Avi Melamed ~ Inside The Middle East
I am writing this article the day after a huge explosion that took place in the port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, on August 4, 2020. In this article, I am not focusing on speculations. Instead, I am just concentrating on several initial diagnoses related to the incident.
Basic information that can be assessed at this stage to be reliable:
According to official Lebanese reports, the explosion occurred in a warehouse located on the 12th Wharf of the Port of Beirut where 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate – a dangerous substance that can be used both for fertilizer and to create explosives – were stored. Apparently, the chain of events that led to the explosion began with a fire in an adjacent warehouse that reportedly contained fireworks. (Here is a slow-motion video of the explosion)
At the time of this report, one hundred thirty-seven people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured because of the explosion. These numbers are expected to rise. The blast caused enormous damage for miles in each direction of the site of the explosion. Among other things, residential buildings, offices, shops, streets, vehicles, etc. were severely damaged or damaged. The financial damage is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
What are the Lebanese saying about the event?
Official Lebanese spokespeople admit that the materials have been stored on Wharf 12 since 2013. And although various Lebanese law enforcement agencies issued at least six alerts that the location was a ticking time bomb, Lebanese authorities did nothing to address the threat. It is a shocking failure.
Furious with their government’s incompetence, the Lebanese public discourse centers on two main ideas:
- It is yet another failure in an endless chain of incompetence and failures of the authorities to address Lebanon’s acute problems including transportation, garbage removal, drainage and sewage, electricity, public health services, and more.
- The reason the authorities did not address the threat is because the Lebanese Hezbollah (who controls the port – as well as all entry and exit points into and out of Lebanon) prevented the evacuation of the materials from the port because they use these materials for producing explosives and rockets.
As expected, countries in the region express solidarity, and some are offering medical assistance. Two major Arab states – Saudi Arabia and the UAE have expressed solidarity and condolences, yet, it took both countries’ more than a day to offer aid. That is not by chance. That was their way of signaling their dissatisfaction with Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and the UAE resent Lebanon because time and time again it has adopted a pro-Iranian position, even though Saudi Arabia and the UAE are by far much more significant for Lebanon’s economy than Iran. The fact that the Lebanese continually line up with Iran has caused each of these powers to shrink their role in Lebanon’s crumbling economy.
Israel officially announced that it was not involved in the incident. Israel offered medical and humanitarian aid and assistance to Lebanon. Israel’s outstretched hand will not meet an outstretched hand from the Lebanese side. As expected, there are voices in the area who hint – or openly accuse – Israel as the one responsible for the explosion. However, it is my impression that the attempt to hold Israel responsible for the incident does not receive much support in the Arab discourse.
Earlier this week, I published two video briefings about the fact that Israel and Hezbollah are on a collision track. In the second session which I posted a few hours before the Beirut explosion, I pointed out the fact that Israel is determined to act at all costs – even at the cost of a full-scale war with Hezbollah that could possibly exceed the Lebanese arena – to prevent Iran from deploying heavy missiles and rockets in Syria. In the video, I explained that the Iranian plan is to use its proxies in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Syria to help Iran rain hundreds of thousands of rockets and missiles on Israel – including high precision missiles with heavy warheads bearing tons of explosives that have a very high accuracy level of fewer than ten meters. This plan, which is part and parcel of an Iranian Corridor and a Shi’ite Crescent, Teheran is cultivating – is an existential threat to the State of Israel. And therefore, Israel is determined to thwart Iran’s activities in Syria at all costs. This is why Israel has attacked Iranian convoys, infrastructure, storehouses, etc. in Syria hundreds of times.
Many in the Arab world are openly stating or hinting and implying that the thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port belong to Hezbollah. It is highly likely that is the case. First, Hezbollah controls the entry points into Lebanon. And regarding weapons, Hezbollah already has a stockpile of about 150,000 missiles and rockets – most of them short-range – that if launched on Israeli cities and infrastructure would cause tremendous destruction. Storing ammunition, weapons, artillery, etc. “in plain sight” is characteristic of the organization. Hezbollah deliberately stores its immense rocket and missile arsenal inside and underneath densely populated cities, bucolic picturesque villages, and massive urban centers throughout Lebanon. The huge explosion and destruction this explosion in Beirut caused, provides a clear and devastating picture of the extremely serious threat Iran and its proxies – and particularly Hezbollah in Lebanon – pose to Israel.
History has a sense of irony. In a speech Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah delivered on February 2016, he threatened to fire missiles at an ammonia reservoir in Haifa Bay, Israel’s largest port city. Looking amused, Nasrallah stated in his speech that such an attack was tantamount to a nuclear weapon and would result in hundreds of thousands of Israelis being killed. Following the explosion in Beirut, an excerpt from his speech appeared on Arab Social Media networks, culminating in the footage from last night’s huge explosion. And the headline in Arabic read: “We (i.e. the Lebanese – not Israel) were the ones hit in the head.”
I would like to share with you a quote from an article published on August 5th following the explosion. The writer is Ibrahim al-Amin, the Editor-in-Chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar (The News) entitled “The Great Collapse” here is the link to the article (please note, it is in Arabic, but you can ‘right-click’ for the translation.)
“Whether it is an accident, or deliberate sabotage or any other reason, the event reveals the great collapse of Lebanon. A collapse of an entire system resulting from a way of thinking and behaving that is unable to deal with crises. It is also a moral collapse that has undermined the whole set of values that are essential to create solidarity and social and human mutual responsibility. It is a collapse of catastrophic proportions, and yet, it will not prevent certain elements and individuals from exploiting this collapse to advance their despicable interests. It’s a collapse of a state where no one has any more faith in the individual, the system, or the institution. In a few hours, the collapse reveals to us that a disastrous catastrophe awaits us behind the door”.
Why did I choose that specific quote? Because the writer is a supporter of Hezbollah. And so, while he mentions general reasons – and accurate ones – for the collapse, he fails to say even one word about a – if not THE – major reason for Lebanon’s gloomy reality. And that is Hezbollah. Al-Amin – like most Lebanese know that fact very well. And like most Lebanese, he prefers to ignore it…
Burying their heads in the sand – out of hypocrisy, political interests, or out of fear (many politicians and journalists have been murdered in Lebanon) is one of the major reasons for the fact that Lebanon – once a bustling center of culture, wealth, tourism, is today a disintegrating country that has been destroyed from every possible perspective.
Lebanon, first and foremost, is a victim of itself.
Here are links to some articles I have written on Lebanon’s gloomy reality:
Lebanon’s Despair: Initial Diagnoses October 2019
Alarms on the Israeli – Lebanese Border (A 3 Part Series) September / October 2019
Lebanon: The Gangland State February 2019
Lebanon: No Land for Beginning Politicians January 2017