Hezbollah’s explosives a threat to international peace and security
Lebanon last week suffered horrific and tragic scenes that shook the consciousness of humankind across the world. The horrendous explosion at Beirut port on Tuesday killed more than 150 people and wounded 5,000 others. At least 300,000 people were displaced, while dozens are still missing, according to a preliminary toll. The explosion and its fallout had disastrous consequences, impacting homes, places of worship and hospitals not just in the capital itself, but across approximately half of the country.
These disastrous consequences were not confined to casualties, but to massive financial losses, which the governor of Beirut Marwan Abboud estimated initially at between $3 and $5 billion. This catastrophe resulted in Beirut being declared a disaster zone, with the scenes reminiscent of the terrifying nuclear explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose 75th anniversaries were — with grim irony — marked in the following days, and of the ghost town scenes caused by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
Different explanations for the Beirut port explosion have emerged, from claims that Israel was behind it in an effort to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring new weapons to claims that the searing summer temperatures had ignited fires that triggered the catastrophic detonation of the highly volatile explosives stored there. In addition, it has been claimed by some that the explosion was a terrorist act. However, experts have reserved their opinions while investigations are ongoing. Interestingly, Hezbollah did not accuse or target Israel in the statement it issued in the aftermath of the explosion, since it is fully aware that it would have to bear the cost of any Israeli response.
The tragic blast resulted from the ignition of approximately 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate — widely used by Hezbollah to make explosives — that had been stored in the port since 2014. This put Hezbollah firmly in the dock, making it liable for the explosion, particularly given its long history of storing and using ammonium nitrate worldwide. For example, in 2012, Thailand arrested an individual affiliated with Hezbollah over the possession of 290 liters of ammonium nitrate. In 2015, Cyprus seized 420 boxes of ammonium nitrate belonging to Hezbollah. In the same year, Kuwait arrested three people affiliated with Hezbollah on charges of storing more than 40,000 pounds of the same substance. The UK has also arrested members of the movement for storing 3.3 tons of ammonium nitrate in London. Germany, which in April classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, revealed that one of the reasons behind this move was its storing of ammonium nitrate in a depot in southern Germany.
Along with the aforementioned evidence proving Hezbollah’s widespread possession of ammonium nitrate, the movement’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah — in video footage from 2016 circulated by social media users following last week’s blast — hinted at the possibility of blowing up containers full of the explosive in the Israeli port of Haifa. In the video, Nasrallah boasts: “Some of our missiles plus some ammonium containers at Haifa port equal a nuclear bomb.”
The Beirut explosion will inevitably cast a dark shadow over Lebanon’s future.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Hezbollah has depended on Beirut port to run its black economy. Despite its leaders’ denials, several reports indicate that most of the weapons coming to it from Iran pass through the port. US sources also claim that the port is under the movement’s unofficial control, noting that it maintains explosive materials there. It is also known that this area of Beirut is under Hezbollah’s direct control.
Last week’s explosion will inevitably cast a dark shadow over Lebanon’s future and exacerbate the economic and political crises already afflicting it. Hezbollah’s policies, its possession of vast arsenals of weapons at home, and its misadventures regionally and globally are considered to be the primary causes of the country’s domestic crises.
At the economic level, Lebanon’s fragile and inefficient economy will experience further pressures due to the tremendous cost of reconstructing the capital. This comes at a time when the country is already suffering from a financial crisis that has sparked massive protests. Adding to these woes, Lebanon will lose its financial revenues from the port, which is considered the country’s most important economic artery. The fallout from the explosion will also impact public health over the coming months, with the disastrous environmental ramifications expected to be long-term as Beirut’s air becomes more polluted.
At the political level, fragmentation between the pro-Hezbollah March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Alliance, which rejects the movement’s activities, will grow. This comes as relations between the two alliances have been at an impasse since Washington’s June activation of the Caesar Act targeting Hezbollah’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria. This law also sanctions Assad’s associates, including Hezbollah. The indications of such an impasse are apparent from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s comments in the aftermath of the explosion. He said: “They killed Lebanon yesterday. The explosion will also increase the likelihood of igniting protests against the movement, which could reshuffle the cards.”
The ramifications of the disaster, which many military analysts have equated to what is seen in the aftermath of a destructive war, are revealing an outcome long predicted by many — namely that, when countries accept the existence of out-of-control militias on their soil, which operate beyond the writ of the state, they will inevitably turn into failed states or even disaster zones. The classification of Beirut, once the lustrous cosmopolitan pearl of the Mediterranean, as a disaster zone further demonstrates the terrible truth of this prediction.
Countries that allow such anarchy to go unchecked will inevitably bear the consequences of the presence of armed militias working beyond the state’s writ. This latest event has also left Iraq, which is afflicted by similar militia rule, urgently needing to control the similarly volatile explosive materials stored in the depots of the Iranian regime-aligned Popular Mobilization Units in order to maintain a semblance of security and stability.
Ultimately, the enormity of last week’s explosion in Beirut highlighted the need for the international community and the UN, along with its agencies, to take serious action to cease the devastating schemes of Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah. This can be done by cooperating with countries both inside and outside the Middle East that oppose the Iranian regime’s schemes. If this does not happen, nightmarish scenes like those seen in Beirut and elsewhere at the hands of Iran and its militias will be seen globally, becoming the gruesome hallmark of the 21st century.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami