BBC Arabic publishes an edited timeline of Syria’s Jewry

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

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

“TIMELINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend long read

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Jonathan Spyer explains the current situation Syria.

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

BBC News yet again promotes conspiracy theories

Since July 2018 we have been documenting the BBC’s promotion of what just three months earlier it had itself described as “conspiracy theories”:

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

BBC News amplifies Syrian and Russian propaganda yet again

A report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on December 16th – “James Le Mesurier: White Helmets co-founder died from fall, Turkey says” – yet again gives amplification to Syrian and Russian government propaganda.  

“…the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran have accused the White Helmets of aiding terrorist groups – something the organisation has denied.

A week before he died, the Russian foreign ministry accused Le Mesurier of being a former agent of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6. The UK’s ambassador to the UN said the claim was “categorically untrue”.”

The BBC knows that those accusations are nothing more than the propaganda of totalitarian regimes and yet it has continued to amplify and mainstream them for seventeen months.

The BBC media editor’s complaints (published on the same website on the same day) about “Tweets or Facebook posts that go viral, including those that espouse conspiracy theories” would of course carry more weight were his own organisation to cease engaging in the same practice from its far more influential platform.

Related Articles:

The BBC examines conspiracy theories – but not its own

Weekend long read

1) The FDD reports on ‘The Consolidation of the Turkey-Qatar Axis’.

“On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, enacting a land, sea, and air blockade. Qatar’s neighbors charged the country with supporting terrorists, collaborating with Iran, and sowing the seeds of chaos around the Middle East. The sudden move closed Qatar’s only road link to foreign markets, through which it received nearly 40 percent of its food requirements. Qatari residents panicked, picking clean supermarket shelves. But the panic subsided less than 48 hours later, as Turkey began sending cargo planes with food and other goods.

Turkey’s assistance was not simply a humanitarian gesture. Rather, it was the most visible sign of Ankara and Doha’s strategic convergence. This was also evident when Qatar was one of the few actors, alongside Hamas and Pakistan, that supported Turkey’s cross-border operation into northeast Syria in October 2019.”

2) The ITIC analyses ‘Hezbollah’s Position on the Wave of Protests in Lebanon’.

“When the wave of protests began in Lebanon, Hezbollah avoided criticizing them, possibly assuming they would wane of their own accord, not expecting them to pose a significant threat. However, as the demonstrations continued, the more they posed a challenge to the Lebanese government, the more Hezbollah openly came out against them. Hezbollah was concerned that they might spin out of control and threaten its political power, and possibly even erode the foundations of Lebanon’s sectarian regime, of which Hezbollah is an integral part.

Hezbollah’s propaganda accused the demonstrators of causing chaos and possibly leading the country to a civil war. Hezbollah supporters threatened the “thugs” and “terrorists” who blocked the roads leading to Beirut’s southern suburb (the Dahia), and the highway linking Beirut to the south, thereby imposing a “siege” on the [Shi’ite] population living there. Hezbollah also initiated a campaign claiming that the United States and its allies were behind the protest demonstrations, which automatically delegitimized them. On the ground there were instances in which road-blocking demonstrators were attacked by Hezbollah (and Amal) supporters, but no prolonged frontal confrontation developed.”

3) At the Times of Israel, David Horovitz ponders ‘Why Israel’s third elections might not be such a disaster, after all’.

“Elections are designed to be decisive. We don’t have time to run our democracies ourselves, so we have systems designed to install a new batch of competent people every few years to do so on our behalf. Clearly, that hasn’t been working for us in the past year — even though, in Israel, we have an electoral system that so purely and accurately represents the will of the voter. It’s not like America, where only a few states are really in play. It’s not like in Britain, where parties can win millions of votes and get no seats in parliament. It’s a system where every vote counts. Undiluted proportional representation.

But rather than look at round three of elections as proof of that system’s failure and paralysis, perhaps, in its purity, it is enabling the electorate to work through the hugely sensitive decision of who should lead this country, and thus how and where it should be led, a little more protractedly than is the norm. Perhaps our system is actually working for us rather than against us.”

4) The Tel Aviv Review of Books carries ‘Our Men in Al Sham: An Interview with Seth Frantzman and Jonathan Spyer’.

“The Americans haven’t totally left. They have no real strategy, but as long as they’re there, the Kurds in Syria will be happy to work with them, because the alternative is not working with them. So even if they’re furious about what’s happened, they’re going to carry on working with the Americans.

As for the future, it’s fascinating. Contrary to the impression we had, that the regime is rolling in and it’s all over, on the ground remarkably little has changed. The Kurdish internal security forces are still responsible for security in all the urban areas. Right now a journalist can go through the Kurdish-controlled border crossing with Iraq at Faysh Khabur down to Qamishli on the Turkish border without ever coming across a regime roadblock or even seeing a regime soldier. That’s because the regime is decrepit. I spent some time with the regime forces on the border in a place called Tell Tamer, and they are in lousy shape. I personally witnessed a regime medical officer petitioning an American medical NGO for medical equipment: “I don’t have any aspirin for my boys,” it was like that, you know. People tell me that they’ve seen regime soldiers asking SDF guys for food. The regime has won the war because of Russia and Iran, not because of any strength of its own. And that has implications for them taking control of the whole area.”

