The Hezbollah-run “Al-Manar” TV that misreported the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon’s scandalous anti-missile remarks through a crucial omission of his clarifying caveat might have deliberately done so as part of an Iranian “infowar” operation geared towards provoking further US-Russian tensions, which Iran may have thought would force Russia to side with the “Resistance” in response and therefore get Moscow to reconsider its Mideast “balancing” strategy of working towards the “phased withdrawal” of the IRGC & Hezbollah from Syria.
By now everyone knows that Russia didn’t militarily respond to the US-led aggression against Syria like it had supposedly threatened to under any circumstances, but the fact of the matter is that the global public might have been manipulated by Iran into having false expectations about Moscow’s intentions in this crisis because Russia never actually threatened to shoot down just any cruise missiles like people were wrongly made to believe that it did.
The Interview That Started It All
The origin of this false narrative rests in the exclusive interview that the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin gave to the Hezbollah-run “Al-Manar” TV station early last week, which the outlet concisely reported on in the following way for the English-language version of their website:
“The Russian ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zaspikin told Al-Manar that the US and Western escalation against Syria will lead to a major crisis, adding that they resort to the ‘chemical allegations’ to justify their offensive acts.
Zaspikin stressed that the Russian forces will confront any US aggression on Syria, by intercepting the missiles and striking their launch pads.”
By itself and understood exactly as written without any additional context, it appeared as though Zasypkin had expanded Russia’s previously announced “red line” of automatically issuing a military response to any threats to its servicemen in Syria to all of a sudden now include any threats against anyone located anywhere in the country (thereby placing the Syrian Arab Army and its IRGC & Hezbollah allies under its security umbrella and by extent its nuclear one too), which essentially implied a 21st-century version of the Cuban Missile Crisis that quickly went viral all across the world.
Tweeting World War III
Unsurprisingly, Trump — who is known for immediately responding on Twitter to whatever triggers him on TV or elsewhere in the news — came across this provocative statement in the morning and instantly responded to it at face value without consulting anyone beforehand, assuming as he did that it was accurately reported and true.
The problem, though, is that it wasn’t, and that the Hezbollah-run TV station took what can at best be described as “creative liberty” and at worst “propagandistic manipulation” to not include the context in which the Ambassador explained his country’s policy.
Russia’s Clarifying Response
This was not at all the message that Russia intended to convey, and TASS reported on Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s response to “Al-Manar’s” misreporting:
“Another question was about Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin’s words in an interview with the Lebanese television channel Al-Manar that Moscow retains the right to shoot down missiles in case of US aggression against Syria. Zakharova answered that the diplomat was speaking about protection of Russians in Syria.
“I want to stress one more time and that was an idea of Lebanon’s ambassador that Russia will protect its people on the ground,” she said. “This is obvious and this is a task for every country in the world to protect its people on the ground.”
Russian people and Russian soldiers are there “not for conquering Syrian people, but to protect Syrian people,” Zakharova said. “They came to Syria upon the proposal and invitation of Syrian people. You … can go to Syria, you can see with your own eyes how Syrian people really appreciate Russian presence on the ground. So Russia will protect its own people.”
This policy isn’t anything new either since it was already publicly promulgated on 13 March, which the Ambassador himself actually said in his televised remarks on the channel in Arabic but which weren’t included in the most widely read English-language version of the Hezbollah-run “Al-Manar” website.
Reuters And Sputnik Provide Context
Reuters, to its credit, accurately reported on his full televised remarks by writing that:
“Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in comments broadcast on Tuesday evening, said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff.
The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any U.S. strike on Syria, targeting any missiles and launchers involved in such an attack. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.”
However, Reuters didn’t include the full context in which the Ambassador’s comments were made because it didn’t specify the crucial caveat contained in the 13 March declaration, which Sputnik reported on in the following way at the time:
“Russian armed forces will respond if the lives of Russian servicemen in Syria are threatened, including in the event of a missile strike on Damascus, the Russian General Staff said.”
