Beirut: A tragedy that threatens the region with war and chaos
On the 4th August 2020 an apocalyptic event took place in the main port of Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut. Two explosions tore the city apart. The first explosion was registered on multiple mobile phone videos. The second ripped through the city with terrifying force, killing an estimated 220 and injuring more than 7000. Many victims are still missing as the search for survivors and bodies continues in the aftermath of thirty seconds that has left Beirut and Lebanon reeling with shock.
Three hundred thousand people are reported to be homeless although it is suspected that all estimated numbers are conservative. The damage to property is believed to be in the region of $ 10 – 15 billion. Lebanon’s main port is destroyed and will be closed for a year. Lebanon is a country largely reliant on imported goods for its survival so this loss is potentially devastating in addition to the human loss and trauma.
There are a number of theories surrounding the blasts being circulated on social media and by journalists keen to conclude that an attack was carried out by Israel using “tactical nukes”. While there is a strong possibility that Israel is directly or indirectly involved in the incident, it is too early to rush to judgement based upon doctored videos and images that have been published online.
What is clear is that this horrific event is being seized upon by the US/Israeli-dominated predator nations that see it as an opportunity to rid themselves of a recently elected Lebanese government that is tentatively supportive of Israel’s nemesis in the region, Hezbollah.
Riots have erupted again in the wake of the explosions. The US ambassador to Lebanon stated that “the Lebanese people deserve leadership that will listen to their demands for transparency and accountability”. Saboteurs broke into the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Ministry and reportedly destroyed files and archives. Some commentators suggested that this may be a deliberate interference and obstruction of any investigation into those responsible for the Port explosion.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, immediately flew to Beirut despite the potential of Covid-19 infection which has paralysed much of the world since its appearance in March 2020.
Online public opinion influencers, Avaaz, with a history of colour revolution orchestration, immediately published a petition on their “community” forum, suggesting that Lebanon should return to “French mandate in order to establish a clean and durable governance.” This petition was published 24 hours after the tragedy and garnered an alleged 61, 443 signatures before being closed. The “world’s largest and most effective online campaigning community for change” wasted no time in promoting what was, effectively, another regime change.
Macron’s hastily organised “donor conference”, a video-link congregation of interested world powers, also drove home the message that ‘profound political reform’ was needed in the country that neighbours Syria which has been under ten-year-long sustained military and economic attack by the same world powers deciding Lebanon’s fate. Macron informed the conference that “Israel wants to help Lebanon” – a clear indicator that “help” will come at the expense of banishing Israel’s enemies from any political process or influential role in the country, namely Hezbollah and any candidates or organisations aligned with the organisation that ran a successful campaign leading up to the most recent elections.
On the 7th August, Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayed Hasan Nasrallah, spoke to the Lebanese people. Nasrallah denied the existence of a Hezbollah ammunition store in the Port. Nasrallah, unlike the opposition, called for calm and unity, he recommended an independent investigation, by the Lebanese Army, into the incident. He gave a rational and compassionate response to the questions rising in the minds of the Lebanese people but it remains to be seen if they will heed his requests for resistance against the sectarian divides that are being exacerbated by internal and external forces. Nasrallah’s full speech transcript can be read here.
On the 10th August, the Lebanese cabinet resigned, followed by the Lebanese Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, leaving Lebanon in a dangerous political vacuum with enemy states poised to fill it with a more US/Israel- compliant and Hezbollah-averse option.
To provide more clarity from a regional perspective, I asked some questions of Lebanese journalist, academic and historian, Marwa Osman, and Iranian-American academic and political analyst, Seyed Mohammad Marandi. Some of the responses have been superseded by the shock resignation of the Lebanese government but the majority of what they both say is still very relevant. Marwa appeared on her own MidEastream programme for Press TV shortly after her country was rocked by the explosions. Watch the report here:
Questions for Marwa Osman
1. The apocalyptic events in Beirut-Lebanon have shocked the region and the world. As a mother, how has this event affected you and has it changed your perspective on the future?
I am numb most of the time. I see videos of people under the rubble and kids losing their parents and parents losing the children and it breaks me. I look at my children whom I haven’t had the energy to explain what happened yet and weep. Every mother fears for the safety of her children, but our children went through the most powerful non-nuclear blast on the planet.
My youngest sustained minor injuries but even with the smallest scratch my heart jumps out of place to heal it while knowing that a time might come when I might not even be here to heal them anymore, or worse I might be here but without them.
I lost focus but at the same time, my instincts are stronger. In fact, my instincts are overflowing that I had a panic attack today only because my youngest was singing loudly, I thought she was screaming. The moment of the blast, the shattering glass and the blood on her face will never leave my memory. I haven’t dreamt about it because in all honesty I have not slept a deep sleep yet. I’m afraid to sleep and see her or her sisters in my dreams heavily wounded.
