What does the BBC tell audiences about Iraqi attacks on Israel in 1991?

BBC portrayals of attacks on Israel during the Gulf War fall short.

Last weekend marked 29 years since the first Iraqi missile attack on Israel during the Gulf War of 1991. 

A review of available BBC online content relating to those five and a half weeks of attacks shows that anyone searching today for information on those events will find only minimal references to the topic.

The timeline in the BBC’s profile of Israel reads:

1991 January – Gulf War. Iraq fires 39 Scud missiles at Israel in failed attempt to regionalise conflict. Israel refrains from responding at US request.”

An entry for January 18th 1991 in the BBC’s ‘On This Day’ archive titled “Iraqi Scud missiles hit Israel” states:

“Iraq has attacked two Israeli cities with Scud missiles, prompting fears that Israel may be drawn into the Gulf War.

Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, its main seaport, were hit in the attacks, which began at 0300 local time (0100 GMT), when most residents were asleep.

Reports from Tel Aviv say the air was filled with the wail of sirens and minutes later up to eight missiles streaked in and exploded in balls of flame.

Residents scrambled for protective clothing and gas masks, issued to most of the population before the conflict began.

Casualties are believed to have been light – nobody was killed, and only a few people injured.

It is the first time Tel Aviv has been hit in the history of the Israel-Arab conflict.”

That latter claim is of course inaccurate: Tel Aviv was attacked by Egyptian planes during the War of Independence.

A page in a feature titled “Saddam’s Iraq: Key Events” apparently dating from around 2002 informs BBC audiences that:

“On Thursday 17 January, Iraq launched its first Scud missile strikes on Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel. […]

In total, 39 Scud missiles were fired into Israel, causing damage but few casualties.”

Another archive reported dated 2003 – titled “Flashback: 1991 Gulf War” – likewise states:

“On Thursday 17 January, Iraq launched its first Scud missile strikes on Tel Aviv and Haifa in Israel.”

A video published in 2016 – titled “BBC Archive: The 1991 Gulf War revisited” – includes footage from January 18th 1991 which is captioned:

“The first of several Iraqi scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv begins”

In other words, any student, school pupil or member of the general public searching the internet for information from the UK’s ‘trusted‘ national broadcaster about what happened in Israel between January 17th and February 28th 1991 would remain completely unaware of the fact that:

“Directly, these attacks caused 2 civilian deaths, although indirectly, they caused the following casualties: 4 heart attacks, 7 deaths as a result of incorrect use of biological/chemical warfare kits, 208 injured, 225 cases of unnecessary injection of atropine. Damage to general property consisted of 1,302 houses, 6,142 apartments, 23 public buildings, 200 shops and 50 cars.”

And:

“Since the beginning of the war, most Israel[is] stayed indoors, and the country’s economy suffered as a result. Schools were closed and tourism came to a standstill.” 

Once again the BBC’s “permanent public record” is found wanting.

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