Taken together, Reuters and Sputnik provided the necessary context for understanding the Ambassador’s remarks that was curiously missing from “Al-Manar’s” original and highly cited report.
Al-Manar: Mistake Or Manipulation?
What this means is that the Hezbollah-owned company made an “editorial decision” to deliberately exclude the full context of the Ambassador’s comments from what they knew would be the more widely read English-language summary of the interview in what was either for “added sensationalism” in promoting their exclusive and/or what can’t be excluded was a deliberate “propaganda manipulation” on behalf of the organization’s Iranian patron.
By internationally recognized journalistic standards and given the global importance of what the Ambassador said amidst the ultra-sensitive Great Power tensions between the US and Russia, the Hezbollah media outlet was at the very least “negligent” in its duties and at the very worst a “weapon” of “disinformation” intended to provoke further problems between those two countries.
While it’s possible that the individuals working there are simply “unqualified”, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Iran has millennia of diplomatic experience and is world-renowned for its masterful perception management skills, so there’s a possibility that what happened was deliberate for reasons that will now be explained.
Iran knows that the Hybrid War of Terror on Syria was always about removing it and its surrogate Hezbollah from the Arab Republic in order to satisfy the Amero-Zionists’ security interests, and that objective hasn’t changed in the intervening seven years.
Now, though, Russia has entered the battlespace and assumed leadership of the incipient Syrian peace process, during which time the extra-regional Great Power has sought to “balance” Mideast affairs and urged all sides — including Damascus — to “compromise” in order to end the conflict.
Russia knows that the war will continue to drag on so long as Iran & Hezbollah remain in Syria, which is why it has an interest in pursuing their “phased withdrawal” from the country in order to satisfy the interests of its “Israeli” ally as a means of “balancing” regional affairs and advancing a so-called “political solution” to the war.
Russia and Iran are partners in the Astana peace process and Moscow has defied Western pressure by deepening its economic and energy ties with Tehran over the past few years, but their bilateral relations aren’t perfect, nor when they interact in third-party states such as Syria where they’ve come to have diverging interests following the military defeat of Daesh.
“Wag The Dog” Part II
Iran is aware that it, Hezbollah, and Syria cannot conventionally (key word) put an end to the multilateral aggression being waged against them in the Arab Republic by the US, “Israel”, the Gulf States, and their Western allies, let alone while Russia and Turkey sit on the sidelines and refuse to get sucked into this dimension of the conflict.
That’s why Iran might have tried to provoke the worsening of US-Russian tensions during the mysterious Disaster at Deir ez-Zor like the author wrote at the time in his article titled ‘Wagner’ In Syria: Is The Iranian Tail Trying To Wag The Russian-American Dog?”, in which it was put forth that Iran may have deliberately sent Russian contractors (“mercenaries”) to their doom in order to draw Moscow into closer conflict with Washington.
The guiding concept is that the manipulated exacerbation of Russian-American tensions would force Moscow to “get off the fence” and take the “Resistance’s” side in Syria, thus theoretically giving Iran a “fighting chance” to indefinitely remain in the Arab Republic for as long as Russia believes that it has the same “anti-American/-Zionist” interests there as Tehran does.
This didn’t work as planned, but that didn’t mean that Iran would give up on this scheme since it presents the only real scenario whereby the country can ensure that Russia won’t succeed in “convincing” Syria to “compromise” on its commitment to the “Resistance” in order to advance Moscow’s regional “balancing” strategy.
A little less than two months later, Hezbollah managed to book an exclusive interview with the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon via their “Al-Manar” TV surrogate, and this presented the group’s Iranian patron with the perfect opportunity to give its plan one last shot.
