The Beirut Blast That Rocked the Region

The tragic August 4 explosion that tore through Beirut, killing over 150 people, injuring thousands, and causing massive property damage, represents the latest tragic phase in Lebanon’s destabilization and transition into failed-state status.

As the fallout from the deadly explosion continues to reverberate, and the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the face of popular outrage, many Lebanese demonstrators have taken to the streets. In addition to their calls for an overhaul of the corrupt political system, which has left them poor, with little electricity, and a breakdown in basic services, the demonstrators have begun challenging Hezbollah’s unrivaled status as the military and political hegemon in Lebanon.

A domino effect of instability could see Hezbollah’s position challenged in new ways, and the Iranian-backed proxy could respond with violence to protect its status.

Yet the destabilization of the Lebanese state began long before the Beirut explosion. Lebanon has been facing a series of crises, joining a Middle Eastern club of states unable to provide basic services or an economic future for its citizens, a growing number of whom find themselves homeless, jobless, and hopeless.

Lebanon has shown an inability to find a solution for its people, for whom the economy is the most important and pressing issue. That reality has given rise to a growing current of anti-leadership protests in Lebanon, and the protests are not sectarian in nature. Like in Iraq, the Shi’ite sector in Lebanon has seen a young generation challenging its own Shi’ite leaders.

The involvement of the international community has also been sub-par. Inherent instability is thus the norm in Lebanon, and, like in other Middle Eastern states, Iran is a big part of the story.

Lebanon now faces the twin crisis of economic collapse and political paralysis.

While anger toward the government and Hezbollah was growing prior to the blast, Hezbollah still maintains a large loyalist southern Lebanese Shi’ite heartland (though some people there have joined Shi’ite voices critical of Hezbollah’s actions).

Lebanese citizens, from a variety of sectarian backgrounds, have become frustrated by the obstacles that the Iranian-backed terror-army has placed in the way of outside help. Sunni Gulf states, alarmed by the political ascendency of their arch-adversary – the Iranian-Shi’ite axis in Lebanon – stopped channeling large funds into Lebanon’s banking services sector. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE, which must contend with the radical Shi’ite axis in their own backyards, have any interest in rescuing a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanese government from bankruptcy.

In distress, Lebanon turned to the International Monetary Fund for a 10 billion dollar bailout loan. But the IMF would require changes to Lebanon’s economic structure, including more transparency, and assurances that Hezbollah, which faces American sanctions, will not take charge of the funds. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has described the IMF conditions as terms “that would make the country explode” – a statement that reflects the degree to which Hezbollah holds the country hostage.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, still maintains thousands of combatants in Syria, where they fight alongside Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias on behalf of the genocidal Assad regime.

The blast itself raises a number of questions, so far unanswered, about Hezbollah’s potential linkage. The questions were well summarized by Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, who examined the official version of events describing how a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship docked at Beirut port in 2013, reportedly after suffering technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique, carrying 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate. After a series of disputes and inspections, the ship was abandoned by its owners in Beirut, and its cargo was transferred to the Port’s Warehouse No. 12, where it remained for several years, despite repeated requests by port authorities to dispose or resell the explosive substance contained.

According to Karmon, questions linger over how the ship got permission to dock in Beirut in the first place, as well as why nobody contacted the company in Mozambique that allegedly ordered the explosives and paid a million dollars to the ship’s owners for it. Questions over who decided to store the explosives at the port for six years, and keep it in poor conditions, have not received satisfactory answers.

In addition, it remains unclear whether Hezbollah weapons were stored near the enormous ammonium nitrate storehouse.

Whether or not Hezbollah is connected to the blast, what is beyond dispute is that Hezbollah terror cells, under orders to attack Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, were found in possession of tons of ammonium nitrate, including in London, Thailand, Cyprus, and Peru. The organization appears to have trafficked the substance to its sleeper cells. The Thai National Police chief found similar explosives in shipping crates, apparently for export to other destinations.

It must also be noted that Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsor intended to set up a missile production line inside Lebanon, an initiative that resulted from Israel’s alleged, effective, ongoing interdiction of Iranian smuggling attempts into Lebanon.

Hezbollah now wants to convert many of its rockets into precision guided missiles in order to threaten Israeli strategic sites, a development that would cause even greater regional volatility.

Whether or not Hezbollah negligence was linked to the Beirut blast, the tragic event underlines the obvious risk posed by the storage of explosives and weapons in the heart of crowded, built-up civilian areas – a modus operandi that Hezbollah has pioneered, and continues to implement.

About the Author
Yaakov Lappin is the In-House Analyst for The Miryam Institute, the premier international forum for Israel focused dialogue, discussion & debate. (Www.MirYamInstitute.Org) He provides insight and analysis for a number of media outlets, including Jane's Defense Weekly, a leading global military affairs magazine. Previously, Yaakov worked as the defense correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. He is also a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and I-24. Yaakov is the author of Virtual Caliphate - Exposing the Islamist state on the Internet. He holds and BA in Politics & Modern History from the University of Manchester and an MA in the History of International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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