Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Drone wars

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Allon Lee


The clash sparked by the entry of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace saw a war of words erupt in Australia following ABC Radio National "Breakfast" host Fran Kelly's (Feb. 12) insipid interview with Teheran University academic Mohammad Marandi.

Marandi said the drone wasn't in Israel's airspace but was actually monitoring ISIS/al-Qaeda forces - who, he said, Israel supports. He said Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the attack "to distract attention away from his own [bribery] problems", suggested Israeli air superiority was in decline and added that Israel had kept "Gaza on the verge of starvation for years."

WA Federal MP Andrew Hastie criticised Kelly in an op-ed for not challenging him and asked why the ABC gave a known Iranian Government spokesman "a platform" (Australian, Feb. 14).

Possibly stung, Kelly spoke with visiting former British Colonel Richard Kemp on Feb. 14. Kemp said, "Iran has... been working hard to develop a corridor leading from Iran, through Iraq and then through into Syria, directly up to the Israeli border with a view to threatening Israel."

Former Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma said Iran was "prob[ing] Israel's defences and test[ing] its readiness and red lines," while Iran is also involved in "active attempts ... to establish factory production lines for precision-guided missiles inside Lebanon."

He added that "you can be certain that in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman and Abu Dhabi leaders were (albeit behind closed doors) cheering the fact Israel gave Iran a bloody nose," Australian (Feb. 13).

In a piece on the broader Syrian situation, Lowy Institute analyst Rodger Shanahan suggested an Israeli jet fighter being downed was the seminal event, with the Iranian drone mentioned only in passing near the end of the article, Australian (Feb. 13).

A UK Financial Times-sourced piece by David Gardner made the tactless claim that an Israeli-Iranian "war would be orders of magnitude more destructive than the existing mayhem in Syria's crowded skies and contested territory." Really? With an estimated 500,000 Syrians killed since the civil war started in 2011? Australian Financial Review (Feb. 13).

ANU Professor Amin Saikal also demonstrated the same type of hyperbole, writing, "the Syrian conflict has reached a perilous point. The so-called Islamic State (IS) has substantially been defeated militarily and territorially, but the Syrian crisis has assumed a wider and more dangerous dimension."
Saikal also ignored Iran's provocative military build along the Syria-Israel border, Australian Financial Review (Feb. 14).

Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan noted (Feb. 17) that Israeli "retaliatory missions" are "much more dangerous because [they have] to be so careful not to hit Russian targets, as far as possible." Two days later, the Australian warned that world leaders trying "to save the Obama Administration's Iran nuclear deal... would do well to heed the gravity of the deepening crisis."

Visiting AIJAC guest Jonathan Schanzer told ABC Radio National "Drive" (Feb. 19) that unlike the West, which is obsessed with Sunni jihadist groups like ISIS, the Israelis are more concerned with the Shi'ite jihadist menace from Iran which has aimed hundreds of thousands of rockets in Syria and Lebanon at Israel.

On ABC-TV "Matter of Fact" (Feb. 12), Schanzer answered host Stan Grant's request to explain "the situation that is happening now between Israel and Syria...The plane crashing, it was under fire, is there the potential now for an escalation here?" by saying "Well I think the escalation actually began when the Iranians sent a drone into Israeli airspace."

Interviewing former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, ABC Radio National "Between the Lines" host Tom Switzer (Feb. 15) got the time line right and asked why Iran sent in the drone. Bolton explained that following ISIS's defeat, Iran's "hand has been strengthened all across the Middle East... and I think they want to see... what Israel's response would be. Would they shoot it down, would they let it go?... They're surprised at the strength of Israel's reaction." He said President Obama's premature military withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 let Iran fill the regional power vacuum.

Earlier, in a piece on Sunni Arab versus Shi'ite Iranian rivalry, academic Ameer Ali absurdly said the religious discord and US President Trump's recent Israeli-Palestinian policy announcements "will smooth Israel's path to expand its settlements" and that "regrettably, the Saudi regime with its... anti-Iran venom will play the role of midwife to... Greater Israel," West Australian (Feb. 1).

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