أحدى عشرة تقرير وتحليل ومقالة باللغة الإنكليزية تتناول الوضع اللبناني المأساوي وطروادية وإرهاب حزب الله الفارسي الهوى والنوى وأخطار وذل أذنابه المحليين/Eleven English Reports, Analysis & Editorials Addressing The Current Lebanese Crisis, The Cancerous-Terrorist Hezbollah & The Dire Hazards Of Its Local puppets/
Eleven English Reports, Analysis & Editorials Addressing The Current Lebanese Crisis, The Cancerous-Terrorist Hezbollah & The Dire Hazards Of Its Local puppets/أحدى عشرة تقرير وتحليل ومقالة باللغة الإنكليزية تتناول الوضع اللبناني المأساوي وطروادية وإرهاب حزب الله الفارسي الهوى والنوى وأخطار وذل أذنابه المحليين
*Meet Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s puppet president in Beirut/Tom Rogan/Washington Examiner/August 11/2020
*Netanyahu, Ashkenazi hint Hezbollah behind Beirut blast/Lahav Harkov/Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020
*French MP demands that France designate Hezbollah a terror organization/Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020
*Inside the Struggle Between Israel and Hezbollah/Shimon Shapira/The Tablet/August 11/2020
*Lebanese gov’t resignation: In Hezbollah’s shadow, does it even matter?/Seith J. Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020
*Lebanon’s leaders were warned in July about explosives at port – documents/Reuters/August 11/2020
*Lebanon Needs Transformation, Not Another Corrupt Unity Government/Hanin Ghaddar/Foreign Policy/August 11/2020
*Who Owned the Chemicals that Blew up Beirut? No One Will Say/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 11 August, 2020
*Why Did Lebanon Let a Bomb-in-Waiting Sit in a Warehouse for 6 Years?/Faysal Itani/The New York Times/August 11/2020
*Hezbollah Will Not Escape Blame for Beirut/Hussein Ibish/Bloomberg/August 11/2020
***************** Meet Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s puppet president in Beirut/Tom Rogan/Washington Examiner/August 11/2020 On Monday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government. President Michel Aoun will once again be responsible for brokering an agreement on an acceptable replacement. Unfortunately, the geriatric Aoun is to Lebanon what Nazi collaborator Marshall Philippe Petain was to France: a proud military leader and patriotic nationalist, now turned pathetic puppet of hostile sectarians. In Lebanon’s case, that hostile force is the Lebanese Hezbollah. Hezbollah holds itself up as a national defense adjunct to the military, but it is actually a sectarian militia. The “Party of God” cares nothing for the national interest and everything for the expansion of Iranian-anchored Shiite theocracy. As Aoun now moves to find a new prime minister, he’ll have Hezbollah’s interests foremost on his mind. That means a new prime minister who refuses to undertake necessary reforms and who instead maintains the status quo. It’s a recipe for continuing public fury and the rising threat of another civil war. The need for reform was encapsulated by last Tuesday’s explosion in the Beirut port. Only a truly dysfunctional government would have allowed a factory filled with ammonium nitrate to sit for years alongside so many civilians. But the explosives are just one example of the problem here. Attested by Lebanon’s grave economic crisis, the political class has utterly failed the people. Using government ministries as personal piggy banks, they have plundered the nation’s resources. The tragedy here is that Aoun could now use his power to serve the nation. With his Free Patriotic Movement party’s 18 parliamentary seats, the highest share of any party, he could demand the support of Hezbollah and its ally, Amal, for serious reform. Aoun could dangle the threat of seeing those parties replaced in government absent that support. The opposite seems to be happening. The president has ruled out an international investigation into the port explosion, likely fearing that any objective inquiry will bring to light endemic corruption. Nor does Aoun’s son-in-law and party leader, Gerbran Bassil, seem interested in listening to the protesters and moving against the rotten top ranks.In turn, we should expect the next prime minister to be another puppet and the protesters to keep coming onto the streets in increasing numbers and fury.
Netanyahu, Ashkenazi hint Hezbollah behind Beirut blast/Lahav Harkov/Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020 UNIFIL is a ‘half-empty vessel,’ Foreign Minister Ashkenazi warns ahead of UNSC discussion of renewing its mandate. The massive explosion in Beirut shows Hezbollah uses of Lebanese civilians and cities to cover for their terrorist actions, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told 12 ambassadors of UN Security Council member states at Israel’s northern border on Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ashkenazi tied the massive explosion in Beirut to Hezbollah’s weapon stores in civilian areas of Lebanon. Netanyahu spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, saying: “In order to avoid disasters like the one at the Beirut Port, we have to confiscate the explosives and missiles that Hezbollah has hidden in civilian population centers in Lebanon.”It would be a “big mistake” for Hezbollah to try to distract from the situation in Lebanon by attacking Israel, the prime minister added. Netanyahu also praised Macron’s leadership on the international response to the Beirut blast, repeating Israel’s offer to provide humanitarian aid. Ashkenazi made thinly-veiled hints that the Iranian-backed terror group was responsible for the blast and that the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the Beirut Port may have belonged to the terrorist organization. Israel has long held that Hezbollah controlled the port. “Israel cannot remain apathetic to Hezbollah’s attempts to harm Israeli sovereignty and citizens,” Ashkenazi warned 12 ambassadors of UN Security Council member states at Israel’s northern border on Tuesday. “Hezbollah is acting in urban and populated territories and using Lebanese citizens as human shields as we saw in the unfortunate event last week, in which hundreds of innocent Lebanese civilians were injured,” he said.
French MP demands that France designate Hezbollah a terror organization Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020 He said that with regard to the letter, Macron gave him a courteous but evasive answer, “dodging the heart of the subject.” French-Israeli member of the French National Assembly, Meyer Habib, categorically stated that France “must” designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, via his social media channels on Monday. The call comes on the backdrop of the explosion that detonated more than 2,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, devastating Beirut and triggering public outrage – resulting in the deaths of at least 163 people, the injuries of more than 6,000 and the destruction of swathes of the Mediterranean capital. Habib penned the letter to French President Emmanuel Macron a year ago, requesting that the French leader denounces the organization and designates the movement as a terrorist entity. Following the public outcry and outrage from the Lebanese people – who Habib adds, “say it loud and clear,” that the disaster was a direct result of the heavily armed Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement’s grip over the country – Habib decided to revamp his position and resend the letter. “My letter recalls the facts, all the facts, including that Hezbollah has a lot of French blood on its hands and that our country was even one of the first victims,” Habib said on Facebook. He said that with regard to the letter, Macron gave him a courteous but evasive answer, “dodging the heart of the subject.” Therefore, he is now reiterating his request to the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, “France must declare Hezbollah terrorist organization and remove the artificial distinction between armed and political branch, like Germany!” Following Macron’s visit to Beirut hours after the blast, the French president told US President Donald Trump that the US sanctions targeting Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah are playing into the hands of those they are meant to weaken, including Iran, an Élysée official said on Saturday. Washington has sought to choke off Hezbollah’s funding worldwide, with sanctions among a slew of steps against Tehran since Trump withdrew last year from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. Oil-rich Gulf Arab states, which have long channeled funds into Lebanon’s fragile economy, had refrained this time from providing financial assistance, alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah. “He told him that in the case of Lebanon, the fact is that the policy of pressure or abstention from the United States and some Gulf countries could actually play into the hands of those they are targeting, Iran and Hezbollah,” the official said. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah praised solidarity and aid pouring in from around the world, including the visit by Macron. He said this presented an opportunity for Lebanon, already deep in financial crisis. The same Hezbollah leader threatened in the past to destroy Israel by causing a massive explosion in the port of Haifa using ammonia tanks that he said would be like a “nuclear” explosion, the same chemicals that ignited the Beirut blast. “In the interest of the Lebanese people, to allow them to reopen the reins of their collective destiny, it is the most concrete, bravest and strongest gesture” to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, Habib concluded. If France were to move forward with placing the terrorist distinction on Iran-aligned Hezbollah it would join the list of more than a dozen countries and groups of nations that have done the same – including Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Arab League and the European Union. *Reuters and Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.
Inside the Struggle Between Israel and Hezbollah/Shimon Shapira/The Tablet/August 11/2020 https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/struggle-israel-hezbollah With ongoing Iranian backing, the Lebanese terror group is more determined than ever to deliver offensive blows inside Israeli territory At the basis of the struggle between Israel and Hezbollah stands Iran, which views Lebanon as part of the territory of the Islamic Republic. The Islamic empire seeks to establish itself among the Shiite populations of the region while denying any importance to the national component, instead granting these populations collective expression in the form of movements, parties, and organizations whose task is to challenge the nation-states in which they operate and to shape them by building a fighting Islamic society that is exclusively loyal to the leader of Iran. Lebanon was the Islamic empire’s first target. Over the past decade it has fallen like a ripe fruit into Iran’s hands. Through Hezbollah, Iran has taken control of the institutions of the Lebanese state and turned it into a failed state whose stability has collapsed amid severe economic and political corruption that threatens its demise. The Hezbollah movement was founded in the summer of 1982 by Iran, which intended it to be the spearhead of the states exporting the Islamic Revolution to the Arab and Islamic world. The Shiite movement Amal, which was founded in 1975 by the Iranian Imam Musa Sadr and his Iranian assistant, Dr. Mostafa Chamran, was not prepared to replace its loyalty to the Lebanese state with loyalty to Islamic Iran. Musa Sadr was murdered in Libya in August 1978 with the encouragement of associates of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It was decided in Tehran to set up a new Islamic movement that would lead the Islamic Revolution in Lebanon according to the revolutionary precepts of the Islamic Republic. Khomeini assigned the mission of establishing the new movement to his longtime associate Ali Akbar Mohtashemi Pur. Considered an expert on the Levant, he arrived in August 1981 to serve as Iran’s ambassador in Damascus. One of the first tasks of the new Iranian ambassador was to invite for a meeting the Shiite clerics who recognized the Wali al-Faqih (the Rule of the Jurisprudent) principle and played key roles in the life of the Shiite community in Baalbek. Those who came to Damascus included Subhi Tofaili, who was the imam of the Imam Ali Mosque and eventually the first secretary-general of Hezbollah (1989-1991); Abbas Musawi, who was head of the hawza named after Imam Almantazer—the most important madrassa in Lebanon, to which the Lebanese students came who were expelled from Iraq with the Baath Party’s rise to power—and served as Hezbollah’s second secretary-general (1991-1992); and Mohammed Yazbek, who was the senior instructor at the madrassa. This was a seminal meeting in which the Iranian ambassador told the Lebanese clerics of Iran’s intention to establish a new Shiite Islamic movement, one that would unite all the pro-Iranian Lebanese elements who until then had operated independently and without any joint coordination with Tehran. Khomeini appointed Ali Khamenei, who was then president of Iran, as his liaison to the new movement in Lebanon, thereby indicating the great importance he assigned to the undertaking there. This meeting laid the cornerstone for the establishment of Hezbollah. The command staff of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Lebanon was in charge of building the new movement’s organizational and military framework. Their first act was to remove the white flags that the residents of Baalbek and its vicinity had hung on their houses to signal surrender to the Israeli forces that invaded Lebanon in 1982 to force out the PLO, and to replace them with red flags of jihad and war. The first two commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, Ahmad Motevaselian and his replacement Mansour Koochak Mohseni, served in their posts a short time. The first, on July 5, 1982, a few days after his arrival in Lebanon, was kidnapped on his way from Baalbek to Beirut and executed by the Christian Lebanese Forces along with the Iranian official representative in Beirut and two escorts; his replacement, also a few days after he was appointed, was returned to Iran along with most of the Revolutionary Guard force. In Lebanon, Ahmad Kna’ani remained to command the forces, but he too ended his tenure after a short time. Hossein Dehghan was appointed the fourth Revolutionary Guard commander in Lebanon and was responsible for building Hezbollah’s training camps in Janata in the Baalbek area. The training lasted about three months, with about 180 taking part in each course. The conditions for acceptance were straightforward: Up to age 25 and absolute loyalty to the Wali al-Faqih. Abbas Musawi, who was recruited in the first group, recounted: When I trained in the first course of the Revolutionary Guards I thought I had come to the true Islam … The school of the Revolutionary Guards is the one that turned Muslim youth into youth who aspire to die a martyr’s death and so we were not surprised at all when a Muslim youth in Lebanon … laughed to death as he carried a heavy load of explosives. This is the school of the Revolutionary Guards. The art of the Shahada and the art of the conflict with the Israeli enemy exist thanks to the Revolutionary Guards and thanks to the blood of the members of the Revolutionary Guards. Under Hossein Dehghan’s command, a central headquarters was built for the Revolutionary Guard and for the Lebanese volunteers, operating in the Imam Ali Mosque in Baalbek. In September 1983 the Revolutionary Guard seized control of the Sheikh Abdullah base, which was the main base of the Lebanese army in the Baalbek region. Three young clerics—Abbas Musawi, Ahmad Yazbak, and Hassan Nasrallah—marched at the head of a mass procession to the camp and conducted the Friday prayers there. The young clerics advised the commander and soldiers of the camp to “be at the disposal of the people and to disobey the orders and the instructions given at the White House and in Tel Aviv.” The Lebanese commander and his staff were removed from the camp. On its gate its new owners hung a clearly visible banner on which they proclaimed their objective: “The liberation of the Sheikh Abdullah camp by the Hezbollah masses, a first step toward liberation from Phalange rule.” The Sheikh Abdullah camp became the Imam Ali camp and the main headquarters of the Revolutionary Guard and the military force of Hezbollah, and from it the violent operations against the West and Israel proceeded. The first baptism of fire for Khomeini’s supporters in Lebanon involved an attempt to stop the advance of the Israeli army, which was moving toward Beirut in the Khalde area. A group of young Shiites, numbering fewer than 50 fighters, ambushed the Israeli forces. Among the Shiites were also Amal and al-Dawa supporters, and they acted in cooperation with Palestinian organizations. Given the limited ability to hit the Israeli armor hurtling toward the conquest of Beirut, the military achievements were not especially impressive. Nevertheless, the fighters managed to take over an Israeli armored vehicle and to transport it to a victory parade at their base. The Battle of Khalde is considered the founding myth of the “Islamic resistance,” and its fighters were lauded for their heroism. They were led by three men who would soon set up the military and operational force of Hezbollah: Imad Mughniyeh, Mustafa Badreddine, and Ali Deeb, who, for his heroism in the battle, was given the operational nickname Abu Hassan Salameh by Yasser Arafat after Ali Hassan Salameh of Fatah—a renowned operative who was assassinated by Israel. Mughniyeh and Badreddine were wounded in the battle, the former lightly and the latter seriously, losing the ability to walk steadily. The three first got to know each other in the Fatah training bases during the latter half of the 1970s. Ali Deeb, the military instructor for the other two, had come of age in Fatah. The commander of the camp who received Imad Mughniyeh was Anis Nakash, who was recruited by Iranian intelligence and sent to Paris in 1980 to assassinate Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of Iran under the shah. When the Islamic Revolution broke out a few months earlier, Nakash had introduced Mughniyeh to representatives of Iranian intelligence in Beirut. In the new Islamic embassy, Mohamed Salah Husseini, an Iraqi of Iranian origin who was the liaison between Khomeini and Arafat and knew Mughniyeh well, was appointed the envoy of the Revolutionary Guard in Beirut. The mother of Imad Mughniyeh, who was born in 1962, prayed that her son would be a man of religion and would learn in the prestigious madrassas of Najaf. He took Fiqh (jurisprudence) lessons already at the age of 10, and in his youth spent much time in the mosque of Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. Imad Mughniyeh, however, saw his mission as the armed struggle against Israel. In 1980 Fadlallah survived an assassination attempt. Envoys of Iraqi intelligence tried to kill him because of his involvement in the Iraqi Dawa Party’s subversion against the Saddam Hussein regime. Subsequently Mughniyeh, together with a small group that he formed, set up a security unit to safeguard him, and indeed he would become the central spiritual figure of Shiite radicalism in Lebanon and the author of a concept of the use of force in Shiite Islam. In 1980 Mughniyeh accompanied Fadlallah and a delegation of Lebanese clerics on a first visit to revolutionary Iran. He became an integral part of the operational branch of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. When the first commander of the Revolutionary Guard was kidnapped in Lebanon in July 1982, it was Imad Mughniyeh who brought the bad news to the Iranian Embassy in Beirut. A short time later Mughniyeh proposed to his replacement in Baalbek, Mansour Koochak Mohseni, to kidnap the president of the American University in Beirut, David Dodge, as a bargaining chip for the kidnapped Iranians (it was not yet known that they had been killed). Dodge was kidnapped by Mughniyeh and brought to Baalbek, and from there transferred to Damascus and to Tehran. This was the first kidnapping, but not the last, that Mughniyeh carried out in the service of Iran. On Nov. 11, 1982, at 7:20 a.m., a huge explosion was heard at the headquarters of the Israeli military governor in Tyre. The building collapsed upon its occupants. 76 soldiers and members of the General Security Service were killed as well as 15 Lebanese who were staying in the building. A military investigatory commission headed by Gen. Meir Zorea found that the disaster was caused by an explosion of gas canisters in the building. The facts were otherwise. A white Peugeot 504 driven by a suicide bomber named Ahmad Qassir broke through the gate of the camp and blew it up. This marked the first time a suicide operation was carried out in Lebanon. It was planned in minute detail by Mughniyeh. He recruited the bomber and used the car of his friend Ali Deeb, in which a large quantity of explosives was hidden. The explosives were provided by Fatah. Before the PLO forces left Beirut in September 1982, Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) ordered that some of their weapons supplies and explosives be transferred to Mughniyeh, whom he knew from the days when Mughniyeh trained in Fatah. According to Mughniyeh’s official biography, he joined the elite unit known as Force 17 while Abu Jihad was head of Fatah’s military wing. Abu Jihad, like Arafat, gave preferential treatment to the young Shiite who showed such devotion to the jihad against Israel and the West. Imad Mughniyeh had not known Ahmad Qassir. A family member of the suicide bomber put them in touch with each other. There was a need for legal permission to carry out the operation—it could not be executed without a fatwa from a supreme religious authority, as Ayatollah Hassan Tarad later recounted: Lebanon was liberated through acts of self-sacrifice [istishad] only. And the only one who gave his blessing to them was Imam Khomeini … He sent me a letter in which he wrote that he was the muqallid [emulator] of Imam Khomeini, he had made a decision to perform istishhad and to attack the enemy. And I answered him [positively] on the basis of the ruling of his Marja’ Taqlid [religious authority], Imam Khomeini. For several days, Mughniyeh observed the Israeli headquarters and studied its routines, how its guarding schedule was run, and, particularly, at which hours the largest number of soldiers were in the camp. During the two days before the operation, in her country house in Teir Daba near Tyre, Mughniyeh’s mother hosted her son and Ahmad Qassir, feeding and lodging them. A day before the