A key ‘mainstream’ media theme in covering the Israeli army’s repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel’s military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as ‘clashes’.
This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.
To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a ‘clash’ suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a ‘clash’. There was no ‘clash’ in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.
Following Israel’s massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, ‘mainstream’ coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:
‘Israel retaliates after Iran “fires 20 rockets” at army in occupied Golan Heights’ (Our emphasis)
For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression – they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.
The BBC reported of Israel’s attacks:
‘They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights.’ (Our emphasis)
Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:
‘Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria
‘Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.’ (Our emphasis)
The New York Times also reported:
‘It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier.’ (Our emphasis)
And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:
‘Iran’s rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday.’ (Our emphasis)
According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.
So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:
‘Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.’
Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:
‘On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised – they were often shown as merely “responding” to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).’
Was Iran Skirmishing?
But was Iran even involved at all? The opening, highlighted sentence in a front-page BBC piece by diplomatic editor Jonathan Marcus left the reader in no doubt:
‘These are the first skirmishes in a potential war between Israel and Iran that promises a fearful level of destruction – even by the standards of the modern Middle East.’
So this was a ‘skirmish’, a clash involving Israel and Iran – they were both involved in the combat. And yet, in the second half of the article, Marcus wrote:
‘The alleged Iranian attack last night – I say alleged because at this stage there is no confirmation from Iranian sources as to the precise authors of the attack – involved a single and relatively short-range system, what appears to have been a multiple-barrelled rocket launcher.’
How can the Iranian attack be merely ‘alleged’ half-way down the article but a bald fact in the highlighted opening sentence?
In fact, not only has there been ‘no confirmation’, there has been outright Iranian rejection of the claims. Abolfazl Hassan-Baygi, deputy head of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, commented:
‘Iran has nothing to do with the missiles that struck the enemy entity yesterday.’
Associated Press (AP) reported Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi commenting that Israel’s attacks were based on ‘fabricated and baseless excuses’, and were a breach of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.
AP quoted a senior Lebanese politician and close ally of Syria and Iran, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as saying: ‘this time the Syrian retaliation was in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights but next time it will be in Israel proper’. (Our emphasis)
Later in his BBC piece, Marcus wrote:
‘The immediate tensions stem from an Israeli air strike on what they claimed was an Iranian drone facility at the so-called T-4 air base, near Palmyra, on 9 April, which reportedly killed several Iranian military advisers.’
This again challenged the idea that Israel had ‘retaliated’, but again it was not given the kind of prominence that could challenge Israel’s version of events.
So the ‘skirmishes’ may actually have consisted of Israel first attacking an Iranian drone facility killing Iranian personnel, and then launching a massive attack against Iranian positions across Syria, without Iran responding at all. And yet Marcus wrote:
‘It is a conflict that needs to be averted and the time to do it is now. However Israel and Iran remain on a collision course.’
Despite the uncertainty on whether Iran had attacked, Marcus concluded:
‘Iran’s strategic intent is clear…it is unlikely to be dissuaded from its efforts.’
‘Israel has drawn its red lines and it is clearly not going to back down either.’
Obama also famously drew his ‘red line’ in Syria in 2012, threatening a massive attack in the event of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. But for Marcus, Israel’s actual launch of a massive attack merely constituted the drawing of ‘red lines’.
And again, ignoring his own doubts about what had happened, the required warmongering ‘balance’ was favoured:
‘For the immediate future, the pattern of strike, attempted riposte, and counter-strike is likely to continue.’
If it had started at all! Marcus concluded his article with three ominous lines identifying another threat alongside the danger of Israel drawing more ‘red lines’ with more massive attacks:
‘One clear danger is that Iran may seek to exact its revenge outside the Middle East.
‘Pro-Iranian factions have in the past attacked Israeli tourists abroad or Jewish organisations, notably in Latin America.
‘A successful terrorist attack of this kind would inevitably alter the picture, pushing Israel and Iran to the brink of a full-scale war.’
The word ‘terrorist’ thus made its first appearance in the last line of Marcus’s piece, in reference to a hypothetical Iranian atrocity.
The idea that Israel might already have committed terrorist atrocities in Syria by launching unprovoked attacks, by illegal bombings committed completely outside of international law, is unthinkable.