BBC Monitoring plays down Saudi concerns over Iranian nuclear programme

As was noted here last week, the BBC’s coverage in the run-up to the Israeli prime minister’s recent address to the US Congress on the subject of the Iranian nuclear programme was remarkable for the fact that its framing steered BBC audiences towards the inaccurate view that Israel is the only country in the region with concerns on that issue.

In what might at first glance appear to signal an attempt to correct that distortion, the BBC News website published an article in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of its Middle East page on March 6th under the title “Saudi and Israel Iran anxieties align“. Written by BBC Monitoring media analyst Steve Metcalf, the piece opens as follows:Metcalf art on ME pge

“That Saudi commentators should make approving remarks about a speech by an Israeli prime minister – as they did this week – is not surprising given the subject of Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress on Tuesday: the threat from Iran.

Despite their many differences, Saudi Arabia and Israel have long shared a common concern about Iran’s growing regional influence and increasing military capabilities.”

Oddly, no link is provided to the articles written by Saudi commentators and no quotes from them are included in order to provide audiences with a sense of the actual nature of those “approving remarks”.

Moreover, having presented a very soft, misleading – but revealing – portrayal of Iran’s assorted interventions across the Middle East which notably excludes its material support for terrorist organisations, Metcalf closes his article with the suggestion that those Saudi commentators may actually be concerned about issues other than the Iranian nuclear programme.

“It is debateable [sic] whether Iran’s increased profile and military involvement across the region is the result of a grand strategic design, an opportunistic exploitation of events, or an indication of the desperate straits that some of its allies find themselves in.

Although there few signs [sic] of public domestic opposition, it must be taking its toll on a budget that also has to cope with the cost of international sanctions and falling oil prices.

So Saudi support for the Israeli prime minister’s warnings about a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could be as much about concern over an Iran freed from sanctions as about its nuclear capability.”

But is Metcalf’s assertion supported by the statements made in the op-eds which are the basis for his article and his theory?

In a March 2nd article for the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Jazirah, Dr Ahmad Al-Faraj wrote:

“Since Obama […] is working to sign an agreement with Iran that will come at the expense of the U.S.’s longtime allies in the Gulf, I am very glad of Netanyahu’s firm stance and [his decision] to speak against the nuclear agreement at the American Congress despite the Obama administration’s anger and fury. I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents.”

Obviously the Iranian nuclear programme is of concern to that particular Saudi commentator.Metcalf art

On March 3rd Faisal J. Abbas – the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English – wrote:

“The Israeli PM managed to hit the nail right on the head when he said that Middle Eastern countries are collapsing and that “terror organizations, mostly backed by Iran, are filling in the vacuum” during a recent ceremony held in Tel Aviv to thank outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz for his role during “challenging” times.

In just a few words, Mr. Netanyahu managed to accurately summarize a clear and present danger, not just to Israel (which obviously is his concern), but to other U.S. allies in the region. […]

Just to be clear, nobody disagrees that ridding Iran of its nuclear ambitions is paramount. And if this can be achieved peacefully, then it would be even better. However, any reasonable man CAN’T possibly turn a blind eye to the other realities on the ground. […]

… the real Iranian threat is not JUST the regime’s nuclear ambitions, but its expansionist approach and state-sponsored terrorism activities which are still ongoing.”

Clearly Mr Abbas is concerned not only about Iran’s regional interventions but also about its nuclear programme.

Had readers been provided with links to both those articles, they would have been able to judge for themselves the relevance of Steve Metcalf’s rather transparent attempt to downplay Saudi (and wider Gulf region) concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme. But they weren’t – and so BBC audiences remain inadequately informed with regard to that issue. 

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