operation, Mughniyeh ordered his mother and the other family members to leave the village and go to their home in Beirut. Mughniyeh and Qassir went on their way. The former closely monitored the successful performance of the operation. The identity of Ahmad Qassir was concealed for two and a half years to avoid harm to his family. His mother thought he had gone to Beirut and disappeared there. When his identity was made public, Ahmad Qassir became a hero in Lebanon and in Iran. In its official bulletin, al-Ahed, Hezbollah published huge pictures of the young Shiite, in which his image arose from the ruins of the Israeli military headquarters. At the home of Qassir’s family in Dir Qanon al-Nahar, a remote village in southern Lebanon, a certificate of honor arrived from the commander of the Islamic ummah. The certificate bore a portrait of Imam Khomeini and the symbol of the Islamic Republic, with praises for their son’s deed. In Tehran a monument was inaugurated to this hero of Islam, with his portrait etched on it and descriptions of his glory in Arabic and Farsi. Later the Qassir family was accorded honor and glory in Hezbollah as well. The brother of the “first shahid,” Muhammad Jafar Qassir, rose high in the Hezbollah command hierarchy and was in charge of the deliveries of Iranian weapons from Syria to Lebanon; another brother, Hassan Qassir, married Hassan Nasrallah’s daughter and was one of the close intermediaries to the Revolutionary Guard leadership. Imad Mughniyeh himself won glory in Tehran. He had shown impressive operational ability while managing to maintain total anonymity. Up until the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah carried out 12 suicide operations against Israeli targets in Lebanon. The videos of the suicide bombers reading their wills before going on their missions were sent to Tehran. Imam Khomeini requested to see them; he watched every one of them and was deeply affected. Throughout its lengthy stay in Lebanon, Israel did not succeed in thwarting these operations. Imad Mughniyeh’s success in Tyre led him to plan and implement suicide bombings in Beirut, the most severe of which struck the American Embassy in April 1983 and the Beirut headquarters of the Marines and of the French paratrooper force in October 1983. The order to blow up the headquarters arrived from Tehran, and Mughniyeh acted in total secrecy. He set up an operational unit that used the name “Islamic Jihad” and operated outside the organizational framework of Hezbollah and in direct coordination with the intelligence and operational organizations of the Revolutionary Guard. On Oct. 24, 1983, two suicide bombers were sent on the last missions of their lives. The two headquarters were blown up within a short time of each other. When the international forces left Beirut in defeat, Mughniyeh was received as a hero in Tehran. In 1985 Israel withdrew to the security zone in southern Lebanon. Abbas Musawi was appointed military commander of the Islamic resistance in the South. Hezbollah’s struggle to drive Israel out of Lebanon intensified, and Hezbollah’s military force improved. New military frameworks were built, and Hezbollah fighters were trained in Iran where they learned methods of combat and use of weapons. Hezbollah commanders and fighters participated in warfare at the front with Iraq, with special emphasis on conquering fortified targets. A special War Media Unit was set up; its role was to film military successes, particularly if the Hezbollah flag was raised on a position that had been conquered even for a moment. On Feb. 16, 1992, Israel assassinated Abbas Musawi as he was visiting the town of Jibchit where an annual memorial was being held for Ragheb Harb, a Shiite imam who led the struggle against Israel in southern Lebanon. The move was ill-considered. Behind it stood the head of Military Intelligence, Gen. Uri Sagi, and Chief of Staff Lt Gen. Ehud Barak. The recommendation from the assessment of intelligence was to monitor Musawi’s visit and collect intelligence that would make it possible to kidnap him when he came to the memorial ceremony the following year, and then trade him for air force navigator Ron Arad, who was held captive by Hezbollah and transferred to the Revolutionary Guard. Hezbollah’s answer was lethal, and it crossed two red lines: That same day, the group launched dozens of rockets into Israeli territory all along the border area from Kiryat Shmona to Nahariya. It was the first time Hezbollah had fired rockets into Israel; up until then it had taken care to fire them only into the security zone. On March 17, 1992, a car driven by a Lebanese Shiite suicide bomber exploded at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. This marked the first time Hezbollah had attacked an Israeli target outside of Israel. The operation was planned and executed by Imad Mughniyeh and Iranian intelligence. More than two years later, on the night of June 2, 1994, the Israeli air force attacked a Hezbollah training camp in Ain Dardara near Baalbek while about 150 Hezbollah recruits were sleeping. It was a severe blow. More than 40 Hezbollah members were killed, the highest number of Hezbollah casualties in a single Israeli operation. Six weeks later, on July 13, 1994, came the revenge. It, too, happened outside of Lebanon and again in Buenos Aires. This time as well, behind the planning and execution stood Imad Mughniyeh, with assistance from the Iranian intelligence branch in Argentina. In both operations Hezbollah made clear that a heavy blow against it would lead to a revenge strike that would breach the rules of the conflict in Lebanon. Argentina was chosen because of the operational infrastructure that Mughniyeh had built there with the help of Iranian intelligence, which made use of a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese Shiite population. On April 11, 1996, in the wake of Hezbollah’s rocket fire into Israeli territory and its repeated violations of the understandings reached between the sides, Israel launched a large-scale campaign in Lebanon known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. It included devastating strikes on infrastructures of the Lebanese state and very heavy use of firepower, including airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Beirut. An operational foul-up brought about a mistake on Israel’s part. A barrage, intended to enable the rescue of an Israeli force that had been attacked, instead fell beside a U.N. compound in which Lebanese civilians had taken refuge. Hezbollah reported inflated figures of 102 civilians, including women and children, killed and 100 wounded, including four U.N. soldiers. After the United States and Syria drafted a document of understanding stipulating that Israel and Hezbollah would not attack, with missiles or any other weapons, civilians on either side, Israel ended the campaign. On the night of Sept. 5, 1997, a special Hezbollah force ambushed a commando force of Shayetet 13 of the Israeli navy that had landed near the village of Ansariya to plant explosive devices that would kill a Hezbollah operative. The outcome was fatal. Eleven fighters, including the force’s commander, Lt. Col. Yossi Korkin, were killed. In Israel, several investigatory commissions were formed to uncover the reason for the failure. The first commission, headed by Gen. Gabi Ophir, concluded that the Israeli force had encountered a chance ambush by Hezbollah that caused the explosive devices some of the Israeli fighters carried on their backs to detonate. The commission’s conclusions emphasized the incidental nature of ambush; no one believed that Hezbollah had had prior information on the arrival of the Israeli elite force. In September 1998, as he marked a year since the Ansariya operation, Hassan Nasrallah hinted that Hezbollah did have prior intelligence information about the Israeli force’s arrival, but refused to reveal what it was. This was part of a psychological war that Hezbollah waged, which was planned and refined by Mustafa Badreddine. In August 2010, Nasrallah disclosed the intelligence information. This was about five years after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, which Hezbollah was accused of perpetrating. Nasrallah denied this entirely and accused Israel of the murder instead. To buttress his claim, he elaborated on intelligence information, including with regard to Israel’s technological capabilities, that Hezbollah and the Lebanese intelligence services had gathered on Israel’s clandestine activity in Lebanon. Nasrallah revealed that Hezbollah had managed to intercept transmissions of aerial photographs, taken by Israeli drones, of a number of targets in southern Lebanon near Ansariya. He said the pictures were transmitted directly to an operations center in Israel and were not encoded as Israeli intelligence had thought. The Iranians provided Hezbollah with the appropriate equipment, and it was used by Hezbollah members who had studied in technical schools and institutes in Lebanon. Foremost among them was Hassan Laqqis, a close friend of Nasrallah who oversaw Hezbollah’s technological development. The transmissions were intercepted by Hezbollah in real time and deciphered. They indicated the destination that Israel planned to reach. Mustafa Badreddine deployed his forces in ambushes for several weeks because the date of the operation was unknown. The ambush was an important operational achievement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time, “One of the worst tragedies that has ever befallen us. We lost some of our best soldiers. There have been some tragedies in the past, but I have never seen this type of tragedy.” The Mughniyeh assassination told Nasrallah that he needed to immediately change his modus operandi. The blow was indeed very severe to Hezbollah as an organization, which most probably has still not recovered. In 1998 Khamenei appointed Qassem Soleimani commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard. He replaced Ahmad Vahidi, who had played a key role in planning the bombing of the AMIA building in Buenos Aires together with Imad Mughniyeh; Vahidi was later appointed deputy defense minister and then defense minister of Iran. Soleimani came to Lebanon from the front with Iraq to meet Hassan Nasrallah for the first time; the two had not known each other previously. One of the first decisions they made was to combine the two roles, that of the security commander and that of the military commander, which Mughniyeh and Mustafa Badreddine had held separately, with each of them directly subordinate to Nasrallah, into a single position that was called “jihad assistant of Hassan Nasrallah.” This position was given to Mughniyeh, who thereby became the commander of all of Hezbollah’s military and security affairs. Mughniyeh, Badreddine, and other commanders also took part in that first meeting between Nasrallah and Soleimani. Nasrallah attested to the emergence of “spiritual harmony as if we had already known each other for decades.” Soleimani made Lebanon a secondary headquarters, and he would regularly come to Beirut every two or three weeks and stay there for days. Sometimes he would go to southern Lebanon to meet with the fighters at the front. The relations between the Iranian commander and Nasrallah and his staff went beyond work relations and turned into personal friendships, particularly with Mughniyeh; Soleimani was hosted at his home and got to know his family well. This strongly influenced the extent of the aid that Hezbollah began to receive from Iran. From 1985 to 1998, the year in which Soleimani was appointed to command the Quds Force, the ties between Hezbollah and Iran developed slowly, in line with military capabilities and Hezbollah’s limited manpower for military missions. When Soleimani and Mughniyeh were chosen for their posts in 1998, the doors opened wide and increased military assistance began to flow from Iran to Hezbollah. At the end of 1999, Hassan Nasrallah—accompanied for the first time by 50 of Hezbollah’s field commanders, headed by Imad Mughniyeh—went to meet with Khamenei and the top Iranian leadership. “At that time we did not think that Israel would withdraw from Lebanon in 2000,” Nasrallah attested. “We were not sure, and we assumed it was not likely that Israel would withdraw in 2000 without setting preconditions.” Hezbollah’s assessment was that Israel would not retreat under military pressure, fearing that this would have a strategic significance beyond the Lebanese arena that would lead to the emergence of a new regional reality. Nasrallah presented this reasoning to Khamenei and said Hezbollah would need more time for additional operations that would bring about an Israeli withdrawal without preconditions. Khamenei, Nasrallah noted, bore down and asked why Hezbollah held that view. After lengthy explanations by Nasrallah and his comrades for why Israel would