By Sharmine Narwani
You would think Rupert Murdoch had enough troubles on his hands. You might even imagine that the evidence of illegal doings hemorrhaging from his now-defunct News of the World tabloid would urge him – at least temporarily – to slam the brakes on journalistic hackery throughout his media empire.
Instead, last Friday, Murdoch’s UK flagship paper, The Times of London, published a highly implausible piece alleging that Syria has transferred Scuds to Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah – and quoting only the anonymous and increasingly ubiquitous “western sources,” “intelligence sources” and “Israeli sources” that seem to accompany all Middle East news items guaranteed to eventually be debunked by history.
This story is already dead in the water, attesting to its fundamental lack of credibility. The United Nations Security Council would be passing a resolution right about now if the article had any legs to it – especially in light of its trigger-happy readiness to churn out resolutions on Syria and Lebanon in recent years.
But the question remains – why do Murdoch and others with editorial agendas manage to get away with planting propaganda pieces disguised as news?
I have not linked to the Times article because it is behind a pay wall, but these are the highlights of the piece by Richard Beeston, Nicholas Blanford and Sheera Frenkel entitled “Assad Builds Secret “Missile City” As He Arms Hezbollah With Long-Range Scuds:”
With the help of experts from Iran and North Korea, Damascus is pressing ahead with its development of sophisticated missiles at a secret site nicknamed “missile city” built into Jebel Taqsis, a mountain near the opposition stronghold of Hama…The missile programme is allegedly run by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre in Damascus, an organisation that is already on a US sanctions list….The Times reported last year that Hezbollah had taken delivery of two advanced Scud-D surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 700km (430 miles). Since then the Syrians have handed over eight more of the ballistic weapons, which have been assembled with the help of North Korean experts…
The article then goes on to claim:
Sources close to Hezbollah told The Times that the flow of weapons entering the Bekaa Valley from Syria accelerated in March when protests erupted against the Assad regime. One Hezbollah fighter joked that the scale of the arms shipments into Lebanon was so great that “we don’t know where to put it all”. Another said it was only a contingency measure. “We can send it all back when things calm down in Syria” he said.
Sources, Sources, Sources
I can tell you with near certainty that an actual “Hezbollah fighter” would not be caught dead talking about the group’s alleged weapons with a reporter. In the course of my research, I have met at length with an array of Hezbollah officials, including their former southern chief Sheikh Nabil Kaouk. The group never provides information about their military capabilities, weapons systems, troop numbers or whereabouts unless publically stated by their officials, and that, usually, as a pre-emptive decision to further a deterrence stance.
Information about Hezbollah’s military capabilities are on a need to know basis only, and it is doubtful that even the organization’s most prominent public figures in Lebanon – the non-military faces of the group – know anything of value about weapons caches or positions, let alone a mere “fighter” or “sources close to Hezbollah.”
One of the article’s authors Nicholas Blanford – Beirut correspondent for The Times – in his well-received 2009 book Killing Mr. Lebanon doesn’t even manage to get past the first few pages without referring to Hezbollah’s legendary “veil of secrecy.”
In this, Blanford is spot on. The idea that a Hezbollah fighter – whose very life depends on the element of surprise in any battle with Israel – would reveal information about weapons to a journalist, of all people, is akin to suggesting that a veteran Navy Seal soused to the gills in a bar in Faluja would wax poetic about the “secret” location of a sophisticated new cache of American arms to a bunch of bearded strangers.
What galls most, however, is that the Times article provides not a single on-the-record source on news of this significance. I understand fully that journalists are sometimes faced with publishing pieces with no source on record – that is the nature of the information business, where many sources will not risk jobs, careers and lives to lend their names to a story. But usually the rule of thumb is to use anonymous information when it is not evidently self-serving.
To publish a piece that maligns Western foes Syria and Hezbollah using exclusively Western and Israeli diplomatic and intelligence sources cannot reasonably be viewed as much more than propaganda. The quotes by a “Hezbollah fighter” and “sources close to Hezbollah” excepted, of course. Those strain credulity for anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the highly-disciplined and tight-lipped organization.
As a consequence, the Times article reads like an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) press release, and there have been plenty of those detailing unprovable or patently false Hezbollah-weapons stories over the years. (more…)