetrator from continuing his killing spree: “Palestinian Shot Dead after Jerusalem Attack Kills Two.””

Published at Mosaic, the entire article is available here.

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BBC Two’s ‘Inside Obama’s White House’: unchallenging and uncritical

BBC Two has been showing a series titled ‘Inside Obama’s White House’ and the third episode of that programme – already shown on March 29th and to be broadcast again tonight at 23:15 local time – addresses the topic of the US president’s record in the Middle East.

Obama prog ME

The synopsis to that episode – titled “Don’t Screw It Up” – reads as follows:Obama prog synopsis

“Episode three explores how Barack Obama set out to end George Bush’s wars in the Middle East and reset relations with the rest of the world. In Cairo he speaks to the Arab world, calling democracy a human right. Two years later when protest erupts in Tahrir Square, the president is torn between secretary of state Hillary Clinton and defense secretary Robert Gates, who believe Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak provides regional stability, and his young advisors, who are in tune with the promise of the Arab Spring. Before long, a similar test arises in Libya, Hillary Clinton changes her position to back military intervention and Obama agrees to join allies in airstrikes against Colonel Gaddafi.

In Syria, when shocking evidence shows the use of chemical weapons, Obama decides to bomb. But when the British Parliament votes against intervention, he decides he needs the backing of a reluctant Congress. Foreign secretary William Hague explains why the British parliament voted against intervention in 2013 and President Obama explains why he then decided to seek the backing of Congress.

This episode also explores how Obama scored a big win when he negotiated a secret deal to end the nuclear threat from Iran – behind the backs of his closest allies. Secretary of state John Kerry tells how he worked through the night, with President Obama on the phone, to secure the outlines of the deal.”

Given the BBC’s record of uncritical promotion of the US administration’s view of the negotiations with Iran and the resulting JCPOA, it is hardly surprising to see that issue presented in this programme as a “triumph”.  Remarkably, Middle East perspectives of Obama’s decisions relating to the region do not get a platform in this programme and perhaps most notably the US president’s spin concerning his retreat from his self-imposed ‘red lines’ in Syria goes unchallenged.

Previous episodes are available to viewers in the UK on iPlayer here.

 

BBC News promotes unchallenged Assad propaganda

The synopsis to a filmed report which, in addition to being shown on BBC television, appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on March 1st under the title “Syria ceasefire key to European migrant crisis” tells BBC audiences that:Syria report Rosenberg

“Key to reducing the flow of migrants into Europe is an end to the the [sic] conflict in Syria.

The temporary ceasefire brokered by Russia and America is largely holding, though so-called Islamic State and the al Nusra Front, linked to Al Qaida, are excluded from it.

Steve Rosenberg has been embedded with Russian forces in the Northern Syrian province of Latakia.

He was taken to the villages of Kinseeba and Gunaymiyah and sent this report.”

Despite being “embedded with Russian forces”, Rosenberg made sure to qualify a claim made by his hosts:

“Later the general claims the blasts were artillery shells fired by terrorists from close to the Turkish border. But we cannot confirm what those explosions were or where they came from.”

A significantly less balanced approach was evident when a claim from Bashar al Assad made during an interview with a German TV station was highlighted later on in the report.

Rosenberg: “Today Syria’s president accused rebels of violating the agreement to halt hostilities.”

Assad: “As [for] the Syrian army, we [have] refrained ourselves from retaliating in order to give the chance for that agreement to survive. But at the end everything has a limit. It depends on the other side.”

Notably, audiences were not informed of the fact that the widely seen claims that the temporary ceasefire is “largely holding” may be questionable given reports from the field and what appears to be an unreliable system for reporting violations. More importantly, viewers were not told that Assad’s claim that his forces have remained inactive is highly contentious or that reports of the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces during the ceasefire have emerged.

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an accurate and impartial broadcaster this is far from the first time that dubious claims from the Syrian regime have been amplified without challenge or qualification.

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