Jannus TH Siahaan

Some Premature Narratives Around the Blasts in Beirut

A massive explosion ripped through the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday, August 4, killing scores of people and injuring thousands. The Lebanese government has so far indicated that they believe the enormous blast to have been the result of 2,700 tonnes of the chemical compound ammonium nitrate left lying in a warehouse in Beirut port since 2013.

The National Council for Scientific Research said a warehouse containing ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material used for fertilisers, was the source of the incident. On other hand, Health Minister Hamad Hassan described the incident as “a disaster in every sense of the word”, and warned that the death toll was likely to rise. The head of the Lebanese Red Cross told local broadcasters on Wednesday that more than 100 people had died and 4,000 people had been wounded. Among those killed was Nizar Najarian, secretary-general of the Kataeb party, whose headquarters are near the port’s entrance

The huge explosion at Beirut’s port is a crippling blow to a country that had been reeling from a political and financial crisis, a depreciating currency and the Covid-19 pandemic. Economic damage from the blast is being estimated in the billions of dollars. And, Beirut port, which was the epicentre of the explosion, is the country’s main logistics hub and its deepest sea port that become one of economic pilar in Lebanon.

So it was the beating heart of the country as it provided around 80 percent of imported goods, which kept the economy moving. The closure of the port threatens food security in the country, which is import reliant for an estimated 65-85 percent of food needs, according to a Triangle report. Some 15,000 tonnes of wheat had been stored at the port’s silos. The disaster will have a dramatic impact on food security. Bread prices were already up, spiking food prices will go up further, and 50 percent of Lebanese are under the poverty line.

To date, no party or organization has claimed responsibility for the explosion. However, the Lebanese government has given a clear statement that there will be a price to be paid by the perpetrators. The government will take a stand after all evacuation processes have been completed. At the very least, the statement implies that the Lebanese government has a list of parties suspected of being followed up after all recovery steps have been taken. Also, the statement is in tune with President Donald Trump’s initial statement that the explosion at the port of Beirut was a kind of bomb, although after that, some in the Pentagon underestimated his statement

However, there have been a number of narratives that developed regarding the Beirut bombers. First, the bombing occurred three days before the decision of the court of the bombing that killed former prime minister Rafiks Hariri in 2005. Not even a year after his resignation, Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, was hit by a bomb to coincide with Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2005, on his way home from parliament, along with several politicians and his bodyguards.

Nearly all Lebanese agreed, the culprit was  Syria, led by Bashar al-Assad via radical wing of Islam, because Rafiq was the main opponent of Syria’s excessive intervention in the Lebanese government led by President Emile Lahoud and resigned for that reason. Only a month after that, the March 14 movement emerged, which was almost attended by a quarter of the Lebanese population, which finally forced Syria to leave Lebanon, withdrawing 14,000 troops and all its intelligence. Finally, the Special Tribunal, along with an independent investigation carried out by Lebanese brigadier general Wissam Al-Hassan, found compelling evidence for the responsibility of Lebanese group Hezbollah in the assassination. But there is absolutely no statement of attitude for this from Syria, as well as material evidence that leads to it

Second, the continuation of the narrative ruling on the perpetrators of Rafiks Hariri’s murder was Hezbollah. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened in the past to destroy Israel by causing a massive explosion in the port of Haifa using ammonia tanks that he said would be like a “nuclear” explosion. In addition Hezbollah allegedly sought to acquire ammonium nitrate via Syria since 2009 and tried to infiltrate the agriculture ministry in Lebanon to do so, according to leaked diplomatic cables. That’s why, Israeli officials warned that a similar incident to the one in Beirut could happen in Haifa if dangerous chemicals stored in the port city are not removed

But it is not easy to find a reasonable explanation for the explosion in the port of Beirut to Hezbollah. It is precisely the tone of the growing society in society that the explosion is indirectly associated with the corrupt Lebanese government. Much of the anger already expressed by the Lebanese population has been directed toward the government in general, as the country picks itself up and fully assesses the situation, Hezbollah may quickly find itself facing criticism over its practice of storing weapons and explosive materials in civilian areas — including large quantities of ammonium nitrate

Third, narrative about Russia. The chemicals originally arrived at Beirut’s port on board a Russian-owned cargo vessel flying a Moldovan flag in September 2013. The shipping monitoring organisation at the time reported that “upon inspection of the vessel by Port State Control, the vessel was forbidden from sailing. Most crew except the master and four crew members were repatriated and shortly afterwards the vessel was abandoned by her owners after charterers and cargo concern lost interest in the cargo”.

According to documents posted online and seen by Al Jazeera, the ship’s dangerous cargo was then offloaded and placed in hangar 12. Numerous letters were reportedly sent by customs officials, including former director of Lebanese customs Shafik Merhi, to judges between 2014 and 2017 asking for guidance on what to do with the chemicals. One letter sent in 2016 – which noted there had been “no reply” to previous requests – said the ammonium nitrate was being kept in “unsuitable” conditions.

But however,  this narrative is actually quite difficult to relate to the motive for the bombing Beirut Port. Who should be explored clearly whose Russian businessman?  Moreover, the arrival of the Ammonium Nitrate carrier in 2013, 7 years ago. Because it is only so closely related to the story of the closeness of the Kremlin to the Syrian ruler, Assad, who intersects with the first narrative, nothing else

And fourth, there are also who try to find the link with Israel, given the ongoing tension between Israel and Hezbollah after the killing of one of the Hezbollah figures by the IDF, Israel’s annexation plan,  and the crippling of four people who infiltrated the Israeli border which is suspected as one form of retaliation by Hezbollah.  And it is also suspected that in the vicinity of the explosion site there was one Hezbollah arsenal which could have been one of the targets of Israeli attacks. But in fact, both Israeli officials and sources close to the Hezbollah terror group swiftly denied the Jewish state’s role in the blasts, despite persisting, but wholly unsubstantiated rumors that fighter jets were seen in the area before the explosions and that a missile was spotted striking the port. And on the other hand, Netanyahu has also offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon as a sign of empathy and cooperation in humanity .

About the Author
Doctor of Sociology from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia. Defense and Environment Observer.