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Bibi Lied About Burgas Attack

Yesterday, the New Yorker published Dexter Filkins profile of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani.  Filkins had a sterling reputation when he wrote for the New York Times, and I expected something that was up to that standard.  But I didn’t find it.  In fact, I found the piece to be shockingly loose, filled with unsourced assumptions parading as fact, anonymous sourcing or, when sources were mentioned at all, invariably they took on a decidedly neocon flavor, including American Enterprise Institute analysts and former-CIA Islamophobe, Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Considering the New Yorker’s reputation for rigorous fact-checking, I felt let down by the quality of this piece.

burgas attack

Bibi pointed the finger for Burgas at Suleimani and the Iranians

As an example, Filkins repeats the unsubstantiated claim that Suleimani was the author of the plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington DC.  He also recycles another claim that Hezbollah was the author of the Burgas terror bombing.  And most oddly, he seems to somehow know that at the Tehran funeral for a leading IRG commander, Suleimani sat in the second row and wore black pants and shirt.  It’s precisely this sort of novelistic detail that is both impressive and suspect at the same time.  It means that either Filkins was in the room at the time, or that he spoke with one of the Iranians who was.  Given relations between Iran and the U.S., I find it unlikely an IRG commander or senior Iranian cleric who might’ve been in the room would be speaking to him.  I certainly can’t rule this out as a possibility, but the passage does raise questions in my mind as to how much of the rest of the piece is well-founded.

That being said, there were two eye-opening passages for me.  The first was part of a long interview with Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. diplomat who was our ambassador to Iraq (where much of Filkins’ piece was sourced).  In speaking about Hezbollah’s role in forcing Israel’s exit from southern Lebanon in 2000, Crocker says this:

…The Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. “They had a huge presence—training, advising, planning,” Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, “another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can’t.”

If you parse this paragraph carefully and note the “we” in the last line, one extraordinary assumption is evident in Crocker’s world-view: there is no separation between Israel and the U.S.  Though it was Israel that was forced to withdraw from Lebanon, Crocker sees it as “our” withdrawal.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say that consciously or unconsciously Crocker sees Israel as carrying out U.S. policy in the region.  It’s almost as if Israel’s occupation of Lebanon was a job done on the U.S.’ behalf.

Another bit of sloppiness that entered into this passage is this: “Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country.”  As I wrote above, Filkins doesn’t explain whose point of view he’s offering and from whence this claim derives.  But Hezbollah certainly does not control Lebanon.  It is a major player within the country.  But there are other counter-balancing political movements within Lebanon that prevent the Islamist group from dominating.  It is certainly true that Hezbollah dominates the south and the Bekaa Valley in the east bordering Syria.  But aside from this, Filkins’ claim is false.

The second passage that caught my eye was this:

After a Hezbollah operative attacked a tour bus filled with Israelis in Bulgaria, last July, American authorities learned that Suleimani had asked his subordinates, “Does anyone know about this?” No one did. “Hezbollah acted on its own in that one,” an American defense official told me.

As I wrote above, no one has definitively proven that Hezbollah masterminded Burgas.  So to make this statement without even offering a source is irresponsible.  That being said, the passage indicates that American officials know that Iran was not involved in Burgas.  Such knowledge, if true, becomes very important in reviewing this claim by Bibi Netanyahu shortly after the attack (my translation):

In Jerusalem…there were no doubts.  PM Bibi Netanyahu’s finger officially pointed toward Iran in the wake of the terror attack which killed Israelis in Bulgaria, supported apparently, by relatively detailed intelligence data.  The man behind the attack on the tourist bus in Burgas was General Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, who commands terror activities abroad on its behalf.

There are two possibilities: either Israeli intelligence was wrong (and U.S. right); or it didn’t have any evidence and Bibi made it up.  I’m prepared to believe either possibility.  But given Bibi’s propensity for lying, I certainly can’t discount the latter possibility.

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • J.J. September 24, 2013, 11:35 PM

    The impeccable credentials of Dexter Filkins, former New York Times journalist, Harvard Fellow, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner, are called into question because his New Yorker article exposes Hezbollah as the murderous proxy of Iran.

    Wow.

    Richard. You can pray for the rest of your life, but you’ll never have even a fraction of Dexter Filkins knowledge, experience, integrity and physical and moral courage.

    Keep dreaming.

    • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2013, 2:01 AM

      @ J.J.: Filkins doesn’t “expose” anything. He makes things up out of thin air. He makes claims without offering support. He accepts as true things that have never been proven to be true, but merely asserted by others to be so. That’s BAD journalism.

      As for his past awards, Tom Friedman won lots of ‘em too. Now he’s a hack. The New Yorker isn’t up to the Times standards. Filkins work was far better at the Times than it is now.

      You don’t admire Filkins “courage.” You admire his agreement with your own ideology.