The Ambassador accurately explained the reason for his country’s position on any forthcoming US-led strikes in Syria by referencing the 13 March declaration about the need to respond to any threats to Russian servicemen, but then — given the aforementioned factors previously explained — the decision was made to cut his crucial clarifying remarks from the more internationally read English-language version of the website for the unprofessional though “publicly plausible” reason of “added sensationalism” and subsequent attention, but which might have really been intended to trigger Trump’s reaction and provoke a self-perpetuating escalation of US-Russian tensions that would end in Moscow throwing its weight behind the “Resistance”.
Should this have been what happened — and while the intentions are indeed speculative, the indisputable fact is that all manner of journalistic integrity was shattered by the Hezbollah-run outlet when it intentionally excluded the Ambassador’s clarifying comment — then it would amount to nothing less than a “hoax” that fed into the week’s World War III hysteria and represented an undeclared “infowar” by Iran against its Russian “partner”.
The Diverging Regional Interests Between Russia And Iran
Iran and Russia, contrary to the reassuring statements made by their leaders, are slowly entering into a so-called “security dilemma” driven by their historical mistrust of one another, one which interestingly doesn’t harm their direct bilateral relations but is increasingly placing them on opposite sides of regional conflicts.
As was discussed, Russia and Iran aren’t on the same page when it comes to the post-Daesh presence of the IRGC & Hezbollah in Syria, an unofficial disagreement driven by Moscow’s very close ties and “balancing” interests with Tehran’s hated nemesis in Tel Aviv.
In addition, Russia’s regional “balancing” act has seen it undergo a fast-moving rapprochement with Iran’s other enemy Saudi Arabia that importantly includes the planned sale of elite S-400 anti-air defense units that Moscow won’t even give to Tehran or Damascus.
Relatedly, this rapprochement also saw Russia issue a sharp rebuke of the Iranian-friendly Houthis late last year following their cold-blooded assassination of former President Saleh after he tried to “defect” to the “coalition” and enter into peace talks.
Having said all of this, Russia is absolutely against the US’ possible withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and any follow-up asymmetrical aggression against the Islamic Republic, though cynically speaking and from a Neo-Realist perspective that aligns with the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” paradigm, any further multilateral pressure on Iran would compel it to become more strategically dependent on Russia out of necessity whether it wants to or not, and therein lies a “priceless opportunity” for Moscow.
Considering the “complicated” state of Russian-Iranian relations, the point to focus on in this analysis is that Hezbollah may have purposely engaged in a provocative perception management operation on behalf of Iran in order to incite further tensions between Russia and the US during this very sensitive time, an objective that Tehran would want to advance in order to manipulate Moscow into supporting the “Resistance” and “dissuade” it from undertaking any more “balancing” moves that could eventually result in “convincing” Damascus to “compromise” and seek the “phased withdrawal” of the IRGC and Hezbollah.
Seeing as how it’s proven that the Hezbollah-run “Al-Manar” did not include the Ambassador’s clarifying contextual remarks on the English-language version of its website that international information agencies presumably rely upon in sourcing news from this outlet, the question ultimately becomes one of intent and whether this glaring violation of journalistic norms was accidental or deliberate.
The consequences of this action were profound because it succeeded in triggering Trump to tweet an unprecedentedly aggressive message to Russia and almost sparked what otherwise would have actually been a 21st-century version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in addition, the failure of Russia to meet the world’s unrealistically high and misled expectations after the US-led missile attack on Syria severely damaged its soft power standing among people who only remember what might have been Hezbollah’s “hoax” and didn’t hear about the Foreign Ministry’s explanation debunking this possibly “weaponized” narrative.
In light of the realization over what may have actually transpired during this curious “infowar” incident and in the event that Russian strategists ascribe to the elaborated-upon explanation, it can be expected that Russian and Iranian interests will continue to diverge in third-party states such as Syria and therefore exacerbate the growing “security dilemma” between both Great Powers, with Moscow possibly even dedicating itself to putting “more effort” into “convincing” Damascus to seek the IRGC & Hezbollah’s “phased withdrawal” from the Arab Republic in the coming future.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.