BBC News amplifies Syrian and Russian propaganda yet again

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

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

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

Amplification of Assad propaganda on BBC World Service radio

New BBC report on ‘White Helmets’ again amplifies falsehoods

More false balance in BBC News report on Douma chemical attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA Dr Jacques Neriah asks “Was the American Decision to Abandon the Kurds a Surprise?”.

“The withdrawal of American troops ordered by President Donald Trump from Kurdish-held territories in north-eastern Syria was no surprise to the Kurds. The Kurds had been expecting this move since mid-summer 2019 and were preparing their options in case of such a prospect. The only surprise came from the timing of Trump’s announcement.

According to sources close to the Syrian opposition, the Syrian-Kurds prepared themselves based on their conviction that Turkey’s goal was to take over the Kurdish-held territories along its southern border under the pretext of combating and eradicating terrorism. Turkey further sought to declare the Syrian city of Aleppo as the capital and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army, a Turkish proxy armed, financed, and trained by Turkey.”

2) At the BESA Center Dr Doron Itzchakov looks at “Turkey’s Invasion of Syrian Kurdistan as Seen from Tehran”.

“Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s announcement that US troops would be evacuated from northern Syria was welcomed in Tehran, which had considered the presence of US troops on Syrian soil a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty. However, Erdoğan’s decision to invade Kurdish territory in Syria led his Iranian counterpart, Rouhani, to condemn it on the grounds that it would increase regional instability.

Notwithstanding that criticism, Tehran does not want to risk its relationship with Ankara, which allows it to circumvent US sanctions and constitutes an essential channel for the supply of Iranian gas to major European countries.”

3) The ITIC analyses “Turkey’s Invasion of Syria and Its Influence on ISIS”.

“The dramatic developments weaken the SDF and its ability to continue to play the central role in fighting ISIS it has played so far – not only because of the blow to SDF morale, but because the Kurds lost American political support against Turkey, which had enabled it to turn most of its force and attention to fighting ISIS. In such circumstances ISIS, which has already proved its ability to change its modus operandi and adapt itself to new situations on the ground, can be expected to increase its terrorist and guerrilla attacks in eastern and northern Syria. However, in ITIC assessment, in the short term ISIS will not exploit the new situation to re-establish the Islamic State with territorial borders and control over the population.”

4) Orna Mizrahi discusses “The Mass Demonstrations in Lebanon: What Do They Portend?” at the INSS.

“The demonstrations throughout Lebanon over the last week erupted spontaneously and saw a full range of the population participating and calling on the leaders of all communities to form a new government and change the current order. […] The mass protest reflects the despair and exasperation with a corrupt leadership. On the other hand, there are signs that all components of the leadership, including Hezbollah, are not interested in changing the current system, and therefore supported a “recovery plan” that was hastily drafted by the cabinet. The plan entails placing the tax burden on the stronger socio-economic levels, but implementation is expected to be difficult. Clearly the public, which continues with the protests, has little faith in the plan. It is difficult to assess whether the protest will ebb soon or lead to the cabinet’s resignation or even to anarchy. It seems that Lebanon’s salvation can only be achieved with generous foreign aid, preferably from the West and from Gulf states so as to prevent Hezbollah and its patron, Iran, from assuming complete control over the country.”

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer shares ‘Some Further Thoughts on the Situation in Northern Syria’.

“The fate of the 60,000 ISIS prisoners currently held by the Syrian Democratic Forces, should also be considered.  The Kurdish-led SDF was holding these captives as part of their alliance with the US. That alliance has just been pronounced dead. The SDF looks set to be about to fight an advancing Turkish army – a project for which, it may be presumed, it will be in need of all available personnel.

Can Turkey, whose own relationship in recent years with ISIS  included verified episodes of collusion, be trusted with the task of holding these individuals in continued captivity, pending some future legal process?  The record would suggest otherwise.”

2) At The Hill, Behnam Ben Taleblu is ‘Making sense of Iran’s nuclear moves’.

“Things are about to get worse on the Iran nuclear front. That’s essentially what Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promised in a speech on Wednesday before commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country’s most infamous military force. Per Khamenei, Iran is slated to continue reducing its adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), until “the desired result” is achieved.

