*Saudi-owned TV station Al Arabiya making 'increasingly absurd fabrications', says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
When it takes Julian Assange, of all people, to point out how Saudi Arabia’s dirty tricks campaign has gone into overdrive, you know it’s reaching Alice in Wonderland proportions.
From his bolthole in the Ecuadorian embassy, the Wikileaks founder took to Twitter to complain that the Saudi-owned TV station Al Arabiya was making “increasingly absurd fabrications” in the country’s 11-week-long dispute with Qatar.
In particular he took the broadcaster to task for quoting him saying Qatar had paid 'huge sums of money' for two damaging cables not to be published.
Equally absurd was the Arab TV station’s attack on The Independent and Newsweek over the weekend.
Both had reported widespread outrage at an animated Al Arabiya video showing a Qatar Airways passenger plane being shot down by a Saudi jet for straying into the desert kingdom’s airspace.
Saudi Arabia closed its borders to Qatar at the start of June when it launched a diplomatic and transport blockade of the country over its supposed support for extremism and cosying up to Iran, which Doha denies.
The video led to a complaint by Qatar to the International Civil Aviation Organisation that the Saudis were “terrorising” travellers.
But in an extreme case of splitting hairs, Al Arabiya then launched a bizarre attack claiming the “Western media outlets” had “misleadingly” reported what the footage conveyed.
It said the video began with a Saudi jet forcing a passenger jet – with the Qatar Airways logo on the side – to land for entering its airspace.
This was followed by a second sequence in which a missile is fired at the aircraft in midair. But on this occasion the plane’s Qatar Airways logo had been removed – so, they tried to claim, it wasn’t a Qatari plane.
I think not. It’s the same animated video sequence; it’s the same voiceover talking about what Saudi Arabia can do under international law if a Qatari plane strays into its airspace; it’s the same aeroplane, bar a logo.
If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.
Plus, who else has Saudi Arabia closed its border to?
A Qatari passenger is going to be no less terrified that the pilot might lose his bearings just because the Qatar Airways logo has been removed in the second half of a video sequence.
As well as singling out The Independent for its coverage, the Al Arabiya report also named the Newsweek journalist involved in writing up the story for his own outlet, noting that “he has frequently been featured on Al Jazeera Arabic, the news channel that has led a campaign against the Arab countries boycotting Qatar”. How dare he!
That’s the same Al Jazeera TV station that, in their ludicrous list of 13 demands at the outset of the dispute, the Saudi-led alliance said should be closed down.
OK, as the Qataris said at the time, you close down Al Arabiya, and we’ll close Al Jazeera.
But while Al Jazeera is an internationally respected news organisation, Al Arabiya, in Assange’s words, is just becoming, well, absurd.
Consider how gleefully it seized upon this week’s story of how a little-known cousin of the Emir of Qatar was paraded around Saudi Arabia and touted as a mediator between the two countries.
Not only did he get to see the Crown Prince, but he was also flown to Morocco to meet King Salman himself at his holiday retreat.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani, who’s an elderly relative of the current Emir living in Saudi , in a matter of hours becomes the proud owner of a Twitter account with 250,000 followers.
It dresses up the story to be about how Sheikh Abdullah has mediated between the two countries to facilitate Qataris travelling to this month’s Haj in Saudi Arabia, the pilgrimage to Makkah every Muslim must do once in their life if they are able.
The reality is that His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s popularity has soared ever since he stood up to Saudi-led aggression at the start of June, which the Che Guevera-style images of him displayed on buildings and social media show.
Al Arabiya, at least, has become absurd, indeed.