Hezbollah controls security at the Beirut port, which it uses for its smuggling operations and for storing weapons. The assessment in Lebanon is that the investigation of the massive explosion at the port on Aug. 4 will be a whitewash, and that responsibility for the disaster will be laid on junior government officials.
Preliminary reports of the Lebanese government’s investigation indicate that the government is looking at negligence at the site over the last six years. A massive amount of ammonium nitrate (2750 tons) confiscated from an abandoned ship had been stored in Hangar 12 at the port over the last six years, but no directive was given to get rid of the materials. The Lebanese customs authority dispatched six letters to the judicial system warning of the danger of the ammonium nitrate stockpile, but nothing was done.
The leaks from the investigation so far do not touch on the claims that Hezbollah turned the port into a weapons warehouse and had actually seized the ammonium nitrate stockpiled there to create explosive devices (IEDs). In 2015, a Hezbollah warehouse storing 8.3 tons of ammonium nitrate was discovered in Cyprus, and six months later, three tons of ammonium nitrate were found in four London hideouts. “On top of the risk of accidental detonations that threaten residential neighborhoods, it was revealed that the charge used in the Burgas bus bombing in 2012 contained ammonium nitrate,” according to one report.
Nor is it mentioned by the investigators that the massive explosion may have included a smaller blast of Hezbollah weaponry that was stored near the ammonium nitrate stash, as al-Arabiya TV reported on Aug. 4. Viewers of the videos of the port explosions claimed they saw “fireworks going off.” It can be said with relative certainty that the many tiny flashes were from low-caliber ammunition exploding.
Hezbollah stores explosives, missiles, rockets and ammunition throughout Lebanon, especially among the civilian population, to make it difficult for Israel to destroy them. The Iranian-backed group has transformed Lebanese residents into “human shields” to protect its weapons.
Who is responsible for the terrible catastrophe in Beirut? The answer is written on the wall. Everyone in Lebanon assumes Hezbollah and its government puppets will steer the investigation in the direction they want and will ignore the fact known to every child in Lebanon: Hezbollah controls the port of Beirut. Hezbollah knows everything that goes on in the harbor, just as it controls the other border crossings in the country.
Hezbollah uses the port for the delivery of goods without customs and for its smuggling industry. The organization must have known about the presence of the vast ammonium nitrate stockpile and apparently preferred not to transfer it from the port to another site, perhaps fearing that Israel would reveal it and would try to destroy it.
American intelligence also thinks Hezbollah controls the port. The Fox News Network broadcast on Aug. 5 that according to American intelligence officials, most of the activity in the port is well known to Hezbollah, and that in fact, the first people to arrive on site after the blast were Hezbollah operatives.
Hezbollah effectively rules Lebanon; it appointed President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Hezbollah pulls the strings behind the curtains through its representatives in the government and parliament, backed up by its massive arsenal. “Democracy” in Lebanon is a counterfeit. It is the rule of Hezbollah terror serving as Iran’s agent and running Lebanon through corrupt mafia gangs. This is one of the primary reasons for the collapse of the Lebanese economy.
According to the estimates of global economic experts, Lebanon needs a total of $93 billion to get out of its severe financial crisis, but it is impossible to provide this amount as long as a terrorist organization dominates the country and refuses to demilitarize.
The disaster in Beirut opens a window of opportunity for the international community to re-engage and condition economic aid to Lebanon on Hezbollah demilitarizing and removing the weapons depots that it concealed among the civilian population. This is the opportunity to limit Hezbollah’s maneuverability in Lebanon, because the civilian population is unable to resist Hezbollah’s vast military power.
The massive explosion left about 300,000 civilians homeless, and they now enter a daily struggle for their lives and livelihood. If the Lebanese government does not find a quick solution for them, it is liable to find itself facing huge demonstrations. Lebanon is also facing a severe food crisis; the disaster destroyed the state’s central grain towers, containing as much as 85 percent of Lebanon’s grain reserves.
The preliminary results of the investigation, which are supposed to be delivered to the Lebanese government this week, are vital. If the Lebanese public feels that this is a cover-up, it may take to the streets and renew the intifada that began last October.
Senior security officials in Israel estimate that Iran will try to take advantage of the worsening crisis in Lebanon in the wake of the catastrophe to increase its involvement in the country. It is therefore vital that the international community work wisely: on the one hand to prevent Iran from assisting the residents of Lebanon economically by toughening the economic sanctions on Iran, and on the other hand, to supervise the flow of money to the Lebanese economy in a manner that is conditional on Hezbollah disarming.
Israeli intelligence officials estimate that Iran will attempt to take advantage of the transfer of humanitarian aid to Lebanon to smuggle in precision guidance systems for Hezbollah’s missiles. It is imperative to find a way to monitor Iranian aid shipments, that will reach Lebanon through the air and the sea.
Israel will have to act against the transfer of shipments from Iran to Lebanon as soon as it has reliable and accurate intelligence information that the Iranians are sending materiel for Hezbollah precision-guided missile project.
The international community should not allow Lebanon’s corrupt government, which is supported by Hezbollah, to easily exit the economic crisis without demanding the necessary price for the well being of Lebanon’s residents—that is the removal of Hezbollah’s weapons.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.