Khamenei’s comments help frame recent technical developments, confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, about Iran’s latest nuclear violations. The country is now using advanced centrifuges, fragile machines that spin at high speeds, to enrich uranium. […]  Earlier in September, an Iranian government spokesman had warned that Iran would grow its nuclear research and development aptitudes by installing and testing a series of advanced centrifuges.”

3) At the INSS Ofir Winter and Orit Perlov analyse recent events in Egypt.

“Over recent weeks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was confronted was with his gravest public crisis since taking office. Mohamed Ali, a former Egyptian military contractor, posted videos on social media accusing the top military and political echelons of a range of corruption offenses and encouraged the public to protest against the President. Despite the wide dissemination of the videos, only a few thousand people responded to Ali’s call and took to the streets. But the regime’s success in containing the protests is no cause for nonchalance on its part, as the fundamental economic and political problems that sparked the public anger remain in place. Many of the regime’s supporters see in the protests a wake-up call and an opportunity to embark on measured policy amendments from a position of strength, hoping to prevent another wave of protests. Initial announcements on behalf of regime spokesmen promised economic, political, and media reforms, but these have yet to be translated into action on the ground.” 

4) Seth Frantzman takes a look at ‘Smoke signals in the next Middle East war’ for Tablet Magazine.

“Taken all together, the Israeli strikes in Lebanon last month and in Syria and possibly Iraq as well, the attack in Saudi Arabia, and the statements from Iranian and Hezbollah officials form part of a larger pattern in which Israel and Iran are locked in an escalating conflict playing out across the region. In the long term, Iran’s land bridge strategy connecting Tehran to the Mediterranean coast through a chain of contiguous client states in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, points directly at Israel.

Israeli officials have repeatedly warned about this Iranian encirclement and “entrenchment,” but the warnings have not been enough to stop the advance. The Abqaiq attack, like the Israeli airstrikes that preceded it, was both another salvo in this war and a challenge to the U.S. and the Gulf Arab states, testing their reactions as Iran ramps up its next phase in the war against Israel.”

BBC journalist scoffs at a topic the corporation fails to cover

An article titled “Trumplomacy: Are we seeing the end of a close Israel-US relationship?” appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on October 9th. Its writer – Barbara Plett Usher – opened with a scornful account of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister.

“There was an element of the bizarre in the swearing-in ceremony of Israel’s Knesset (parliament) last week.

Only five months had passed since the last time newly elected members took the oath and, given continued political paralysis after another round of inconclusive elections, they may have to do it all over again soon.

Added to that, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grim, almost apocalyptic speech could not have been less festive. He warned of an imminent war with Iran and unprecedented security challenges, saying it was unlike any remembered since the days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Granted, his words were seen by many commentators as familiar campaign rhetoric aimed at making the case for why he should continue to lead the country, even though he failed to win a majority in the September vote.

“Ladies and gents, I give you The Great Iranian Threat,” wrote Ma’ariv columnist Ben Caspit in a sardonic take-down of Mr Netanyahu’s “time-honoured security threat”.”

In fact, Netanyahu’s mention of the Yom Kippur War related to budgetary considerations connected to security needs. [translation: BBC Watch]

“Secondly, [we] need to make budgetary decisions which we have not known for many tens of years. It is possible to go back very many years, maybe to the end of the Yom Kippur War, in order to understand what is demanded of us.”

Plett Usher refrained from informing readers that the Israeli journalist she quoted also wrote the following words:

“Deep concern seems to be spreading among Israel’s top security leadership that a rapid deterioration of the situation on the Iranian front is a distinct possibility. […]

All signs indicate that Iran decided to respond forcefully to the many aerial attacks against Iranian and other Shiite targets in Syria and Iraq, which tend to be attributed to Israel.”

Referring to what she described as “an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi oil installations”, Plett Usher later told readers that:

“The Israelis have been pushing back more aggressively and more openly against Iran’s proxies in the region, determined to halt the proliferation of Iranian missiles near their border. But the Saudi attack rang new alarm bells.

