Anne Barnard’s report on the alleged Israeli airstrike that killed several senior Iranian officers and Hezbollah operatives “Iran Confirms Israeli Airstrike in Southern Syria Killed One of Its Generals” (Jan. 20, 2015) demonstrates how The New York Times’ entrenched bias against Israel diminishes the newspaper’s journalism. Barnard evinces amnesia in recounting the start of the Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation in 2006 and the central role of a Hezbollah operative in fomenting international terrorism.
Two statements in Barnard’s dispatch stand out for their misleading accounting of recent history.
Recalling the last big confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, Barnard writes, “The last major war between Israel and Hezbollah was set off, analysts generally agree, by miscalculations on both sides about how the other would respond to provocation.”
Barnard’s “analysts” remain anonymous and for good reason, because serious analysts would not embarrass themselves by issuing such a noncommital statement on how the 2006 summer war between Israel and Hezbollah started. Barnard need go no further than to review her own newspaper’s account of how the war was “set off.” On July 13, 2006 this is what the Times reported,
The Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah surprised Israel with a bold daylight assault across the border on Wednesday, leading to fighting in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and at least eight killed, and elevating recent tensions into a serious two-front battle…
The Israeli government also confirmed that Hezbollah fired several Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, injuring three people.
The White House released a statement condemning the Hezbollah raid, calling it an “unprovoked act of terrorism” and holding Syria and Iran responsible because of their longstanding support for the group.
The United Nations representative to southern Lebanon, Gier Pedersen, also criticized the raid, calling it “an act of very dangerous proportions.”
There is nothing ambiguous about the Times report in 2006; it plainly contradicts Barnard’s nebulous statement ascribing responsibility to “miscalculations by both sides.” Barnard’s failure to put the blame where it clearly lies, on Hezbollah, is consistent with the recurring theme of her report, which casts Israel as responsible for ratcheting up the conflict.
In discussing the alleged Israeli strike, she contends,
But the strike that killed him [the Iranian general] also appeared to be a departure from the tacit agreement in which a host of foreign players – Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, the United States and its Persian Guld Arab allies – have increasingly intervened openly in Syria while seeking to avoid direct clashes with one another.
It is notable that Barnard puts Israel first on her list of foreign players, considering that Iran’s and Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria are vastly greater in scope and magnitude than Israel’s. She also impugns Israel for breaking the unofficial rules, even though for years Iran and Syria have been reportedly shipping missile components and other materials (possibly chemical weapons) to Hezbollah through Syrian territory.
Further on, Barnard notes that “Also killed in Sunday’s strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Imad Mughniyeh, a top Hezbollah military commander who was assassinated in Damascus in 2008 in an attack that Hezbollah attributes to Israel.”
The wording of this statement leaves the reader open to the interpretation that Israeli action may have crossed the line by killing a man who the reader is told was simply a “top military commander.” Such an understanding would sanitize Imad Mugniyeh’s reputation.
Barnard conceals from her readers what really made Imad Mughniyeh – and by association, his son – important enough to merit special mention. Mughniyeh’s name is not recognizable for his exploits as a “military commander,” rather it is his role as mastermind of international terrorism that is noteworthy – especially his role in killing United States Marines and other servicemen.
Again, one need look no further than what the The New York Times wrote about Imad Mughniyeh in a Nov. 3, 2008 article after he was assassinated:
A senior Hezbollah military commander, one of the world’s most wanted men for his alleged links to a string of bombings, hijackings and kidnappings during the 1980s and 1990s…
U.S. officials assert that Mughniyeh was behind the bombings in Beirut in 1983. A car bomb at the U.S. Embassy in April that year killed 63 people, including 17 Americans, while a truck bomb in October at a Marine compound killed 241 American troops.
The United States have also asserted Mughniyeh was behind the torture and murder of William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, in 1984; the kidnapping and murder of Lieutenant Colonel William Richard Higgins of the Marines, who was on peacekeeping duty in Lebanon in 1988; and, through the Islamic Jihad Organization, the seizure of Western hostages in Beirut during the 1980s.
Mughniyeh is also wanted for the hijacking in June 1985 of TWA flight . During the hijacking, an American [U.S. Navy SEAL Robert D. Stethem] was [tortured and] killed and 39 Americans were held hostage for 17 days. It is the only terrorist action for which he has been indicted in the United States.
Mughniyeh was also implicated (although as yet unproven) in the bombing of the Jewish community center (the AMIA building) in Buenos Aires, Argentina that killed 85 innocent civilians.
Barnard obscures and distorts events of recent memory. Her failure to accurately ascribe blame for the start of the 2006 summer war to Hezbollah’s surprise attack and her failure to convey that Imad Mughniyah was foremost a chief terrorist, contrasts with the clearcut descriptions provided by the Times own reporters several years ago. It is further evidence of a continuing decline in the quality of reporting at the New York Times when it comes to dealing with conflicts involving Arabs and Israel.