Dr. Jebril El-Abidi
Libyan writer and researcher

Beirut, Hezbollah and Ammonium Nitrate

Lebanon is in despair and Beirut has been devastated by the return of explosions in the midst of a suffocating economic and political crisis. The calamitous explosion in Beirut’s port is a crime and a humanitarian disaster, regardless of whether it was set off intentionally or as a result of neglect, though the second possibility is doubtful given the perpetrator’s fingerprints on the scene, despite the attempts to conceal evidence and meddle with the crime scene.

The Lebanese authorities announced that ammonium nitrate caused the massive explosion, though the Lebanese government’s announcement of the existence of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate was delayed, and information about its owner and how he was able to store it inside the port, in the heart of the capital, for more than six years, is shrouded in secrecy. This raises a series of questions, as ammonium nitrate does not readily burn. According to experts’ reports, for it to detonate, a catalyst is required. A lot needs to go wrong for ammonium to ignite in storage without extreme heat, as it is difficult for it to ignite by itself.

The Port of Beirut explosion, which created a shake equivalent to a magnitude five earthquake on the Richter Scale, left more than 3000 wounded and 150 dead, destroyed the facades of many buildings, and produced a large cloud over the sky of the capital.

Considering the timing and location, we cannot rule out Hezbollah and Iran’s hand in Arab countries. The explosion detonated on the eve of the announcement of the verdict of the Hariri Tribunal, so the theory that the explosion was the result of the negligent storage of 2,700 tons of the material, which needs a catalyst to explode, is far-fetched.

Why was this massive amount of explosives stored in the port of Beirut? Who owns it? And why did they remain in the port’s hangars, explosive materials, in a critical site next to a densely populated neighborhood?
The responsibility lies with Hezbollah, as most of the port’s operations are under their undeclared control. According to Lebanese politicians, the port’s administrators do not have the authority to inspect all containers. Only those bearing a "green tag" are searched by customs workers, while everything "red", the majority, are not the custom officials’ prerogative, according to officials’ statements. This means Hezbollah is responsible, even assuming that the explosion was caused by careless storage.

The accusations raised against Hezbollah emerged after activists shared a clip of Hassan Nassrallah in which he compares bombing a port to a nuclear bomb. In the clip, he says, “The nuclear bomb (that he is referring to) will be detonated by missiles (launched by Hezbollah) on ammonium containers in the Port of Haifa in Israel, which will create an explosion similar to that of a nuclear bomb."

Hezbollah has a long and rich history with ammonium nitrate according to many international intelligence reports, which means they are primarily responsible for the tragedy in Beirut. The British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, reported that British security forces raided sites linked to Hezbollah after its affiliates were discovered to be storing tons of ammonium nitrate. The same happened in Larnaca in Cyprus, where Hezbollah members were arrested with tons of ammonium nitrate, and then in Bolivia, Germany, and Kuwait, all countries where Hezbollah elements were caught smuggling the material.

Hezbollah’s hostile actions, within and without Lebanon’s borders, have turned it into a regional phenomenon, almost international. It has caused many crises and problems as it turned into a regional Iranian vassal and went beyond its role.

Lebanon is devastated and busy picking up the pieces at the port. Its people had been protesting, before the coronavirus began to spread, calling for ending sectarianism, a type of permanent internal strife which external powers manipulate as they please. It is reinforced by the presence of an armed militia called Hezbollah that does not work to improve Lebanon’s stability or that of its neighborhood.

But Lebanon, because of the determination of its people, sooner or later, will defeat its internal enemies before its external enemies. Like a phoenix, it will rise again.