BBC News ignores brewing Red Sea tensions

Back in late June we highlighted a report by the INSS on the topic of the Red Sea.

“Although the threat posed by pirates in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait has declined in recent years as a result of international action, a new threat to freedom of navigation has emerged there due to the war in Yemen, which assumed a distinctively regional character with the onset of the Saudi campaign against the Houthis in 2015. The Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have mined areas along the coast of Yemen, used explosive boats and anti-ship missiles to attack primarily American and Saudi military maritime vessels, and on at least one occasion (in April 2018) struck a Saudi oil tanker. […]

The Red Sea arena possesses considerable economic importance. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 29 kilometers wide and constitutes a maritime chokepoint and strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  A significant volume of the world’s maritime traffic passes through the Strait, including a daily average of some five million barrels of oil. The Suez Canal constitutes an important source of income for Egypt, as does the port of Aqaba for Jordan and the port of Jeddah for Saudi Arabia (its most important port). It is also the route of passage to the port of Eilat.”

On July 25th another attack on Saudi Arabian ships in the Bab el-Mandeb strait took place and Saudi Arabia subsequently temporarily halted oil exports via that route.

“Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. […]

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage.

“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” he said. […]

Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated at around 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to analysts and Reuters data. Most Gulf oil exports that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline pass through the strait.”

Ha’aretz reported that the incident was “attracting a great deal of attention among intelligence organizations in the region and from the oil industry”.

“The tanker, the Arsan, was flying a Saudi flag and transporting some 2 million barrels of oil to Egypt. It was struck by missiles near the port of Hodeida in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacking the Houthis for the past few months. According to the Washington Institute the tankers were hit by a rocket fired from a fast-attack vessel or a ground-to-sea missile fired from Yemen, possibly a C-802, which Iran supplies to the rebels. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and the Saudis announced that they were suspending tanker shipments in the Red Sea until the situation was sorted out and marine traffic was safe again.”

Despite an extensive search on the BBC News website – including its Saudi Arabia and Yemen pages and its business section – we have not been able to find any BBC reporting whatsoever on that incident.

The following day – July 26th – the BBC News website published an article headlined “Iran general warns Trump war would ‘destroy all you possess’” in which readers were told that:

“An Iranian special forces commander has warned President Donald Trump if the US attacks Iran it “will destroy all that you possess”.

Major General Qassem Soleimani vowed that if Mr Trump started a war, the Islamic Republic would end it, Iranian news agency Tasnim reported.

It follows Mr Trump’s all-caps-lock tweet warning Iran’s president to “never, ever” threaten the US. […]

Maj Gen Soleimani – who leads the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – was quoted on Thursday as saying: “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats. […]

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.

“If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”

The BBC did not inform its readers that Soleimani’s threats included – as reported by the Guardian and others – a specific mention of the Red Sea.

“The senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani has hit back at Donald Trump’s tweeted threats against Tehran in colourful language, likening him to a gambler and a cabaret owner, and saying Iran would be the one to “end” any war between their two countries. […]

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] … The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” added Suleimani, according to the Tasnim news agency. […]

Suleimani’s warning to the US about the Red Sea comes on the same day Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, suspended oil exports through the strategic shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb due to missile attacks on two oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels off the Yemen coast.”

Clearly any Iranian threats concerning the potential disruption of international shipping in the Red Sea are of considerable significance – and not only for countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel

Moreover, MEMRI reports that:

“On August 6, 2018, the Iranian news agency Fars published statements by Gen. Naser Sha’bani, a top official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in which he noted that the regime of the Islamic Revolution had ordered the pro-Iran Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia in Yemen to attack two Saudi tankers, and that it had carried out those orders. […]

It should be emphasized that the quote about the order to attack the tankers was deleted from the Fars website after the statements were published. MEMRI has in its possession a copy of the original prior to the deletion.”

To date, however, the BBC’s funding public has seen no reporting whatsoever on this story.

 

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has produced an assessment of “Hamas’ new policy towards Israel“.

