Politics & Policy

Watching al-Manar

Violence in the media.

The long war against radical Islam is a war of ideas as much as a war of arms. For decades, America, Israel, and other democracies have ignored the incitement and violent propaganda emanating from extremist regimes and organizations in the Middle East. Now democracies are starting to fight back.

In repeated aerial attacks, the Israeli air force bombed Hezbollah’s al-Manar television station in Beirut and its broadcasting infrastructure in the Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold. The bombing of al-Manar is part of an Israeli counteroffensive against Hezbollah and its Lebanese assets precipitated by the firing of hundreds of missiles by Hezbollah into Israeli cities and towns, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others by Hezbollah guerillas. According to sources, while the IAF destroyed part of the al-Manar infrastructure, the station continues broadcasting.

Al-Manar television is the communications arm of Hezbollah, owned and operated by Hezbollah guerillas and financed by the Iranian regime. No mere propaganda tool, al-Manar is used by Hezbollah to broadcast its message of hatred, recruit suicide bombers, raise money for its terrorist activities and those of its Palestinian affiliates, conduct operational surveillance, and incite attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians and American soldiers in Iraq. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, used al-Manar to first announce the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers and recently appeared on al-Manar to declare open war against Israel.

Established in 1991, and responsible for more American deaths before 9/11 than any other terrorist organization including al-Qaeda, Hezbollah was the first terrorist organization to create a television station to be used as an operational weapon. One high-ranking al-Manar official revealed its purpose with chilling clarity: to “help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission.” At its height, al-Manar reached an estimated 10-15 million viewers daily with 24/7 worldwide coverage through a network of ten satellite providers and advertising sponsorship from numerous western corporations.

Its programming includes children’s shows glorifying suicide bombers, videos calling for jihadists to kill Coalition soldiers in Iraq, and vile anti-American and anti-Semitic material–including the infamous “blood libel” falsely accusing Jews of slaughtering Christian children to make food for the Passover holiday.

The Israeli aerial attack at what is effectively Hezbollah’s and Iran’s communications ministry in Lebanon follows a March 2006 decision by the U.S. government to designate al-Manar as a terrorist organization. In that decision, the U.S. Treasury Department placed al-Manar on the same terrorism list as Hezbollah itself, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said that al-Manar is an “entity maintained by a terrorist group” and therefore “as culpable as the terrorist group itself.”

In the past three years, appalled by the station’s incitement to violence and racist and anti-Semitic programming, the European Union and the governments of France, Spain, and Holland have determined that al-Manar violated European law. This led four European satellite providers to discontinue transmission of the station. Four other satellite providers, based in Hong Kong, Australia, Barbados, and Brazil, also terminated their broadcasting of al-Manar. And, after being alerted to their advertising on the terrorist station, some of the world’s best-known multinationals discontinued almost $2 million in annual corporate advertising.

Despite the Israeli air strikes, al-Manar continues broadcasting in Lebanon through its terrestrial infrastructure as well as throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa, thanks to the continued transmission of the station by ARABSAT, a satellite company that is majority owned by the Saudi government, and Nilesat, majority owned by the Egyptian government. Despite numerous entreaties from U.S. government officials, these supposed U.S. allies in the global war on terrorism have refused to end the broadcasts. Arabic speakers in the restive suburbs of London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, and other centers of jihadist activity have full and free access to Hezbollah’s messages of hate and incitement.

Military action against an enemy’s media assets is not without precedent. During the war in Kosovo, NATO planes bombed the Belgrade-based headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia. While sixteen employees were killed, NATO justified the action as a legitimate attack against Serbian broadcasting of Milosevic’s violent call to arms. And hate speech has been prosecuted as a war crime, initially at the Nuremberg trials against the Nazi regime after World War II and in 2003 against three Rwandan media executives who used a government-run radio station to call for the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsis. At that time, Reed Brody, legal counsel to Human Rights Watch, said, “If you fan the flames, you’ll have to face the consequences.”

After years of American and European political and legal action against al-Manar, the terrorist station can no longer pretend that it is a legitimate media outlet deserving of free-speech protection. It is a terrorist organization being used to spread Iranian and Hezbollah messages of hate, support suicide attacks, and fan the flames of violence. Military attacks by Israel against al-Manar should be welcomed worldwide as a necessary step in rolling back the threat of radical Islam and its ideology of terrorism. In targeting this terrorist station, Israel may be saving American and European lives as well as those of its citizens.

– Mark Dubowitz is chief operating officer of the Washington-based policy institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD organized the Coalition Against Terrorist Media to end the broadcasting of Hezbollah’s terrorist television station al-Manar.

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