January 19, 2024 | The Messenger

US Should Sanction Lebanon’s pro-Iran ‘Resistance TV’

January 19, 2024 | The Messenger

US Should Sanction Lebanon’s pro-Iran ‘Resistance TV’

On December 27, an Israeli missile hit a home in the Southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil, killing brothers Ali and Ibrahim Bazzi and Ibrahim’s wife. Within hours, Al Manar, Hezbollah’s official media outlet, published a military portrait of Ali Bazzi, revealing his nom-de-guerre, Qassem, and eulogizing him as a martyr “on the road to Jerusalem.” The three were given a Hezbollah military-style funeral, with their coffins draped in Hezbollah’s yellow flag. But you would not have known that, had you been watching Al Mayadeen, a Beirut-based international news channel — because while Hezbollah’s officialdom exalted the martial qualities of Ali the martyr, Al Mayadeen omitted them, painting the Bazzis as innocent civilian victims of Israel’s wonton brutality.

Unlike Al Manar, the official Hezbollah channel already under U.S. sanctions, Al Mayadeen is ostensibly independent; nevertheless, it is uncannily aligned with Iran’s “resistance” axis — the regional front of Iran’s proxies that Tehran uses to advance its goals — by editorial choice. Al Mayadeen’s coverage regurgitates Hezbollah’s propaganda, and the network seems to see itself as part of a global front fighting against Western arrogance.

Al Mayadeen is the brainchild of Ghassan Bin Jiddo, a Tunisian-born former Al Jazeera anchorman. He established Al Mayadeen in 2012, after leaving Al Jazeera in protest over the Qatari network’s support, at the time, for the Syrian uprising and what he considered to be skewed coverage of the Arab Spring. Bin Jiddo launched Al Mayadeen vowing to support the “resistance,” making Al Mayadeen a competitor to Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya in the Arab media space and an ally to Iran’s “anti-imperialist” global struggle, cheerleading Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions and assorted anti-American authoritarians. 

Within a decade of its launch, Al Mayadeen has become something of a media powerhouse, focused on advancing not just the agendas of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas, but also those of other global “anti-imperialist” causes. It broadcasts in Arabic, English, and Spanish. It has a presence on all main social media platforms, with 2 million followers on Twitter and 7.3 million on Facebook, and is available through multiple satellite services. It is not a niche phenomenon. During October 2023, Al Mayadeen’s main website scored 14.1 million unique visits (double its previous month’s traffic), with more than 20% of its visitors from the United States, Canada, and Germany. Its Spanish website gets more than 12 million visitors per month. Its YouTube channel has almost 1.2 million subscribers, with more than 200,000 added just in the last three months, and with 436.5 million videos viewed since it launched.

To boost the station’s global reach and transcend merely regional struggles, Bin Jiddo has actively pursued joint ventures with other “revolutionary,” “anti-imperialist” outlets. Al Mayadeen actively cooperates in content sharing with TeleSur, the Venezuelan Castro-Chavista TV network. It also hosts opinion, news, and analysis produced by authors and correspondents from other sister networks of the “resistance” axis, including Russia’s state propaganda channel, RT.

Ostensibly, this is a private, independent, global news network. Yet there is no escaping that its editorial line is aligned with Iran, the “resistance” axis, and their allies and authoritarian fellow travelers, such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia, and Venezuela.

Further, we must consider Ben Jiddo’s closeness to Hezbollah and its leader, whom Ben Jiddo has frequently interviewed over the years — ever since Bin Jiddo became Al Jazeera’s chief of station in Beirut (after having served as Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Tehran).

Corporate records show Bin Jiddo, his Iranian wife, and his son are the network’s shareholders. But all data I’ve seen suggest a potential Iranian influence operation, for which Bin Jiddo — with his avowed loyalty to the “resistance axis” but not enough capital to fund a global media operation — is the front man.

As Copenhagen University scholar Christine Crone — the author of a book and numerous studies on Al Mayadeen — has noted, although data about financial backing are publicly unavailable, “there are several indications that Iran is the main — if not only — sponsor.” A December 2023 report on Al Mayadeen published by the French Denis Diderot Committee quotes inside sources to suggest that the channel’s funding comes mostly from the Iranian regime, with a sizable share coming from Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Syrian dictator Bashar el Assad.

Al Mayadeen toes a robustly pro-Iranpro-resistancepro-Russiaanti-Western editorial line, which puts it in the same class as Iran’s propaganda channels PressTV (English) and HispanTV (Spanish).

Even though its content is on a par with Iranian and Russian outlets already sanctioned for their misleading disinformation, Al Mayadeen has so far eluded Western sanctions. Like Iran’s HispanTV and PressTV, and Russia’s RT, Al Mayadeen has spread lies about non-existent U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, and offered credence to Russian denials of its war crimes in Bucha. Al Mayadeen has published opinions and analysis denying Hamas’ atrocities against Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023. It engages in Holocaust denial, including by insinuating that the actual Holocaust was exaggerated but Israel’s war conduct in Gaza is the real Holocaust.

Al Mayadeen also gives regular voice to official state actors from the axis, such as Bouthaina Shaabansanctioned in 2011 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a Syrian Ba’ath party insider and media advisor to Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad; Alexander Khokholikov, Russia’s ambassador to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua; and Adnan Mansour, former Lebanese foreign minister from Amal, Hezbollah’s Shi’a ally. It recently launched a weekly program by Alveida Guevara, daughter of the Argentinian-Cuban iconic revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, through an agreement with the Cuba-based Ernesto Che Guevara Center. And it is rebroadcasting “Maduro +,” the talk show of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, whom Bin Jiddo hailed as “one of the leaders of this new world we are fighting to build,” adding that Arab and Islamic audiences view Maduro as “a great universal leader who represents the aspirations of all these people in the struggle to free the world today.”

Though Al Mayadeen continues to spread misinformation, Washington — which, in its battle against disinformation, has already taken steps to curb Russia’s, Iran’s, and Hezbollah’s disinformation channels — seems oblivious to it. Downplaying Al Mayadeen’s role in the battle of ideas will have long-term implications, as America’s adversaries continue to leverage anti-Americanism and its attendant rhetoric of struggle against imperialism to the advantage of authoritarian regimes and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Washington should maintain consistency by sanctioning Al Mayadeen for spreading disinformation. The Biden administration should call on the private sector to do its part, deplatforming Al Mayadeen from the internet (as the Israeli government has already done), social media, and satellite access.

The pro-Hezbollah, pro-Iran, pro-Hamas, pro-Cuba, pro-Russia, and pro-Venezuela disinformation that Al Mayadeen spews daily is inflammatory, inciteful, and rife with antisemitic hatred and conspiracy theories. Al Mayadeen should be treated as a foreign state influence operation on behalf of the resistance axis and not be given free rein. Washington has sanctioned similar media disinformation campaigns before; Al Mayadeen should be next.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan research institution based in Washington D.C. Follow him on X @eottolenghi


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran in Latin America Lebanon Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance