BBC “goes bananas” with excitement as ex-ambassadors attacks Israel

April 27, 2004

* On their website, the BBC described the people involved as "not having a vested interest". In fact, Oliver Miles, the letter's organizer, has commercial connections with Syria and other Arab dictatorships. Among these are the business interests in Syria and Saudi Arabia of MEC International Ltd, a company of which Oliver Miles is Chairman. (see This has not been mentioned by The New York Times, Financial Times and most other papers in their coverage. [See full note on this below.]

* The UK ex-diplomats letter singled out UN undersecretary-general Lakhdar Brahimi for praise. Brahimi's comments revealed last week: "I never knowingly shake hands with Jews."



1. "An unprecedented attack"
2. Who is Oliver Miles?
3. 40 Years of success?
4. UN undersecretary-general Lakhdar Brahimi: "I never knowingly shake hands with Jews"
5. CNN, BBC, VOA - 64 Iraqis killed by U.S. forces, not the main news
6. New York Times on the ex-diplomats letter
7. U.S. says it killed 64 Iraqis today - AP version
8. U.S. says it killed 64 Iraqis today - Reuters version

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Yesterday, in what is being described as an unprecedented attack in the history of modern British diplomacy, 52 former British ambassadors and senior government officials signed a letter criticizing Prime Minister Tony Blair for his support for the Bush administration's policies on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The British media have largely focused on the Israeli aspects of the letter, some of them going overboard in their coverage with another round of Israel-bashing.

As one senior media insider who is a subscriber to this email list, said in private today:

"The British version of the BBC is going bananas about the letter. Last night Newsnight worked itself up into a lather of excitement - an attack on Israel, Blair and Bush all in one go. The letter has dominated the BBC radio news bulletins all day as though it were the biggest news development in years."


Internationally, too, the BBC and CNN International have given the letter great prominence. The New York Times ran an article. The International Herald Tribune put it on the front page.

In Britain, The Independent gave up its entire front page to the story.

Both the Guardian and Independent ran the letter as a comment piece, ditching other opinion articles to do so.

On both pages 1 and 2 of the international edition of the Financial Times, the FT gave a web link where readers could read the full text of the letter.

Even though the US admitted to killing 64 Iraqis today, this was barely mentioned on the news, so excited were many journalists by the ex-diplomats' letter.

As the BBC's website puts it, "Diplomats slam Blair on Mid-East... There will be intense interest in Mr Blair's answer to the letter."


The former ambassadors and senior officials, wanting to make their letter as public as possible sent copies to Reuters and other leading news agencies. "We feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that [it] will lead to a fundamental reassessment [of policy in the MidEast]," they wrote.

While many British politicians supported the letter, others have not. Labor MP Louise Ellman said: "This appears to be an organized attack on the prime minister and it does not offer a single way forward in Middle East conflict."

Tam Dalyell, the most senior MP in Britain, the so-called Father of the Commons, said: "I fully support the 52 diplomats. This is unprecedented. In my 41 years as an MP I have never seen such a move. They can't be dismissed as ex-diplomats, it's a great deal more serious than that."



On their website, the BBC are describing the people involved as "not having a vested interest". The organizer of the letter is someone called Oliver Miles, described as ex-ambassador to Greece.

Actually, in an account he gives himself for the British-Yemeni society (see below), Miles described his time in Yemen as "a young Arabist", and how he later served in Saudi Arabia. He was also ambassador to Libya. He is chairman of the board of MEC International Ltd, whose website (below) states that MEC "is an international business development company working with both the public and the private sector. From its London base, the company operates as a virtual organisation utilising e-commerce technology in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia." (This is the pro-Arab website run on the side by Brian Whitaker, the Middle East editor of The Guardian newspaper.)

For what Oliver Miles' MEC calls "essential reading for businessmen seeking new opportunities in the new Syria of President Basher El Assad," see

(Miles was also interviewed live today on both BBC and CNN International. Such is the disdain in which he regards Ariel Sharon, the only democratically elected leader in the Middle East, that on first (and subsequent) mention of him, he avoided his first name, simply calling him Sharon -- contrary to standard media usage, and in contrast with the Arab dictators, whom he may admire.)

It is not clear how many of the other signatories have profitable business connections with the Arab world.



Another leading signatory, Sir Terence Clark, was Britain's man at the court of Saddam Hussein between 1985 and 1989 - the years in which Saddam was gassing Kurds, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis opponents, and in which Britain enjoyed good relations with the Iraqi dictator.



Sir Marrack has served as British diplomat in Kuwait, Libya, Egypt and Lebanon. He also worked for the UN Secretariat and oversaw operations in the early 90s in the former Yugoslavia at a time when thousands of civilians were being murdered and driven from their homes and the UN were doing nothing effective to prevent this.



This letter, states "Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself [Blair] seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced."

Unfortunately, the ex-diplomats' don't specify what exactly are the 40-year old principles of the Foreign office that been the "basis for such success". Interestingly, they specify four decades. The only thing of significance regarding Israel in 1964 was the founding of the PLO.


Sir Crispin Tickell, former Ambassador to the UN, as quoted in The Independent: "The reason we drafted this letter was because of our profound concern about what is taking place in both Iraq and Israel and Palestine. I have never seen such a level of worry and despair among those who have been involved in the diplomatic field ever before."

Anonymous former British ambassador, as quoted in The Times (of London): "A letter about the Arab-Israeli conflict lacks credibility unless it mentions the impact of suicide bombings... I do not think it was a good letter." (It is a level of the hostility towards anybody who dares sympathize with the victims of Palestinian terror that this ambassador asked for anonymity.)



The only person praised by name in the ex-diplomats' letter is the UN's envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi. The ex-diplomats praise him in relation to his policies in Iraq.

But Lakhdar Brahimi is the same UN official denounced Monday by Israel as an anti-Semite, for his remarks on a French radio station last week, that Israel is "the great poison in the region," and his boast in private to other persons in New York that he has never knowingly shaken hands with an Israeli or a Jew.

Brahimi is a UN undersecretary-general and former Foreign Minister of Algeria.

Israel's ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said yesterday that Brahimi's "prejudice, bigotry and anti-Semitism" are well known. "Brahimi has disqualified himself from being an international envoy," he added. "This is particularly true in this case given that Israel's situation is not a part of Mr. Brahimi's responsibilities, and it is improper for him to use the stature provided by his UN office to vent his personal opinions. Doing so, especially in such a vitriolic and biased manner, heightens concerns that have been raised about the UN's own impartiality and objectivity."

Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said that Brahimi was speaking in his personal capacity, and he noted that as a former Algerian official, Brahimi "brings to the table strongly-held and strongly-expressed views about the Middle East peace process."

Gillerman said Eckhard's response was inadequate. "To me, this is the same as saying that the Secretary-General says what he says because he's Ghanaian," Gillerman said.



U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said 64 militiamen were killed in Iraq today (Iraqi hospital sources say some of them were civilians.)

Neither BBC World TV nor CNN International choose to out this story in their world news headlines today, preferring to devote ample time and coverage to (1) Colonel Gaddafi's visit to Brussels (emphasizing, with barely any hint of skepticism, that Gaddafi was now a man of peace), (2) the tenth anniversary of the downfall of apartheid (no doubt an important moment, but one that the BBC has amply covered already over recent days), and (3) the British ex-diplomats' letters.

For example, in news bulletins at lunchtime today (April 27, 2004), BBC World ran the story about the US killing 64 Iraqis earlier this morning, 8 minutes into their "World News broadcast" and CNN International 7 minutes into their news broadcast.

The main Middle East page of the Voice of America website, ran a headline about violence in Hebron yesterday (an Israeli was murdered there yesterday by Palestinian gunmen) ahead of "US Forces Kill 43 Insurgents in Najaf" (downplaying the figure which the US military gives.)