“On March 30, 2018, the period of three and half years (since Operation Protective Edge) of relative quiet along the Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip came to an end. That period was characterized mainly by a drastic reduction in the scope of rocket fire attacking Israel, unprecedented since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. […]

In ITIC assessment, Hamas’ policy of restraint was the result of a series of strategic considerations which had influenced the Hamas leadership over a long period of time. […]

In retrospect it appears that during the second half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 the influence of those considerations on the Hamas leadership lessened: the deterrence Israel achieved in Operation Protective Edge continued to exist, but eroded over time (a process that occurred after other large operations in the Gaza Strip); Hamas’ motivation to gain time to construct a tunnel system penetrating into Israel weakened in the face of Israel’s operational and technological solutions; the difficult economic situation in the Gaza Strip, to which the PA sanctions contributed, created the need to find a direction for the Gazans to channel their rage and frustration. In addition, the attempts to effect an internal Palestinian reconciliation failed and the relations between Hamas and Egypt did not significantly improve. Apparently all of the above led Hamas to the conclusion that its post-Operation Protective Edge policy had exhausted itself and was increasingly less beneficial.”

2) At the INSS Yoel Guzansky and Oded Eran take a look at “The Red Sea: An Old-New Arena of Interest“.

“The Red Sea, and particularly its southern section surrounding the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, has in recent years become the site of competition and struggle among regional actors and superpowers alike. In addition to the states along the coast of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, the US, China, Turkey, and Iran – which is involved in the war in Yemen – have a presence there. Sub-state actors, such as the Islamic State organization, al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Houthi rebels, and al-Qaeda in Yemen, are also active in the region. In the meantime, there have been no disruptions to Israeli shipping and flight paths, which connect Israel to the Indian Ocean, the Far East, and Africa.”

3) At the JCPA Pinhas Inbari documents how “Erdogan’s Turkey Intensifies Involvement in Gaza and Jerusalem“.

“Turkey, under the charismatic leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is intervening in many places throughout the Middle East. In each locale, it takes care to unfurl the Turkish flag literally.

However, Turkey’s public involvement in Jerusalem appears to be more public and striking because Jerusalem is more important to Turkey than other places in the region.

Turkey has shown great interest in both Gaza and Jerusalem. It is interested in Gaza because Gaza is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, Hamas, which Turkey wishes to bring under its wing, and it is interested in Jerusalem to facilitate the “saving of al-Aqsa.””

4) Matthew Brodsky explains why he supports the recent US decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council.

“Of course, it is easy to conclude that the problem with the clown car isn’t the car; it’s the clowns riding in it. Sure enough, the current clowns on the UNHRC don’t bode well for the protection of human rights. They include Qatar, Congo, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Burundi. If that isn’t mind-bending enough, the UN’s forum for disarmament, which produced the treaty banning chemical weapons, is currently headed by none other than Syria. So it is possible to blame both the clowns and the cars that enable their behavior.”

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jewish Chronicle, David Hirsh discusses the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

“The working definition does not seek to see a person’s essence to find out whether they are antisemitic. What it does instead is to help in the recognition of antisemitic actions and ways of thinking. It is concerned with what people do, what they say and what they tolerate; not what they are.

Many in the movement to boycott and to de-legitimize Israel are afraid of the working definition. They say that it defines criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It actually does the opposite. It helps us to make the distinction between what kinds of criticism may be legitimate and what kinds of hostility or demonization may either lead towards, or result from, antisemitism.”

2) The JCPA has a paper by Liora Chartouni titled “70 Years after UN Resolution 181: An Assessment“.

“Initially, both Jews and Arabs were shocked by the idea of partition. “The Zionist movement viewed the whole of Eretz Yisrael as a Jewish patrimony,” according to Israeli scholar Prof. Shlomo Avineri, “and the effort to reach a Jewish majority was aimed at giving this claim international support and legitimacy. And the emerging Palestinian national movement … viewed Falastin as integral a part of the great Arab homeland as all other lands from Morocco to Iraq.”

However, although the two sides shared the surprise, their reaction to the partition plan diverged significantly. The Jews accepted the plan with a mixture of joy and hesitation, while the other rejected it and launched a war to forcibly prevent its implementation.

