The paradigm of the Beirut explosion


Since Tuesday, 4 August, much has been written and voiced about the explosion in the port of Beirut, an explosion which for many has been the tip of the iceberg for a state and a society that had been heading since October towards a new civil conflict with unpredictable consequences. Not only for Lebanon, given the magnitude of the actors involved, the consequences will be felt throughout the region, opening up a new battlefield if the situation is not redirected.

Lebanon was dealt the biggest blow since the end of the civil war on Tuesday, when two explosions in the city's port leveled everything in a 10 km radius. At first the news spoke of an explosion in a fireworks warehouse, later it was learned that the first explosion had affected a warehouse where 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored, producing a second and brutal deflagration. The second explosion affected an area of about 10 km from the port of Beirut. According to various sources, the explosion was felt off the coast of Cyprus and caused a movement of 3.3 on the Richter scale and devastation never before seen in a country that knows very well what war is and what bombs are.
The balance sheet for Lebanon varies according to the medium, between 80 and 200 dead and 2,000 to 6,000 wounded, who have finished collapsing the battered hospitals of Beirut, which are still fighting the pandemic and 90% of the cereal stocks for this year destroyed or contaminated by the explosion. According to the Lebanese government, the losses amount to more than 15 billion dollars for the time being.


The presence of a huge amount of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer commonly used in the food industry, triggered the alarms, given its regular use as a component of explosives. However, once again, the paradigmatic aspect is that the presence of this ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut for the last seven years was the logical result of a chain of errors in a fractured state, where the control structures collapsed long ago. 2750 tonnes of fertiliser from a Moldovan-flagged ship in transit from Georgia to Mozambique, owned by a Russian businessman resident in Cyprus, which was carrying ammonium nitrate for the manufacture of explosives for civilian use. The ship is abandoned in the port of Beirut due to several factors, the debt of the salaries of the crew, who are also aware of the poor security measures for the cargo and the loss of interest of the owners of both the ship and the cargo in continuing the journey to Mozambique. The natural solution for
The latter is Beirut, the usual cemetery for abandoned ships, and after accessing it, they report the impossibility of paying the fees, if not also the wages of the crew, so that ship and cargo are detained. From this moment on, Lebanese customs authorities such as the IMO (International Maritime Organization), an agency dependent on the United Nations, denounced the state of the cargo, decomposition and exposure to heat and recommended that it be stowed outside the ship by increasing security measures. Three reports followed one another before the ammonium nitrate was abandoned, again without minimum security guarantees, this time in a warehouse in the port.

In 2016 the Beirut port authority denounced and issued reports on the decomposition of ammonium nitrate and its extreme volatility, even appealing to the courts, in the face of the passivity of the Lebanese authorities, without any action being taken. In 2017, supported by an IMO report, the government is informed that in the state of decomposition in which it is found, the stored ammonium nitrate will not be able to be re-exported, insisting that safety measures be taken. The ship was sunk in Beirut in 2018, the rest is history.

After the explosion, accusations follow one another, causing all eyes and speculation about the event to be diverted towards Hezbollah. The US president, prudent as usual, without naming the Shiite organization, declared that it was a bomb, of some kind, without offering any evidence, he only referred to having consulted military personnel, supposedly denied by Pentagon sources, who on the same Tuesday referred to CNN not having any evidence of an attack on Lebanese soil, as the main US ally in the region, Israel, by the mouth of its foreign minister. Gabi Ashkenazi. Even the ISF had no record of any attack, in the words of Abbas Ibrahim, the ISF's commander, the eyes and ears of the state and one of the men who has concentrated most power around him in recent years. Despite these institutional statements, Saudi and Israeli media, from Aurora to Okaz to Riyadh Daily, insist on the involvement of Hezbollah and even Iran. A river in turmoil, fishermen's profits.


However, it seems that Hezbollah is not at this moment the political actor in Lebanon most interested in provoking an incident of this magnitude. Since the beginning of the so-called WhatsApp revolution in October, Hezbollah has been insisting on maintaining stability in the country at all costs, where it appears as the guarantor of the current government, reinforcing this role during the toughest months of the pandemic, having been key to avoiding the irremediable collapse of the public health system, by putting at the service of the government, its extensive network of primary care, laboratories and hospitals, also carrying out daily tasks such as disinfecting the streets in the country's main cities.

Not even the elimination of a political rival such as Nazar Najarian, the general secretary of Kataeb, would justify such an action. Najarian, who belongs to the Armenian Christian minority, was a prominent collaborator of Bashir Gemayel during the civil war, carrying out both military and political tasks. After the war, Najarian abandoned political activity to dedicate himself to business, settling in Canada where a large Lebanese colony is established. Considered a man of the old guard of the Lebanese phalanx, he was elected secretary general of the Kataeb after elections in 2018.

The Kataeb, founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel, represents the Maronite Christian right, opposed to the Shiite organizations, Amal and Hezbollah, and is also in favor of a move away from Syria. During the civil war he was one of the main political and military actors, holding in 1982, the presidency of the country his general secretary, Bashir Gemayel, until his assassination a month after his election. Gemayel's death precipitated the intervention in the Sabra and Chatila camps by the party's militias, supported by the Israeli army, causing a massacre among the population sheltering in the camps.


Kataeb, after the 2018 elections, obtained three deputies in the Assembly of Representatives, making it an irrelevant party in the Lebanese political spectrum, but, since January, the government has been occupied by a single-colored executive, sponsored by President Michel Aoun and supported by the Shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal.
The death of Nazar Najarian as a consequence of the explosion, even the explosion itself, is not only the last act of the penultimate week of anger in Lebanon, it is the paradigm of the inevitable outcome of the social fracture in Lebanon.

However, Hezbollah is responsible for the current political situation in Lebanon, as the main ally of President Aoun, pointed out by the demonstrators who have been occupying the streets of the country since October, and who were demanding his resignation as a previous step to the formation of a new government and the calling of elections. He is also responsible for the non-formation of a technocratic government, another of the demands of the demonstrators, which is alien to the prevailing system and free from the clientelist networks that burden Lebanese domestic politics.

Hezbollah opposed this government and Aoun consented. Hezbollah has put the carrot, putting its capacities at the service of the executive, capacities that are far superior to those of the government itself, but at the same time it has used the stick, sending its militants to confront the Lebanese citizens who are protesting against the system that has led the country to this situation. The international implications that Hezbollah has for Lebanon are a separate issue, but their weight and consequences in the country's foreign policy are at least as great as the interests of external actors in intervening in Lebanon, such as Saudi Arabia or Israel itself, which is interested in stirring up the Lebanese hornet's nest as much as possible to get Hezbollah out of the game.
Successive Lebanese executives, since 2015, not to go back 30 years, have made foreign relations a form of personal promotion, among them Gebran Bassil, former foreign minister and son-in-law of Michel Aoun, who was walking around Davos representing the Lebanese government, in charge of unknown and altruistic donors or Saad Hariri, one of the main defendants by the citizenship, owner of Saudi Oger, and with French and Saudi passports. Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has wasted no time in demanding an international investigation, coinciding with his return to the Lebanese political front line on the International Tribunal for Lebanon's ruling on the 2005 assassination of his father, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.


The court, given the complexity of the situation, has delayed the announcement of the sentence until 18 August, and whatever the Hague's opinion, it will put out the flames of the Lebanese fire with petrol. The trial of four Shiite militants in absentia was not recognised by Hizbollah, which has always refused to hand over to the tribunal the four accused of killing 21 people, including Prime Minister Hariri, and injuring 221 others. The week before the explosion was undoubtedly one of the worst for Lebanon in a year without rest for exhausted Lebanese society.

On the border with Israel, tension rose even further between the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and Hizbollah, which responded to Israeli air force attacks on Lebanese organization targets in Syria. Along the southern border of Lebanon, small clashes between the IDF took place throughout the week, both on the Lebanese side and in the Shebaa Farms, Lebanese territory occupied since 1967 by Israel, and one of the most sensitive aspects in the relations between the two countries.

On August 3, one day before the explosion in the port of Beirut, the government of Hassan Diab began to fracture with the resignation of Foreign Minister Nasif Hiti. Hiti once again denounced the systematic corruption of Lebanese institutions and the impossibility of carrying out the necessary reforms to clean up the political system. But above all, Hiti spoke of the inexorable path of the country of cedars towards assuming the condition of a failed state and accused the government of being the main responsible for the perpetuation of the system and the international community of not wanting to help Lebanon to solve the difficult situation in which it finds itself.

And yet, the foreign minister's was not the only defection within the Lebanese diplomatic apparatus. Hours after the tremendous explosion in Beirut, Lebanon's ambassador to Jordan, Tracy Chamoun, granddaughter of former president Camille Chamoun, resigned for the same reasons that Nasif Hiti had done hours earlier, blaming the political system that emerged after the civil war for negligence. For a moment it seemed that the Lebanese political class was reneging on itself and on the system in which until a few days ago they had developed their careers.