      BTW, you also appeared to have missed something: Filkins says Hezbollah was not acting as Iran’s proxy in Burgas. In fact, it wasn’t involved at all. Which proves your PM lied when he said Suleimani was responsible. That’s a bit inconvenient for you, isn’t it?

      As for relying your judgment on anything including whether I measure up to Filkins, I’ll take a raincheck on that.

      • Oui September 25, 2013, 4:24 AM

        An interesting read, where Dexter Filkins was an embedded reporter traveling with US Marines to Baghdad and witnessed the Fallujah massacre – The New York Times’s Lonely War. Makes me realize, reporters too can suffer the effects of PTSD and some never recover, unable to write as before. Emotional and psychological toll changes one’s personality, judgement and recalibrates values for daily tasks.

      • Oui September 30, 2013, 10:45 AM

        Filkins and the Fake Zarqawi Letter in Iraq

        Filkins at the top amongst his peers like Judith Miller of the NY Times.

        How the spooks took over the news

        (The Independent) Feb. 11, 2008 – Onthe morning of 9 February 2004, The New York Times carried an exclusive and alarming story. The paper’s Baghdad correspondent, Dexter Filkins, reported that US officials had obtained a 17-page letter, believed to have been written by the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

        There is very good reason to believe that that letter was a fake – and a significant one because there is equally good reason to believe that it was one product among many from a new machinery of propaganda which has been created by the United States and its allies since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

        For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.

  • J.J. September 25, 2013, 5:20 AM

    “You admire his agreement with your own ideology”

    What ideology is that? The ideology that believes that Hezbollah and Iran were responsible for the bombing of the Marine Corp barracks in Lebanon in 1982, both bombings in Buenos Aires, the Second Lebanon War in 2006, the kidnap and torture death of CIA station chief William Buckley, bombings in Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi and at least thirty other attempts, killing hundreds of Americans in Iraq, bombing three residential compounds in Riyadh, killing thirty-five people, including nine Americans, etc,.

    Your all consuming hatred of Israel leads you to reflexively defend her enemies, Iran and Hezbollah, and to vilify probably the finest and best informed foreign correspondent on the scene today.
    To add insult to injury, you allow this commentator, Oui, to maliciously diagnose Mr. Filkins with PTSD. Unbelievable.

    • Oui September 25, 2013, 6:04 AM

      Read the articles I linked to. I admire the courage of war correspondents. It’s Mr. Filkins himself who forwards his own diagnosis and the reason to pull back from war zones. Deal with it, it’s a fact of witnessing executions and facing close-calls to death himself. Blaming the Khobar Towers bombing on Iran is foolish, has been debunked eons ago.

      US VA – Journalists and PTSD
      Higher percentage of journalists in Mexico suffer from PTSD than among war correspondents

    • Oui September 25, 2013, 2:08 PM

      None of these attacks were perpetrated by Iranians or Hizbollah.
      Nov. 13, 1995 – U.S. training facility in Riyadh, a car-bomb explosion
      June 25, 1996 – Khobar Towers, Building #131, an eight-story structure housing USAF personnel 4404th Wing
      May 12, 2003 – Dorrat Al Jadawel compound bombings in Riyadh (Vinnell Corp.)
      Dec. 6, 2004 – Gunmen attack US consulate in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

    • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2013, 8:54 PM

      @ J.J.: That comment violated so many comment rules I lost count. First, you disguised statements of opinion as fact without offering any proof. Second you accused me of “hating Israel,” which is the real deal breaker for me.

      In terms of Hezbollah’s responsibility for terror attacks. Some of the events were Hezbollah or Iran’s doing, some are disputed, and some you’re just plain lying (or ignorant). The 2006 War was a 2 way street. Israel’s demolition of virtually all of Lebanon’s infrastructure was not justified & in fact a war crime; an example of state terror pure & simple. Further, Israel at the time had imprisoned many Lebanese prisoners for decades without charges or trial. So Israel played some role in igniting that war alongside Hezbollah’s role.

      As for the Khobar Towers: what the hell are you smoking? Iranians? What are you–reading Debka Files?

      As for killing American’s in Iraq, I’ll put that up against U.S. terror in which we’ve killed nearly 3,000 Muslims via drones, a considerable number civilians. Not to mention our unbridled violence in places around the world. Shall we also talk about Israel’s acts of terror which don’t fall very far short of America’s??

      Your all consuming hatred of Arabs is self-evident, blinds you to any doubts about Israel’s virtues, and disqualifies you from any consideration or credibility.

      As for PTSD: I’m going to maliciously diagnose you with inaninity.

      Your future comments will be moderated. And any future violations will get you banned so fast your head will spin.

  • J.J. September 25, 2013, 12:28 PM

    @Oui

    Who said anything about Khobar Towers?
    Where in your two linked articles is there mention of Dexter Filkins having PTSD

    What is your problem, Oui?
    Just give me your best guess.

    • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2013, 8:23 PM

      @ J.J.: Oh please. Stop being a literalist when it’s convenient to you. Oui was speculating which is allowed here as long as it’s understood as such. You apparently don’t.

  • Strelnikov September 25, 2013, 6:11 PM

    I’m not getting involved in the above online pissing contest, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a “J. J.” in these comments before. Anybody seen this guy before?

    • lifelong September 25, 2013, 6:38 PM

      “impeccable credentials… physical and moral courage… finest and BEST informed foreign correspondant”.

      Nobody has that much regard for any one journalist. Way over the top.

      • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2013, 8:57 PM

        @ lifelong: Yeah, ol’ J.J. is really chewin’ the scenery on that one! He doesn’t know Dexter Filkins from chopped liver.

    • Richard Silverstein September 25, 2013, 8:59 PM

      @ Strelnikov: J.J. arrived on one of those new Hasbara flights from Ben Gurion in the past few days. Must be a replacement for one of the Hasbarists I banned lately. They keep some in reserve for just such purposes.

      • Bob Mann September 26, 2013, 8:37 AM

        Could be J.J. Goldberg? You had mentioned submitting a story to The Forward. Maybe that brought him to your blog.

  • Jay September 26, 2013, 1:39 PM

    Unfortunately for J.J., Mr Filkins’ reporting is riddled with assertions that do not hold up to publicly available information. It is possible that public information on, for example the volume of flights from Iran to Syrian, and the number of inspections is incorrect. However, if this were the case, it would be incumbent on even a junior reporter to provide one shred of evidence for the claim that volumes of weapons is being transshipped. But Mr. Filkins’ provide nothing – zero!

    Moreover, let us assume for the sake of argument that Iran is shipping arms to Syria. Mr. Filkins seems to conveniently forget that such shipments are not banned by UN, that Russia is also supplying the Syrian government, and that were it true that Iranians were present as consultants to the Syrian army, it is not a violation. To put that in context, the supply of weapons to terrorists by the US, either directly, or through the Saudi’s, is a violation on a grand scale.

    Here is another example where Mr. Filkins spawns a vast theory with not a shred of evidence:
    “Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi—at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador..” Even the hardest of the hard core neocons could not connect Suleimani to any of these – not a one! The neocons that Mr. J.J. is so fond of weaved a number of tangled theories – but, alas, no proof!

    Here is another gem from Mr. Filkins:
    “After the five American soldiers were killed in Karbala, Suleimani sent a message to the American Ambassador. “I swear on the grave of Khomeini I haven’t authorized a bullet against the U.S.,” Suleimani said. None of the Americans believed him.”

    Here Mr. Filkins wants his readers to believe that “none of the Americans believed him”, yet they did nothing to avenge the death of five Americans.

  • J.J. September 27, 2013, 4:30 AM
    • Richard Silverstein September 27, 2013, 11:13 AM

      We’ve already dealt with this story in many previous blog posts & it’s as phony as a $3 dollar bill. One of the comment ruLes is not to dredge up old stories & re argue old arguments, which you’ve done.

      That drug dealing, wife beating loser was no more an IRG spy than I’m the King of France.

      Get off this topic.

    • Jay September 27, 2013, 12:01 PM

      J.J.,

      Regrettably your standards of proof are significantly different from what an average jurist would consider as proof.

      I did not consider the “mushroom cloud” allegation of Ms. Rice as proof. Nor did I consider the “aluminum tube” story of Vice President Cheney, or the “yellowcake” story from Niger, or the “mobile biological labs” of Sec. Powell as proof. You may remind yourself that Wash. P., CNN, NYT, NPR, among others reported these stories – front page no less. However, some of the same people who called such allegations truth and supported the invasion later learned that allegations do not equal proof. Perhaps there is a lesson there! Perhaps “Jimmy’s World” on Washington Post is too old to remember. How about the “exaggerated”, some call “fake”, story about air scare on a domestic flight published by NYT?

      It is unfortunate that our system of education does not equip most people with critical thinking skills, or a sound understanding of the difference between allegations, proof, guess, conjecture, etc. You are absolutely welcome to hold your own opinions – strongly for that matter – however, you should perhaps consider that the strength of your belief does not yield proof out of “nothing”. I would suggest that strength of belief is best kept safe at a religious institution.

  • Oui September 27, 2013, 3:25 PM

    Interview of Dexter Filkins by Hugh Hewitt on Aug. 28, 2013. Has great admiration for recent article on Syria. Reading through Filkins’ report on the Ghouta attack, I wonder who Mohammad Salaheddine is. From most accounts a reporter/activist on the ground in Damascus for Al Aan TV in Dubai. Even more mystifying than the MintPress reporter Yahya Ababneh aka Yani Barakat. Salahedinne has no history.

  • J.J. September 27, 2013, 11:18 PM

    “HH: Dexter Filkins is perhaps the finest combat journalist of our era.”

    Who said that?

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