If Iran could directly hit Saudi Arabia with cruise missiles, went the thinking, it could do the same to Israel.”

However, providing audiences with factual information about the activities of Iran and its proxies near Israel’s border has long – to put it mildly – not been a BBC priority. BBC audiences have not, for example, been informed on the topic of the deployment of Iranian missiles in south-west Syria as explained in a backgrounder produced by the JCPA in August.

“Since July 2018, press reports have pointed at Iranian missiles deployed in the area near Suweyda, definitely not within the territorial demarcations announced by the Russians to Israel. According to the reports, Iran deployed missiles that were previously in the T4 airbase to the Ledja (a vast rocky lava area north of Suweyda) and to two additional airbases in the area…”

Neither have they seen any meaningful reporting on the activities of Iran’s partner Hizballah in that area.

“Since 2018, Hizbullah has succeeded in recruiting 3,500 young people in the Daraa Department. Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing a presence through local allies in almost all villages and towns of the Daraa Department […] while in the Suweyda Department, Hizbullah’s main ally is the former deputy commander of the Al ‘Amari brigades (active in the Daraa area) who is deployed along the Jordanian-Syrian border and the Ledja area with his Bedouin fighters. […]

Hizbullah has succeeded in establishing four permanent training bases, which also serve as ammunition depots, and short and medium-range missile bases, three of which are in Daraa and the fourth in the area of Quneitra. […]

Hizbullah commands five Shiite militias in the Golan area, each numbering several thousand fighters, and has been busy preparing a military option against Israel since the recovery of the southern provinces of Syria in case of a surge of hostilities between Israel, Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah. This deployment in the area facing Israel in the Golan provides Iran (and Hizbullah) the ability to open a second front. […]

Unprecedented until now, in June 2019, new positions manned by Hizbullah Lebanese fighters were deployed adjacent to the Israeli lines. These include positions in Tellet Aldrai’at and Tellet Al Mahir in the vicinity of the two small villages of Rafid and El ‘Isha, approximately 200 meters from the UNDOF checkpoint, controlling the central access from the Israeli Golan through Quneitra and from there to the main highway to Damascus.”

Obviously such information is crucial to anyone trying to put Plett Usher’s portrayal of the Israeli prime minister’s speech into its appropriate context but BBC audiences have instead for a long time had to make do with superficial reporting which all too often includes unnecessary qualification of Iran’s regional military entrenchment.  

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BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

 

 

 

BBC reporter who “breached the requirements of due impartiality” back in Israel

The September 2nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to events from the previous day which was introduced by presenter Martha Kearney (from 38:20 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Kearney: “There’ve been clashes between Israel and the militant group Hizballah along the Lebanese border. Let’s talk now to Barbara Plett Usher, our correspondent in Jerusalem. And at the outset, Barbara, just explain to us why this is…ahm…such an important area. There has been actually war – hasn’t there? – between Israel and Hizballah…eh…around southern…southern Lebanon.”

As readers may know, while posted in Israel in 2004 Barbara Plett Usher produced a report which is still available online about Yasser Arafat that was described in a Telegraph editorial thus:

“Many listeners to the BBC were rightly outraged last week by the broadcast from its Middle East correspondent, Barbara Plett, in which she cloyingly described how she wept as Yasser Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah for medical treatment.

She said: “When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry . . . without warning.” Almost as a footnote, she later admitted that an “ambivalence towards violence” was one of his failings. […]

Ms Plett’s flood of feeling is just the most overt and recent manifestation of a pro-Palestinian bias endemic within the BBC. As a publicly-funded organisation, it should remember that it is not paid to take sides. As things stand, however, we might conclude that Mr Arafat’s culpable “ambivalence towards violence” is echoed by our national broadcaster.”

The BBC received a large volume of complaints concerning that item and in 2005 the BBC governors ruled that Plett Usher’s report “breached the requirements of due impartiality”.

That apparently has not deterred the BBC from sending Barbara Plett Usher – who has been reporting from the US in recent years – back to Israel.

Radio 4 listeners heard the following:

Plett Usher: “It is an important area because it’s the front line for conflict between Israel and Hizballah but the thing that’s interesting is that there hasn’t been much conflict between them for the past thirteen years. They fought a major war in 2006 but there’s been a sort of uneasy ceasefire between them since, so this flare-up is the first kind of clash we’ve seen like this in years.”

That of course is inaccurate. Incidents that have taken place along the Israel-Lebanon border since the end of the 2006 conflict include the planting of explosive devices in February 2007, the detonation of two explosive devices in March 2014, the detonation of explosive devices and the injury of two IDF soldiers in October 2014, the killing of two IDF soldiers and wounding of seven others in an attack using anti-tank missiles in January 2015 and the detonation of an explosive device in January 2016. In December 2018 the IDF commenced Operation Northern Shield to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hizballah which were definitely not part of any “sort of uneasy ceasefire”.

Kearney: “And what’s been happening?”

Plett Usher: “So the Hizballah [sic] fired a number of anti-tank missiles at Israeli military positions and they received quite a large incoming return fire as a result. They claim to have killed a number of people although the Israelis said that wasn’t the case. Now the point here is that the Israelis had been expecting some kind of confrontation because there’s been tensions rising over the past week. A number of drone strikes in Lebanon and Syria attributed to Israel has meant that Hizballah has said it would retaliate.”

The August 25th strikes in Syria – which were not “attributed” because Israel immediately claimed them – were not carried out using drones as claimed by Plett Usher but did target IRGC drones intended for use in an attack against Israel. Plett Usher failed to inform listeners of the relevant fact that that two Hizballah operatives were killed in that strike before continuing:

Plett Usher: “In particular there was a drone strike in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, which Hizballah felt that’s its stronghold and it needed to respond. Now the Israelis did not confirm they carried out that strike but they did say that they were trying to prevent the…eh…the development of long-range precision missiles which is something they’re very concerned about. They believe Iran is helping Hizballah do that. So that was what was building ahead of time and then you had this flare-up.”

Israel does not “believe” that Iran is helping Hizballah to develop precision-guided missiles – it has solid evidence some of which was made publicly available four days before Plett Usher made this report, meaning that there was no justification for her use of the term “believe”.

As we see Barbara Plett-Usher produced a report which, despite being relatively short, was replete with basic inaccuracies and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with the wider context of UN SC resolution 1701 and its relevant call for all armed militias to be removed from southern Lebanon.

What Barbara Plett-Usher is doing in Jerusalem and how long she is scheduled to be there is unclear. What is already apparent is that BBC audiences are not getting accurate reporting which will “build people’s understanding”.

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A familiar face returns to the BBC Jerusalem bureau

BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

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Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

 

Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

On the morning of August 25th the BBC News website published a report originally headlined “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drones’ in Syria to prevent attacks” on its Middle East page. The headline was later amended to read “Israel says it struck Iranian ‘killer drone’ sites in Syria”.

The article in fact relates to two separate incidents, the first of which took place over twelve hours before the publication of the BBC’s report. The BBC described that incident as follows:

“Israel has struck Iranian military sites in Syria to prevent what it said was a pending drone strike by Iran.

Israel’s military rarely acknowledges operations in Syria, but it claimed on Saturday its strikes had prevented an attack on Israel “using killer drones”. […]

An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes on Saturday targeted Iran’s Quds force in Aqraba, south-east of the capital, Damascus.”

A part of that story which the BBC chose not to tell – even though the information was readily available – is as follows:

“The Israeli military said its strike late Saturday targeted operatives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force as well as Shiite militias who had been planning on sending “kamikaze” attack drones into Israel armed with explosives. […]

[IDF Spokesman] Conricus said Israel had monitored the plot for several months and on Thursday prevented Iran from making an “advanced attempt” to execute the same plan. Then, Iran tried again late Saturday to carry out the same attack, he said. […]

“This was a significant plan with significant capabilities that had been planned for a few months,” Conricus said. “It was not something done on a low level, but rather top down from the Quds Force.”

He said the Iranian attack was believed to be “very imminent.””