not withdraw, among other things so as not to create a precedent regarding the Palestinians of withdrawing under fire outside the framework of negotiations, Khamenei recommended that his guests seriously reconsider their stance. He demanded that they continue the military activity and plan the future in such a way that Israel would withdraw from Lebanon, while taking military, public-advocacy, and diplomatic measures. “We were surprised to hear these words,” Nasrallah remarked. “Because we all believed that Ehud Barak, who had now won the elections, would not fulfill his promise to withdraw because the conditions he had supposedly set for Lebanon and for Hezbollah had not been met. It appeared to us not smart and not logical.” After the official meeting, the Hezbollah delegation was invited to Khamenei’s house for the evening. Nasrallah, Mughniyeh, and the field commanders stationed at the front with Israel, wearing uniforms and keffiyehs, looking like Iranian fighters at the front, entered a large hall in which prayers were conducted with Khamenei presiding. When the prayers concluded, he turned to bless the guests. He asked his escorts to move aside and turned to Nasrallah: “I am here to listen to you.” At that moment one of the Hezbollah commanders drew close to Khamenei and kissed his hand. The emotion was great and profound, and some of the tough field commanders began to cry; others did not manage to stay on their feet. Slowly they approached Khamenei; one kissed his hand, and when he bent to kiss Khamenei’s feet, the leader of Iran did not let him. He drew back and asked Nasrallah to seat them and calm them down so that a conversation could be held with them. Khamenei made statements in Persian, and Nasrallah translated them into Arabic. “You will win, the victory is closer than people think.” Because Nasrallah had said it was unlikely that Israel would withdraw under these circumstances, he pointed to him and added, “Every one of you will see the victory with his own eyes and you will win.” In May 2000 Israel withdrew from Lebanon to the international border, without conditions. This was the first time Israel had withdrawn from Arab territory under fire and without a ceasefire agreement or any diplomatic arrangement. Hassan Nasrallah became a national hero in Lebanon and in the Arab and Islamic world. He was perceived as the successor of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saladin. In Tehran Nasrallah was received as the hero of Islam. The imam smiled upon him. The Hezbollah military commanders, headed by Imad Mughniyeh, who accompanied Nasrallah at the beginning of 2000, became symbols of Islam’s victory over Israel. The images that Hezbollah’s propaganda outlets transmitted showed the flight of the Israeli forces and the convoys of families of South Lebanon Army members who crowded together beside the border fence and asked to enter Israel. Hezbollah flags were displayed all over southern Lebanon. Although Israel withdrew to the international border, Hezbollah did not recognize the new line because Israel retained the Shebaa Farms area, which had been under Syrian sovereignty. The area remained in dispute and served as a pretext to continue the jihad against Israel. Several months after the Israeli withdrawal, Nasrallah went to meet with Khamenei in Tehran. The Iranian leaders were delighted at the victory, Nasrallah noted. “We talked about the future and Khamenei told me that Israel had 25 years left in which to exist.” Nasrallah took these words very seriously and tried to explain the ludicrous rationale behind them. In October 2000 Hezbollah kidnapped three Israeli soldiers who had been patrolling the security fence along the Lebanese border. Nasrallah waited for an Israeli response that was not long in coming, but he was soon surprised by its feebleness. As he saw it, the Israeli response bore no relation to the truculent threats and warnings its leaders had voiced before and after the withdrawal. Nasrallah was reinforced in his belief that Israeli society was made out of spiderwebs and that its leaders were in a state of shock. He listened in amazement to voices in Israel saying “restraint is strength.” And he rubbed his eyes in wonder at the sight of Israeli soldiers getting pelted with stones hurled across the fence and taking shelter in special cages designed to protect them. Ali Khamenei allowed Hezbollah to take a further step when he approved its joining the new Lebanese government, formed after the Syrian forces’ departure from Lebanon in the wake of the Hariri assassination in 2005. Hezbollah sent two ministers to serve in the new government, primarily to safeguard its military force; it remained the only party in Lebanon that had its own army. Hezbollah exploited the political rules of the game to seize control of Lebanese state institutions, and Lebanon turned into a failed state, in which Iran replaced Syria as the arbiter of the country’s fate. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah carried out a second successful kidnapping, this time capturing two Israeli soldiers. Mughniyeh personally planned and commanded the operation. Nasrallah expected an Israeli response similar to that of October 2000. This time, however, the Israeli response was of a different magnitude. In the first half hour of the war that Israel launched, its air force jets destroyed Hezbollah’s long-range missile stockpiles and removed its ability to strike deep within Israel. Hezbollah retained medium- and short-range missiles, which it fired at the Israeli home front. For the first time, targets were hit in Haifa and other cities in northern Israel. Hezbollah aimed missiles at strategic targets in Haifa Bay. They missed, but took a toll in life and property in other places. Israel reacted with great force and destroyed Hezbollah’s headquarters in Dahieh, its social institutions, and the home and offices of the Lebanese Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a close associate of the leader of Hezbollah. Nasrallah was surprised; he stated, with rare regret, “If I had known what the Israeli response would be I would not have kidnapped the two soldiers.” But he was encouraged by the fact that the Iranian leader stuck by him. On the first day of the war, Khamenei announced his support for Hezbollah and emphasized the need to resist and fight Israel. Nasrallah rejected the conditions that Israel posed for a ceasefire: The freeing of the two kidnapped soldiers, Hezbollah’s disarmament and transformation into a political party alone, and the deployment of an international force on the border with Israel. Qassem Soleimani came to Lebanon to help manage the war. Because Beirut and the means of access to it were under bombardment and Israel had destroyed bridges and roads leading to the Lebanese capital, Nasrallah tried to convince him to remain in Damascus. Imad Mughniyeh went to Damascus and brought the Quds Force commander to Dahieh. During the war, Soleimani stayed in close proximity to Nasrallah and Mughniyeh. The three conducted the war from a joint operations room whose location Israel did not manage to discover. Soleimani’s presence, Nasrallah recounted, played a supportive, morale-boosting, spiritual and psychological role. During the first week of the battles Soleimani left Beirut to meet with Khamenei in Iran. The imam convened all of the top Iranian leadership for a consultation in Mashhad, which was attended by past and present defense ministers as well as all of the past and present Revolutionary Guard commanders. Soleimani gave a firsthand account of the course of the war: “My report was a sad, bitter one,” he said, and emphasized that his assessment did not reflect any hope for a Hezbollah victory. “The war was different; it was a technological and precision war. The targets were chosen with precision and the objective was to attack not only Hezbollah but also the whole Shiite community,” Soleimani commented. After him Khamenei spoke. He said Soleimani’s report was true and the war was indeed difficult, and compared it to the Battle of the Trench (Khandaq), also known as the Battle of the Confederates (627 CE). He described the situation of the Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad’s band in the battle, as well as the spirit of the fighters, and concluded by saying he believed that the victory in this war in Lebanon would be like the victory in the Battle of the Trench. “I was daunted,” Soleimani acknowledged. Khamenei’s words did not jibe with the military situation on the ground, and Soleimani was worried. Khamenei drafted a letter to Nasrallah, and Soleimani was asked to bring it to Beirut. In his letter, the leader of Iran detailed how he viewed the war and, more important, its outcomes. Khamenei’s message included an Iranian justification for the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers, which was very important for Nasrallah, who was facing harsh criticism for it. Khamenei described the kidnapping as “a hidden divine blessing” because it prevented a surprise attack on Hezbollah. Khamenei had expected the war to be very vexing, frustrating, and threatening to Hezbollah’s existence; yet he demanded patience of Nasrallah because, by the war’s end, “you will be victorious and you will become a regional power to the point that no other power will be able to confront you.” Nasrallah was skeptical. He told Soleimani that surviving the war would be his great achievement. In the course of the war, Nasrallah, Mughniyeh, and Soleimani went from place to place out of fear of an Israeli strike. Nasrallah removed his robe and turban and went about in a track suit. Yet, in Hezbollah’s terminology, the Second Lebanon War was naser ilahi kabir—a great divine victory. It was fraught with “divine intervention,” with miracles and wonders, and Shiite imams and angels played an active part in it, supporting the jihad fighters and vanquishing the enemy. A widespread legend told of a Hezbollah fighter at Bint Jbeil who fired missiles at the enemy and, when the allotment of missiles ran out, left the place and hid. However, he and his commanders were surprised to discover that the missile launcher marvelously continued to launch missiles by itself for a long time and to strike the enemy. After 33 days of fighting, a ceasefire was announced and Nasrallah declared a divine victory; he survived the war. In Israel, a state investigatory commission was established to examine the course of the war, and the feeling among the public was that the military and the leadership had failed. A finger of blame was pointed at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, all three of whom were new to their positions when the war erupted. Hezbollah Chief of Staff Imad Mughniyeh, now regarded as the commander of both victories—the 2000 withdrawal and the 2006 war—did not rest on his laurels. A short time after the war ended, he set up teams to analyze the development of the war, draw military lessons, and prepare for the next war. The main conclusions focused on the need to exploit what Hezbollah perceived as the Israeli weak point, namely, the civilian front. This required renewing and strengthening the missile arsenal so as to strike strategic targets deep within Israel and fracture Israeli society from within. In light of this conclusion, along with the understanding that Hezbollah’s ground forces had operated satisfactorily, it was decided to form additional elite units, equipped with advanced weapons, that would have both defensive and offensive capabilities. Thus the special force was established that eventually was called Radwan (Mughniyeh’s operational nom de guerre). It was built from elite units and numbered about 5,000 carefully chosen fighters who were sent for commando training in Iran. Qassem Soleimani, who spent the entire duration of the war in Lebanon and reported on a daily basis to Khamenei, won approbation in Iran for his role in Hezbollah’s “divine victory.” He was now in charge of renewing Hezbollah’s missile supply, including filling the storerooms with long-range missiles. He saw an urgent need to surround Israel from north and south with missile batteries that would enable Hezbollah and the Palestinian organizations in Gaza, particularly Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to strike the Israeli home front. From Soleimani’s military perspective, the Second Lebanon War had altered the Israeli strategy that David Ben-Gurion had established at the country’s inception, which was based on preemptive offense and on attacking and waging the war in the enemy’s territory. Now, in his view, that had been changed to a defensive strategy. In February 2008, Hezbollah was dealt a severe blow. In a joint operation that was attributed to Israel and the United States, Imad Mughniyeh was killed in Damascus. He was in the midst of the process of drawing lessons from the Second Lebanon