Iran and Israel - What’s a threat.

The complainant, Constantine Kritsonis, challenged a statement made on The National referring to Iran threatening to destroy Israel. He said there were no such statements, only media interpretation of remarks. In the context of this piece, it was valid to refer to threats.


You complained about a segment on the National regarding escalating tensions between Israel and Iran. You said the report stated that Iran threatened to destroy Israel. You challenged CBC journalists to cite one instance where this was the case and not merely a “media ‘interpretation.’”

CBC conflates predictions about Israel's downfall (propaganda) with a threat to do it, which would be legal grounds for Israel to attack Iran. This is a distortion of key facts by CBC.


The Executive Director of CBC News, Jonathan Whitten, replied to your concerns. He agreed that many comments from Iranian officials predict the demise of Israel within 25 years, rather than a direct threat. He noted that it may be a matter of interpretation whether a prediction is a threat in this context and added there have been more explicit statements as well. He provided links to two articles he believed justified the use of the term on the May 10th item on The National.

The first was from a Newsweek article published May 23rd, 2016 with the headline “Iranian commander warns regime could destroy Israel in ‘minutes.’” The other was published on the albawaba news site on April 22nd, 2018 and is entitled “Mousavi warns Iran will ‘annihilate’ Israel within 25 years.” Mr. Whitten cited this paragraph, in particular, from the albawaba article after you rejected these two stories as evidence of a threat.

When the arrogant powers create a sanctuary for the Zionist regime to continue survival, we shouldn't allow one day to be added to the ominous and illegitimate life of this regime," Mousavi said in a Fars News Agency report. "The Army will move hand in hand with the IRGC so that the arrogant system will collapse and the Zionist regime will be annihilated," he said.

Mr. Whitten also replied to your statement that a threat would provide legal grounds for Israel to attack Iran:

I also don't believe, although the subject area is hazy, whether verbal threats would in fact, as you suggest, create legal grounds to strike first. That would speak more to the question of how serious a threat Iran is to Israel, not whether Iran had ever made threats against Israel.


The segment in question examined the escalating tension between Israel and Iran through two reports - one from Margaret Evans in Syria and the other from Derek Stoffel in Israel. It was introduced in this fashion:

On this Thursday night, Israel and Iran take dangerous steps towards open conflict. What's behind the sudden exchange of firepower and what comes next? Our reporters are on the ground to bring you the story. And we'll take a look at what's at stake in a region already primed for war.

Iran's leadership has long threatened to erase Israel off the map, and Israel has vowed to strike Iran first if necessary. But now they've traded direct blows in a region already full of dangerous conflict. Overnight, Iranian forces in Syria launched at least 20 rockets on Israeli positions in the Golan Heights. According to Israeli officials, some were shot down by the so-called Iron Dome system, and some were wide of their mark. At least one ended up in neighboring Lebanon. No reports of anyone getting hurt there. But Israel's counterattack was unlike anything they've done in Syria so far.

The context of this report was the firing of rockets by both sides - Iranian forces in Syria targeting Israel and Israeli forces hitting Iranian sites in Syria. There seems little doubt, based on actions and statements, that there is a threat of conflict. You rejected the two examples Mr. Whitten provided you:

In the first link, what a soldier said was actually that if there was aggression by Israel, in that case Israel would be attacked. Mr. Whitten conflates Iranian self-defense with an aggressive first strike threat, which is clearly the sense that *threat* is understood in.

The opening paragraph of this story was “An Iranian military adviser said that Iran could wipe out Israel ‘in less than eight minutes’ if the order was given by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.” I think by any measure that is a threatening statement.

You did not accept the second quote merited the characterization of threat either:

Without apartheid, there is no Zionism. Zionism and apartheid are one and the same thing. The *Zionist regime* does not mean the legal state of Israel as Mr. Whitten conflates, but refers to an ideology of religion based apartheid.

Again, there has been no reference to Iran threatening an initial attack on the state of Israel.

The National’s report did not suggest who might attack first and did not imply that only one side is threatening. It documented growing tension. You have a particular context and understanding about what constitutes a threat - CBC is not obliged to embrace it. Hostile statements have certainly been made. The intention was to show escalating violence and hostility through word and deed.

What you may be referring to when you mentioned “media ‘interpretation’” is likely the phrase “wipe off the map.” While in this case it was not directly attributed to Iranian sources, it is a phrase that might best be left out in this context. It is attached to a controversy dating back to 2005. A story appeared in the New York Times attributing the statement that the then Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” The initial translation actually came from an official Iranian news service. Subsequently, two experts stated that this was a mistranslation. The language actually did not say it would be wiped off the map, but rather that it would cease to exist. Having said that, it is not unreasonable to say - based on statements and actions in the intervening years - that Iranian officials have threatened Israel. There is no suggestion of their precise intent in this coverage, and with this small caveat The National’s coverage met CBC’s standards.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman