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Who is responsible, and who benefits?

Palestinian political analysts differ on the causes of Lebanon’s explosions

Haitham Ahmed , Tuesday 11 Aug 2020
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Multiple factors lead to the turmoil in Lebanon -- threats and intimidation by Israel, civil unrest, political siege, sanctions and economic and financial duress, in a failed attempt to blackmail the country, bring it to its knees, instigate sectarian strife, chaos and conflict inside the country.

Two massive explosions, dubbed “Beirut’s Hiroshima”, rocked the Lebanese capital on 4 August, damaging nearly half of the buildings in the city, killing more than 150 people so far and injuring thousands along with the missing, as well as causing damage amounting to an estimated $15 billion. Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council (SDC) declared Beirut a disaster-stricken city, and recommended a state of emergency across the country due to the explosions.

At the start of a meeting of the SDC, President Michel Aoun said that a great catastrophe had afflicted the country, and that the goal of the meeting was to plan the necessary judicial and security measures.

Israel quickly denied any connection to the explosions, and Lebanese officials said the event was due to the storage of 2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate at the port “without any safety precautions”.

Reham Owda, a political analyst, said the explosions serve Israel’s security interests because they triggered widespread anger against the political class in Lebanon, which is accused of negligence and responsibility for the devastation of the capital. The public is also angry with the power Hizbullah yields since it is allied with authorities accused of corruption. Some in the opposition also accuse the group of controlling all ports of entry to Lebanon.

Owda said that due to the explosions, Hizbullah will be busy responding to these public accusations and deflect responsibility for the explosive materials stored at the port, which caused the disaster. This will delay any military action by Hizbullah against Israel, whether infiltration operations across the border into Israel or threats of missile attacks against Israeli cities. Hizbullah must now re-evaluate itself and its actions instead of embroiling Lebanon in a destructive war with Israel at a time when the country needs to recover from the shock and devastation caused by the explosions.

Anas Abu Ereish, an expert on Israeli affairs, believes the incident is nothing more than acute negligence, and doubts any conspiracy. Abu Ereish is certain Israel is not the culprit even though it benefits from it, because the explosions will distract Hizbullah away from Israel at a time when the security situation between Israel and Hizbullah is very tense and escalating resulting from the assassination of a Hizbullah leader in an Israeli air raid near Damascus International Airport in Syria in July. The occupation army was worried that Hizbullah will retaliate strongly, and claims that last week it foiled an attempt by Hizbullah to infiltrate Shebaa Farms.

This Palestinian analyst argued that Israel will also benefit in the long run because the explosions will put pressure on Hizbullah by way of mass protests inside Lebanon against the group. Already, protest marches against the ruling elite have restarted after a lull due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Abu Ereish predicts that if investigations find Hizbullah responsible, the group’s reputation and role in Lebanon will be seriously damaged, which will benefit Israel because it wants Hizbullah to lose popularity and is seeking allies inside Lebanon to stand against the group.

Adli Sadek, a Palestinian writer and member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, believes the massive amount of ammonium nitrate was a grave and serious ploy against Lebanon and Hizbullah. Sadek said the group is at fault for becoming so involved in governance, straining constitutional legitimacy with its own brand of revolutionary legitimacy, which resulted in the state stumbling and faltering.

Palestinian journalist Mohamed Atallah focused on statements by some Israeli leaders commenting on the explosions in Lebanon, which reveal that Israel may not be entirely innocent and could be complicit behind the scenes in a country that is home to a group that represents a strategic threat to Israel’s security. Atallah said that Israel’s schadenfreude is clear in statements by former deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin who said soon after the explosions: “Do you understand that this hell would have rained on us in the form of missiles? Sincere and great thanks to God and all the geniuses and heroes who organised this incredible show of explosions in Beirut yesterday, for us to watch during Jewish Valentine’s.”

Israel believes it successfully dodged a response from Hizbullah after the explosions. Military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth that he doubts Hizbullah will carry out any revenge attacks for the time being. “It is likely that Hizbullah and its leader will reach the conclusion that now is not the right time to clash with Israel.”

This proves that the occupation is the primary beneficiary from the Beirut explosions, and the incident will distract Lebanon and Hizbullah. It will also guarantee a period of quiet for Israel, as suggested by Roni Daniel, an Israeli analyst at Channel 12 news, who said the explosions could lead to a long period of calm, at least for Israel, since Hizbullah will not want to begin more confrontations with Israel.

Israel is trying to conceal its joy over the calamity in Beirut, by immediately offering to send aid and relief and expressing its sympathy by lighting Tel Aviv’s municipal building with the lights of the Lebanese flag in solidarity with the people of Lebanon.

If the cause of the explosions was years of negligence in storing highly explosive materials at the port of Beirut, one cannot guarantee that the stockpile self-ignited and not by meddling hands that benefit Israel the most. In the past, the occupation army published satellite pictures of alleged Hizbullah missile locations in Beirut, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Hizbullah had set up missile launchers in the heart of the Lebanese capital alongside Rafik Al-Hariri International Airport.

Netanyahu further claimed that the group decided to relocate its precision missiles project to a civilian area in the heart of Beirut. Locations included a football field belonging to Al-Ahed team, a location near Al-Hariri Airport, and a dock in the centre of a residential area next to civilian buildings. The occupation army also claimed it targeted a shipment of machines that transform locally-made missiles into precision missiles as they were being transported from Syria to Lebanon on 17 September 2018.

Observers and activists describe events in Lebanon as the most critical in the country’s history, especially in light of reports there were Israeli reinforcements on the border before the explosions. This comes at a time when Netanyahu is trying to evade prosecution on corruption allegations and calling for a fourth round of domestic elections.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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