When, in late 2018 and early 2019, Israel discovered several tunnels dug underneath its northern border, the BBC failed to provide its audiences with the full range of background information necessary for proper understanding of that story.
As had been its practice for years, the corporation again refrained from adequately informing audiences on the relevant topic of the UN Security Council resolutions relating to southern Lebanon and the UN force which is supposed to oversee their implementation, while avoiding the issue of violations of UNSC resolution 1701 by Hizballah and Iran.
That editorial policy has largely continued and so when the BBC’s Tom Bateman revisited the topic of those cross-border tunnels in the July 15th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’, listeners were already at a disadvantage.
The introduction (from 14:05 here) given by presenter Razia Iqbal (who, readers may recall, had doubts about the purpose of those tunnels) included interesting but unmerited use of the word ‘frenzy’ – i.e. “a state or period of uncontrolled excitement or wild behaviour” – to describe a tour to the area for twelve foreign diplomats which had taken place a few days earlier. Iqbal predictably downplayed Hizballah’s widespread designation as a terrorist organisation and Iran’s sponsorship of that militia.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Iqbal: “To Israel now, which has been engaged in a diplomatic frenzy, taking foreign ambassadors to its northern border with Lebanon. It’s warning of what it sees as the ongoing risk from the Lebanese militant group Hizballah. Others warn that regional tensions between Israel and Iran, which backs Hizballah, are increasing the risk of a flare-up. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports now from northern Israel.”
Bateman too is apparently still unconvinced about the purpose of tunnels quarried through solid limestone, under an international border, by a terror group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
Bateman: “A descent deep beneath Israel’s northern frontier. Air is pumped in, moisture drips from the rock. […] The tunnel was dug from Lebanon by Hizballah, drilling about a meter a day says the IDF’s spokesman Jonathan Conricus. The Israeli military wanted to show me the tunnel, one of six they exposed 18 months ago. He says they would have been used for a raid into Israel to kill or abduct soldiers or civilians.” […]
Bateman: “Israel’s been drawing fresh attention to the tunnels, recently giving tours to Western ambassadors. It complains that the UN peace-keeping force along the border – UNIFIL – is prevented from fully monitoring Hizballah. The two sides last fought a war in 2006 and the rhetoric is always heated.”
One may have assumed that the BBC’s correspondent would at that point expand on the topic of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and the consequences of UNIFIL’s failure to meet its objectives but instead Bateman changed the subject.
Bateman: “Amid Lebanon’s economic crisis Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah appeared on TV last week. He warned of dangerous consequences for the region over Israel’s recent plans to annex Palestinian territories.”
Not only has Israel not yet presented any such “plans” but the area potentially concerned is not – and never has been – “Palestinian territories” but parts of Area C, which under the terms of the Oslo Accords remained under Israeli control pending negotiations.
Failing to provide listeners with an accurate and impartial view of the nature and extent of Hizballah’s influence in Lebanon or to explain what exactly the terror organisation is supposedly ‘resisting’, Bateman went on to introduce the first of two non-local contributors to his report.
Bateman: “Hizballah is dominant in Lebanon, backed by Iran. Seen by much of the West as a terrorist group, it’s viewed by its supporters as a resistance force against Israel. It benefits from tensions on the border says Lina Khatib from the think-tank Chatham House. But she says for now an all-out conflict is not in its interests.”
Khatib: “In the past Lebanon’s problems were largely security based such as the Israeli occupation when it happened up to 2000 and Hizballah would come and say we are the solution. But now Hizballah is left to fight this other challenge which is economic deterioration which it is not well equipped to do.”
No effort was made to explain to listeners why Hizballah continues to exist two decades after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, why the country is experiencing “economic deterioration” or why, according to Khatib, a terrorist organisation is “left to fight” that economic crisis.
Bateman: “But a flare-up can start well beyond this border. Part of the strategic battle between Israel and Iran is fought in Syria. This was an Israeli airstrike last August, outside Damascus, to stop an Iranian armed drone attack, said Israel. It killed two Hizballah operatives. The group later fired anti-tank missiles across the Lebanon-Israel border, narrowly missing Israeli troops. Israel tries to roll back the influence of Iran, which uses Syria to transfer weapons to Hizballah. Randa Slim of the Middle East Institute in Washington says the group’s programme to develop precision-guided missiles is in Israel’s sights.”
Slim: “At some point they have to get to the senior leadership in that programme, either Iranian or Lebanese. Then it’s going to be too costly for Hizballah not to respond, reputation-wise.”
Bateman: “Do you think that’s inevitable then, that kind of development?”
Slim: “I think the course that the two parties are on right now, I think it is inevitably a collision course.”
Listeners were not provided with any further information concerning the Hizballah-Iran precision missile project before Bateman closed his report with a cursory reference to the upcoming annual review of the mandate of the UN force that has failed to implement UNSC resolution 1701 which is the context to the tour of the tunnels by foreign diplomats that opened this item.
Bateman: “The UN is due to review the peace-keeping mandate next month. Both countries will watch closely, like they do here at one of the region’s most combustible borders.”
As we see, throughout his four-minute report Tom Bateman managed to avoid providing listeners with much of the information essential for understanding of the background to both that UN review and the wider destabilisation of Lebanon by Iran and Hizballah.