Half Full but Two-Thirds Empty: Washington Post Hezbollah-Israel Report

Sometimes half-full, two-thirds empty describes a news report. It applies to The Washington Post’s “Israel on alert over growth of Hezbollah; But neither the country nor the military group wants another war” (July 24, 2016 in print, July 23 online).

By William Booth, The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, the article reviewed the Israeli-Hezbollah standoff 10 years after their 2006 war in Lebanon. The respected Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs thought it substantive enough to include in the July 25 edition of the Daily Alert it assembles for wide distribution by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

The dispatch does include useful background, including details on Hezbollah’s modernized weaponry, Israeli intelligence on the movement’s transformation of “hundreds of villages in southern Lebanon into covert fire bases with hidden launch pads” and the observation that “another Lebanon war could be devastating, especially for civilians” on both sides.

Unfortunately, a major error and significant omissions undermined “Israel on alert over growth of Hezbollah.”

The article erroneously stated that “the second Lebanon war broke out in July 2006 after Hezbollah kidnapped a pair of Israeli soldiers on the border” and “Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers at the border, which sparked a sustained aerial and ground war by Israeli forces—and tough resistance by Hezbollah.”
In fact, the war began on July 12, 2006 this way:
  1. Hezbollah fired mortars and rockets at the Israeli village of Shlomi;
  2. Under cover of that unprovoked fire, Hezbollah gunmen crossed the Lebanese-Israeli border into Israel near the village of Zarit and attacked an Israel Defense Forces patrol consisting of two Humvees and their crews;
  3. Three Israeli soldiers were killed immediately, three severely wounded and two kidnapped and killed;
  4. Five more Israeli soldiers, sent to rescue those kidnapped, also were killed;
  5. Israel responded with fighter-bombers and artillery, and a naval blockade, with only small infantry incursions into Lebanon for 10 days;
  6. Hezbollah continued firing rockets and missiles into northern Israel (more than 4,000 total during the 34-day conflict), confining several hundred thousand Israelis to shelters or “safe rooms” in their homes or forcing them to flee southward; and
  7. On July 22 the IDF launched a larger-scale ground invasion.

The Post’s language strongly implied that the war began only or primarily when “Hezbollah kidnapped a pair of Israeli soldiers on the border.” Not “on the border” but inside sovereign Israeli territory. Further, not the kidnapping of two troops only, but also the killing of eight, wounding of three and kidnapping—and killing—of two more, under cover of sustained mortar and rocket fire targeting numerous Israeli civilian areas.

That kidnapping two soldiers on the border would have been unlikely to cause the war can be seen by the fact that three weeks earlier, on June 25, 2006 Hamas terrorists fired mortars at IDF positions near the Gaza Strip, infiltrated Israel, killed two soldiers and kidnapped one—without leading to a general Hamas-Israeli war.

Washington also had something to say

Among the important omissions:

The Post quoted an Israeli commander of paratroopers saying “Hezbollah is not a group or organization or a movement. It’s an army. A big terrorist army.” But it failed to note that the United States designated Hezbollah as an international terrorist organization nearly 20 years ago (“Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State).

There is no mention of Hezbollah’s long record of anti-American terrorism, including the 1983 bombings of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in which 63 people, including 17 Americans, died and of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in the city that killed 241 service members and others.

The article said “Hezbollah troops have been schooled by Iranian commanders, funded by Tehran and have learned to use, in combat, some of the most sophisticated armaments available ….” But it did not add that Hezbollah was founded by Iran and has functioned as an international terrorist arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
For example, it is believed responsible—working with senior Iranian officials—for the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community building in that city. One hundred and fifteen people were murdered and more than 400 wounded in the two attacks.

According to The Post, “ten years ago, Hezbollah fired 4,000 short-range, relatively crude rockets at Israeli, about 100 a day, killing some 50 Israeli civilians. Today, the group has 100,000 rockets, including thousands of more accurate mid-range weapons with larger warheads capable of striking anywhere in Israel anywhere in Israel….”

Nowhere does the newspaper report that Hezbollah’s weapons, including the rockets and missiles, violate U.N. Security Council resolutions 1593 and 1701, both of which call for disarmament of all Lebanese groups except the country’s military. Resolution 1701 was adapted to help end the 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli war.

Genocidal intent goes unmentioned

The Post reported “Hezbollah poses a far greater threat to Israel than it did 10 years ago. The challenges posed by Islamist militant movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip are almost trivial by comparison, Israeli senior commanders say.”

The newspaper said leader Hasan Nasrallah “warned that Hezbollah rockets could strike ammonia plants at the port in Haifa in any future fight, saying that the damage would be equivalent to an atomic bomb and could lead to the deaths of 800,000 people. ‘Haifa is just one of many examples,’ Nasrallah said. ‘The leaders of Israel understand that the resistance has the ability to cover the entirety of occupied Palestine with missiles.’”

Yet The Post failed to note the genocidal ideology Hezbollah and its threats serve. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah’s antisemitism and anti-Zionism is annihilationist.

Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, genocide of the Jews, and creation of an Islamic theocracy over what was Israel, the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Hezbollah’s Nasrallah has described Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, “Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures” and asserted “if we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say Israeli.”

This leads to Nasrallah and Hezbollah’s logical conclusion: Israel is “ultimate evil” whose “annihilation … is a definite matter.” Therefore, “if they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide” (“Hasan Nasrallah: In His Own Words,” CAMERA, July 26, 2006).
Post references to Hezbollah “resistance” dilute the genocidal compulsion motivating Nasrallah and his organization and increasing the chance of another war.

Vague numbers

The Post told readers the 2006 conflict “left more than 1,000 soldiers and civilians dead ….” This was an inadequate approximation. By many accounts, the fighting resulted in nearly 1,200 dead in Lebanon, of whom 532 were identified by Israel as Hezbollah members, with estimates of 700 or more Hezbollah killed. (See “Questioning the Number of Civilian Casualties in Lebanon,” CAMERA, Sept. 7, 2006.) 

Among Israelis, 121 soldiers died—The Post did not mention this figure—and 44 civilians were killed. The Post wrote “some 50 Israeli civilians” were killed.

“Israel on alert over growth of Hezbollah” does not exemplify the late novelist Michael Crichton’s “Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.” That described, according to Crichton, readers’ tendency to spot errors in news reports on topics with which they were familiar but nevertheless to extend credibility to the same outlet’s coverage of subjects about which they knew little. 
Explained the noveliest, himself a physician, “you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story—and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

“Israel on alert over growth of Hezbollah” contained much of value to readers. However, by error and omission, The Post article still managed to recall the “wet-streets-cause-rain” view of journalists’ too-frequent struggles with cause-and-effect.


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