Although both parties claimed a legitimate right to inhabit the area, the Arabs denied the Jews any right whatsoever in their ancestral homeland, and a large majority still maintains this view to this day. The adoption of UN Resolution 181 was seen as cataclysmic by the Arab side; not only did they not abide by it, but they went to war against the nascent Jewish State to express their discontentment and their refusal to allow a such a state to exist.”

3) Following the UNGA’s adoption of resolution 181 on November 29th 1947, Arab forces launched immediate attacks on the Jewish community in Palestine and acts of violence also took place against Jews in several Arab countries. The Israel State Archives recently put online documents relating to the pogroms in Aden, Yemen (at the time a British protectorate) that took place between December 2nd and 4th 1947 in which 82 Jews were murdered, 76 wounded, synagogues destroyed and property looted. The file – mostly in English – can be found here.

4) Writing at Newsweek, David Daoud and Jason Brodsky provide some insight into the domestic politics behind the recent story concerning Lebanon’s prime minister.

“Hariri’s dramatic resignation arose from an awareness that he no longer inspires the confidence of his Lebanese Sunni base, and that will cost him in parliament—his pro-Western camp’s last holdout—in the upcoming May 2018 elections. For over a decade, he’s been consistently outmaneuvered by Hezbollah and its political allies even while in power. Worse yet, his concessions over the last two years have made him look like a polite fig-leaf for creeping Iranian domination of Lebanon, further eroding his Sunni support—a fact he bemoaned in a recent interview from Riyadh. […]

Hariri’s Future Party is currently parliament’s largest—with 28 of 128 seats. With his broader allies, he theoretically has a slim majority. However, that is a holdover from the country’s last parliamentary elections in 2009. With his eroded credibility and Lebanon’s new electoral law placing a higher premium than before on popular support, he’s guaranteed to lose it the 2018 elections. Given parliament’s power of electing the president and confirming the prime minister and his cabinet, it is a particularly important body to lose.”

BBC’s Knell promotes unsupported allegations in Yemenite children story

On June 21st an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website as well as on its Middle East page under the title “Missing babies: Israel’s Yemenite children affair“. The article is introduced as follows:

“In the years after the creation of the Israeli state hundreds of babies went missing. Their parents, mostly Jewish immigrants from Yemen, were told their children had died, but suspicions linger that they were secretly given away to childless families – and newly released documents have revealed some disturbing evidence.”

It opens with the 50 year-old story of a woman who “had given birth to premature twins”.

“But when Leah’s husband visited soon afterwards, only one of the twins was there. The other, Hanna, had died, he was informed.

Leah was shocked not to be shown a body or a grave – a common feature of such stories…” [emphasis added]

A similar approach to the burial of babies who died during or shortly after childbirth was of course the norm in Britain right up to the 1960s and even later – but readers of this article are not given that context.

The historical background to the story provided by Knell is limited to a few lines.

“Leah had experienced many calamities long before the loss of her baby. As a child, she and her family had joined thousands of Jews fleeing violence in Yemen. They were robbed as they trekked from one end of the country to the other and Leah was reduced to begging for food. Then they were rescued in an airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. […]

They had arrived, malnourished and penniless, during the first Arab-Israeli war.”

Although the fact that the new immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel in poor health after long journeys on foot to the overcrowded transit camps in Aden where disease was rife and mortality rates high is very relevant to the story she is telling, Knell does not expand further.

Despite the fact that three separate commissions of inquiry have determined that the overwhelming majority of the children died, Knell nevertheless amplifies unsupported allegations.

“Many Yemenite Jews spent periods in transit camps before being settled in homes, and stories of babies going missing began to arise immediately.

Some reports talk of children disappearing after visits to the camps by wealthy American Jews.

In other cases children appeared to be recovering in hospitals from relatively minor ailments when the parents were suddenly told they had died.

On kibbutzes [sic], where some of the Yemenites settled, it was typical for youngsters to be separated from their parents and looked after together, and here too it’s said that some children vanished.

Estimates of the number of missing children range from hundreds to thousands.

In many cases the parents believe their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to families of European Jews – occasionally Holocaust survivors who had lost their children – or Americans.”