I look at her angelic face as I type this while she sleeps in peace next to me with her little red bruised nose and blue bruised head. I want to pick her up and run towards the airport, put her and her sisters on a plane to destination safety. I don’t know where to, just away from the pain and destruction here.
I don’t have the energy to look my children in the eye and explain any of what happened. We have not spoken about it since. I just watch videos and cry when they are not looking. Maybe I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have brought them into this disgusting world. But they are here and I am terrified every minute of every hour of every day.
2. Yesterday Sayed Nasrallah informed us that Hezbollah has no access to the port where the explosion took place. Why are some commentators keen to push the narrative that a Hezbollah ammunition store was involved?
This has been the case for some time now, where Hezbollah’s name is being pushed deliberately in relation to anything that happens in the country. During the first hour of the blast, regional anti-resistance MSM was propagating lies about the disaster, while we were still in the first phase of shock, when the injured were roaming the streets, traumatised,, regional MSM was broadcasting fake news about a weapons warehouse in the port belonging to Hezbollah.
This is a systematic attack that serves one goal, demonise Hezbollah to maximise pressure against it and force it to push back from its deterrence against the Israeli occupation on one hand and to push it to halt its support for Syria alongside the rest of the axis of resistance on the other.
One should just think about it a bit before believing such nonsense. Why would Hezbollah need to store ammunition at the port when everything they need they can get from Syria and store it far away from residential areas? Why would Hezbollah store such chemicals for 6 years in an area controlled by their political foes? I mean it is beyond clear. One can easily track the owners of this shipment that docked in Beirut and find the origin of these chemicals and where they were headed and then tie the pieces together to understand that the same old corrupt elite controlling this port since 1991 were behind this disaster.
3. What is the history of this area and why, in your opinion, is it highly unlikely that Hezbollah would have any such storage facilities?
Like everything in Lebanon, jobs in the port were distributed on sectarian bases. Each warlord has his own set of names that gets pushed to be hired in any government position. The director of the port, the managers, all 4 former ministers of public works and transport since 2013 and the judges who were deliberately hiding the case to stop any prosecution, all had an idea of what was stored in port 12. None of them is even affiliated to Hezbollah. On the contrary they are all anti-Hezbollah. Do you really think that if this shipment belongs to Hezbollah and was kept there for 6 years that all of those mentioned above would have remained silent? If their allegations were true, they would have used this excuse to pin every terrorist attack that occurred inside Lebanon from 2013 till now, on Hezbollah.
4. In a recent MidEastream broadcast you mention the corruption in the government that is responsible for this tragedy. Who stored the ammonium nitrate in such huge quantities and for so long? Do you believe that this explosion will be fully and independently investigated?
We still do not have enough information about who seized this shipment, who gave the orders to store it and who made sure it remains there. Yesterday the current and former directors of the port were arrested for further investigations, I reckon we will have more information after two weeks concerning these questions.
I hope this explosion will be fully and independently investigated, but for that to happen I only trust the Lebanese army to do it. However, President Macron made sure to mention the “we call for an international investigation” nonsense while he met with Lebanese president, Michel Aoun. This raises a red flag for me. Why would we allow foreigners to do the investigation on our behalf? Do we not have skilled investigators paid for by our taxes?
Good thing our President refused foreign suggestions for an international probe, however, I bet this will produce a very heated debate in the upcoming days. The political blocs, whom those arrested are affiliated to, will for sure try to sabotage any effort by the President to get to the bottom of this disaster. Keeping in mind that the President and his FPM party are Hezbollah’s biggest ally in Lebanon.
5. Sayed Nasrallah mentioned “international opportunities” in his speech. What do you believe he means by this?
He was referring to the international support Lebanon is currently receiving in the aftermath of the explosion. He wants to see all undeclared US sanctions against Lebanon lifted. The first of which was people can receive USD again from OMT money transferring companies after they were banned from doing so to further break the Lebanese economy. Also monetary help might be on its way to Lebanon as per the offer put forward by the French president Emmanuel Macron concerning the Cedar fund which would positively affect the financial disaster in Lebanon. Sayed has declared several times, previously, that any plan to help the Lebanese get out of their financial crisis is welcome as long as it does not interfere with Lebanon’s sovereignty.
6. Sayed Nasrallah used the speech to call for unity among political and religious factions in Lebanon. He did not allude to the possibility of an Israeli involvement in the explosion. Why do you think he avoided this connection?
He actually did say that this disaster might be one inflicted by “foreign intervention” but that remains to be seen as per the investigations. He knows how sensitive the situation in Lebanon is right now, we still have missing people under the rubble with more than 140 martyrs and 5000 injured, saying anything that would provoke the people in distress is the last thing a man like Nasrallah wants. He knows that amongst those who lost loved ones and those injured are people who are not particularly fond of Hezbollah. He wants the country to stand together at this time of sorrow and he can talk about the Israeli role all he wants later on when we move forward from the current tragedy in the streets of Beirut.
