Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published an assessment of “The impact of the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria on the campaign against ISIS“.

“From a military perspective, the end of American activity in Syria is liable to be detrimental to the campaign currently being waged by the Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates against last important ISIS-controlled area in Syria. The blow is expected to be particularly hard if America stops its aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, in ITIC assessment, the most serious impact of the American pullout is expected to be its influence on morale and the political situation: the Kurds, who control extensive areas in the northeastern part of the country, feel betrayed and their cohesiveness may be harmed. Thus they can be expected to look for new strategic support, especially from the Syrian regime and Russia. The Kurds’ motivation to continue fighting ISIS may be reduced and they may retreat to the heart of their area of control in northeastern Syria and stop clearing the lower Euphrates Valley of ISIS fighters.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the Turkish aspect of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

“The contradiction between the western attempt to appease Turkey, and the tentatively emergent strategy vis-a-vis Syria had been apparent for some months. It now looked set to be resolved – one way or the other.

If the US indeed now follows through with the rapid withdrawal of the American military presence in Syria in its entirety, as a number of news outlets have reported and the President appears to have confirmed, then we have an answer. It means that the US has indeed blinked first, and is set on reversing course in Syria – by embarking on a hurried exit from the country. This will be interpreted by all sides as a strategic defeat, an abandonment under pressure of allies, and a debacle.”

3) MEMRI reports on recent criticism of Hizballah in Lebanon.

“Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa’d Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government’s makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. […]

This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon’s, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel ‘Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.”

4) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Electing the Palestinian Attorney-General to the ICC Nominations Committee for Judges“.

“The election of the Palestinian Attorney-General, Dr. Ahmad Barrak, to serve as a member of the “Advisory Committee on Nominations” of judges of the International Criminal Court, if it were not so serious, could be seen as comical. It cannot but invoke the ancient Latin maxim “ovem lupo commitere,” or in its literal and colloquial version “to set the wolf to guard the sheep.”

This perhaps sums up the acute absurdity to which respected international institutions in the international community, and particularly the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have descended. Sadly, they have permitted themselves to be abused and manipulated by an irresponsible Palestinian leadership, intent on hijacking international organizations for obvious and blatant political purposes. 

However, the election of a Palestinian representative to the judges’ Nominations Committee, as unwise and ill-advised as it may be, is indicative of a far wider and more serious problem facing the International Criminal Court, with the admission of what purports to be “The State of Palestine” as a party to its Statute.”

 

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In which BBC Monitoring contradicts the BBC World Service

As noted here earlier, on the afternoon of August 16th the BBC World Service inaccurately told its listeners that:

“While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said.”

The next day, however, the BBC suddenly changed its tune. An article published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the evening of August 17th under the headline “Anger over Netanyahu silence on Trump and Charlottesville” told readers that:

Most Israeli politicians and press have decried US President Donald Trump’s remarks on the violent protests in Charlottesville – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of response – and are examining the implications for America’s Jewish community.” [emphasis added]

The article’s next four paragraphs detailed condemnation of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville from Israel’s president and some Israeli newspapers  – informing readers that while Yediot Aharonot, Ma’ariv and the “liberal daily” Ha’aretz slammed remarks made by the US president on their front pages:

“Newspaper Israel Hayom, reputed to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made no mention of the developments on its front page and offered factual coverage on page 24.”

Readers were also told that:

“Labour Party member of the Knesset Shelly Yachimovich took to Facebook to say that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she found the display of Nazi symbols “physically nauseating”.

She also took aim at Prime Minister Netanyahu who condemned the far-right protestors but not Trump’s words: “You, the prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, the man who warns us about a Holocaust every Monday and Thursday with fear mongering and bombastic oaths of ” never again”? What is the matter with you?””

The next seven paragraphs were devoted to portrayal of social media posts from Netanyahu and his son and the reactions of various politicians and a Ha’aretz columnist. The article’s last six paragraphs were devoted to another story in which the Israeli prime minister was criticised by various Ha’aretz writers.

This BBC article is credited to BBC Monitoring: the department that tracks and translates open source media around the world for the BBC as well as commercial clients. In 2015 its then newly appointed head said:

“Our ability to follow the world’s ever expanding traditional and digital media sources is unique and brings crucial insights to the BBC’s journalism as we seek to inform and explain incredibly complex stories of global impact.”

The BBC is certainly not the only media outlet to have devoted column space to amplification of criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s response to the incidents in Charlottesville  from rival politicians, politically partisan journalists and self-appointed pundits.

However, seeing as the information in this article is readily available to the general public in the online English language Israeli press (including the sources of the multiple promoted quotes from Ha’aretz), one can only wonder why BBC Monitoring spent time and resources on promoting a story that needed no translation, is not an “incredibly complex” issue “of global impact” and certainly does not provide “crucial insights” into anything – apart from how journalists quoting and amplifying other journalists manufacture media ‘buzz’.  

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Superficial BBC News reporting on southern Syria ceasefire

Anyone getting their news exclusively from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that heavy fighting has been taking place for some weeks in the Daraa district of south-western Syria. The BBC also did not report any of the numerous recent cases of spillover fire into Israel: ‘side effects’ of fighting between regime and opposition forces in the Quneitra area.

BBC audiences might therefore have been rather puzzled to find an article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on July 7th titled “Syria crisis: US, Russia and Jordan agree ceasefire deal“.

“The US, Russia and Jordan have agreed to put in place a ceasefire across south-western Syria, which is due to begin on Sunday. […]

This agreement, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said would cover the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, is reported to be the result of several months of undisclosed meetings between Russia and the US on Syria.”

A follow-up report appeared on the Middle East page on July 9th under the headline “Syria ceasefire: US and Russia-backed deal in effect“.

“A ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has come into force in south-western Syria.

It was announced after Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met for the first time at G20 talks on Friday. The truce is also backed by Jordan.

It is in force along a line agreed by Syrian government forces and rebels. […]

The ceasefire, which Russia has said covers the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Sweida, was reported to result from months of undisclosed talks between Russian and US officials.”

Neither of those articles informs readers that – as the Jerusalem Post reported:

“… it was not clear how much the combatants – Syrian government forces and the main rebels in the southwest – were committed to this latest effort.”

While the second report does not clarify at all how that ceasefire is to be enforced, the earlier report includes the following ambiguous statement:

“Mr Lavrov said Russia and the USA would coordinate with Jordan to act “as guarantors of the observance of this [ceasefire] by all groups”.”

The Times of Israel reports that:

“There has been no official comment from Syria’s government on the announcement, and there was no mention of the ceasefire on state television’s noon news bulletin. […]

The truce is to be monitored through satellite and drone images as well as observers on the ground, a senior Jordanian official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details with reporters. Syria ally Russia is to deploy military police in the area.”

Although at least one BBC journalist is aware of concerns raised by Israel relating to Russian enforcement of the ceasefire along its border, that issue is not mentioned in either article. Ha’aretz reports:

“…Israel wants the de-escalation zones in southern Syria to keep Iran, Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. […]

One of Israel’s main concerns is how the cease-fire would be enforced in areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders and who would be responsible for enforcing it. A senior Israeli official said Russia has proposed that its army handle the job in southern Syria. But Israel vehemently opposes this idea and has made that clear to the Americans, he said.”

Channel 10’s military analyst Alon Ben David notes:

“One must remember that the Russians in Syria are not separate from the Shia axis. The soldiers fight shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian support forces and even often with Hizballah.”

Ynet’s analyst Ron Ben Yishai points out that:

“The agreement does have a serious disadvantage from an Israeli perspective: It halts the advance of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, but fails to completely remove them from the area, as Israel likely demanded behind the scenes. This means that if and when the ceasefire is violated, the forces supported by Iran and Hezbollah would be able to continue their advance towards the Syrian-Jordanian border and the Syrian-Iraqi border, which will make it possible for them to create a strategic corridor to the Mediterranean Sea. Even worse is the fact that they would be able to advance and establish a stronghold in the Golan Heights.