Only in the twenty-seventh paragraph of her article does Knell tell readers that:

“Three government inquiries have looked into the Yemenite Children Affair, as it is known, since the 1960s, and all have concluded that most children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed or involved.”

However, that is immediately followed by a paragraph again promoting entirely unproven speculations:

“But many of the families involved suspect a cover-up and continue to believe that there was an organised operation to snatch children, involving health workers and government officials.”

Later on in the article, Knell half concedes that allegations of “an organised operation” are unproven:

“Whether there was an organised conspiracy to snatch Yemenite babies and give them away for adoption remains unproven though, according to historian Tom Segev, who has written books on Israel’s early years and served as an expert witness for one government inquiry.

He points out that hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Israel at a time of war, and in the years immediately afterwards, when the country was still reeling.

“All these people came in very, very difficult conditions and it’s a story of chaos,” Segev says.”

Nevertheless (while conveniently ignoring the fact that her own country was not exactly free of prejudice and discrimination in the 1950s) Knell uses this story to promote a clear take-away point to readers:

“One of the disturbing aspects of the Yemenite Children Affair is the way the darker-skinned immigrants appear to have been treated as second-class citizens. The founders of Israel were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, of European descent, some of whom expressed fears that Mizrahi (literally “Eastern”) Jews brought with them a backwards “Oriental” culture that might damage the new state.”

Perhaps it was the urge to promote that notion that prevented Knell from informing BBC audiences that not only “darker skinned” children were said to have disappeared at that chaotic time but also children of immigrants from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The Yemenite children affair as it is known in Hebrew is for obvious reasons a sensitive subject in Israel and one that has been under examination and discussion for decades.

However, any journalist wishing to present an objective account of that story would take care to provide an accurate portrayal of the conditions in which a new country that was still at war at the time took in hundreds of thousands of impoverished refugee immigrants from dozens of different countries and cultures despite a grave lack of facilities and resources and the absence of a common language and efficient communication. An objective journalist would of course also take into consideration that in Israel – as in other countries – societal norms on topics such as the death of a child have changed during the decades that have since passed.

Yolande Knell, however, prefers to tell a story that amplifies assertions of “a cover-up”, that promotes evidence free claims of an “organised operation to snatch children” and – unsurprisingly – touts allegations of Israeli racism.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell regurgitates Ha’aretz slurs 

 

More mapping of BBC inconsistency in terrorism reporting

An internet search for recent BBC reports including the word ‘terror’ produces two results:

Terrorism most immediate threat to UK, says MI6“, BBC News website, December 8th, 2016.terror-uk-art

“The scale of the terrorism threat to the UK is “unprecedented”, the head of MI6 has said.

Alex Younger said UK intelligence and security services had disrupted 12 terrorist plots since June 2013.”

Terror suspect arrested in Rotterdam in possession of Kalashnikov“, BBC News website, December 9th, 2016.

“Police in Rotterdam have arrested a 30-year-old man suspected of preparing an “act of terrorism”, prosecutors say. […]

The Netherlands is currently on a terror threat level four out of five, meaning there is a real chance of an attack, but no concrete evidence.

According to a report published last month by the National Co-ordinator for Security and Counter-terrorism, there is concern that returning jihadists could be a threat to security in the Netherlands.”

The BBC News website has also produced reports over the past few days concerning actual acts of terror in several locations. However, none of those reports currently includes the words ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’.

Madagali: Dozens killed in Nigeria suicide attack“, BBC News website, December 9th, 2016.

Yemen suicide bomb kills dozens in payday queue“, BBC News website, December 10th, 2016.

Somalia conflict: Deadly blast rocks Mogadishu port area“, BBC News website, December 11th, 2016.

Istanbul Besiktas Turkey: Stadium blasts kill 38 people“, BBC News website, December 10th/11th, 2016. (Earlier versions of the report which included quotes using the word ‘terror’/’terrorist’ were amended.)

Bomb attack near Cairo Coptic cathedral kills at least 25“, BBC News website, December 11th, 2016.

Once again we see that the BBC’s long-standing failure to distinguish between method and aims produces inconsistent reporting, with journalists sometimes following the problematic BBC guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ and sometimes not – often depending upon geographical location of the story. 

Related Articles:

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

Continuing the mapping of BBC inconsistency in terrorism reporting

BBC’s double standards on terrorism highlighted again

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) As has been noted here before, the BBC is still unsure about Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen. The Washington Post recently published an article titled “How Iranian weapons are ending up in Yemen“.Weekend Read

“Weapon shipments intercepted in the Arabian sea by Australian, French and U.S. warships this year contained large quantities of Russian and Iranian weapons, some of which had markings similar to munitions recovered from Houthi fighters in Yemen, according to a new report released by an independent research group Wednesday.

In October, U.S. officials claimed to have captured five shipments of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen. The report, published by Conflict Armament Research, or CAR, draws on markings found on rifles, rocket launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and munitions, providing some of the more concrete evidence to date of Iran’s logistical support to Houthis fighting in Yemen’s nearly two-year-old civil war.”

2) Professor Eugene Kontorovich has compiled “A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories“.

“This Article provides the first comprehensive, global examination of state and international practice bearing on Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides that an “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This provision is a staple of legal and diplomatic international discussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and serves as the basis for criticism of Israeli settlement policy. 

Despite its frequent invocation in the Israeli context, scholars have never examined – or even considered – how the norm has been interpreted and applied in any other occupation context in the post-WWII era. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) influential Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law lists 107 instances of national practice and UN practice applying or interpreting the prohibition, and all but two relate to Israel. Many questions exist about the scope and application of Art. 49(6)’s prohibition on “transfer,” but they have generally been answered on purely theoretically.”

3) MEMRI gives a comprehensive overview of the Abbas-Dahlan power struggle.

“A recent focus in the Palestinian press has been the power struggle between Palestinian Authority (PA) President and Fatah chairman Mahmoud ‘Abbas and former Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Dahlan, who was expelled from the movement in 2011 and is currently attempting to influence the Palestinian agenda and to empower his supporters in the face of ‘Abbas’s steps to exclude him from the Palestinian political scene.

Dahlan has been demonstrating his strength in a number of ways: in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through conferences and protests organized by his supporters there, and also through efforts to strengthen ties between Egypt and the Gaza Strip; and in the Palestinian diaspora with conferences organized by his supporters in Lebanese refugee camps and in Europe. At the same time, ‘Abbas is trying with all his might to completely exclude Dahlan and his supporters from Fatah, and to end the ongoing internal conflict in the movement with an institutional resolution to be approved at the Seventh Fatah Conference, which is set for November 29, 2016.

The escalation in the power struggle between ‘Abbas and Dahlan is linked to the debate on the future of the Palestinian leadership, particularly the question of who ‘Abbas’s successor will be. This latter issue goes beyond the Palestinian discourse, in light of efforts by the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE), and especially by Egypt, to influence the composition of the Palestinian leadership by including Dahlan in it and by grooming him to succeed ‘Abbas as Fatah chairman and Palestinian president. On October 6, 2016, the debate over ‘Abbas’s successor became more urgent after the 82-year-old ‘Abbas was rushed to the hospital for a cardiac catheterization.”

 

 

BBC News still unsure about Iranian involvement in Yemen

In recent weeks the BBC has produced two backgrounders concerning the ongoing war in Yemen.

An article headlined “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?” was promoted in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 14th and a week later – on October 21st – a filmed item titled “Yemen crisis: ‘The forgotten war’” also appeared on the same page, as well as on BBC television.yemen-mai-norman

Both those items include statements relating to Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen. In the filmed report Mai Norman tells viewers:

“But just like Syria and Iraq, regional power struggles are also at play and in the Middle East that almost always means Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis back Hadi and they accuse Iran – a Shia country – of supporting the Houthis.” [emphasis added]

Readers of the written article are told that:

“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.” […]

“The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this, and they are themselves backers of President Hadi.” [emphasis added]yemen-backgrounder

This is not the first time that audiences have seen the BBC’s apparent inability to inform its audiences whether or not the Houthis in Yemen are backed by Iran expressed in such vague and unhelpful language. A similar portrayal was found in a backgrounder titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?” that was originally published in September 2014 and which was later replaced with an earlier version of this latest written backgrounder. In April 2015 BBC audiences saw further ambiguous portrayal in two articles and the following month they were told that the role of Iran in Yemen is ‘over-emphasised’.