7. Why do you think Macron is in Lebanon so quickly after the explosion?
He still thinks France has a say in Lebanese politics. I don’t blame him, colonialism is a chronic disease in the hearts and minds of colonial states. Mind you he visited one Beiruti street where he knows for sure people spoke French and kind of liked him. He would never move on to the next street in the western part of Beirut because there he would be welcomed with rotten eggs.
However, following the extensive meeting with all Lebanese political blocs, one can easily understand that Macron is trying to pull one more stunt to put France back on the map in Lebanon by claiming a political victory if his plan for early elections works in the country. I think he will fail. Early elections will not take place if the parliament remains intact and Cedar fund will not be given to Lebanon for many reasons one of which is Israel will lobby with the US to maintain undeclared economic sanctions against Lebanon so as to further pressure Hezbollah.
Questions for Seyyed Mohammad Marandi
1. The recent Iran/Syria arms deal seems to have triggered a series of events regionally. Do you think the explosion in Beirut-Lebanon, the uptick in Israeli attacks in Syria, have anything to do with this deal?
Obviously, it’s too early to comment on the explosion in Beirut. If it were as a result negligence then the US-backed politicians are to blame because they were in charge of the government for all these years. Saad Hariri and others were all in the American camp. If they are trying to blame Hezbollah today then we must assume they wish to distract attention from their own corruption.
On the other hand, if it were an attack it benefits the Americans and the Israelis because this is the first government in Lebanon that is actually not hostile towards Hezbollah. It is not a Hezbollah “friendly” government because Americans won’t allow that. Hezbollah’s success in the Lebanese elections forced American to accept a government that was not totally opposed towards Hezbollah.
After the elections, the US delayed the formation of the government until a few months ago and since then there has been one crisis after another – US sanctions, the disturbances on the streets, the rioting so it is clear the US will not allow the government to survive or succeed. So, if this tragedy is due to negligence it is the American camp, if it is an attack then obviously it also benefits the US. But most importantly we have to wait for the official investigation and what evidence is brought to light.
2. How do you interpret recent events, including the “attacks” on the nuclear centre in Iran, the US jet intimidation of an Iranian passenger jet and the tragedy in Beirut? Are we witnessing a serious escalation towards war or the death throes of the imperialist bloc?
The results of the investigation will enable us to answer any questions about the connection of recent events. The nuclear centre in Iran was sabotage led by the Americans. The US intimidation of the passenger jet in Syrian airspace was a serious violation of international law. There certainly appear to be signs of escalation and increased provocation. As the US and the “Empire” declines, it is becoming more erratic and dangerous so we may be moving towards major escalation.
3. Sayed Nasrallah alluded to “international opportunities” in his speech yesterday – how would you interpret his words?
I think Sayed Hassan Nasrallah was saying that this is, perhaps, a good opportunity to break the sanctions. Remember the Americans were desperately trying to suffocate the Syrian and Lebanese economies and to destroy the lives of the people living in these two countries.
Maybe this tragedy will succeed in breaking the US hold over Syria and Lebanon and will force other countries to actually act rather than stand back in fear of the US. So, we have to see what happens and whether neighbouring countries and the Lebanese government will ignore the brutal Caesar Act and whether the US sanctions will be broadly ignored.
We will have to see, it’s still very early to comment and I think that supporters of the US in Lebanon and the region will resort to anything possible to prevent Lebanon independence from US influence – there will be violence in Beirut and Lebanon and perhaps dangerous days awaiting us but, personally, I am optimistic that the Resistance will prevail despite all this pressure.
4. Does Iran have plans to withdraw partially from Syria and to work more remotely supplying air defence etc as part of the military agreement?
I don’t think Iran’s status in Syria is affected at all by the air-defence agreement with the Syrian government. Iran’s presence in Syria decreased after the major military operations concluded but Iran continues to play a very important role. Iranian commanders, soldiers and soldiers affiliated to Iran played a major role in the Idlib operations, pushing back the Al Qaeda and Turkish forces. Iran and its allies sustained casualties during those battles. I was actually present in Syria during those campaigns. The Iranians will continue to stand with the Syrians and I believe that Syrians feel the need for Iranian support more than before.
5. Do you believe that the recent Syria/Iran agreement will clash with Russian involvement in Syria?
I don’t believe the Iran/Syria agreement is an issue for Russia. The Russians don’t want to get into conflict with the Israeli regime and we appreciate this but at the same time Russia understands that Syria needs to be able to protect itself. The Russians feel there are some things they cannot do so easily because they will be under US or western pressure, the Iranians don’t really care about US or EU pressure so they will do what needs to be done and in those areas where Russia may hesitate, Iran will step in. The coordination between the three governments is pretty good, I am not concerned about any tensions.