Another disadvantage of the ceasefire deal is that the Assad army and the Russians, which both have an interest in keeping Assad and his people in power, will be responsible for the agreement’s implementation on the ground. If Assad stays in power in Syria, Iran and Hezbollah will stay there too. […]

The Syrian regime, Hezbollah and Iran have a totally different interest in a ceasefire: Assad and the Iranians have realized that they are incapable of conquering the city of Daraa on the Jordanian border and that the rebels—to ease the pressure on Daraa—are successfully attacking them near new Quneitra in the Golan Heights, where the spillovers that Israel responded [to] originated. The Syrian army is pressed in the Quneitra area. It’s failing to advance in Daraa despite help from Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, and therefore has no other choice but to agree to a ceasefire.

This is also why this ceasefire may not last very long. The moment the Syrian regime and the Iranians reach the conclusion they are strong enough to reoccupy Daraa and the border crossings between Syrian and Iraq, they will do it without any hesitation.”

Obviously there is a much broader story to tell than the one presented in these two superficial BBC News reports that cannot be said to meet the BBC’s mission of providing news “of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

BBC News’ bizarre ‘Newsbeat’ backgrounder on Syria

An article which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 5th was billed as follows:

syria-art-cataclysm

The link leads to a backgrounder produced by BBC News for ‘Newsbeat‘ – and hence specifically tailored for younger audiences – which is titled “How the history books will remember Syria in 2016“.

The backgrounder – headed “Newsbeat Explains” – may well raise eyebrows both for what it does tell those ‘younger audiences’ and what it does not. No mention is made, for example, of the fact that the vast majority of casualties in the Syrian civil war have died at the hands of the Syrian regime or of issues such as the barrel bombs, the use of chemical weapons against civilians or the siege and starvation policy employed by Bashar al Assad. Apparently ‘Newsbeat’ does not consider those points worthy of the history books: a section headed “It’s hard to know exactly how many people have been killed in Syria” does not even try to inform audiences about such issues.

syria-art-cataclysm-number-killed

Readers are told that the root of the conflict in Syria goes back to “March 2003 when Britain and America and other countries decided to invade Iraq” and that the ‘Arab Spring’ can be attributed to the “economic crash of 2007/08”. The oppressive nature of the Syrian regime pre-March 2011 is severely whitewashed.

syria-art-cataclysm-tv

In a section concerning Syrian refugees audiences are told that Britain is characterised by “endemic racism” and in a section about the “international players” in Syria, readers are bizarrely informed that:

syria-art-cataclysm-israel

It is of course remarkable that the dubious notion that “Israeli security” is a prime factor behind US intervention in Syria (such as it is) was included in this BBC backgrounder without any concrete evidence being provided to back up that statement. Given that the information comes from an academic – Tim Jacoby – with a record of supporting anti-Israel boycotts and delegitimisation, the BBC’s amplification of that entirely unsupported claim obviously requires explanation.

 

Beirut bank bomb blanked by BBC News

One might have thought that a story concerning a terror organisation’s threats against a sovereign country’s banking system would have made at least one headline on the BBC News website but that has not been the case.

On the evening of June 12th a Beirut branch of the Banque du Liban et d’Outre-Mer (BLOM) was targeted with a large bomb.

“Shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday night a loud explosion reverberated throughout the western half of the country’s capital, raising fears a little over a week after Lebanon’s security services announced it foiled an ISIS terror plot.

A 15-kilogram improvised explosive device rigged in a flower pot outside of the BLOM Bank branch in the up-scale Verdun district shattered the glass façade of the building, according to an initial statement by Internal Security Forces (ISF) chief Ibrahim Basbous.

Lebanon’s Red Cross announced that two people were injured by the explosion, one of whom was rushed to a nearby hospital while another was treated at the spot.”

