Russia’s Anti-Western, Pro-Assad Propaganda for the Arab World

In 2007, the Kremlin-owned television- and Internet-news platform RT (formerly Russia Today) opened an Arabic-language channel, which has since then become one of the most popular news outlets in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several other Arab countries. RT, which began in 2005, offering only English-language broadcasting, was created to distribute pro-Russian propaganda to a non-Russian audience; it subsequently has created television channels, websites, and social- media accounts in several other languages. To RT, Moscow more recently added the Sputnik news service, which also features extensive Arabic-language content. Anna Borshchevskaya and Catherine Cleveland analyze the perspectives being spread by the two networks in the Middle East:

The RT and Sputnik websites typically publish brief news articles and occasionally longer op-eds. The quickly published factual articles help shape media opinion primarily through click-bait titles that often editorialize otherwise neutral content. Meanwhile, the lengthier op-eds and TV segments tend to present more overtly conspiratorial points of view, such as the video segment “The Vatican, the Masons, the CIA, and the Mafia . . . with Documents, Names, and Records of Assassinations” or the op-ed “Israel Announces Its Rights; The Crimea Is Ours.” Relying on conspiracy theories to develop a sense of “revealing the truth” is a tactic RT Arabic shares with its English-language sibling. . . .

[While] RT English has adopted a style that often employs sarcasm and irony to suggest holes in a “dominant narrative,” . . . RT Arabic relies on established media narratives—and specifically those that reinforce an anti-Western perspective. . . .

And while RT’s English-language coverage often inserts a positive picture of the Assad regime in a supposedly “alternative” view of groups such as the White Helmets, a volunteer aid outfit, [RT Arabic’s] coverage of Syria emphasizes Russia’s control over the situation, as exemplified in the assertion that Israel’s July 2018 downing of an Iranian drone over Israeli airspace occurred after affirming the drone was not of Russian origin, and in the repeated emphasis on both Russian and Assad military successes against “terrorists.” RT frames its coverage to cause maximum distrust of Syrian opposition groups. . . .

Coverage of Israel embodies RT Arabic’s inconsistent tone when faced with delicate subject matter. On the one hand, RT Arabic relies on the longstanding media practices of Arab countries, such as a focus on Israel’s military and civil actions against Palestinian communities and conspiracy theories about the reach of the Mossad. On the other hand, RT presents Israel as cautious and respectful of Russia’s regional interests. Such coverage lines up with the Kremlin’s desire to portray itself as a great power, to which a country like Israel is beholden.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Media, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia

A Better Syria Strategy Can Help Achieve the U.S. Goal of Countering Iran

While the Trump administration has reversed much of its predecessor’s effort to realign Washington with Tehran, and has effectively used sanctions to exert economic pressure on the Islamic Republic, Omar Hassino argues that these measures might not be enough:

Iran and its militias control more territory and natural resources in Syria and Iraq than before President Trump took office. . . . The U.S. should back the low-cost insurgency approach that has already shown potential in southwest Syria to bleed the Iranian forces and increase the costs of their expansion and [of Tehran’s] support for the Assad regime. It makes no sense that Iran can fund low-cost insurgencies to bleed American allies in the region, but the United States cannot counter with the same. The administration should also consider expanding support to the proxy forces that it currently works with—such as the Revolution Commandos near the [U.S.] al-Tanf garrison in southwest Syria—for the purpose of fighting and eliminating Iranian-backed militias. This limited escalation can curb Iranian expansion and put pressure on the Assad regime in the long term.

Furthermore, in this vein, the U.S. should empower peaceful Syrian civil-society groups and local councils operating outside Assad-regime control. Last year, the Trump administration eliminated assistance for stabilization in Syria, including funding going to secular anti-Assad civil-society groups that were also combating al-Qaeda’s ideology, as well as the Syrian [medical and civil-defense group known as] the White Helmets, before quickly [restoring] some of this funding. Yet the funding has still not completely been resumed, and if this administration takes an approach similar to its predecessor’s in relying on regional powers such as Turkey, these powers will instead fund groups aligned ideologically with Muslim Brotherhood. This is already happening in Idlib.

The United States must [also] jettison the Obama-era [strategy of establishing] “de-escalation zones.” These zones were from the start largely a Russian ruse to help the Assad regime conquer opposition areas, and they succeeded. Now that the regime controls most of Syria and Iranian proxies are dominant within the regime side, support for de-escalation is tantamount to support for Iranian expansion. The United States must [instead] prevent further expansion by the Assad regime and Iran in parts of the country that they still do not control.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy