BBC reports on alleged air strikes: high on speculation, low on context

Despite the dearth of verifiable information on the subject, the BBC has produced several reports on the subject of the alleged recent Israeli air strikes on a target or targets in Lebanon and/or Syria. 

On January 30th the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an initial speculative report entitled “Israeli ‘air strike on convoy on Syria-Lebanon border’“. On January 31st several more items appeared including one about the Russian response to the various reports which included the prize quote: 

“The Russian Foreign Ministry said: “If this information is confirmed, then we are dealing with unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the UN Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.” “

Other BBC reports on the subject include a filmed item shown on BBC television, an article by the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus and a Q&A piece.

Both the latter items are notable for the fact that they appear to very sloppily conflate the terrorist organization Hizballah with the official Lebanese armed forces. Marcus writes:

“The suggestion from US reports is that the air strike was an attempt to prevent the Syrian authorities handing over modern air defence systems to Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. The weapon in question is thought to be the SA-17 – a modern Russian system which comprises four missiles on a tracked launcher, that also carries an associated radar system.

This would be a significant enhancement of Hezbollah’s capabilities potentially limiting Israel’s freedom of operation in Lebanon’s skies.

The Lebanese authorities clearly object to Israel’s almost routine infringement of their air-space but have very little ability to do much about it. The SA-17 could change that.”

The Q&A article states:

“Some four years ago, the then Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that it would not tolerate what it called “game-changing” weapons being transferred to Hezbollah. This included sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, anti-shipping missiles, or long-range ground-to-ground missiles. The Lebanese authorities clearly object to Israel’s almost routine infringement of their airspace but have very little ability to do much about it. The SA-17 could change that.”

However, if indeed a consignment of SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles was on its way to Lebanon, that would not – as claimed by the BBC – change the capabilities of the “Lebanese authorities” because those missiles were not being sent to the Lebanese army, but instead to the militia of a terrorist organization. And if that happened, it would of course be considerably more difficult for Israel or any other outside force such as NATO to subsequently prevent the transfer of chemical or other weapons from Syria to Hizballah. Given Hizballah’s alliance with the Assad regime, that scenario would put civilians in several countries – and not only Israel – at risk. 

Particularly interesting is the fact that in none of the BBC reports is there any mention of UN SC resolution 1701 (2006) which includes the following clause:

“Emphasizes the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the Government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon”. 

Resolution 1701 also calls for:

“– full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;

— no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;

— no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

And in addition:

“Calls upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and other entry points to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms or related materiel and requests UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11 to assist the Government of Lebanon at its request;

Decides further that all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft:

(a)  The sale or supply to any entity or individual in Lebanon of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories”

Were BBC audiences informed of the utter failure of the international community to enforce that resolution over the past seven years – and those that came before it – they would perhaps better comprehend the illegality of the transfer of weapons to Hizballah, the subsequent need for Israeli air surveillance in Lebanon and the context of any air strikes which may or may not have taken place. 



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