-- Tom Gross

I attach:

(1) The New York Times article on the ex-diplomats' letter
(2) The Letter, as a Guardian comment article
(3) AP and Reuters reports from this morning concerning Iraq


British Ex-Diplomats Assail Blair on Mideast
By Patrick E. Tyler
The New York Times
April 27, 2004

In a rebuke of British and American policy in the Middle East, 52 former ambassadors and senior government officials signed a letter on Monday criticizing Prime Minister Tony Blair for his unflinching support for the Bush administration's approach to occupied Iraq and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The letter, delivered to Mr. Blair's office and released to the news media, asserted that those policies were "doomed to failure."

Among those signing the letter were former ambassadors to Israel, Iraq and other Middle Eastern capitals, as well as senior British envoys to the United Nations.

They accused both governments of abandoning important principles of impartiality in the Holy Land, while engaging in poor planning and military overkill against Iraqi resistance forces in the Sunni Muslim areas west of Baghdad and in Shiite Muslim strongholds around Najaf.

"It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders," the letter said, adding, "Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition."

In the Holy Land, the diplomats said, the decision by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to publish a "road map" to peace between Israelis and Palestinians had "raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds."

But instead of pressing ahead, the diplomats said, "Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence." They added, "Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain."

A spokesman for Mr. Blair defended the government's policies as energetic in the pursuit of peace and stability. He said the letter would be studied and a reply drafted. The pointed criticism from career diplomats, all Middle East specialists, who served both Labor and Conservative prime ministers, put Mr. Blair's government immediately on the defensive at a crucial moment of Iraqi crisis and diplomacy. In recent weeks, Mr. Blair's influence in Washington has been questioned as intensely as his influence in Europe, where Britain seeks to play a bridging role.

With political sovereignty in Iraq scheduled to be turned over to an interim government in nine weeks, Britain and the United States are being forced to bolster their occupation forces to take account of the withdrawal of 2,000 soldiers from Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

A spokeswoman for the British Ministry of Defense appeared to confirm reports that as many as 2,000 more British troops might be dispatched to supplement the troops in Iraq now.

The spokeswoman said that "in light of recent events," discussions were under way "with coalition partners" on troop levels required to cope with a wave of instability that is expected to peak with the transfer of power on June 30.

The letter on Monday came as a surprise, and Mr. Blair's aides were seeking to reiterate his arguments that he believed that the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan might be enhanced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to pull forces and Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip.

One long-serving Middle East envoy who did not sign the letter was Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who has just returned from a six-month tour in Iraq as Mr. Blair's representative in the occupation authority. He complained that his colleagues had failed to "prescribe any alternatives" to the current policies.

"Let's have a bit of persistence in finishing this job," he said in an interview. Nonetheless, Sir Jeremy added that he, too, expressed criticism in Baghdad of some policies because he believed that the "coalition had been careless about killing civilians" and that the initial phase of the military assault on Falluja "was not handled the way it should have been."

Still, he said, there is now a "clear political process" in Iraq, based on negotiation and a more precise use of force. The former diplomats, he said, "should be more balanced" in their assessment.

The diplomats said they shared Mr. Blair's view that Britain has an interest in working closely with the United States in order to exert "real influence as a loyal ally."

But now is the time, they said, to use such influence, and if it is unwelcome in the Bush administration, then "there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."



[The letter has been reproduced in dozens of newspapers and news websites as a comment article. Here is the version from The Guardian.]

Doomed to failure in the Middle East
Comment Article
The Guardian
April 27, 2004

A letter from 52 former senior British diplomats to Tony Blair

Dear Prime Minister,

We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the United States. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a "road map" for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the president have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the UN to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice," apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Graham Boyce (ambassador to Egypt 1999-2001); Sir Terence Clark (ambassador to Iraq 1985-89); Francis Cornish (ambassador to Israel 1998-2001); Sir James Craig (ambassador to Saudi Arabia 1979-84); Ivor Lucas (ambassador to Syria 1982-84); Richard Muir (ambassador to Kuwait 1999-2002); Sir Crispin Tickell (British permanent representative to the UN 1987-90); Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker (ambassador to Iraq 1990-91), and 44 others