Both before and since the March 2015 escalation of the conflict in Yemen, numerous reports concerning Iranian support for the Houthis have emerged (see ‘related articles’ below). Reuters recently reported a rise in the supply of weapons from Iran.

“Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, U.S., Western and Iranian officials tell Reuters, a development that threatens to prolong and intensify the 19-month-old war. […]

“We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” a Western diplomat familiar with the conflict told Reuters.

Three U.S. officials confirmed that assertion.

One of those officials, who is familiar with Yemen, said that in the past few months there had been a noticeable increase in weapons-smuggling activity.

“What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives…, money and personnel,” the official said.

Another regional security source said the transfers included surface-to-surface short-range missiles and small arms.

A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training and money.”

A US State Department spokesman addressed the same issue on October 20th:

“I mean, we’re aware that Iran provides lethal support to the Houthis. We have regularly and routinely called on regional actors to de-escalate the tensions in Yemen and the region, including abiding by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, as well as the ceasefire, which both the – all parties have said they would support.

We’ve also repeatedly raised our concerns that Iran is providing lethal aid to the Houthis in Yemen, including at the UN, when dhows smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis were interdicted at sea.”

Remarkably, after over eighteen months of reporting on the conflict in Yemen, the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” is still unable to meet its remit of building “global understanding” of this particular “international issue” by producing a backgrounder which tells its audiences whether or not Iran is involved in that war.

Related Articles:

Limited BBC journalistic curiosity on Iranian involvement in Yemen

BBC News portrays Iranian involvement in Yemen as ‘overplayed’

BBC News and BBC World Service report on airlift of Yemenite Jews

The news that some of the last remaining members of the Jewish community in Yemen had been airlifted to Israel brought some rare BBC reporting on the topic of Jews from Arab lands.

The story was reported on the BBC News website on March 21st in an article titled “Yemeni Jews brought to Israel in secret mission“. That accurate and impartial report even included information omitted in previous BBC reporting.

Yemenite Jews airlift art

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ also reported the story in an item (from 30:07 here) which included an interview with the Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer and then later (at 38:55, following a technical fault) with historian Tudor Parfitt.

During that conversation presenter Razia Iqbal posed the following question-cum-statement:

“…the absence of the Jewish history and culture in not just Yemen but other Arab countries is a really sad reflection of the sectarianism that exists now in the Middle East.”

Given the paucity of BBC reporting on the topic of the long history of Jews from Arab lands in general and the religious roots of some of the hostility towards them in particular, it is rather unlikely that statement would have contributed much to audience understanding of background to this story – especially with the curious insertion of the word “now”. 

Nevertheless, it was good to see some reasonable reporting on a much neglected topic.

BBC’s Doucet explains why Yemen gets less coverage than Gaza

Here, for the record, is an interesting Twitter exchange:

Jed Galilee

BBC audiences would no doubt be very interested to hear more details about the easier access and safer reporting conditions in the Gaza Strip.

But of course it is not just the volume of reporting which distinguishes the BBC’s coverage of last summer’s conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip from its reporting on the ongoing conflict in Yemen: the difference in tone of reporting is remarkable too.

With the casualty toll in Yemen having surpassed that in the Gaza Strip last year, it is worth taking a look at how that news was presented in the latest report to appear on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.Yemen report

“More than 3,000 people have been killed since a Saudi-led coalition began air strikes in March to drive back Houthi rebels and restore the government.

Aid agencies say a blockade on Yemen has worsened the humanitarian crisis which is gripping the country.

More than 80% of Yemen’s 25 million people now need some form of aid. […]

On Tuesday, the UN announced that at least 1,528 civilians were among the 3,000 dead.

Another one million civilians have been displaced by the conflict.”

Markedly absent from that factual, non-emotive account are BBC journalists’ amateur opinions on ‘international law’ and the accusations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, collective punishment and deliberate targeting of civilians which characterized the BBC’s reporting from the Gaza Strip last summer.

