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Gulf News’ intrepid reporting in Eirtrea 21, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Horn of Africa.
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I’ve stumbled upon a nice little blog by a guy who freelances for various newspapers and magazines. I found it via his recent piece in FP ‘Dubai goes Legit’ which I heartily recommend. Yet it is a later article that caught my eye, one where he lambasts Gulf News, a favorite hobby of mine.

I have been quite vocal (verbal?) in my criticisms of Gulf News. My main problem is that it functions as a PR vehicle for the Dubai government and the quality of its writing and analysis is terrible. However imagine my surprise when I saw this headline online. “Eritrea denies training rebels for Iran, Yemen”.

A real story about a real issue with regional significance. It seemed too good to be true. Sadly it was. As soon as the second paragraph, I knew I was in familiar GN territory.

Gulf News was given exclusive access to the military facilities and this correspondent toured the war-torn country and did not find any evidence of training for foreign fighters.”

What a shocker. GN was chaperoned around the most repressive country on Earth and did not find any training camps. What would the alternative be? That they did find evidence? This story should have been killed from the start, and whatever Abdul Nabi Shaheen’s credentials as a journalist, he most likely has limited experience a military inspector.

The low point in the whole tired exercise is this sub-head:

GULF NEWS WINS WHERE UN TEAM FAILS: A VISIT TO JABEL RAS DOUMEIRA:

Gulf News wins!!!! The UN loses!!!!! Actually journalism loses and GN’s reputation as being purveyors of nonsense wins too.

To recap: Eritrea is one of the most brutal regimes on the planet – they are not going to bring any journalist to a site where anything untoward is going on. This is so blindingly obvious, yet somehow GN is acting as if it has scooped the world. It hasn’t, it has just regurgitated the propaganda of Afewerki’s government.

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New Iranian base on the Horn 5, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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Iran has signed an agreement with Eritrea to refurbish an oil refinery in the port town of Asseb in East African country. Iran has used this opportunity, it has been reported, to move troops, submarines and warships to Asseb. There are several implications of this.

Firstly, it shows that Iran is playing a shrewd game by seeking to diversify its dependency on refined oil products and by planning ahead regarding the potential strengthening of US sanctions. Secondly, it highlights how difficult it is to isolate Iran. Never mind the typical sanction breaking from the French, Russians or Chinese, but there are, it seems, vastly more actors to keep in mind. Thirdly, Iran now has some kind of naval force at another choke point in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. They obviously have numerous bases (including a new one as reported in Jask) by the Straits of Hormuz, but now they are poised near the Horn. Whilst the strength of the Iranian forces is not known, this merely adds to an already complex situation by creating another potential front for Iran and its potential retaliatory options. Fourthly, it increases the areas in which the US and Iranian Navy are in close proximity. Such a state of affairs is not ordinarily such a worrisome thing (though i do seem to remember an issue or two with some Revolutionary Guard speedboats…) but were some kind of conflagration to occur, then another theatre of proximity and hostility is only to be bemoaned.

In short, overall this highlights (to me, at least) the Gordian difficulties of boxing in and chastising Iran punitively. Iran is a rational, resourceful and intelligent state which can and will find ways to frustrate heavy-handed, blanket policies which don’t take into account political realities and have unrealistic expectations.