Neither did the BBC bother to inform its audiences that, as reported by Ha’aretz:

“A commentator close to the Revolutionary Guards wrote [on Thursday August 22nd] in the Iranian newspaper Kayhan that Israeli actions in Iraq and Syria would be met with surprises, such as launches of UAVs at sensitive security targets, ports and nuclear sites in Israel. The plan that was foiled, according to the IDF, was identical to the action threatened beforehand by the commentator.”

The BBC did choose to amplify Syrian claims:

“A Syrian military source quoted by the official Sana news agency said that Syrian anti-aircraft defences “detected enemy targets from Golan heading towards the area around Damascus”.

“The aggression was immediately confronted and so far the majority of the enemy Israeli missiles have been destroyed before reaching their targets,” the source said.”

BBC audiences were not informed that – despite those claims – at least three Hizballah operatives were reportedly killed.  

By way of ‘context’ BBC audiences were told that:

“Israel is believed to have carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since civil war broke out there in 2011, to try to prevent Iran gaining a foothold.”

While Israel has indeed carried out strikes in order to prevent both advanced weaponry reaching the Hizballah terror organisation and Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, that context is not relevant to this particular story, which is about the prevention of an imminent attack by Iranian forces on Israel. That fact of course explains why in this case Israel did release statements concerning the incident.

The second story in this report relates to an incident which took place a few hours later in Lebanon and which was portrayed by the BBC in the first two versions of the article as follows:

“Separately, reports said two Israeli surveillance drones had come down in a stronghold of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in the Lebanese capital Beirut.

Hezbollah officials said an unmanned drone fell on the roof of a media centre belonging to the group, and was followed by a second unmanned drone that exploded in mid-air and crashed nearby.

Residents told the Associated Press they heard a large explosion that shook the area, after hearing the sound of an aircraft. Israel’s military declined to comment on the reports.”

Some two and a half hours after the report’s initial publication, the sub-heading “Blatant attack” was added along with comments from the Lebanese prime minister.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Israel’s alleged surveillance drones a “blatant attack on Lebanon’s sovereignty”.

“This new aggression… forms a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards more tension,” he said in a statement.”

The BBC does not appear to have carried out any independent verification of the claims put out to news agencies by Hizballah – including the allegation that the drones were Israeli – before publishing its own report.

And so BBC audiences got superficial and incomplete reporting on two separate incidents based in no small part on second-hand claims made by ‘reliable’ sources such as the Hizballah terrorist organisation and the Assad regime.

 

 

 

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In August 2018 the Independent similarly reported that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In April 2018 the Guardian had already noted that:

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekend long read

1) At ‘Lawfare’, Matthew J. Aiesi presents a legal view of the incendiary attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

“…Israel has also been subjected to frequent attacks by incendiary balloons. By early June of this year, these attacks had destroyed approximately 4,300 acres of land, and more has been destroyed since then. Yet news reports on the incendiary balloons often fail to identify the balloons for what they are—a war crime. […]

As Hamas has been using them, these incendiary balloon attacks violate numerous rules and customs of warfare—principally concerning the targeting of civilians and the use of indiscriminate weapons. The attacks also likely violate the prohibition on the use of incendiary weapons in this context.”

2) MEMRI reports on views of the PA’s handling of an incident earlier this year.

“On April 26, 2019, an urgent appeal by the largely Christian residents of the Palestinian village of Jifna, in the Ramallah and Al-Bireh district, was circulated on social media. Addressed to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister and Interior Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, it followed a violent incident that had taken place in the village the previous night. The villagers stated in the appeal that armed “rabble” headed by “an influential individual in Ramallah district” had burst into the village, and that gunmen had fired their weapons and thrown rocks and firebombs at their homes, shouting “racist and sectarian” ISIS-like slogans, including demands that they pay jizya – the poll tax levied on Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule as a protected and subjugate class. The residents called on Shtayyeh to bring the attackers to justice in order to deter others from similar actions against them. […]

The violent incident in question reignited previous criticism of treatment of the Christian minority in Palestinian society, and the PA’s lenience in dealing with anti-Christian activity, as well as the handling of this particular incident.”

3) At the Washington Institute Michael Herzog analyses ‘Israel’s pushback in Syria’.

