The Republic of Lebanon is one of the smallest sovereign States on the outskirts of the Mediterranean Sea who is borders touch Syria to the North and East, and Israel to the South. Despite the fact that the Arabic speaking nation occupies a very small geographical area but it has had a rich culture and history, especially prior to the civil war. With its beautiful capital Beirut, which has attracted tourists from all over the world it has been known as the “Paris of the Middle East”. Lebanon is a Muslim majority state with 55% Muslim and around 40% Christians.
The ship belonged to a Russian businessman Igor that made port in Beirut in November 2013. After a comprehensive inspection, the ship was regarded as unseaworthy and so it got stuck on the port permanently along with its entire luggage.
Economic and Political Picture
A significant share of the Lebanese economy is dollarized, and the country does not restrict capitalization across-borders. The Lebanese economy has gone through a remarkable expansion after the civil war of 2006 and by the end of 2018, the estimated GDP was $54 billion although the Syrian war has caused a severe economic crisis which will have a long-lasting effect on the macro-economics of Lebanon. Syrian refuges, not settled in Lebanon have also increased the demographical pressure as well as increased labor competition. In 2007, the Liberalization laws were passed which gave Palestinians equal rights as that of a citizen, and hence they could also work a variety of jobs since the job ban dropped from 70 to just 20. The state owes a huge amount of public debt which was already putting significant financial pressure on the Lebanese government. Prior to the unfortunate incident, more than 70% of Lebanese needed aid, 30% had their jobs lost and more than a million were living below the poverty line.
Under such crumbling financial circumstances an explosion as dreadful as considered to be world’s 3rd most powerful explosion in the history of explosions, followed by the notorious nuclear bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2, no wonder that it puts Lebanon at the verge of utter collapse. On 4 August 2020, Lebanon witnessed a terrorizing event that not just shook the entire state with tremor but also killed 160 people, injuring over 5000 and destroying property worth over $14 billion, a mushroom cloud followed by a shockwave so powerful that it cut through concrete like a storm of millions of sledgehammers blasting everything up to over the one-mile radius.
The blast was caused by a confiscated containment ship filled with 2750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate (NH4NO3) a fertilizer and an explosive material. The ship had been abandoned for six years and no safety measures were taken to contain the ship’s material. The Lebanese officials have issued a two week state emergency and the day after the explosion will be remembered as the National Day of Mourning.
90% of all the Hotels in Berut suffered damage and 3 hospitals full of patients destroyed completely. The Cruise-ship ‘Orient Queen’ also suffered severe damage and got capsized by the next morning.
Several representatives of the United Nations Council have offered condolences. When Health Minister, Hamad Hassan requested for an international aid, Australia and Azerbaijan sent $1 million each. Greece offered condolences and also send a rescue team to help pull the survivors out of concrete and rubble. Several other countries have also offered help including Lebanon’s war enemy Israel although they are at war for a very long time.
As a relief operation, the Lebanese Red Cross team has sent every available ambulance to Beirut in order to recover patience and survivors. The Lebanese Prime Minister announced that the government would make $66 million for recovery operations.
The Lebanese President, Micheal Aoun said that the blast was a consequence of pure neglect. The arrest of the director of Lebanese Customs has been ordered by one of the judges in Beirut. Hizbullah leader, Syed Hassan Nasar Ullah said that the armed group had no weapons stored at the containment before the incident. By far, all these indicators suggest and conclude that it was an accident rather than an attack by an enemy. Some fake videos showing missile attacks went viral hours after the incident but later they were dismissed because a significant number of people videoed the scene live from multiple angles and distances. Some politicians mentioned that it could be an attack by Israel but soon both Lebanese and Israel officials confirmed that it was not an attack but an accident.
The only question that bugs our minds is what made 2750 tones of Ammonium Nitrate explode in the first place because it is not easy to ignite this material under normal conditions of temperature. It could be triggered by very close welding, the accidental fire, or some highly sensitive explosive materials like TNT or nitroglycerin. Now that we have ruled out Hizbullah and Isreal it’s safe to say that it could be triggered by an electric short circuit. It is only a matter of time when investigation teams will find some evidence.
A reasonable answer is to eliminate controversy, speculation, and pointing fingers. Lebanese citizens are extremely angry and want to see the accountable punished. It was the Port’s Minister’s responsibility to safely remove this huge pile of explosive chemical that was sitting there for over six years.
Certainly, the legislative and investigative structure of the Republic is vague and untrustworthy and so it would be very hard to bring the responsible ones to trial. If the government failed to bring justice and to pass laws that such events could be avoided in the future, lack of trust and rebellion will inflate further causing more harm to the political system and Lebanese overall leadership. Countries like the US and France are offering an international investigational committee to run an unbiased a transparent investigation. It is best that Lebanon should take that offer for the better future of their people.