In the self-sensationalising world of modern media, some truths are better witnessed than told. Over the past fortnight, major media outlets have focused on Syria’s alleged delivery of scud missiles to the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah. By examining how the story first came to light, as well as the manner in which media sources have covered the story uncritically, one begins to notice the degenerate state of today’s media and its deeply polarising effects.
On 11th April a Kuwaiti daily, Al-Rai Al-Aam, broke the “scud missiles” story. Relying solely on American sources, the author Husain Abdul-Husain claimed that both western and Israeli intelligence had uncovered the training of Hezbollah resistance fighters in Syria in the use of scud and surface-to-air missiles. The training, we were told, took place last summer. Subsequent to this “discovery”, the article adds, Israel threatened Syria through official Turkish and Qatari channels warning against the transfer of either of the two weapons to Hezbollah.
Western coverage of the story has been an unquestioned regurgitation of the original claims made in the Al-Rai Al-Aam article. Further signified by an overriding infatuation with Israel’s security, political commentators have even sought to draw parallels between Saddam and the alleged Syrian scud missiles. Despite the suffocating miasma of cowardly, lazy journalism redolent in western reporting, the parallel was not lost on the Lebanese prime minister. Speaking to a group of Lebanese citizens in Rome, Saad Hariri noted: “All this is similar to what was said previously about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that were never found.”
True to form, not one mainstream media outlet dared make any mention of America’s pledge of roughly $3 billion per annum in military aid to Israel. One does not need speculative reports in Al-Rai Al-Aam to verify the above, nor does it demand superior intelligence to discern that the annual US ritual of rearming Israel constitutes an “equilibrium-breaking” military development. What is required, however, is what appears to be impossible: leading western commentators need to look at and consider developments, even fleetingly, other than through the eyes of Israel.
If this was done, we would see a hefty list of overlooked “strategic balance altering” developments. The Obama administration’s decision in January of this year, for instance, to double US arms-stockpiles in Israel to a total value of $800 million to be used by the Zionist state in times of “emergency” certainly fits the description of military “game-changers”.
All of this is not surprising. As a rule of thumb, the media’s blinkered strategy of reserving scare-mongering terms like “WMDs” for the West’s adversaries is taken for granted, with no need for any explicit mention. Language in this sense is a tool to distort reality, not to explain it; an instrument to erect barriers, rather than build bridges.
Notwithstanding issues of accuracy in the original article, a telling omission from western reporting was a clear failure to question the timing behind Syria’s alleged transfer of the scuds. Had leading media outlets adhered to even a nominal degree of objectivity, they would have no doubt stumbled upon Israeli provocations such as foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s impudent words directed at President Assad. In early February of this year, the extreme right-wing zealot threatened Syria with regime change in a show of brazen chutzpah, which is in fact symbolic of how Israel views and applies itself in the regional – indeed, the world context.
The brouhaha over Syria’s alleged transfer of scud missiles is designed to serve as a giant big smokescreen. It is now an open secret that Hezbollah is capable of striking Tel Aviv and beyond. In mid-February of this year the resistance movement’s secretary-general, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, stated in very explicit terms that should Israel bomb the Dahiye suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah would respond with strikes on Tel Aviv; blow for blow. Virtually the whole of Israel is within striking range of Hezbollah, just as every inch of the entire Middle East and on into Europe is within range of Israel’s missiles – including its nuclear arsenal.
The principle motives behind the artificial media-frenzy over the scud missiles issue are multi-fold, but have little to do with so-called “equilibrium-breaking” weapons in the hands of the Lebanese resistance.
Both Israel and the US are seeking to detach Syria from the resistane-bloc constituted primarily of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Since the Clean Break strategy authored in 1996, Syria has been referred to as the lynchpin connecting Israel’s foes. Over the past year, US and Israeli experts have elevated the Syrian file to top-level priority within the Middle Eastern context.
On the eve of Robert Ford’s confirmation as US ambassador to Syria, the emergence of the scud missiles allegations should be read as political arm-wrestling. Admittedly, on this issue the Arab centre (alternatively referred to as the moderate bloc) and Israel share an interest in slowing down the rapprochement between Washington and Damascus, albeit for different reasons. Through the negative focus that has resulted from the alleged delivery of scud missiles, the US-Israeli axis aims to send a clear message to Damascus that its relationship with Hezbollah is a strategic liability. The thawing of ties between the West and Syria could in the future just as easily regress due to its links to the resistance.
Secondly, Israel misses no chance to wave before the world the ubiquitous “S” word in order to mask its aggressive colonial-settler project. By depicting itself continually as a nation constantly under threat, the Zionist state has sought to gain legitimacy and skewed sympathy. In thrall to Israel’s ever-rapacious “security” appetite, western commentators have overlooked gross violations of human rights and, indeed, war crimes. In this vein, Israel passed a military order on 13th April, which legalises the deportation of thousands of Palestinians from their West Bank homes. Instead of highlighting the woes of a displaced nation – time and time again – inflicted by a racist colonial-settler project, western journalists have instead zoomed in on an alleged scud missile delivery. Note the word “alleged”. It is as if they are saying that the Zionist state’s daily ethnic cleansing in Al-Quds is of no importance when considered against an alleged scud-missile delivery.
To reasonable individuals, the media’s handling of the scud missiles story is representative of a hereditary bias in western reporting of the Middle East. The accusation of double standards no longer captures adequately the sheer enormity of this insidious prejudice. It looks as if politics in the western hemisphere is all about recycling inappropriate clichés, advancing old power-politics paradigms and bringing to bear its own sacred cows in the global arena. Ditto the media reporting. Plus ça change.
Ali Jawad is a political activist and member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.