Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's With SBS World News?

SBS Television's screening of The Promise is one thing. Its 6.30 pm World News coverage of the Middle East, though, is quite another, with some of its reports, on Iran and Syria in particular, in the distinctly dodgy category.

Given that SBS (and the ABC) provides no transcripts of its news reports, the dodgies tend to escape the kind of rap over the knuckles they so richly deserve. One item in tonight's news, however, proved so dodgy that I actually went to the trouble of preparing my own transcript. The offending item, which will probably disappear into the ether within days, if it hasn't already done so, was dubbed Friends of Syria. Here it is in italics, along with my comments:

Lee Lin Chin:

Syria's bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters has drawn global criticism but the country still has a few friends on its side, among them Iran and its powerful and far-reaching Quds security force.

Far-reaching? Please explain! And as for friends, what about the ones that really matter: "Despite the diplomatic crisis Syria now faces, Mr Assad still boasts strong local support. 'There's good reason why 55% of Syrians polled recently still support Assad. They prefer his (flawed) promise of security and stability to the (untested) opposition's offer of a democracy enveloped in blood', Ed Hussain, a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, wrote in The New York Times. 'Assad's appeal is not that he offers freedom, but security'." (Russians to push Assad for reform, Ruth Pollard & Dylan Welch, Sydney Morning Herald, 8/2/12)

Brian Todd Reporting, Al-Jazeera:

Al-Jazeera? The fast-talking American, Brian Todd, is actually a CNN correspondent. Linking him to Al-Jazeera could be a cock-up. It could also, however, be a cover-up. Is SBS attempting to disguise blatant CNN propaganda by passing off Todd as an Al-Jazeera correspondent and hoping we won't notice? Later in the piece, as you'll see, Todd refers to his CNN employer directly.

A crackdown that's brutal, relentless and possibly part of a frightening collaboration. The commander of Iran's notorious Quds force has been inside Syria recently according to various media outlets. One report in the Haaretz newspaper says he's even been inside the war room of Syria's Bashar al-Asad helping Asad direct his forces.

Possibly... various media outlets: How vague is that? Haaretz: Isn't it interesting that Todd omits the adjective Israeli when mentioning Haaretz?

The Quds force, the secretive, lethal arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Its leader a shadowy, ominous figure, General Qassem Suleimani.

Secretive... lethal... shadowy... ominous: This is the news?

Concern among US officials about Qassem Suleimani goes all the way to the top. Here at the Treasury Department he's been cited more than once for his repression of the Syrian people during this uprising and for taking part in terrorist plots.

Oh well, if the US Treasury Department says it's so, who am I to quibble? Still, for such a secretive, shadowy guy, Treasury sure seems to know a lot about him.

Treasury officials say Suleimani oversaw the Quds force officers involved in the alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, and analyst Matthew Levitt, who's written books about Iran's proxy in Lebanon, the terrorist group Hezbollah, says Suleimani's imprint is on some well known operations:

Matthew Levitt? Deputy assistant secretary for intelligence & analysis at the Treasury Department, former 'senior fellow' with Ziocon think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), that is.

'We have the attacks in Argentina. We have the attack on the Khobar Towers*. We have lots of surveillance of US officials and diplomatic installations'.

Oh, and he'd know wouldn't he? As Sara Roy, of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, has written of Levitt's book on Hamas: "[It] has many serious flaws and merits a detailed critique that extends well beyond the scope of this review. His is not a work of analysis or scholarship, to say the least, and despite certain points that are interesting and accurate, anyone wishing to gain a substantive, reasoned and critical understanding of Hamas would do well to look elsewhere." (Book Review,

Analysts say Qassem Suleimani is known as an aggressive commander. He's been called the sharp point of the Iranian spear, a rising star since the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s when he led a series of daring missions behind Iraqi lines. He is such a powerful figure now experts say that he reports directly to Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei, not to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In the Syrian conflict... (to Levitt): 'What could he bring to the Syrians that they don't already have?

Well, you took the words right out of my mouth, Brian. Has anyone noticed the following recurring trope: The Iranians were supposedly so hopeless at putting down their own popular protests in 2009 that they needed the help of Lebanon's Hezbollah. Now, apparently, the Syrians are supposedly so hopeless at putting down theirs that they need the help of the Iranians, who were once supposedly so hopeless at putting down theirs they they needed the help of... Get the picture? (See my 28/1/12 post With My Own Eyes! Really!) This is getting rather silly, guys.

[Matthew Levitt speaking] 'We know that Iran, for example, provided Syria with the technical capability to follow Facebook and social media to be able to see where the next protest was going to be. We suspect and are concerned about Quds Force providing training and in fact weapons for advanced snipers and things like that'.

You couldn't possibly expect the technologically-challenged Syrians to handle all this on their own, could you?

It was the Quds force, analysts say, that played the key role in suppressing the 2009 Green Revolution inside Iran. Why would Iran send such a key figure to Syria?

Now I'm confused. If the Quds Force are so damn hot (Iran, Iran-Iraq War, whatever), how come Lebanon's Hezbollah was supposedly needed in 2009?

Aram Nerguizian, Centre for Strategic Studies: 'The loss of a strategic ally like Syria's Asad regime would be a critical blow to an Iran that looks at the region, sees a US that has withdrawn from Iraq, a Gulf that is up for grabs from a geo-political standpoint'.

Analysts say that's because Syria is a key pipeline for weapons, supplies and trainers sent from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and similar aid to another group the US considers a terrorist organization, Hamas.

Analysts? Would that be Ziocon or Israeli analysts by any chance?

Contacted by CNN, a Syrian official at the UN would not comment on the report of Qassem Suleimani being inside Syria other than to say that the Haaretz newspaper is hostile to Syria. An Iranian official at the UN did not respond.

Other than to say, Bugger off, Brian!?

For your interest, these are the SBS junketeers (that I know of) who've taken the Kool-Aid in Israel recently (See my 30/3/09 post I've been to Israel too):

Brian Thomson, SBS senior correspondent - 2012
Peter Charley, producer, Insight - 2008
Paul Cutler, SBS TV News & Current Affairs - 2007

NB: In a similar report from the UK's Daily Telegraph, its Washington correspondent, Alex Spillius cited the NATO/Saudi/Qatari-backed, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated, anti-Asad Syrian National Council (SNC) as the source for an alleged visit by Suleimani to Syria "to advise the regime on repressing protests and the armed resistance."

The headline for Spillius' piece in the February 9 edition of the Telegraph read Syria: Iran's elite Quds force 'advising Assad regime'. Spillius' article also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of February 11 but the Herald's headline treated the SNC allegation as fact: Iran sends head of elite force to Syria to advise Assad [sic] regime on repression tactics.

[*See US officials leaked false story blaming Iran for Khobar attack, Gareth Porter,, 24/6/09.]

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