Asking questions, bringing balance, confronting predjudice

The BBC, Syria and the Six Day War

A colleague has just sent me details of his complaint to the BBC following implications that Israel was responsible for the Six day War in 1967 in a programme on Syria’s history (which I must say I found very helpful in understanding the tensions that have erupted against the Alawite regime) – all down to the French, it seems!

A PERVERTED statement from the BBC says Israel started the 1967 Six Day War with neighbouring Arab countries. This false claim from Robin MacDonald, of the Beeb’s complaints department, underlines there is truth in the “Biased Broadcasting Corporation” nickname given to the broadcaster by Israelis and diaspora Jews dismayed by its often Arabist stances.

Mr MacDonald replied to me after I complained about BBC Two’s ‘A History of Syria with Dan Snow’ screened on March 11 in which the presenter stated: “… (Hafiz al-) Assad was (Syrian) Minister of Defence when Israel launched a series of strikes against Egypt, Jordan and Syria …”

I felt uninformed viewers would conclude that Israel was to blame for starting this war and Dan Snow, in the interests of honest reporting, should have alluded to the military build-up and belligerent statements from Arab leaders.

Mr MacDonald replied: “There is no implication as to which side was the aggressor, we merely stated that in 1967 attacks were launched by Israel, a fact which is commonly known and has been reported on many times since. We would like to add that Israel’s attack on the Egyptian air force is widely seen as the first act in the war (my emphasis), we feel it was accurate to say Israel launched attacks in this context.”

I vividly remember what happened in this period and it does not square with the comments from the BBC executive. I feared Israel would undergo another Holocaust as Arab armies massed on its borders. Peacekeeping United Nations troops had left the Sinai after being ordered out by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Then came what is generally recognised by the international community as the first act of this war when Egypt illegally closed the Straits of Tiran by military force to stop Israeli ships reaching the Red Sea port of Eilat. In Nasser’s words to Arab trade unionists the ultimate “objective was Israel’s destruction.” (1) Assad forecast that the impeding war with Israel would be a “battle of annihilation.” (2) Iraq’s prime minister predicted there would be few Jewish survivors. (3)

It would have been military madness for Israel to have waited for the promised Arab attacks and so they made successful pre-emptive strikes on Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi military airfields. Israel told King Hussein of Jordan that they had no plans to force his troops out of the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Jordan rejected the pleas for peace and began to shell communities in the Jewish state. Israel only responded in self-defence when Jordan’s air force set out to bomb its towns. It captured Judea and Samaria from which Jordan had attacked.

Subsequently the UN Security Council rejected a Soviet Union motion to brand Israel as the aggressor by 11 votes to four. The USSR got another rebuff when the UN General Assembly also voted overwhelmingly in support of Israel.

1.   Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, eds., The Israeli-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (New York: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 176.

2.   Michael B Oren, Six Days of War and the Making of the Middle East, p.93.

3.   Israeli historian Benny Morris quoted in Alan Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel, p.92.

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  1. BBC’s ‘History of Syria’ erases ancient Jewish community, distorts Six Day War | BBC Watch
  2. BBC Trust ESC upholds appeal on Dan Snow’s Syria documentary | BBC Watch

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