War. Minutes before he was killed, he parted from Soleimani, together with whom he had met with Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and planned the continuing armed struggle against Israel from the Gaza Strip. No actor took responsibility for the assassination. However, senior intelligence and espionage officials, as well as fame-hungry politicians in Israel, briefed familiar journalists on very secret operational details. Everyone wanted their moment of glory. The Mughniyeh assassination told Nasrallah that he needed to immediately change his modus operandi, hide, and set up shop in a bunker from which he threatened in televised speeches to get revenge on Israel in whatever way possible. The blow was indeed very severe to Nasrallah, who had known Mughniyeh since before 1982, and to Hezbollah as an organization, which most probably has still not recovered. Upon his death, Imad Mughniyeh became a symbol of Shiite heroism and was compared to military commanders who had fought alongside the Prophet Muhammad, to Imam Ali, and to his son Imam Hussein. Since the assassination, no one of comparable profile and abilities has arisen to replace Imad Mughniyeh. Hezbollah’s operational apparatus abroad managed to carry out a few attacks against Israeli targets outside of Israel (in Thailand, India, and Bulgaria), but they were not of Mughniyeh’s operational magnitude. Mustafa Badreddine, Mughniyeh’s successor, himself was assassinated in May 2016 near the airport in Damascus when he was commander of Hezbollah forces in Syria. Hassan Nasrallah accused the Sunni rebels of the assassination, but the circumstances of Badreddine’s death remain unclear to this day. Israel’s then-chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, turned an accusing finger in a surprising direction, when he affirmed reports that said Badreddine was assassinated by Soleimani with the approval of Nasrallah. Similar reports claimed that the trigger of the weapon that killed Badreddine was pulled by Ibrahim Hussein Jizani (“Nabil”), who was head of Nasrallah’s personal security detail. Other reports said the commander of Hezbollah forces in Syria had refused to comply with the orders of the commander of the Iranian Quds Force. Soleimani had demanded an increase in the number of Hezbollah fighters in Syria. This, along with the patronizing treatment of the Hezbollah fighters by the Iranian commanders, who were not always in the battlefield, sparked resentment. Hezbollah’s heavy losses in Syria, which reached a peak (during 2013-2019) of about 2,000 dead, including commanders from the group’s founding generation, and about 8,000 wounded, provoked anger among the Shiite community, which was further inflamed by the leading opponent of Hezbollah, Subhi al-Tufaili—one of the organizations founders—who ruled that whoever was killed in Syria was not considered a shahid because he had not fought and been killed in the jihad against Israel. He ruled furthermore that the fighting against the Muslims in Syria was a violation of sharia law. There is no doubt that the years of the campaign in Syria, despite the heavy casualties, had a formative effect on Hezbollah’s battle capability and afforded it confidence in its military capabilities. At the beginning of 2011, and during the revolt in Syria, Hezbollah formulated an operative plan for the conquest of the Galilee. The mission was assigned to the Radwan forces, which began to train for the possibility that, in case of a war with Israel, they would cross the border and seize control of settled areas within Israel. About 5,000 of the Radwan fighters were sent to Iran for rounds of training under Iranian instructors. According to a source close to Hezbollah, five battalions were set up in Hezbollah, each with a thousand fighters, and each battalion was assigned a specific territory to take over in northern Israel. Each battalion studied and became familiar with the special topographical conditions of the area it was responsible for and trained to conquer it. While the war in Syria interrupted the preoccupation with this plan, it also, as noted, enabled the Radwan forces to accumulate highly valuable battle experience for the future. Hezbollah’s plan to conquer the Galilee was not abandoned because of the campaign in Syria. On the contrary, Nasrallah repeated several times his threats to take over the Galilee if and when a war broke out with Israel. Hezbollah also invested great engineering effort in digging tunnels from Lebanon into Israel. In December 2018, Israel uncovered six of these tunnels. Lt. Gen. Eizenkot remarked that Hezbollah had a “grandiose plan” for a surprise underground infiltration of 5,000 fighters into Israeli territory amid a barrage of fire. Eizenkot disclosed that Israel had already become aware of Hezbollah’s plan in 2014. All six of the tunnels were blown up, and Hezbollah lost an important operational capability. Nasrallah, however, did not shelve his plan to seize control of parts of the Galilee in the next war. The war in Syria revealed the extent of Iran’s involvement in transferring strategic weaponry, some of it game-changing, to Hezbollah. Most of the Iranian effort involved transferring long-range missiles to Hezbollah and developing their precision capabilities. At first, factories for the precision-guided-missile project were built in Syria, but they were discovered and bombed by Israel and so were relocated to Lebanon, where they were also soon discovered. Israel made clear that it viewed the precision of Hezbollah’s missiles as a red line and would not allow such missiles to be produced or transferred to Hezbollah. In August 2019, two drones penetrated the very heart of Hezbollah, the Dahieh neighborhood of Beirut. The objective was to strike a critical ingredient of the precision-guided-missile project. According to The Times of London, “The targeted facility was used to store high-end industrial planetary mixer, a component in high-grade precision missiles’ propellant.” The drones identified the facility and destroyed it. In July 2020, the Jerusalem Post reported that Hezbollah has at least 28 missile-launch sites in populated areas of Beirut that are under its control. These include private homes, medical centers, industrial zones, and offices. The sites are involved in the launching, storing, and production of medium-range Fateh-110 missiles and are part of Hezbollah’s precision-guided-missile project. Hezbollah is believed to have 600 Fateh-110 missiles with ranges of up to 300 kilometers, among them more advanced missiles of the Zulfiqar model with ranges of up to 700 kilometers. Overall Hezbollah is believed to have 130,000 missiles and rockets with ranges of 10 to 500 kilometers, also dispersed in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in bunkers that are next to schools, clinics, hospitals, soccer fields, as well as the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and the Lebanese Defense Ministry. The struggle between Hezbollah and Israel is currently at full throttle. Hezbollah, with Iran’s help, is working to build long-range capabilities that will allow it to strike precise targets in the Israeli home front. Israel is resolved to prevent Hezbollah from gaining that capability. Even though both sides want to avoid a war, the conflict between them could go out of control if one side makes a miscalculation. Meanwhile Hezbollah is also building a capability to use special forces to seize lands in the Galilee. This marks a basic change in Hezbollah’s approach to war, which until now primarily built deterrent and defensive capabilities and now is also dealing intensively with offense and with taking the next war to Israeli territory.
Lebanese gov’t resignation: In Hezbollah’s shadow, does it even matter?/ Seith J. Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/August 11/2020 On the one hand, the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and other, such as the Hezbollah-backed Health minister, appears to show the government is being held to account. Lebanon’s government resigned in the wake of a massive explosion that has killed over 160 people and wounded thousands more, leaving another 90,000 or so with ruined homes. It is a massive disaster that comes after other problems Lebanon was already facing, such as an economic crisis, COVID-19 and the stranglehold Hezbollah has on the country. On the one hand the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and other, such as the Hezbollah-backed health minister, appears to show the government is being held to account. It is after all the government that failed to do anything about a warehouse full of dangerous chemicals. Reports now indicate they were warned as recently as July. They were also warned by the US four years ago and they’ve known about this problem since the ammonium nitrate arrived in 2013. Judges had even looked into the warehouse where the chemicals were stored, most recently in January 2020. Diab has only been in charge since January. He was tapped by President Michel Aoun last year after the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in October. He had backing from Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement and others. He was opposed by the anti-Hezbollah parties. But what has changed? Hariri’s resignation last year was unimportant. He had already resigned once in November 2017 while allegedly being coerced in Saudi Arabia to leave the government. What real effect does the prime minister have? Hariri accomplished little in his years in office. President Aoun is an aging former general from the civil war era. He is a Christian and in Lebanon’s sectarian political order one’s religion matters entirely in terms of who gets what in offices. For instance the Shi’ite speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri has been speaker since 1992 and is part of the Amal Movement. Berri and Aoun, born in 1938 and 1935 respectively are the old faces that run Lebanon. Aoun came to power in 2016 after Hezbollah successfully held the appointment of a new president hostage. The last president of Lebanon was Michel Suleiman, who served until 2014. But the president is not as powerful as the office once was prior to the Taif Accords that ended the Civil war in 1990. For instance the system shifted from one that is more similar to former colonial power France, with a strong president appointing a prime minister, to a more powerful prime minister. The more powerful prime minister is Sunni and this is supposed to reflect demographic realities where the Christians are believed to be less than fifty percent of the population. Lebanon doesn’t do a census because it would tip over the careful sectarian balance written into these agreements. But all the gerrymandering and careful sectarian logic, which has almost no parallels in the world, means that Lebanon is largely ungovernable. That is one reason a warehouse full of chemicals was kept at the capital’s port. It is why a massive extralegal terrorist group like Hezbollah is able to de facto control southern Lebanon, stockpile 150,000 missiles, conduct Lebanon’s foreign policy and military policy and has a role at the port and airport. So why would it matter if the Hezbollah-picked prime minister leaves. He is the fall guy, the scapegoat, and he will be replaced with some other boring technocrat who will do Hezbollah’s bidding. There are many young voices in Lebanon who are tired of the aging leadership, the rule by clans and the presence of Hezbollah. But like in other countries, they don’t have much say. For instance in Iraq a young movement also rose up against a similar paradigm. Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last year after protesters were killed on his watch. But he was ineffectual and no one will remember him. The power behind the throne in Iraq is Hadi al-Amiri, the Shi’ite Badr organization leader. Besides him there is the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Ayatollah Sistani. And then, like Lebanon, there are sectarian politics such as a Sunni speaker of parliament, a Kurdish president and the various Kurdish parties. Diab is out. Hezbollah is still there. The protesters may be angry but they won’t have much influence. The region is still led by these men who came of age in the 1950s, men like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Aoun and Berri. Consider the fact that the formative years of these men was the 1950s when Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt and spoke via radio to the region. Most of them are placeholders, clinging to office, but with no real vision or desire to do anything. There’s no evidence that a new prime minister, a new health minister supported by Hezbollah, will do more than the last one. Given the realities of Lebanese politics where sectarian parties, many run by powerful families, control everything, the chance of change is slim.
