Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

The farce that is Iran’s FARS news agency

Iran’s supposedly ‘semi-independent’ news agency FARS has never been the first ‘go to’ address for those wanting to find out what’s really going on in the Islamic Republic. Their record of being economical with the truth demonstrates an imagination Lewis Carroll himself would have envied, as their claim last month that the Chinese navy would join their Iranian, Russian, and Syrian counterparts in exercises in the eastern Mediterranean to strengthen their military ties, well and truly demonstrates.

It struck me as somewhat curious at the time, (in view of the fact that their military has very significant challenges on their plate at present), that the Syrian navy would be involved in war games in the eastern Med while the lives of thousands of innocent Syrians are being lost in the awful civil war that has thrown the whole region into turmoil.

FARS’ story was soon regurgitated by more official Iranian state media, and the news earlier this month that three Chinese naval vessels had indeed made their way through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean did raise an eyebrow or two.

Following on from the visit of a Russian destroyer to Cyprus – could the Russians be trying to find a new Mediterranean base as they prepare to bail out of their Syrian naval yard at Tartus? – and reports of a further 10 Russian naval vessels also in the same stretch of water as the Chinese, for a few moments it appeared that maybe FARS had actually got this one right!

China and Russia had successfully participated in joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea in April, so maybe they were indeed up to something off the coast of Syria, a theory considered to have some weight in view of the diplomatic position being taken by both the Chinese and the Russians in opposing the majority world view on the UN Security Council.

Then earlier this week, (as reported by the Times of Israel), where in fact were the Chinese naval boats finally revealed to be docking? Well, Haifa! Yes – I kid you not – Haifa.

For the first time the Chinese navy docked at Israel’s major Mediterranean port and was officially welcomed with the full red carpet treatment as part of a four-day visit to the country to celebrate the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries having been established. The unexpected arrivals on Israeli soil follow a reportedly successful visit to China in the spring by Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.

China is now one of Israel’s biggest trading partners and the visit is expected to underscore potential new business deals for both parties at a time when the respective economies of both nations are going through a period of uncertainty.

Of course, there will be conspiracy theorists ready to suggest that the Chinese visit to Haifa could be a smokescreen to distract attention away from Sino-Russian ambitions in the region, but to all intents and purposes it does seem as though FARS has once again been barking up the wrong tree.

What a farce!

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at