BBC News ignores rockets on northern Israel but reports response

When sirens warning of rocket fire from Syria sent residents of the northern Golan Heights and Upper Galilee scurrying for shelter shortly before 5 a.m. on November 19th, the BBC did not find that story newsworthy.

“Four projectiles were fired at northern Israel from Syria in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. All four were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israeli military believes the rockets were fired by Iran or one of its proxies.”

The Israeli response which came the next day was however considered worthy of BBC News website coverage and on the morning of November 20th a report originally confusingly headlined “Israel hits ‘dozens of Iranian and Syrian targets’” and now titled “Israel carries out ‘wide-scale strikes’ on Iranian forces in Syria” was published on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Apparently not having bothered to verify details of the previous day’s incident itself, the BBC reported it as something that ‘Israel said’ happened.

“The Israeli military says the “wide-scale strikes” responded to rockets fired by an Iranian unit into Israel. […]

On Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said it had intercepted four rockets fired from Syria towards northern Israel. It said the rockets did not hit the ground.”

As usual in coverage of such incidents, the BBC’s report uncritically amplified claims made by the infamous Syrian state news agency.

“Syria says two civilians died and that Syrian air defences shot down most of the missiles over Damascus. […]

Syria’s state news agency Sana said that the country’s “air defence confronted the heavy attack and intercepted the hostile missiles”.

It said that Syria destroyed “most” of the Israeli missiles.

The news agency added that the strikes on Syrian territory were carried out from “Lebanese and Palestinian territories”.”

Also in line with longstanding BBC editorial policy, the report presented an unnecessarily qualified account of Iran’s activities in Syria.

“Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

It has been trying to thwart what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” there and block shipments of Iranian weapons to Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.”

Readers were told nothing of the list of Iranian attacks on Israel throughout the past two years.

Later the same day the BBC News website published an additional article by its diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus titled “Israel-Iran: Risk of an all-out conflict grows after Syria strikes” and inaccurately tagged “Syrian civil war”.  

The BBC News Twitter account promoted that article with the claim that “Israel’s strikes in Syria risk broad conflict with Iran”.

So there we have it: according to BBC-think it is not Iran’s funding and arming of terrorist organisations to Israel’s south and north or Iran’s support for the establishment of Hizballah infrastructure in the Syrian Golan or even Iran’s reported deployment of missiles in south-west Syria which raise the risk of “broad conflict” but Israel’s response to Iranian aggression.

Related Articles:

Iran missile attack: BBC News promotes misinformation

Slapdash BBC News reporting of events in northern Israel and Syria

BBC Radio 4 reframes last month’s Iranian attack on Israel

Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC provides a portrait of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander killed by Israel this week and initial analysis of Palestinian casualties in the subsequent conflict.

“An initial ITIC examination of the names of ten Palestinians who were killed during IDF attacks revealed the following: six were operatives in the PIJ’s military wing; three were operatives in the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades/Nidal al-Amoudi Brigade (a network that splintered from Fatah) who apparently participated in the rocket fire at Israel; and one was a Fatah operative (it is unclear if he was a military operative).”

2) MEMRI has translated a speech made by a PIJ leader which, predictably, was not reported by the BBC.

“Khader Habib, a member of the leadership of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, said in a November 12, 2019 address that aired on Alghad TV (UAE/Egypt) that Israel will disappear and that Jerusalem and Palestine belong to the Palestinians. He promised that the Jihad against Israel will continue and that the mujahideen will slaughter the Zionists occupying Palestine unless they leave. The statements were made at the funeral of Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, who was killed by the IDF.”

3) The JCPA looks at Iran’s reaction to the killing of Abu al-Ata.

“The PIJ is the Palestinian organization closest to Iran and is heavily dependent on the financial and military aid that Tehran provides. The relationship between the PIJ and Iran is conducted mainly through the headquarters of the organization’s external leadership in Damascus, which holds contacts with the Gazan leadership. Unlike Hamas, which retains political and operational independence, the PIJ is more attentive to Iran’s agenda and to the directives that come from Tehran. The group declared a state of emergency in the wake of al-Ata’s killing.

In recent years, Tehran has supplied the PIJ with rockets, sniper rifles (Iranian-made AM-50 Sayyad-Hunter based on HS.50 rifles that the Austrian Steyr-Mannlicher company sold to the National Iranian Police) , and anti-tank missiles, all the while continuing to train its operatives in Syria and Iran in manufacturing and operating rockets, missiles small arms, and explosive devices (IEDs, EFPs).”

4) At the INSS, Ephraim Kam analyses ‘Iranian Stakes in Syria’.

“Against the backdrop of its military involvement in Syria, Iran has taken a series of steps since 2014 to reinforce its standing in Syria and Lebanon and enhance its military preparedness there, as well as that of its proxies – first and foremost Hezbollah. These steps are of two types. One consists of steps designed to influence Syria’s internal situation and bind it to Iran for the long term, including economic agreements on reconstruction, resettlement of Shiites in Syria, introduction of Iranian religious and cultural values into the country, and establishment of Syrian Shiite militias modelled on Hezbollah in Lebanon. These steps are of great importance to Israel because they entrench and empower Iran’s position close to Israel’s border.”

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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