Lebanon’s leaders were warned in July about explosives at port – documents/Reuters/August 11/2020 As protests over the blast raged in Lebanon on Monday, Diab’s government resigned, though it will remain as a caretaker administration until a new cabinet is formed. Lebanese security officials warned the prime minister and president last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources. Just over two weeks later, the industrial chemicals went up in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port and swathes of the capital, killed at least 163 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed 6,000 buildings, according to municipal authorities. A report by the General Directorate of State Security on events leading up to the explosion included a reference to a private letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on July 20. While the content of the letter was not in the report seen by Reuters, a senior security official said it summed up the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January which concluded the chemicals needed to be secured immediately. The state security report, which confirmed the correspondence to the president and the prime minister, has not previously been reported. “There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack,” the official told Reuters. “At the end of the investigation, Prosecutor General (Ghassan) Oweidat prepared a final report which was sent to the authorities,” he said, referring to the letter sent to the prime minister and president by the General Directorate of State Security, which oversees port security. “I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” said the official, who was involved in writing the letter and declined to be named. Reuters could not independently confirm his description of the letter. The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the July 20 letter. A representative for Diab, whose government resigned on Monday following the blast, said the PM received the letter on July 20 and it was sent to the Supreme Defence Council for advice within 48 hours. “The current cabinet received the file 14 days prior to the explosion and acted on it in a matter of days. Previous administrations had over six years and did nothing.” The prosecutor general did not respond to requests for comment. ‘DO WHAT IS NECESSARY’ The correspondence could fuel further criticism and public fury that the explosion is just the latest, if not most dramatic, example of the government negligence and corruption that have already pushed Lebanon to economic collapse. As protests over the blast raged in Lebanon on Monday, Diab’s government resigned, though it will remain as a caretaker administration until a new cabinet is formed. The rebuilding of Beirut alone is expected to cost up to $15 billion, in a country already effectively bankrupt with total banking system losses exceeding $100 billion. Aoun confirmed last week that he had been informed about the material. He told reporters he had directed the secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council, an umbrella group of security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary.” “(The state security service) said it is dangerous. I am not responsible! I don’t know where it was put and I didn’t know how dangerous it was. I have no authority to deal with the port directly. There is a hierarchy and all those who knew should have known their duties to do the necessary,” Aoun said. Many questions remain over why the shipment of ammonium nitrate docked in Beirut in late 2013. Even more baffling is why such a huge stash of dangerous material, used in bombs and fertilizers, was allowed to remain there for so long. The letter sent to Lebanon’s president and prime minister followed a string of memos and letters sent to the country’s courts over the previous six years by port, customs and security officials, repeatedly urging judges to order the removal of the ammonium nitrate from its position so close to the city center. The General Directorate of State Security’s report seen by Reuters said many requests had been submitted, without giving an exact number. It said the port’s manifest department sent several written requests to the customs directorate up until 2016 asking them to call on a judge to order the material be re-exported immediately. “But until now, no decision has been issued over this matter. After consulting one of our chemical specialists, the expert confirmed that this material is dangerous and is used to produce explosives,” the General Directorate of State Security report said. HAZARDOUS MATERIAL The road to last week’s tragedy began seven years ago, when the Rhosus, a Russian-chartered, Moldovan-flagged vessel carrying ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique, docked in Beirut to try to take on extra cargo to cover the fees for passage through the Suez Canal, according to the ship’s captain. Port authorities impounded the Rhosus in December 2013 by judicial order 2013/1031 due to outstanding debts owed to two companies that filed claims in Beirut courts, the state security report showed. In May 2014, the ship was deemed unseaworthy and its cargo was unloaded in October 2014 and warehoused in what was known as Hangar 12. The ship sank near the port’s breakwater on Feb. 18, 2018, the security report showed. Moldova lists the owner of the ship as Panama-based Briarwood Corp. Briarwood could not immediately be reached for comment. In February 2015, Nadim Zwain, a judge from the Summary Affairs Court, which deals with urgent issues, appointed an expert to inspect the cargo, according to the security report. The report said the expert concluded that the material was hazardous and, through the port authorities, requested it be transferred to the army. Reuters could not independently confirm the expert’s account. Lebanese army command rejected the request and recommended the chemicals be transferred or sold to the privately owned Lebanese Explosives Company, the state security report said. The report did not say why the army had refused to accept the cargo. A security official told Reuters it was because they didn’t need it. The army declined to comment. The explosives company’s management told Reuters it had not been interested in purchasing confiscated material and the firm had its own suppliers and government import licenses. From then on, customs and security officials wrote to judges roughly every six months asking for the removal of the material, according to the requests seen by Reuters. Judges and customs officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment. A number of customs and port officials have since been detained as part of the investigation into the blast. ‘BAD STORAGE AND BAD JUDGMENT’ In January 2020, a judge launched an official investigation after it was discovered that Hangar 12 was unguarded, had a hole in its southern wall and one of its doors dislodged, meaning the hazardous material was at risk of being stolen. In his final report following the investigation, Prosecutor General Oweidat “gave orders immediately” to ensure hangar doors and holes were repaired and security provided, a second high-ranking security official who also requested anonymity said. On June 4, based on those orders, state security instructed port authorities to provide guards at Hangar 12, appoint a director for the warehouse and secure all the doors and repair the hole in the southern wall, according to the state security report and security officials. The port authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment. “The maintenance started and (port authorities) sent a team of Syrian workers (but) there was no one supervising them when they entered to fix the holes,” the security official said. During the work, sparks from welding took hold and fire started to spread, the official said. “Given that there were fireworks stored in the same hangar, after an hour a big fire was set off by the fireworks and that spread to the material that exploded when the temperature exceeded 210 degrees,” the high-ranking security official said. The official blamed port authorities for not supervising the repair crew and for storing fireworks alongside a vast deposit of high explosives. Reuters could not determine what happened to the workers repairing the hangar. “Only because the hangar faces the sea, the impact of the explosion was reduced. Otherwise all of Beirut would have been destroyed,” he said. “The issue is all about negligence, irresponsibility, bad storage and bad judgment.”
‘I Don’t Want to Die’: Blast Traumatizes Beirut Children Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 11 August, 2020 “I don’t want to die.” Those were the first words Hiba’s six-year-old son screamed after the massive explosion at Beirut port sent shards of glass flying around their house. The blast a week ago that temporarily displaced 100,000 children, according to a UN estimate, was so mighty it had the magnitude of an earthquake.The mental shock it caused among Beirut’s youngest was just as powerful. When the boy saw blood on his feet, “he started screaming: ‘Mom, I don’t want to die’,” Hiba recalled. “What is this life? Coronavirus and an explosion!,” her son told her after the blast. “Imagine that!” said the mother. “A child only six years old asking this question.”The 35-year-old mother of two, who asked to withhold the names of her children and their family name, said her entire building shook when the catastrophe struck on August 4. Her son, who was sitting on a living room couch just across from her, was speckled with shards of glass from a blown-out window. “The shattered glass whirled around us,” Hiba said, a scene described by countless survivors. For a few seconds, her son sat motionless and unscathed on the couch. She then dragged him out of the room, the boy barefoot on a carpet of splintered glass that cut bloody gashes into his feet. “My son now twitches in panic every time he hears a loud sound,” she said. ‘Bottling up emotions’ Hiba’s son was not the only one left traumatized. His infant sister, born just 16 days before the explosion, lost consciousness for 20 minutes. “It took a lot of time before she began to wake up and start crying,” said Hiba, so shocked herself that she has struggled to breastfeed her since. She said she now keeps her son in his room, surrounded by his toys, instead of in the living room where the television broadcasts scenes of grief and devastation all day long. “I don’t know if he is bottling up his emotions,” Hiba said. “But I’m trying to spend a lot of time with him in case he needs to talk.” The explosion that gutted swathes of the city killed at least 160 people and left 6,000 people physically wounded. Children are among the casualties and the UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that “those who survived are traumatized and in shock”. In a video widely shared on social media showing plumes of smoke rising from the harbourside, the almost playful voice of a child can initially be heard in the background, saying “explosion, explosion”. When the impact from the massive blast hits him, the same child also screams, in English: “Mom, I don’t want to die.”On Lebanese TV, the mother of a three-year-old girl killed in the blast gave an emotional testimony in which she shared her feeling of guilt about having tried to raise a child in a dysfunctional country. “I want to apologize to Alexandra,” she said, “because I did not take her out of Lebanon.” ‘Anxiety, night terrors’ The Save the Children charity has warned of a severe strain on children’s mental health as a result of the blast. “Without proper support, children might face long-term consequences,” it said in a statement. Anne-Sophie Dybdal, the charity’s senior child protection advisor, warned of “anxiety, trouble sleeping, attacks of night terror”.”The impact on children can be very deep,” she said. Child psychologist Sophia Maamari said traumatized children may also develop separation anxiety that could make them fear even going to the bathroom without one of their parents. Loud bangs may trigger fears of another blast and some children could go temporarily mute or tend toward self-isolation, the psychologist explained. Maamari advised that parents should make their children feel like they are allowed to be scared by telling them that they too were frightened by the explosion. This is one tip Noura picked up online when she was looking for information on how to handle her two traumatized children, aged three and four. The 34-year-old mother said she had described to her kids in detail how she was gripped by fear and panic. Her older son immediately responded to her admission by saying: “It was a big bam.” Her youngest did not respond until the next day. “I was very scared too,” she said the little boy whispered into her ear as soon as he woke up.
Lebanon Needs Transformation, Not Another Corrupt Unity Government/Hanin Ghaddar/Foreign Policy/August 11/2020 If the United States lets France take the lead, the Lebanese people will get more political paralysis, cosmetic reforms, and Hezbollah control of state institutions. The massive explosion in Beirut last Tuesday, killing at least 160 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, triggered a political moment as another explosion did 15 years ago: the targeted blast that killed then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Then, as now, grief quickly turned to anger. In 2005, the outraged Lebanese rose up to demand fundamental political change, not cosmetic reforms, and they are taking to the streets once again today. But there is a key difference. In 2005, the White House was willing and able to play a nimble and ultimately effective role helping local activists translate raw emotion into new elections and a new government. Yet today Washington is content with taking a back seat to an energetic but ambivalent French president—an arrangement that will almost certainly not produce the change most Lebanese yearn for. The French are pushing for a reconciliation among all parties, with some kind of national unity government that would only maintain the status quo and offer a scapegoat—such as Hassan Diab’s government, which resigned en masse yesterday—to calm the streets. Yet the Lebanese need a more drastic solution. The government’s resignation will not change the system as long as the same political elites maintain their power and control over other institutions. Lebanon was already in the middle of an unprecedented economic and political crisis when the twin blasts hit. It’s a crisis so severe that it has already begun to trigger hyperinflation and hunger in country that weathered 15 years of civil war without experiencing such economic devastation. And it is being kept alive by the greed of a political class that refuses even the most modest reforms demanded by an International Monetary Fund that actually wants to give the country money. France seems to be taking the lead for now, as illustrated by French President Emmanuel Macron’s symbolic visit to Beirut last week followed by his quick move to kick off Sunday’s international donor meeting. Countries have already pledged over 250 million euros (approximately $300 million). As much as humanitarian aid is vital to help the Lebanese stand back on their feet, accountability is much more significant in the long term. As other countries follow in France’s footsteps, it is worth keeping two things in mind: First, the Beirut port explosion was not a natural disaster, and it should not be treated as such. Therefore, as much as humanitarian aid is vital to help the Lebanese stand back on their feet, accountability is much more significant in the long term, and this is exactly what Lebanese protesters in the streets are calling for. Second, the Lebanese people no longer trust their government, whose incompetence was one of the possible causes of the explosion. Therefore, assistance should not by any means go through government institutions or political organizations and charities. The deeply corrupt political system will prevent aid from reaching the people who need it.The deeply corrupt political system will prevent aid from reaching the people who need it. A number of local and international nongovernment organizations—such as the Lebanese Red Cross—have already been offering relief and assistance on the ground from day one. They were the first responders and have a good infrastructure and knowledge of the situation on the ground. If aid goes through these organizations, the likelihood that it will reach the right beneficiaries is much higher. If Lebanon’s government is asking for international assistance, then it should accept an international investigation. The United States could take the lead on these two policy questions while coordinating with the French on a humanitarian initiative. France has been trying to strike a difficult balance: mobilize the international community to support Lebanon while exerting pressure on Lebanese political leaders to implement reforms to allow more aid to be sent. But Macron made clear in his press statement at the end of his Beirut visit that he would not craft a political solution for Lebanon and that it was up to the Lebanese to construct it, giving an opportunity for both the political elite to compromise and for the protest movement to reorganize and prepare for the next elections. But the Lebanese elite won’t budge without pressure, and the authorities won’t hesitate to use violence to suppress the protests. For many Lebanese, this is a Catch-22 situation that can only be overcome if the authorities are pressured as they were in 2005—by a robust U.S. presence in the region and a very clear message from the United States to the Lebanese authorities—when the government was forced to resign and early elections were organized. