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”.

Related Articles:

A familiar face returns to the BBC Jerusalem bureau

Advertisements

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.

Related Articles:

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”.  

Related Articles:

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

BBC’s Assad interview and the ‘related articles’

 

 

 

 

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.’

 

 

BBC newsgathering again relies on Syrian state outlets

On the morning of July 1st the BBC News website published a filmed report titled “Syria war: Video shows ‘Israeli missiles being intercepted’” and a written report headlined “Syria war: Israeli jets ‘hit Iranian targets in Homs and Damascus’”.

As specified in its synopsis, the commentary-free video is made up entirely of “footage released by Syria’s state-run Sana news agency” and viewers were told that it “appears to show missiles being intercepted in mid-air”. [emphasis added]

Likewise, 37.3% of the written report’s 209 words was given over to allegations made by two Syrian state-run news agencies – with nothing to suggest any independent verification by the BBC – including the following unconfirmed claim:

“In Sahnaya, south of Damascus, four civilians – including a toddler – were killed as a result of Israeli “aggression”, Syrian state-run broadcaster al-Ikhbariya said.” [emphasis added]

Although a further 35.4% of the report repeated claims made by the UK-based organisation ‘the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’, the BBC did not include the following:

“The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group, said it was not immediately clear if the six civilians, among them an infant, were killed by the attacks themselves, which were attributed to Israel, by Syria’s anti-aircraft fire, or by some other secondary explosion.”

The BBC’s own contribution to the report came in just 57 words which did not include a description of Hizballah as a terrorist organisation, despite it being defined as such in the UK. [emphasis added]

“Israel’s military has not commented. It periodically attacks what it says are threats to Israeli security in Syria.

These include what it has identified as advanced weaponry destined for the Islamist Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iranian bases in Syria.

Israel says it will not allow its arch-enemy Iran to entrench itself in Syria, Iran’s key ally.”

BBC audiences were not informed of an apparently related incident in northern Cyprus.

“Meanwhile, Turkish-held Cyprus said a Syrian anti-aircraft missile that was fired at Israeli jets landed north of Nicosia. No casualties were reported.

“The first assessment is that a Russian-made missile, […] which was part of the air defense system that took place last night in the face of an air strike against Syria, completed its range and fell into our country after it missed,” Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Ozersay said in a social media post.”

Not only have audiences been given very little factual information about the efforts of Iran and its proxies to establish a foothold in Syria in recent years but – as is the case once again in this latest report – the BBC has on repeated occasions even steered them towards the view that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily a claim touted by Israel.

As has frequently been the case in the past, we see that BBC newsgathering for this report consisted mainly of repeating unconfirmed claims from state-run Syrian media. Given that those sources have been shown in the past to repeatedly disseminate false claims, one would expect a serious media outlet to be considerably more cautious about promoting their unverified statements to its funding public in supposedly factual news reports.

Related Articles:

BBC News framing of Iranian forces in Syria

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

BBC inconsistency on Iran’s Syria build-up continues

Slapdash BBC News reporting of events in northern Israel and Syria

Reviewing the sourcing of BBC Radio 4 December 26 news bulletins

Weekend long read

1) Khaled Abu Toameh takes a look at Lebanese reactions to a proposed new law concerning the management of Palestinian refugee camps.

“Like most Arab countries, Lebanon has long treated Palestinians as second-class citizens. It has been depriving them of basic rights, including citizenship, employment, heath care, education, social services and property ownership. The vast majority of the 450,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon do not have Lebanese citizenship.

In 2001, the Lebanese Parliament passed a law prohibiting Palestinians from owning property, and Lebanese law also restricts their ability to work in as many as 20 professions. Lebanon continues to ignore calls by various human rights groups to the Lebanese authorities to end discrimination against Palestinians.”

2) At the INSS, Eldad Shavit and Sima Shine examine ‘The Dispute Between the United States and Iran – Scenarios and Implications’.

“The dispute between the United States and Iran is taking place on two levels: The American administration is adhering to its policy of placing “maximum pressure” on the Iranian regime, while Iran is adopting a new policy in place of the “tolerance” that it had demonstrated thus far, in order to show the United States, and especially the other countries that signed the Nuclear Agreement—particularly the European partners—the costs they are liable to pay for continuing the sanctions. At the same time, in an attempt to prevent a deterioration, given the tensions that have developed recently in the Gulf, efforts are being made to find channels of dialogue between the two countries. At present, assuming that Iran is not interested in “upsetting the apple cart,” one of following three main scenarios could develop: a continuation of the gradual and cautious erosion (over time) of the Iranian commitments according to the agreement (JCPOA); Iran’s quick withdrawal from its commitments, including from fulfilling the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, and significantly reducing cooperation with the agency; or the beginning of new negotiations with the Trump administration.”

3) Mosaic Magazine has a podcast interview with Yaakov Katz about his new book.

“On September 6, 2007, shortly after midnight, Israeli planes advanced on Deir ez-Zour in the desert of eastern Syria. Israel often flew into Syrian air space as a warning to President Bashar al-Assad, but this time there was no warning and no explanation. The planes were on a covert mission with one goal: to destroy a nuclear reactor being built, with the aid of North Korea, under a tight veil of secrecy. The pilots succeeded brilliantly, and Israel stopped Syria from becoming a nuclear-armed state: a nightmare in the Middle East.

That’s the story Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz tells in his latest book Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power.”

4) MEMRI reports on the situation in Sudan.

“The honeymoon is over in Khartoum. There was a short period of ambiguity and hope between April 11, 2019 when Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was removed from power by his own generals and June 3, 2019 when security forces brutally killed over a hundred peaceful demonstrators and subsequently called for snap elections in seven months.

During that short seven-week period, there was a chance, and even some real indications, that a very Sudanese solution – fragile, confused, but hopeful – would have been found along the lines of previous transitions from military dictatorship to civilian rule. Hopes that 2019 would be something of a repeat of 1964 and 1985 have, at least for now, been dashed although it should not be forgotten that both previous transitions to democracy were brief and led back to dictatorship after a few years. Sudan is closer to the edge and it seems that a much more violent future could be in the cards if another misstep is made.”

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at Tablet Magazine, Tony Badran explains why “Hezbollah Isn’t Broke. So Why Is Everyone Claiming Otherwise?”.

“Terrorist groups like Hezbollah are withering on the vine as Iran sanctions take effect,” Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted last week, voicing what has now become a consensus in Washington. […]

But this conventional wisdom is wrong. Hezbollah is nowhere close to being broke.

Such a result would indeed be remarkable, if true, considering that many of the administration’s new sanctions meant to hurt Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, have only been in effect for a few months, and not all have been fully applied. Without question, the maximum pressure campaign is the right policy. And there is no doubt that the administration’s economic squeeze is inflicting serious pain on Tehran, though more pressure can and should be applied. But none of this means that Hezbollah is “withering” or close to it. That assessment has been concocted by U.S. officials who latched onto isolated comments by Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, and other flimsy evidence, which they are using to reach rash and unfounded conclusions about the organization’s financial state.”

2) At the JCPA Pinchas Inbari takes a look at “The Fate of Palestinian Refugees in Syria and Lebanon”.

“As soon as the bitter fate of the Yarmouk camp became known there was a secret European initiative to transfer the refugees from the camp to the abandoned site of Aqbat Jaber in Palestinian-controlled Jericho. Mahmoud Abbas rejected the initiative, however, insisting that the right of return does not apply to territories in the Palestinian Authority but to Israel. In private conversations, senior Palestinian officials said that the Palestinian Authority does not want the refugees from Yarmouk within its boundaries because they support Hamas. […]

Ramallah’s apathy was the outcome of the PLO’s position as representative of the refugees. Ad hoc groups were formed to handle the Palestinian disaster, without any connection to the PLO, and some of them were even hostile to it, such as the “Action Group for the Palestinians of Syria.” […]

Hamas saw the vacuum in leadership and gave its support to the Palestinian refugee organizations in Europe. Hamas is currently involved in building a new PLO, and providing patronage for the refugees abandoned by Ramallah may be an important foundation stone in this process.”

3) The ITIC documents last week’s al Quds day events around the world.