Whilst investigations into the incident are ongoing and no claim of responsibility has been received to date, journalists, analysts and Lebanese officials alike appear to have few doubts concerning the background to the story. As Tony Badran of FDD explains:

“The bombing comes as Lebanese banks, in compliance with U.S. law, began closing accounts of individuals and institutions belonging to or affiliated with Hezbollah. […]

The U.S. Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, passed in December 2015, threatened sanctions against individuals and entities found to be financing Hezbollah. This left Lebanese banks with a binary choice – serving Hezbollah or maintaining access to the global economy – and they wisely chose the latter. Unsurprisingly, the banks’ moves provoked Hezbollah’s ire. […]

In a statement by its parliamentary bloc last month, Hezbollah attacked Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, blaming his institution and “a number of banks” for participating in a “war of annihilation” against it on Washington’s behalf. […]

Hezbollah is now warning of “social instability” as a result of the banking measures. One day before the bombing, the pro-Hezbollah daily al-Akhbar ran the headline: “Hezbollah to banks: Enough conspiring.” The piece claimed that the measures were tantamount to an attack on the organization’s weapons, and its author singled out BLOM while other Hezbollah mouthpieces accused it of “leading the soft financial war on Hezbollah.””

Reuters reports that:

“At a meeting with the finance minister and central bank governor, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said the attack “rose to the level of damaging the national security of Lebanon”.

The banking sector was “the fundamental dynamo” of the economy and “one of the main pillars of the state in light of the paralysis suffered by the constitutional institutions”, he added, according to a government statement.

The central bank is widely seen as one of the only effective institutions in the weak state afflicted by political crisis since the onset of the Syria war in 2011. The banking sector is vitally important to Lebanon as a conduit for billions of dollars of annual remittances that keep its economy afloat.”

The Reuters article also includes the following quote from an anonymous Lebanese banker:

“The banks have no choice. They will not accept not to implement the sanctions because for them their survival is more important. If the Americans say to a bank: ‘you are out of the banking system’, the bank will default because it will be shut down from transactions in dollars,”

But apparently the story of a foreign backed terrorist organization threatening a country’s banking system is not newsworthy in the eyes of the BBC. Below are screenshots of the Middle East page of the corporation’s website the morning after the attack (13/6/16) and the following day.

ME HP 13 6 16a

ME HP 14 6 16a

 

 

 

 

 

When BBC journalists become the story – and when they don’t

On January 20th followers of the BBC News Twitter account were alerted to a story described as follows:

Tweet journalist fly US

However, only those who followed the link and bothered to read the article – titled “BBC journalist Rana Rahimpour stopped from flying to US” – in full would appreciate that in fact the well promoted story (which is also told in an additional article by BBC Trending called “Why I tweeted a picture of myself in tears“) has nothing at all to do with the BBC or journalism and that it is actually about the visa related tribulations of a woman making a private journey who just happens to work for the corporation.Rahimpour story

In an additional filmed interview on BBC News Rahimpour gave a positive answer to this loaded question from the presenter:

“Does this feel right now that you are being discriminated against because of your heritage?”

The question of whether or not journalists should become the story is of course largely a matter of taste but in this case it seems pretty clear that Ms Rahimpour’s BBC connections prompted wide coverage of an event which might otherwise have received much less exposure.

Interestingly, a previous story about another BBC employee did not receive any coverage from the corporation. BBC News producer Erica Chernofsky wrote about her experiences whilst driving in Judea & Samaria last October at the Times of Israel.Rahimpour story Trending

“And then suddenly there was a loud boom. And another, and another, and then another. And I couldn’t see a thing, and I heard my children screaming, the baby crying, I looked out my window and saw the Palestinian children, and then an Israeli soldier. I fumbled for my cell phone, following the protocol I had been taught but never had to use.