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of an international initiative in this direction. Only an international investigation would achieve real accountability and justice. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has already refused this suggestion, as expected. Not only could an international investigative team hold many in the political establishment accountable, but it could also reveal Hezbollah’s control, presence, and storage facilities at the city’s port—even if the group had nothing to do with the 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stockpiled at the port. Although it is early to tell if the ammonium nitrate belonged to Hezbollah, there are many factors suggesting the group is responsible. It has control over a major part of the port, including the area where the explosion took place and where Hezbollah had temporarily stored its missiles since approximately 2008. Not much has changed in the last four decades. According to a 1987 CIA report on Lebanon’s ports, “most operations in Lebanon’s ports are illegal and beyond the reach of the government.” Although the report was focused on Palestinian factions during the Lebanese Civil War and the role of the Syrian regime, the dynamics of control have benefitted Hezbollah, which seems to have inherited both the Syrian regime’s and the Palestinian factions’ control of Lebanon’s ports. It’s not a secret that Hezbollah has access and control over all of Lebanon’s points of entryIt’s not a secret that Hezbollah has access and control over all of Lebanon’s points of entry: the Syrian-Lebanese borders, the airport, and the port. Nor is it a secret that Hezbollah has been smuggling weapons through the port to store in Lebanon and transfer to Syria. And it’s no secret that Hezbollah and its allies have put their people in many of the port’s sensitive positions. Indeed, in July 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa for acting on behalf of the group. The Treasury said Safa, as the head of Hezbollah’s security apparatus, “has exploited Lebanon’s ports and border crossings to smuggle contraband and facilitate travel” on behalf of the group. According to the report, Hezbollah “leveraged Safa to facilitate the passage of items, including illegal drugs and weapons, into the port of Beirut, Lebanon” and “specifically routed certain shipments through Safa to avoid scrutiny.” There are many questions an impartial investigation could answer: Why were Dutch and French rescue teams kept away from the port for hours the second day after the explosion? Why was the ammonium nitrate stored at the port? Who left it there for six years, despite warnings of the risk? What exactly caused the explosion? The Lebanese authorities will not be able to answer these questions on their own. In 2005, many Lebanese opposition parties rushed to accuse the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah for Hariri’s assassination. Back then, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah accused Israel and didn’t hesitate to thank the Syrian regime after its army withdrew from Lebanon, in a gesture that was understood as an act of defiance against the international community and local opposition. Fifteen years later, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is ready to announce its verdict on Aug. 18 against four Hezbollah members. Hariri’s accused killers will almost certainly be convicted in a few days, and that was only possible because the international community pushed for an international investigation and helped establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. As the events in Beirut develop, a similar opportunity presents itself today. Hezbollah is clearly worried. The party has accused state institutions and state employees rather than Israel this time. Accordingly, Hezbollah and the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese government appear to have decided that to survive this, some employees will have to be sacrificedHezbollah and the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese government appear to have decided that to survive this, some employees will have to be sacrificed, including the country’s customs chief, Badri Daher, who was appointed by Gebran Bassil, Hezbollah’s main ally in Parliament. The Trump administration should take advantage of this situation. Washington has lately been focused on applying maximum pressure on Iran; therefore, it would make sense to recognize that the horror and tragedy of the Beirut blast presents an opportunity to trim the sails of Iran’s most effective regional proxy, Hezbollah. There are many hard-power reasons for Washington to get more deeply involved in Lebanon right now: to burnish its regional leadership credentials, to beat the Chinese and Russians to it, and to ensure supply lines into Syria. But taking advantage of the moment to give the Lebanese a chance to create a new political system in which Hezbollah is cut down to size is certainly high on the list. There are several things the U.S. government can do to achieve that objective. First, it must grasp that this is a 2005 moment. The old anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition is not an alternative because corruption exists across both coalitions and the Lebanese protesters’ demands—with their main slogan, “All of you means all of you”—target every sectarian and corrupt politician no matter their political position on Hezbollah. Lebanon’s people are demanding a total replacement of the system—a new kind of Taif Agreement—the accord negotiated in Saudi Arabia in September 1989 to provide “the basis for the ending of the civil war and the return to political normalcy in Lebanon.” Today, the tragedy in Lebanon requires a new agreement that would lead to real change and an end of the sectarian system. Second, Washington should make sure that humanitarian aid does not go through any state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).Washington should make sure that humanitarian aid does not go through any state institutions, including the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). The United States has been assisting the LAF since 2006 for clear security objectives, but the LAF in turn has used brutal force against protesters during the recent demonstrations. Security assistance could continue, as long as the LAF does not use it to suppress protesters, but humanitarian assistance should go through local and international NGOs that are doing a much better job at relief efforts. Third, the United States and its allies must push for an independent and transparent investigation of Lebanon’s port explosion. If the U.S. policy is to contain Iran and its proxies, then this is a golden opportunity. Holding Hezbollah accountable for perhaps killing hundreds of Lebanese and injuring thousands could push the Lebanese people—and Western public opinion in general—to reject Hezbollah’s grip on the country. Fourth, there must be an investigation into the LAF’s use of violence against protesters. The 2005 Cedar Revolution happened because the army’s leadership took a decision to protect the protesters, who were peaceful. The army today seems to have decided to protect the authorities and punish the victims. The U.S. government needs to send a clear message to the LAF that if it does not protect the protesters as they did in 2005, assistance will stop. The U.S. government should take the lead in pushing for genuine change rather than following Macron’s lead.Finally, the U.S. government should take the lead in pushing for genuine change rather than following Macron’s lead. The French president might be satisfied with a national unity government. However, this idea reminds the Lebanese people of the first national unity government that was forced on the Lebanese after the events of May 2008. At the time, Hezbollah took over Beirut and the Druze mountains and used its weapons against the Lebanese people and pushed the March 14 coalition to effectively give up power to Hezbollah through the national unity government—launching a process that allowed the group to take over most political, military, and security institutions. Another national unity government today would maintain Hezbollah’s power over state institutions. What Lebanon needs instead is a new beginning—a new political and social contract that eliminates sectarianism and establishes accountability through judicial reforms. This can only happen through a new electoral law that entails proper representation and an end to the confessional system, as well as early elections, which would produce a new parliament, a new government, and a new president. Lebanon also needs the truth—and the accountability that follows—to overcome this tragedy. **Hanin Ghaddar is the Friedmann visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics.
Who Owned the Chemicals that Blew up Beirut? No One Will Say/Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 11 August, 2020 In the murky story of how a cache of highly explosive ammonium nitrate ended up on the Beirut waterfront, one thing is clear — no one has ever publicly come forward to claim it. There are many unanswered questions surrounding last week’s huge, deadly blast in the Lebanese capital, but ownership should be among the easiest to resolve. Clear identification of ownership, especially of a cargo as dangerous as that carried by the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus when it sailed into Beirut seven years ago, is fundamental to shipping, the key to insuring it and settling disputes that often arise. But Reuters interviews and trawls for documents across 10 countries in search of the original ownership of this 2,750-ton consignment instead revealed an intricate tale of missing documentation, secrecy and a web of small, obscure companies that span the globe. “Goods were being transported from one country to another, and they ended up in a third country with nobody owning the goods. Why did they end up here?” said Ghassan Hasbani, a former Lebanese deputy prime minister and opposition figure. Those linked to the shipment and interviewed by Reuters all denied knowledge of the cargo’s original owner or declined to answer the question. Those who said they didn’t know included the ship’s captain, the Georgian fertilizer maker who produced the cargo and the African firm that ordered it but said it never paid for it. The official version of the Rhosus’ final journey depicts its voyage as a series of unfortunate events. Shipping records show the ship loaded ammonium nitrate in Georgia in September 2013 and was meant to deliver it to an explosives maker in Mozambique. But before leaving the Mediterranean, the captain and two crew members say they were instructed by the Russian businessman they regarded as the ship’s de facto owner, Igor Grechushkin, to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo. The Rhosus arrived in Beirut in November but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. Creditors accused the ship’s legal owner, listed as a Panama-based firm, of abandoning the vessel and the cargo was later unloaded and put in a dockside warehouse, according to official accounts. The Beirut law firm that acted for creditors, Baroudi & Associates, did not respond to requests to identify the cargo’s original legal owner. Reuters was unable to contact Grechushkin. The empty ship eventually sank where it was moored in 2018, according to Lebanese customs. The Rhosus’ final movements are under fresh scrutiny after the ammonium nitrate caught fire inside the warehouse and exploded last week, killing at least 158 people, injuring thousands and leaving 250,000 people homeless. Among the still-unanswered questions: who paid for the ammonium nitrate and did they ever seek to reclaim the cargo when the Rhosus was impounded? And if not, why not? The cargo, packaged in large white sacks, was worth around $700,000 at 2013 prices, according to an industry source. Uninsured Reuters inquiries have raised numerous red flags. Under international maritime conventions and some domestic laws, commercial vessels must have insurance to cover events such as environmental damage, loss of life or injury caused by a sinking, spill or collision. Yet the Rhosus was uninsured, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The ship’s Russian captain, Boris Prokoshev, said by phone from his home in Sochi, Russia, that he had seen an insurance certificate but could not vouch for its authenticity. Reuters was unable to obtain a copy of the ship’s documents. The Mozambican firm that ordered the ammonium nitrate, Fábrica de Explosivos Moçambique (FEM), was not the cargo owner at the time because it had agreed to only pay on delivery, according to its spokesman, Antonio Cunha Vaz. The producer was Georgian fertilizer maker Rustavi Azot LLC, which has since been dissolved. Its owner at the time, businessman Roman Pipia, told Reuters he had lost control of the Rustavi ammonium nitrate plant in 2016. UK court documents show that the firm was forced by a creditor to auction off its assets that year. The factory is now run by another firm, JSC Rustavi Azot, which also said it could not shed light on the cargo owner, according to the plant’s current first deputy director, Levan Burdiladze. FEM said it had ordered the shipment through a trading firm, Savaro Ltd, which has registered companies in London and Ukraine but whose website is now offline. A visit to Savaro Ltd’s listed London address on Monday found a Victorian terraced house, with a locked and barred door, near the fashionable bars of Shoreditch. No one responded to knocks on the door. Reuters contacted UK-registered Savaro Ltd director Greta Bieliene, a Lithuanian based in Cyprus. She declined to answer questions. A source familiar with the inner workings of Savaro’s trading business said it sold fertilizer from ex-Soviet Union states to clients in Africa. Ukraine-based businessman Vladimir Verbonol is listed as director of Savaro in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian corporate data base You Control. Reuters was unable to contact Verbonol for comment. The Russian As grief and anger over the blast turn to civil unrest in Beirut, there are signs the Lebanese government’s promised investigation has already turned its sights back to the Rhosus and Grechushkin, the man the crew considered as its owner. A security source said Grechushkin was questioned at his home in Cyprus last Thursday about the cargo. A Cypriot police spokesman said an individual, whom he did not name, had been questioned at the request of Interpol Beirut. The Rhosus arrived in Beirut in November 2013 with a leak and in generally poor condition, captain Prokoshev said. It had already been beset with problems. In July 2013, four months before docking in Beirut, the ship was detained for 13 days by port authorities in Seville, Spain, after multiple deficiencies including malfunctioning doors, corrosion on the deck area and deficient auxiliary engines were found, according to shipping data. It resumed sailing after inspection firm Maritime Lloyd issued a cargo ship safety construction certificate, which would have involved a survey of the ship, the data showed. Teimuraz Kavtaradze, an inspector at Georgia-based Maritime Lloyd, which does not rank among the most prominent and widely-used inspection firms, said he could not confirm whether or not the firm had provided any inspection documents to port officials in Seville. He said he was working for Maritime Lloyd in 2013 but that other staff and the management had since changed. Seville port officials were not immediately available for comment. Paris MoU, a body of 27 maritime states under whose authority the detention was carried out, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Moldova, where the Rhosus is registered, lists the owner of the ship as Panama-based Briarwood Corp, a certificate of ownership seen by Reuters shows. Reuters was not immediately able to identify Briarwood Corp as a Panamanian registered company. Panama’s maritime authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The ship’s charterer, Teto Shipping Ltd, is based in the Marshall Islands and was dissolved in 2014, according to International Registries, which says it provides shipping registry services to the Marshall Islands. The captain passed Reuters an email address that they had been using for Teto Shipping, but requests for comment to the same address went unanswered. The captain said he regarded Grechushkin and Teto as the same entity.
