Reviewing BBC reports on Ukraine tagged ‘Israel’

In recent days the BBC News website has published two items tagged ‘Israel’ relating to the Russian attacks on Ukraine using Iranian weapons.

On the evening of October 19th a report by Tom Bateman titled “Israel’s balancing act over Ukraine grows trickier after drone strikes” appeared on the ‘Middle East’ page.

In the opening paragraph readers are told that:

“Israel has repeated its long-standing refusal to sell air defence weapons to Ukraine despite a fresh appeal from Kyiv after this week’s “kamikaze” drone strikes.”

Later in the report Bateman links to a Tweet from journalist Barak Ravid:

“This week, Ukraine told Israel it wanted to obtain weapons, including Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries, Barak (or “Lightning”) 8 systems to defend against ship-launched missiles, Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and the new “Iron Beam” anti-rocket laser device. […]

Israel’s best known air defences are its Iron Dome batteries, jointly developed with the US, which are primarily used to shoot down short-range rockets fired by Palestinian militants. […]

But analysts say it would have limited effectiveness in Ukraine, whose land mass is around 30 times that of Israel, and which Russia targets with much longer-range weapons, including cruise missiles.”

Ukraine’s minister of defence has himself said in the past that the Iron Dome would not meet his country’s needs.

Bateman does not clarify that Israel currently does not have any Iron Dome batteries to spare or that even if it did, US approval would be needed for such a sale. Neither does he tell readers that the Iron Beam system is not yet operational or that the Patriot system is made in America rather than Israel.

Addressing the same topic, Israeli journalist and analyst Alon Ben David noted that:

“It is unpleasant to say, but we cannot trust the Ukrainians to know how to protect our sensitive technologies. […] Israel cannot entrust Ukraine, in its current state, with technologies on which our lives depend. Certainly not when it is fighting against an ally of Iran.

Israel does not have redundant air defense systems, and it does not have Iron Dome batteries lying on the shelf. Every air defense battery and every interceptor delivered to Ukraine will be subtracted from our defense capabilities.”

Bateman’s explanation of Israel’s approach focuses on two relevant points, one of which is concern for the Jewish community in Russia and the other Israel’s ability to take necessary action in Syria:

“Israel’s reluctance to be drawn into weapons sales to Ukraine – even amid Iran’s reported arming of Russia – stems from the impact it believes the decision could have in the Middle East.

Israel effectively treats Russia like a neighbouring power with whom it “walks on eggshells”, according to the Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman.

Russia has controlled much of the airspace over Israel’s northern neighbour Syria since it entered the civil war in 2015 to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Israel frequently launches air strikes into Syria targeting Iranian proxy fighters and Iranian weapons transfers to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Preserving this – what is known in Israel as military “freedom of action” in Syria – has been a priority for Israel’s security establishment. Its concern, among others, is that aggravating Moscow would lead to further Iranian entrenchment in Syria, and advanced weapons getting to Hezbollah.”

However, readers are also told that:

“Israeli officials did not comment on a media report on Wednesday that claimed Israel had not carried out strikes in Syria for over a month. The report led some to question whether its co-ordination with Moscow had deteriorated.”

Those unattributed ‘questions’ were answered two days after the appearance of Bateman’s report.

On October 21st  an article by former BBC journalist Jonathan Marcus appeared on the same page of the BBC News website under the headline “Ukraine war: Growing Russia-Iran ties pose new dangers”. Around a third of that report – which is also tagged ‘Israel’ – relates opaquely to Israel’s operations in Syria while avoiding the obviously relevant topic of Iranian weapons transfers to Hizballah.

“But Russia, which still maintains a presence in Syria, has never been enthusiastic about Tehran’s regional ambitions there. However it has not acted to contain Iranian influence in quite the way Israel would have wished. That said, it has done little to thwart Israeli air strikes aimed at reversing Iran’s build-up in Syria.

Could the new dynamic in Russia-Iranian relations change this? While some Russian air defences and troops have been removed from Syria Moscow still has the capacity to interfere with Israeli operations.

This has been one of the guiding concerns influencing Israel’s tentative support for Ukraine.

But what of the future? Suppose for example that Russia decided to transfer even more advanced weaponry to Iran in return for its assistance, what then? Might this prompt a shift in Israel’s attitude to Kyiv?

That for now, with an Israeli general election looming, seems unlikely. But the new Russia-Iran relationship has the potential to impact global affairs way beyond the war in Ukraine.”

Marcus fails to explain the supposed relevance of Israel’s upcoming election to his argument or what manner of “shift in Israel’s attitude” he thinks might be prompted by such a scenario.

As long-time readers will be aware, with rare exceptions, the BBC has failed over the years to give its audiences a clear and accurate picture of Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and Iranian financing and supply of weapons to the Lebanese terror group Hizballah.

That serial omission (along with others) clearly compromises the ability of BBC audiences to understand the story now being reported.

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