6. What do you think Macron is doing in Lebanon? Why did he go so quickly after the tragedy?
I think Macron’s presence in Lebanon was partly a publicity stunt. His country is bankrupt, we all know they are not going to genuinely help Lebanon. They will try to find ways to control the Lebanese economy. Macron is an opportunist who sees a chance to undermine the Lebanese government and to reinstate factions subservient to the West in Lebanon. He spoke like an imperialist basically – Lebanon must accept a new political order or have it imposed upon them. He seems to think this is the 19th or mid-20th century. I don’t think he will succeed and western countries are facing far graver problems than they really understand. I think during the coming months we will see a rapid decline in the economic situation in the US and Europe and that will definitely affect the oil-rich regimes in the Persian gulf and the pro-western bloc which is not resilient, tough or strong. They will no longer have the upper hand going forward.
7. Sayed Nasrallah urged caution until a full investigation can be carried out on the causes of the explosion. Why do you think he was so reserved?
I think Sayed Nasrallah’s speech was intended to bring people together and to calm the situation, to heal the population whereas his opponents are trying to sow discord and to escalate the situation, pushing the country towards major conflict. I think that shows the difference between his nature and the nature of his detractors. Remember they are the same people who supported Al Qaeda and all these extremist groups in Syria even though some are Christians who know that if Hezbollah had not been fighting in Syria, they would have been forced to leave Lebanon if ISIS and Al Qaeda had been victorious. Their hostility towards Hezbollah is based upon their subservience to western powers and they mislead part of the Sunni, Christian and Druze communities, but as you know, in the election, the strong majority voted for groups aligned with Hezbollah.
A large segment of the Sunni, Christian and Druze communities voted for candidates aligned with Hezbollah. Nasrallah wants to keep things calm so a serious investigation can be carried out. The other side are working to stir-up this violent reaction, they want to distract attention away from their corruption which was the reason for this catastrophe if there was not an attack, but even if there were an attack it was their corruption that enabled such an attack to take place so either way they are responsible. Either way, they want to distract attention away from their culpability and they are doing the bidding of the US and Europe whose governments function within the framework of American empire.
8. Who would benefit most from the devastation of Beirut and why?
I think it is clear that the destruction benefits the US and Israel. They want to weaken Lebanon, they want to make people suffer just as the sanctions have caused untold suffering. Again, we don’t know what happened at the moment, it could be an accident and it could be an attack but the pain inflicted upon the Lebanese people by the sanctions has been intentional. The explosion inflicts even greater pain so that benefits the US. Macron, the French President and western affiliated forces are using this tragedy as an opportunity to bring down the nascent Lebanese government and it is the opposition that is responsible for this situation. It is quite clear that the devastation benefits Israel and the US. The worse the situation gets in Lebanon, the more difficult life is for the Syrian people which is exactly why the Americans imposed the Caesar Law to increase the suffering of both the Lebanese and Syrians.
As Sayed Nasrallah said in his speech, “in these days of tragedy, humanitarian catastrophe and sacrifice -because even today there have been sacrifices, martyrs, wounded, displaced persons, means of subsistence destroyed, an enormous weight added on the the Lebanese economy and the Lebanese State-, (we must not forget) that from the abyss of crises, from the matrix of crises, opportunities arise, whether they are internal, regional or international opportunities.”
I strongly believe that our role as independent media is to avoid the inadvertent stoking of the sectarian divisions that will play into the hands of the enemies of Syria and Lebanon and by default, Palestine. The oppressor nations are facing a stronger, more cohesive resistance than ever before in history. We may speculate on the ignition of an escalated conflict and temporarily greater chaos in the region but perhaps these are signs of desperation from the neo-colonialist bloc. One thing is for sure, history teaches us that nothing is given by the West without a nefarious agenda attached and the future of the region does depend on how this situation plays out over the next weeks and months.
Peter Ford, former UK Ambassador to Syria and a regional expert, also concluded that these horrific events are designed to create maximum confusion in a country which has largely defied US and Israeli diktats and to pressurise Hezbollah into irrational, reactionary responses. Ford cautions that it would be unwise to allow the enemies of stability in the Levant to orchestrate the political and information aftershocks from the explosion. He said recently:
Those weeping crocodile tears for Lebanon today are the same people who cheered on the recently implemented ‘Caesar Act’ which, in imposing fresh sanctions on Syria, provoked a stampede on Lebanese banks, sending the economic crisis in Lebanon over the edge.
For now, our thoughts and solidarity must be with the victims of this traumatising event as they desperately try to piece their lives back together in the midst of a cynical take-over bid by the US/Israeli alliance with the help of internal players who would sacrifice Lebanese unity for their own corrupt interests.