I called for help. I heard my voice shaking as I tried to explain where we were, what had happened, and as I did my car’s windscreen finally came into focus, it was smashed, my legs and arms were covered in glass, my knee was burning where a shard of glass was stuck inside my skin. And then I dropped the phone, suddenly remembering my children, ohmigod my children, the baby! I climbed out of my seat to look behind me as my husband continued driving away as fast as he could.

They were screaming, my 3-year-old was crying hysterically, my 6-year-old was yelling “what happened mommy, what happened!” over and over again. And the baby, was crying, screaming, oh, he’s such a good baby and he never cries, and then I saw he was covered in millions of tiny pieces of glass. The entire back windshield of the car had smashed in, there was glass everywhere, all over my children, all over my baby. In his hair, on his face, on his little onesie. I gently tried to shake the glass off him as my hands trembled, “drive faster, quickly, quickly, we have to check the baby,” I cried to my husband, who had somehow not lost control of the car during the attack. […]

It’s in the news all the time. Rock throwing. It seems trivial. But it wasn’t rocks. It wasn’t pebbles. It was giant blocks of stone, the rectangular kind that are used to build houses. And it can kill. Rocks, stones, guns, are all the same. They are weapons. They are violence. They are tools to commit murder.”

So, whilst a BBC employee with nationality-related visa problems makes the news, a BBC employee targeted in a terror attack for no other reason than her nationality did not.

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BBC News makes do with half the story of US-Iran deal

An article originally published on the BBC News website on January 16th under the title “Four US prisoners freed in Iran” now appears with the headline “Jason Rezaian and three other US prisoners leave Iran” and all interim versions of the report had the words ‘ US prisoners’ in their titles.Rezaian art

The term “prisoners” is also used repeatedly in the body of the report to describe the four American-Iranians previously incarcerated by Iran. The article’s subject matter is described as “the prisoner exchange” and – revealingly – “what Iran calls a prisoner swap”.  

However, some may take issue with the BBC’s employment of that Tehran approved terminology.

“Iran released hostages, [it] did not free prisoners,” Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies commented on Twitter. “The US did not free prisoners, it released convicted felons. Don’t call this a prisoner swap.”

Whilst providing details of the charges levelled by Iran against three of the US hostages, the BBC’s report is remarkably less informative on the other side of the story.

“The United States said it was offering clemency to seven Iranians being held in the US for sanctions violation. […]

Of the seven Iranian citizens being released, six are also citizens of the US. The Iranian state news agency listed them as: Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghani, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboun.

They are all accused or convicted of violating US sanctions on Iran.”

The background to that opaque sentence is available at several sources, including the Washington Post.

“Joel Androphy, an attorney for one of the Iranians — Bahram Mechanic — said his client was offered a full pardon. Androphy also worked closely with the attorneys for two of the other men who were pardoned, Tooraj “Roger” Faridi, and Khosrow Afghahi.

The three men are Iranian American businessmen who were indicted last year and accused of illegally exporting microelectronics to Iran that could aid the country’s nuclear program. […]

Modanlo, a U.S. citizen born in Iran and living in Potomac, was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison for conspiring to illegally provide satellite-related services to Iran, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iran trade embargo. Modanlo, then 52, was also convicted of money-laundering and obstruction of bankruptcy proceedings. […]

The seventh Iranian is Arash Ghahreman, 45, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Iranian national who was convicted in April by a federal jury in San Diego of violations of U.S. export and money-laundering laws linked to his involvement in a scheme to purchase marine navigation equipment and military electronic equipment for illegal export to Iran.”

The BBC’s report is no less cagey on the additional facet to the deal.

“A further 14 Iranians sought by the US would be removed from an Interpol wanted list, the US and Iran said.”

The Tower reports that:

“Simultaneously, the State Department confirmed that “The United States also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.” Two of the red notice subjects are senior executives at Mahan Air, which the U.S. has accused of shipping arms to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp, as well as the Lebanese Islamist organization Hezbollah and forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.”

Clearly the BBC has failed to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to fully understand both halves of this story.