On Tuesday, a massive explosion emanated from the port in Beirut, Lebanon, killing over 100 people and injuring thousands. The blast created a large mushroom cloud which many likened to a nuclear weapon. The explosion damaged buildings for miles around the port. Thousands became homeless in an instant. Hundreds of thousands may not be able to return home for a few months. An article from AP is even reporting that Lebanon has put port officials under house arrest.
The official story seems to be that a 2,750-ton cargo consisting of ammonium nitrate, a component used in fertilizer, had been stored in the building since being confiscated from a ship in 2013. On Tuesday, the story goes that the material was detonated after a fire broke out nearby.
Statements from US President Donald Trump indicated that this explosion was not an accident but an attack.
Some people in Lebanon dispute the official narrative pointing out that there was simply too large a quantity of hazardous materials being stored to be set off by a small fire. Some online posters report things like hearing planes. One eyewitness claims she saw an object like a drone dropping something seconds before the first explosion.
Hezbollah is the largest single political party in Lebanon, owing to its mostly Shia Muslim base and a large, growing Shia population. Hezbollah has a clandestine army operating throughout Lebanon. Hezbollah launches attacks against neighboring Israel. Was this storage being used by Hezbollah to store material for bombs or other weapons? And if that is the case, is it possible that Israel sent a missile somehow or otherwise detonated this storage?
This explosion also took place in close vicinity to the mostly Christian neighborhoods areas of Achrafiyeh and Bourj Hammoud. Additionally, the blast claimed the life of one of the leaders of the mostly-Christian Kataeb party, Nazar Najarian. The Kataeb Party, also known as the Phalange, is one of the largest and most influential political parties in Lebanon.
All of this takes place in an atmosphere of anger and distrust of the authorities. Lebanon is infamous for its dysfunctional political system. The dysfunctional system was a major component leading to the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, which began in 1975 and lasted until 1990. More recently, Lebanon has been rocked by massive demonstrations for months, not unlike what happened in Armenia in recent times and what is currently going on in the United States and elsewhere. Maybe the names of organizations are different. Maybe the grievances are different, but the anger is recognizable. While the demonstrations have not toppled Lebanon’s government like they did in Armenia, they have been considerable. This explosion comes at a curious time.
Lebanon is no stranger to war. Lebanon found itself in the midst of a civil war that dragged on for 25 years, from 1975-1990. During that long period of time, they dealt with bombs and attacks, including from nearby Israel. Lebanon was being torn apart. The United States attempted to help by sending in forces. On October 23, 1983, two truck bombs struck buildings in Beirut, housing American and French service members as part of a multinational force. A total of 307 people died, 241 of them were U.S. Military personnel. This attack has long been blamed on Hezbollah, although a group called Islamic Jihad took responsibility. This act ultimately led the multinational force to withdraw from Lebanon. Ultimately, the war ended in 1990, thanks in part to the efforts of neighboring Syria, and Lebanon has struggled to rebuild, apart from occasional attacks from Israel. Which brings up the question of why did this happen? The thorny issues which caused the war to begin with have never been settled. And how can we ignore what has been happened in neighboring Syria?
Syria has in more recent years dealt with its own civil war, pushed in large part thanks to foreign powers such as Turkey and the United States. The United States under the presidency of Barack Obama pursued a policy of arming so-called Syrian rebels, who have largely turned out to be Islamic jihadists. ISIS, also known as Daesh, was just one emanation out of that mess. U.S. President Donald Trump put an end to funding the rebels, and that helped quickly put an end to much of the war, in conjunction with Russian military assistance that Russia provided to Syria. This disaster of a foreign policy spilled over into Lebanon, which had to deal with incursions from ISIS and a large Syrian refugee population.
Presently, many nations are extending a helping hand of aid to Lebanon. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has vowed severe penalties for those responsible.