Why Did Lebanon Let a Bomb-in-Waiting Sit in a Warehouse for 6 Years?/Faysal Itani/The New York Times/August 11/2020 My first summer job was at the port of Beirut. It was the late ’90s and I was just a teenager. I spent muggy months entering shipping data as part of an ambitious new program to move the port from analog to digital log keeping. It was as unglamorous as you would expect from a bottom-rung job in the bowels of a Middle East bureaucracy. But despite the heat and the monotony, there was optimism. The port was critical infrastructure in an economy rejuvenating after 15 years of civil war. Digital log keeping was part of the future — and an attempt to introduce much-needed order and transparency to a recovering public sector. This was, after all, the same port that had been rendered unusable during the civil war by sunken vessels and unexploded ordnance, save for one area controlled by a militia. The Lebanon that emerged from that rubble is gone, gradually choked by a cynical political class. On August 4, it was finished off. The port of Beirut was blown up in an explosion that killed at least 150 people (and counting), wounded more than 5,000 and destroyed blocks of the city. Lebanon now faces a new type of catastrophe for which decades of war and political instability were poor preparation. By all appearances the port disaster did not involve the usual suspects — Hezbollah, Israel, terrorism or the government of neighboring Syria. The truth seems to be both duller and more disturbing: Decades of rot at every level of Lebanon’s institutions destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city, and far too many lives. It is precisely the banality behind the explosion that captures the particular punishment and humiliation heaped on Lebanon. So far, Lebanese officials are in agreement about what happened, though it’s likely that more than one “official” account will emerge. After all, this is Lebanon, a country deeply divided by politics, religion and history. But here is what we know as of now, according to reporting by credible Lebanese media: Some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate unloaded from a disabled vessel in 2014 had been stored in a port warehouse. Then on August 4, a welding accident ignited nearby fireworks — which caused the ammonium nitrate to explode. Ports are prime real estate for political, criminal and militia factions. Multiple security agencies with different levels of competence (and different political allegiances) control various aspects of their operations. And recruitment in the civilian bureaucracy is dictated by political or sectarian quotas. There is a pervasive culture of negligence, petty corruption and blame-shifting endemic to the Lebanese bureaucracy, all overseen by a political class defined by its incompetence and contempt for the public good. It’s unclear what combination of these elements let a bomb-in-waiting sit in a warehouse for almost six years, moved fireworks next to it and allowed irresponsible work practices to be carried out nearby. But the catastrophe, while exceptionally severe, is the result of business as usual in Lebanon. The country is familiar with explosions, and it is just as familiar with disasters caused by failures of public services: a garbage crisis that dates back to 2015, an environmental catastrophe in 2019 and power outages this year that last up to 20 hours a day. The consequences of Beirut explosion will be even more serious than the immediate casualties and property damage. The main grain silo, which holds some 85 percent of the country’s cereals, was destroyed. Even more, the port will no longer be able to receive goods. Lebanon imports 80 percent of what it consumes, including 90 percent of its wheat, which is used to make the bread that is the staple of most people’s diets. About 60 percent of those imports come through the port of Beirut. Or, at least, they did. The timing couldn’t be worse. An economic crisis has devastated Lebanon for several months. The country’s currency has collapsed, a problem that is itself a result of years of mismanagement and corruption. Hundreds of thousands of people can no longer buy fuel, food and medicine. As Lebanese have seen their savings wiped out and their purchasing power disappear, a new vocabulary appeared among even my optimistic Lebanese friends and family. To describe the country, they began using words like “doomed” and “hopeless.” And the coronavirus crisis has placed greater pressure on the health sector. After yesterday’s explosion, hospital staff were reportedly treating injuries in streets and parking lots. The explosion may well put Lebanon on the path to a food and health catastrophe not seen in the worst of its wars. Lebanon’s political class should be on guard in the weeks ahead: Shock will inevitably turn to anger. But I fear that old habits die hard. These politicians are well practiced in shifting the blame. I don’t expect many — if any — high-level resignations or admissions of responsibility. The government resigned on Monday and few lawmakers have quit. Will there be a revolution? An uprising of anger? Any revolutionary impulse has to compete with tribal, sectarian and ideological affiliations. For that matter, so do the facts: Even if a single official version of the port incident is presented (and even if it is true), some will not believe it. Paradoxically, our distrust of our politicians makes it harder to unite against them. These are real obstacles. Yet there has never been more urgency for reform and accountability, beyond the likely scapegoating of midlevel officials. It is difficult to imagine such a concerted, sustained national movement because it has never materialized. But hunger and a collapse in health care may change that. Lebanon — and the Lebanese — will need a rapid influx of external aid to stave off a critical food shortage and public health catastrophe. It seems to be coming, from countries across the Middle East and around the world. But this will not arrest the country’s decline. Emergency aid will only magnify public humiliation and helplessness. The port explosion made clear that Lebanon is no longer a country where decent people can live secure and fulfilling lives. As I watched videos of Beirut engulfed in smoke and checked in with my friends and family, I found myself thinking for the first time in a while of that summer when I worked at the port. The digitization project was completed, but parties who disliked the transparency it brought found ways to work around it. Today, it’s irrelevant, of course. The port is destroyed. As for the Lebanese, they will be far more consumed by survival than progress. *Faysal Itani is a deputy director at the Center for Global Policy and adjunct professor of Middle East politics at Georgetown University.
Hezbollah Will Not Escape Blame for Beirut Hussein Ibish/Bloomberg/August 11/2020 As if the Lebanese haven’t suffered enough. For months, they have been caught between an economic meltdown, crumbling public services and a surging pandemic. Now they must count the dead and survey the extensive damage to their capital after two giant explosions on August 4. The blasts, especially the second, were so huge they were reportedly heard and felt in Cyprus. At least 150 have been killed and thousands injured. A large expanse of the port and its immediate neighborhood lies in smoking ruin; miles away, streets are full of shattered glass. Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s now resigned government says the explosions were caused when careless welding ignited about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly combustible material used as fertilizer and for bomb-making. By comparison, Timothy McVeigh used about 2.4 tons of the same chemical in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The 2015 disaster in the Chinese city of Tianjin was caused by the explosion of 800 tons of ammonium nitrate. The equivalent of 1,100 Oklahoma City-size bombs could indeed account for the devastation and the reddish mushroom cloud that plumed gaudily over the Beirut port. But it doesn’t mean Lebanese will simply accept that the explosion was an unavoidable, force majeure event. Assuming the official account holds up, the disaster again exposes the rot that is destroying the country — an especially corrosive mix of corruption, ineptitude and malign intentions. The ammonium nitrate was apparently seized in 2013 from a Moldovan-flagged ship traveling from Georgia to Mozambique. But someone — who, we don’t yet know — brought it into Beirut; instead of returning, auctioning or disposing of it, the port management inexcusably allowed it to be stored there for years. There are no prizes for guessing who in Lebanon might be interested in keeping such vast quantities of explosive material close at hand. The US Treasury and Israel both believe Hezbollah controls many of Beirut’s port facilities. Diab, whose government was entirely dependent on political support from Hezbollah and its Maronite Christian allies, has vowed to hold those responsible to account. More than likely, some minor officials will be fingered for permitting improper storage of highly dangerous material. Iran-backed Hezbollah, with its large and well-armed militia as well as its political hold on the prime minister, has nothing to fear from the state. But it will not escape public opprobrium: Most Lebanese will assume the ammonium nitrate belonged to the militia, for use in Syria and against Israel. Why the chemicals exploded is another matter, rich with possibilities of conjecture. In the court of public opinion, the usual suspects will be rounded up from the ongoing shadow war between Iran and Hezbollah on one side and Israel on the other. President Donald Trump, who can be relied upon to make everything worse, speculated it was a deliberate attack. This will be picked up and amplified by conspiracy theorists in the Middle East. But suspicions of Hezbollah’s culpability would have intensified had the United Nations special tribunal for Lebanon issued its verdict in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The verdict was postponed to later this month over the port blast. Four Hezbollah members are being tried in absentia for the assassination. The men are in hiding, and have not been seen in years; even if they are found guilty, no one expects them to be handed over. Hariri, remember, was killed in a massive blast. A guilty verdict would increase domestic pressure on Hezbollah, its allies and the government. When Lebanese have finished mourning their dead, anger will return — the kind that fueled the massive street demonstrations that brought down Diab’s predecessor last October. Even without the Beirut blasts, the timing of the verdict would have been awkward for Diab, who is struggling to negotiate an economic bailout with the International Monetary Fund: Among the hurdles is Hezbollah’s resistance to the necessary reforms. Hezbollah finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the principal backer of the resigned government that presided over a thoroughgoing collapse of the Lebanese state and society. It will not easily shake off blame for the Beirut blast, or for the Hariri assassination. Even in this country that has suffered so much and for so long, the latest of Lebanon’s tragedies will not soon be forgotten, nor its perpetrators forgiven.