Media Analysis

‘Iran’s proxies’ is dishonest and slanted description of ‘Iran’s allies’

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Here’s yet another example of bias in U.S. media coverage of the Iran Crisis: using the expression “Iran’s proxies” to describe various militia forces across the Mideast, instead of the accurate “Iran’s allies.” The mistaken, slanted description adds to the distorted view that Iran is a dangerous, expansionist adversary, a view that the U.S., Israel, and their ally Saudi Arabia have promoted for years. 

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made a contorted and dishonest argument for the “Iran’s proxies” interpretation right after the U.S. killed Iranian General Qassim Soleimani. (Friedman’s response was a sharp change from last May, when he was too cowardly to say a word as the Trump administration started moving dangerously toward war with Iran.)

This time, Friedman did pipe up, and he outlined why he thought Soleimani was “Iran’s most overrated warrior.” It all started in 2015, when the U.S., Iran and the European powers signed the Iran deal. Instead of using the relaxation of tension to rebuild Iran, Friedman contended,

[Soleimani] and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana…

Friedman is either being stupid or deceitful. Can he really expect anyone will think history in the Mideast began in 2015? Let’s start with Israel’s threats to attack Iran in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The influential U.S. journalist Jeffrey Goldberg channeled Benjamin Netanyahu and warned Iran even earlier, in 2009, that “Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.” 

How could Iran respond to the drumbeat of threats? Anyone who relies on the U.S. mainstream press can be excused for thinking that Iran is a military giant, with a Wehrmacht capable of unleashing a blitzkrieg across the region. In fact, the world’s experts are unanimous that Tehran’s conventional military is relatively weak. Iran spends $15 billion a year on its armed forces. By contrast, Saudi Arabia spends $80 billion — five times as much — and the United Arab Emirates budgets another $23 billion. And Israel? At least $23 billion. 

A Reuters report, which ran the other day in the Israeli daily Haaretz, explained that 

To compensate for the [military] imbalance, Iran has developed “asymmetrical” responses — ballistic missiles, deadly drones and a web of militia allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, among other things. . . 

What’s more, calling Iran’s regional militia allies “proxies” implies that Tehran created them, as little more than puppets. But let’s look briefly at two of them: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Hezbollah emerged in the 1980s, largely as a response to the terrible 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. And no Iranians had to sneak into Gaza to instruct Palestinians there to build an armed political force to resist the ongoing Israeli occupation. 

To describe groups like Hezbollah and Hamas as “militias” or “political organizations” is by no means an endorsement of them. But as the danger of war remains high, it is more important than ever to call things by their right names. 

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