Beirut blast: who is to blame?

The ignition of political intrigue is now an ongoing event

By Chiara Castro: Political Columnist

It was a warm evening in mid summer the 4th of August in Beirut. A normal day, like others in the Cedric capital, was about to end. When, around 6 pm local time, a violent explosion ripped through a warehouse at the port of the city, the nation’s main trade artery.

A mushroom of orange smog invaded the air. After a handful of seconds, another burst. Stronger than the preceding, it rocked the ground, overturned cars and destroyed many adjacent buildings, among which the national’s main grain silo and the city’s largest hospital. Even citizens of Cyprus, from 200 kilometres away, could report the wave.

The Beirut blast, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever seen, was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. The damage is huge. So far, it counts over 170 people killed, more than 5,000 injured and around 300,000 people left homeless. The highly combustible chemical compound, which can be used for creating fertilisers or explosives, had been stored in the port warehouse, reportedly since the 12th of September 2013. It was indeed sequestrated from a shipping boat flagged Moldova, owned by Igor Grechushkin, a Russian businessman living in Cyprus. The vessel, directed from Georgia to Mozambique, had had to stop in Beirut for technical problems. After some inspections, Lebanese authorities decided to detain the shipment for lack of transportation documents. From that moment it was docked, in the centre of the city, at the infamous Hangar 12.

It is still unclear how the blaze initiated. Preliminary analysis seems to point out that the compound, which has already been the protagonist in many accidental or deliberate explosions around the world, caught fire as the result of an unintentional mishap. A tweet of the president Michel Aoun described the event as an accident, negligence or “external interference”, calling for an internal investigation. Although, many believed that an international enquiry could lead to a better understanding of the facts. So, who is to blame for all of this? Was it a mere accident or something more?

The first obvious question popping in everyone’s head is: why on earth had that big amount of ammonium nitrate left stored in the port for so long? Beirut citizens have literally lived next to a time bomb for almost seven long years, unaware. It is undeniable that a more adequate disposal of this dangerous substance could had prevented the disaster. The usual game of finding responsibility started. It seems to be just the start of a thick web of blame.

Also speculation over the contents sparked public opinion. One military explosives expert who worked close to the Lebanese Army, is reported to have claimed that the hangar was shelter for other confiscated goods, such short-range missiles. As Danilo Coppe, another explosives expert, stated in an interview appeared on the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera “The ammonium nitrate, when detonates, generates an unmistakable yellow cloud. Instead, from the videos of the explosion, in addition to the white sphere that can be seen expanding, which is condensation of the sea air, you can clearly see a brick orange column tending to bright red, typical of lithium participation. Lithium-metal is a propellant for military missiles, so I think there were armaments there.” Negligence, corruption or malign intentions?


Beirut citizens were living next to a time bomb for seven long years

The disaster has led to days of unrest. Thousands of people filled the streets during a series of violent anti-establishment demonstrations, in which 728 people were wounded and one police officer killed. These rallies followed the mass protests carried on since October. The demand is always the same: the departure of all the corrupted and incompetent leadership that dragged the country into a terrible economical crisis. It does not, indeed, surprise the news of the prime minister Hassan Diab’s resignation, announced last Monday. However, the old cabinet can continue to meet, without the power of ruling out new legislation. All this could lead to a harmful political stagnation though.

The hypothesis of the external interference appears to have been already discarded by mainstream media. Yet, looking back in history, an foreign involvement seems to be a valid and logical possibility.

Many firefighters are still missing after attending the Harbour-side Blaze

Who knows if the truth that lies behind the disaster will ever be uncovered. What is sure is that many would benefit from the chaos and disorder erupted in the country, and at the expense of Lebanese citizens, once again. Before the recent explosion, Lebanon was already facing a deep economical crisis, intensified by the Coronavirus pandemic and the weight of millions of Syrian war refugees. Since the 4 August tragedy, international humanitarian aid had been denied because the Lebanese political class was reluctant to comply with the requested reforms. Now, it is the only way out for the country. But, at which cost? French president Emmanuel Macron did not waste time in consolidating his geopolitical power, rushing his visit in Beirut. With the port remains still smoking on the background, he extracted political concessions from Aoun in exchange of financial support. Also the coalition Israel, US and Saudi Arabia has lots of advantages to gain from a Lebanese collapse. A change of regime would lead the Cedric nation into their sphere of influence, distancing it from Syria, Iran and a Chinese cooperation.

Once known as land of prosperity, Lebanon is falling into a chasm of poverty and disorder. Economists predict a collapse alike the one ongoing in Venezuela. The scars and ashes of the Beirut blast deepened the fragile position of a nation already located in the middle of a hot area of conflicts. A dense net of corruption, political destabilisation and military tension is tangling up another Middle Eastern country. Is Lebanon going to be the next Syria? The Beirut blast did not shake just the soil, but also the precarious economical, political and geopolitical ground. And now, we can just wait to see what is going to come after. As helpless spectators, one more time.

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