“Of all the threats in Israel’s strategic landscape, Iran’s ambitions and developing military capabilities in neighboring Syria and Lebanon have ranked highest in recent years in the attention of Israeli decisionmakers and strategic planners. These ambitions and capabilities, which carry serious strategic-military implications, have been relentlessly advanced by an Iranian regime deeply hostile to Israel and, if unchecked, could yield dangerous results in the foreseeable future. On the spectrum of threats, Iran’s push to build a formidable military front against Israel in Syria and Lebanon, with a complementary envelope in Iraq, fits somewhere between the immediate yet modest (Hamas in Gaza) and the long term and extremely menacing (Iran with nuclear arms). This balance of its severity and relative immediacy explains why it has ranked so high for Israeli decisionmakers in recent years. In turn, the Iranian effort has driven Israel to push back militarily even at the risk of sparking a major confrontation, a policy that in Israel enjoys wide public and political consensus.”

4) UK Media Watch is Celebrating 10 years of promoting accurate coverage of Israel.

“Ten years ago, a small group of dedicated activists concerned about inaccurate and inflammatory coverage of Israel in the British media, and the antisemitism such reporting often fuels, had an audacious idea: to take on the Guardian, the central address for such bias.

The blog established by this group in August 2009 was called CiF Watch, reflecting our initial focus on the Guardian’s online home for op-eds and commentaries, known as ‘Comment is Free’ (‘CiF’). The first post at CiF Watch pledged to expose and combat the bigoted and one-sided nature of the Guardian’s obsessive focus on Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people.”

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer reviews the current situation in Syria.

‘The international news focus has long moved on from the Syrian conflict. Behind the oft-stated clichés of the conflict “winding down” and of regime survival or victory, however, a complex and often deadly reality remains. […]

Assad regime apologists have sought for a long period to present a view of the war in which the status quo antebellum was in the process of being restored. This image does not entirely correspond to reality. Assad, with Iran and Russia, controls around 60% of the territory of Syria. The area east of the Euphrates controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces constitutes roughly 30% of Syria. The Turkish-guaranteed Sunni Islamist area in the northwest covers the remaining 10%.’

2) At the ITIC, Raz Zimmt takes a look at an Iranian charity.

‘“The Foundation of the Oppressed” is the largest charitable foundation in Iran and the second largest economic entity in the country. Since the late 1980s, the Foundation of the Oppressed has become a large economic holding company controlling firms and groups in the sectors of services, industry, mining, energy, construction and agriculture. The Foundation operates under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader Khamenei and maintains a tight working relationship with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Foundation plays a central role in Iran’s efforts to expand its economic role in Iraq and Syria, as a lever to entrench its influence in the region. At this stage, the Foundation of the Oppressed and firms operating under it are not under American sanctions, and it is unclear whether the recently announced sanctions against the office of the Supreme Leader will include this foundation too.’

3) Also at the ITIC, a report on the new Albukamal Border Crossing.

‘The new border crossing between Syria and Iraq at Albukamal is considered strategically important by Iran. That is because the crossing is vital for the land bridge Iran seeks to construct between its territory and the Mediterranean Sea. The route allows Iran to send forces, supplies and weapons through Iraq to Syria and from there to Lebanon. It can be assumed that Iran is of the opinion that the land bridge will enable it to reduce its dependence on risky aerial and naval routes. The new crossing, when it opens, will enable larger numbers of vehicles to enter Syria and make it easier to preserve secrecy (since it is farther from residential buildings). Therefore it is likely that the new crossing is being constructed with Iranian aid, and possibly with Iranian involvement. In addition, Iran participates in securing the area between Albukamal in Syria and al-Qa’im in Iraq by using Shi’ite militias deployed permanently in the region.’

4) The Press Gazette reports the NUJ’s reaction to the BBC’s recent agreement to reporting restrictions imposed by Iran.

‘The morale of BBC Persian journalists has been “deeply affected” by a management decision to abide by reporting restrictions in exchange for access to Iran, the National Union of Journalists has claimed. […]

The union said the “professional integrity” of BBC Persian journalists “has been undermined” by the move. Iranian authorities continue to target journalists at the London-based news service in a bid to silence them.’