After the explosion, events soon followed, on the seventh, in the face of the ineffectiveness of the executive, which had only announced the formation of a commission of inquiry to determine what had happened, the results of which were to be made public within five days. Tens of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in protest, surrounding the Assembly with representatives. On Saturday 8, the president of the Lebanese Falange, and one of its three elected representatives, Samy Gemayel, announced that the Kataeb was leaving the Assembly of Representatives in protest against the death in the explosion of the former secretary general of the organization. Similarly, Paula Yacoubian, the only non-party member of parliament in Lebanon, and the Druze representatives of Walid Jumblat's party left the Assembly, stating that the Assembly no longer has the capacity to represent or make political decisions that would redress the situation.

At the same time, there were serious clashes between demonstrators, who took to the streets to denounce, once again, the corruption, patronage and negligence shown by the authorities in managing the sequence of events that led to the explosion in the port of Beirut. The demonstrators tried to break down the barriers protecting the area around the Assembly, where they symbolically hanged the three top officials responsible for the current socio-political situation in Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, Assembly President Nabih Berry and Hizbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah.

In the same way that they kept the country's highest governing body paralyzed since November, the demonstrators used their best efforts to break the police cordon in Martyrs' Square, using, as in those November days, gas and the infamous water cannons against the population. As injuries accumulated among both the protesters and the police, the violence increased. According to the Lebanese Red Cross, about 160 people were injured and one policeman died in the fighting. The headquarters of the ministries of foreign affairs, environment and economy were occupied and burned by the demonstrators. That same night, Hassan Diab appeared before the Lebanese on television, while demonstrators and security forces clashed over the survival of the former regime, to announce an imminent electoral call to try to redress a hopeless situation. Two days later, on Monday 10th, the prime minister and his executive resigned in full, in the face of social pressure and the impossibility of carrying out their work without ties, complaining about the endless corruption that grips the country, expressing himself in the same terms as former foreign minister Nasif Hiti did a week earlier.
They leave the ball in Michel Aoun's court, Nabih Berry's court, and of course Hasan Nasrallah's court, who is inextricably linked to the latter government, but with his own agenda and international implications that make it difficult to know what position he will take in the next few days or months. In the last days, Hezbollah has also called for national unity, although with the feeling that the message is more focused on getting rid of the responsibility of its enemies over the organization, than on closing ranks with the rest of the Lebanese political and social actors in order to find a viable and dialogued solution to an openly unsustainable situation.

This solution must inevitably involve dialogue between Hezbollah and the rest of the Lebanese social and political organisations. Meanwhile, a provisional government with practically no powers will be formed, which will call for elections in the shortest possible period of time. Elections that, if they do not gather the demands of the citizens, and carry out the reforms proposed since October, focused on the social, political and economic regeneration of the country starting with the disapproval of President Michel Aoun. That same Monday, Gebran Bassil, president of the MPL (Free Patriotic Movement), called for the rapid formation of a government, while in the streets the citizens asked themselves, "What government?

At this juncture, at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, supported by the United Nations, he convened an emergency donor conference on Monday 10. The country now needs $900 million to undertake reconstruction after the violent explosion and to stock up on food reserves, as it has only a month's supply. The agreed aid is USD 300 billion in exchange for structural and economic reforms, which are perceived by part of Lebanese society as an imposition, a blackmail, on a country that is fighting for its survival. It is certain that the disarmament of Hezbollah and its disappearance will also be demanded, and in this sense both Riyadh and Washington, with the acquiescence of Paris, are more interested in supporting the old elite accommodated to their interests than in really solving the situation in Lebanon.

There has been speculation from various quarters that Hariri has been proposed to lead a government of national unity. Let's not fool ourselves, Hezbollah, they are not going to give in, their capabilities exceed those of the state, they are strong and they know it. If only because of the political and social weight that the Shiite organization carries, it must be part of the solution. To ignore Hizbollah would be a mistake that neither Lebanon nor the region can afford, even though some sectors of Lebanese society insist on the need to marginalise the organisation in exchange for much-needed aid. Even reaffirming the infamous system that has led Lebanon to this situation.

The explosion is the latest and largest of the many explosions that have been shaking the country since October, a government sustained by the political and economic elite with its back to society, confrontations in the streets between demonstrators and Shiite militants, paralysis of the Assembly of Representatives and attempts at a change of government where President Michel Aoun ignored the demands of Lebanese society. Hezbollah carries more weight than ever before, both militarily and socially. Economic, energy and food crises in a regional framework of chronic instability, but in a situation that has never occurred before, with more actors in conflict and crossed interests. Health crisis, refugee crisis, bank corralito. Lebanon has been gathering all the necessary ingredients for the inevitable civil conflict to break out, in great agitation. All means All, the new slogan of the people in the street is tremendously significant. The country must be reset, without exception, we are facing a textbook failure. The state lacks capacity and legitimacy.