[Full list of signatories: Brian Barder; Paul Bergne; John Birch; David Blatherwick; Graham Boyce; Julian Bullard; Juliet Campbell; Bryan Cartledge; Terence Clark; David Colvin; Francis Cornish; James Craig; Brian Crowe; Basil Eastwood; Stephen Egerton; William Fullerton; Dick Fyjis-Walker; Marrack Goulding; John Graham; Andrew Green; Vic Henderson; Peter Hinchcliffe; Brian Hitch; Archie Lamb; David Logan; Christopher Long; Ivor Lucas; Ian McCluney; Maureen MacGlashan; Philip McLean; Christopher MacRae; Oliver Miles; Martin Morland; Keith Morris; Richard Muir; Alan Munro; Stephen Nash; Robin O'Neill; Andrew Palmer; Bill Quantrill; David Ratford; Tom Richardson; Andrew Stuart; David Tatham; Crispin Tickell; Derek Tonkin; Charles Treadwell; Hugh Tunnell; Jeremy Varcoe; Hooky Walker; Michael Weir; Alan White.]



64 Iraqis killed in fighting in Najaf
The Associated Press
April 27, 2004

US troops fought a gun battle with insurgents overnight near the southern holy Shiite city of Najaf, killing 64 gunmen and destroying an anti-aircraft system belonging to the insurgents, the US military in Baghdad said Tuesday.

The fighting, which began Monday night and involved helicopter gun ships, lasted several hours, a military spokesman said.

The battles came as around 200 US forces made their first deployment inside Najaf, moving into a base that Spanish troops are vacating about six kilometers from the city's holy shrines near where a radical Shiite cleric is holed up.

US commanders have said they will not move against the shrines in order to capture Muqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters have launched attacks against the US-led forces.

Nine killed as fighting in Fallujah continues

Earlier Monday, US troops came under a heavy insurgent attack in Fallujah a day after US officials decided to extend a cease-fire rather than launch a full-scale offensive on that city. Eight suspected insurgents and one US Marine were killed.

US Marines battled Sunni guerrillas around a mosque in Fallujah's Jolan district, a poor neighborhood where insurgents are concentrated. US helicopter gun ships joined the battle, which sent heavy black smoke over the city. Tank fire demolished a minaret from which US officials said gunmen were firing.

The patrols are a key part of the US effort to establish a semblance of control over Fallujah without a wider assault, which would revive the bloody warfare seen earlier this month. The United States decided to try the patrols after US President George W. Bush consulted with his commanders over the weekend, and the cease-fire was extended in part to allow for patrols to be organized.

"We will take the time necessary to see if there is not a political solution," Secretary of State Colin Power said Monday. "But as you saw today, when our soldiers and our Marines are attacked, they will respond and they will respond with force to protect themselves."



U.S. Inflicts Heavy Losses on Iraqi Shi'ite Militia
By Khaled Farhan

U.S. forces killed dozens of Iraqi fighters near Najaf overnight, hours after Washington issued an ultimatum to a radical cleric to clear his militia from mosques in the holy city.

Local television said Tuesday wounded people were dying for lack of blood and issued an urgent appeal for donors.

The clashes were the deadliest since Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia launched a brief revolt against the U.S.-led occupation three weeks ago. They may mark a new phase in American efforts to dislodge him from Najaf, where he has taken refuge among some of the holiest shrines of Shi'ite Islam.

About 64 militiamen were killed, U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference, 57 of them in a night-time air strike after U.S. forces spotted an anti-aircraft gun.

Another U.S. official said an AC-130 gunship -- a massive plane that can spew cannon fire and machinegun fire across wide areas -- was used.

Locals said aircraft had destroyed a militia checkpoint outside Kufa, 10 km (six miles) from Najaf, after a firefight. Kimmitt said guerrillas fired rocket-propelled grenades at a tank. Staff at two hospitals counted at least 23 dead and 34 wounded. Some of the casualties did not appear to be guerrillas.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.