Moreover, the BBC has no difficulties in presenting audiences with a summary of the cause of the conflict in Yemen and does not censor integral factors leading to its outbreak or use the formula “Saudi Arabia says”.

“In recent months Yemen has descended into conflicts between several different groups, although the main fight is between forces loyal to beleaguered President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and Shia Zaidi rebels – or Houthis – who forced Mr Hadi to flee the capital Sanaa in February.

After rebel forces closed in on the president’s southern stronghold of Aden in late March, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia responded to a request by Mr Hadi to intervene and launched air strikes on Houthi targets.”

That, of course, is the difference between news and narrative.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC coverage of civilian casualties in Yemen and Gaza

BBC News portrays Iranian involvement in Yemen as ‘overplayed’

We have commented here before on the BBC’s lack of journalistic curiosity regarding the extent of Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen. On May 7th the BBC News website’s Middle East page published an article in its ‘features’ section by Dr David Roberts of King’s College, London under the title “Viewpoint: How far is Saudi-Iranian rivalry fuelling Yemen war?“. As its opening paragraphs show, the aim of that article is clearly to lead BBC audiences towards the view that claims of Iranian involvement in Yemen are overstated.Roberts article Yemen

“Sunni power Saudi Arabia has – deliberately or otherwise – projected the fighting in Yemen as a proxy war with regional Shia rival Iran, though this is a dangerous mischaracterisation of the conflict.

The Saudis see growing Iranian influence everywhere – to the north in Iraq and Syria, to the east in its own country and in Bahrain, and now pointedly to the south in Yemen.

But this view belies the complexities of Yemeni domestic politics, overemphasises the role of Iran, and is unlikely to lead to anything approaching a successful conclusion, as is being seen with the Saudi-led bombing campaign, which is yet to achieve its stated aims.”

The same theme is continued throughout the article.

“Whatever the religious similarities between the Houthis and Iran, there is an implicit notion that any commonality matters. Whether nominally united or separated by faith, it is seldom as determining a factor in action as it is fatuously perceived.”

“Nevertheless, a perennial problem with such instances is that the evidence of Iranian involvement often comes from sources that have a vested interest in plugging such a line: whether from the Saudi, Yemeni or American side.”

“Overall, the perennial resort to the “Iranian-backed Houthi fighters” logic is problematic as it simplifies the conflict too much and mandates too much of an external focus.”

Whilst the conflict in Yemen is undoubtedly rooted in domestic issues, this article does little to provide readers with objective and factual assessment of reports of Iranian involvement. Moreover, it completely ignores statements by Iranian officials including the one made by an Iranian parliamentarian after Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s capital city.

“An Iranian politician close to that country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could not contain himself. Ali Reza Zakani, an MP, boasted that Sana’a was now the fourth Arab capital in Iranian hands – after Beirut (through Hizbollah), Damascus (through President Assad) and Baghdad (through Iraq’s democratically elected Shia-led government).”

A report which appeared in the Financial Times on May 8th highlights an additional – although by no means unknown – aspect of the story.

“They are hundreds of miles apart and their local struggles have little in common, yet Lebanon’s Shia force Hizbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels are opening up about a relationship forged by sectarian politics transforming the Middle East. […]

A Hizbollah commander, who withheld his name because members are not permitted to speak to media, said Houthis and Hizbollah trained together for the past 10 years. “They trained with us in Iran, then we trained them here and in Yemen.

Hizbollah has long been suspected of channelling Iranian support to the Houthis. For years, Houthi officials have been spotted at Beirut hotels and are believed to be hosted on Iran’s dime. The Houthi television channel al-Maseera is based in Beirut’s Hizbollah-controlled southern suburbs. “There’s been an active Houthi office in Beirut, and the city has been a popular meeting place between Yemeni political groups and other regional actors for some time,” said Yemen analyst Adam Baron, a visiting fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations.”

It remains difficult to see how the BBC can claim to fulfil its remit of providing its funding public and wider audiences with a fact-based “understanding of international issues” relating to aspects of the conflict in Yemen in particular, or the already under-reported issue of Iranian policy in the Middle East in general, if it continues to avoid any serious in-depth reporting on the topic.