“Every year, Global Jerusalem Day events are held in Iran, the Arab states and the West. This year, in Iran hundreds of thousands of people participated in the events, which were also attended by senior figures in the Iranian regime. In the Arab world prominent events were held in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Yemen. In South East Asia events were held in India and Pakistan, and in the West in Germany, Britain, Austria and Canada. Inspired by Iran, Global Jerusalem Day events had as their theme rejection of the “deal of the century,” calling for practical measures to be taken to ensure its failure. Also prominent were threats against the United States, Israel, and American allies in the Arab-Muslim world (especially Saudi Arabia).”

4) At the INSS, Oded Eran and Shimon Stein discuss “Israel and the New European Parliament”.

“While the results of the recent European Parliament elections indicate a weakening of parties that for years have directed the course of the European Union, they also show relatively high support for a strong organization that wields power and influence. That suggests that no significant change should be expected in EU policy, including in matters of foreign affairs and security. In the Israeli context – and specifically regarding the Iranian nuclear issue and the anticipated Trump administration plan on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – this means that the roots of the disputes between Israel and the EU will remain. Even if the EU is not expected to reduce its ties with Israel, given the respective political situations prevailing in the European Union and Israel, no deepening or expansion of ties should be expected.”

 

BBC News coverage of incendiary attacks in two locations

Last year we documented how it took the BBC three months to get round to producing one short report about the arson attacks perpetrated by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip within the framework of the ‘Great Return March’ which resulted in the destruction of thousands of acres of nature reserves, woodland and farm land in nearby Israeli communities.

A two and a half minute BBC News video on a story ignored for three months

No additional reporting on that topic has been seen in the past eleven months even though the attacks have continued and even been ‘upgraded’ to include airborne explosive devices. The BBC of course continues to portray the activities of Gaza Strip residents along the border with Israel as “protests”.

The ITIC reports that:

“Since the ceasefire (May 6, 2019) that ended the most recent round of escalation, there has been a gradual increase in the launching of incendiary and IED balloons from the Gaza Strip. During the past two weeks it has become intensive and systematic, and caused scores of fires near the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip border. […]

During the long span of arson terrorism attacks (more than a year), more than 2000 fires have been set in Israel (according to data from the Israel Fire and Rescue Services in the southern district and the Jewish National Fund (JNF)), burning approximately 8700 acres (JNF). Most of the fires broke out near the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, burning agricultural fields, natural forests and nature preserves. Arson terrorism also contributed to the disruption of daily life in the local Israeli communities and caused moral and psychological damage.”

Since that last round of escalation in early May BBC audiences have seen plenty of reporting concerning the Gaza Strip – including an interview with a Hamas spokesman – but no coverage of the increased arson attacks launched from that territory which have caused damage to crops.

photo credit: ITIC

However, visitors to the BBC News website on May 29th did learn about the deliberate burning of agricultural land in another location.

Titled “Syrian military ‘burning farmland in rebel-held north’”, the report informs readers that:

“Satellite images show large areas of farmland in opposition-held north-west Syria have been burnt as part of what activists allege is a campaign by the government to destroy vital food crops.

Civil defence workers say incendiary weapons have been fired repeatedly at fields in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces in the past month. […]

The Syria Civil Defence – whose rescue workers are known as the White Helmets – accuses the government and its ally Russia of seeking to “burn all aspects of life” in the last region still held by the opposition after eight years of war.

In addition to bombing residential areas, it says, the Syrian and Russian militaries have targeted farmland with rockets and shells containing incendiary chemicals, causing “large pervasive fires which have destroyed all farm crops and deprived peasant farmers of their coming harvests”.

Satellite photographs taken at the start and end of last week by Maxar Technologies showed areas of scorched earth and plumes of smoke around the town of al-Habeet, in southern Idlib province, and neighbouring Kafr Nabouda, in northern Hama province.”

So if the deliberate burning of farmland in northern Syria is newsworthy – as it of course should be – why has the BBC not produced any reporting on similar events in southern Israel in the past eleven months?

Related Articles:

A ‘Great Return March’ story BBC audiences have not been told