Human Rights Watch has issued a report on the horrific explosion that took place on August 4th, 2020, and devastated downtown Beirut, killing 218 people and wounding about 7,000. The report describes the blast as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. The organization called for an international investigation into the crime as the Lebanese state lacks the capability of conducting it independently, since some senior government officials are implicated in the crime. HRW called for invoking the Magnitsky Act and applying similar penalties.
Although the report provides some extensive information, it comes to a recurring, erroneous conclusion that puts the blame squarely on corruption and corrupt officials.
The truth is that corruption has nothing to do with the Beirut bombing. Perhaps it is the only act that is free of corruption in the broad sense of the word: collusion in exchange for personal benefits.
What happened on August 4th, 2020, was a war crime that killed and injured thousands of innocent civilians. The explosive substances, normally used in such quantities for military purposes, were stored in violation of the law, in the midst of a civilian area. These substances were cordoned off in the port under a veil of secrecy during the shipment unloading and transport to combat zones in Syria. The explosion was a disaster waiting to happen, a corollary of storing such a huge volume of hazardous substances in an unsuitable location.
For military secrecy considerations, the shipment’s mere existence was covered up. The necessary security measures to guard and secure the shipment were all relaxed to ensure it is not discovered given its “secret” nature. Searching or approaching the hangar and warehouses were prohibited. All the while, one million people slept in the same city every night.
This is far more than corruption: this is conspiracy; a conspiracy in which the port and its warehouses were used in a military activity as part of the war in Syria. Neglecting the safety of the city and the lives of millions of people, violating Lebanese security and military regulations by bringing weapons and explosive materials into a civilian port, breaching international regulations by importing nitrate, deceiving international controls by fabricating a story about the carrier ship suffering damage and docking in the port, then concealing all subsequent events from that point onward; these are all serious crimes.
Talking about the role of corruption in the Beirut Port blast derails the truth and saves the real culprits. Corruption may be the cause of the collapse of the banking system and the theft of the savings of millions of depositors. It may be the cause of tax evasion, or the theft of petroleum products, or the monopoly on pharmaceuticals, or other issues that raise criticism and complaints today in Lebanon.
However, the blast occurred because of a specific action: chemicals were brought in large quantities for the purpose of destruction -- not for agriculture or trade. More than two-thirds of the stockpile was used in Syria, and the remaining third exploded in Beirut. Hezbollah was the one to bring the chemicals as part of its combat activity in Syria and transported it there in batches.
Although the Port is theoretically under the control of the Lebanese Army, it is managed de facto by the leadership of Hezbollah. Therefore, launching accusations against the President of the Republic, the Government, or this or that official on allegations of corruption is a mere ploy to divert attention from the actual culprit. Nonetheless, this does not absolve senior government officials of their responsibility, as they are also guilty of turning a blind eye.
Who brought the explosives, and why? What was done with the bulk of the shipment before the blast? The answers to these basic questions can reveal the truth and are accessible today.
We realize that Lebanon has no say in running its own affairs, just like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen; all of which have come under Iran’s control via its local proxies. However, the Lebanese people have paid dearly in their efforts to confront Iranian proxies over the past years. Dozens of Lebanese political and security leaders and intellectuals were directly targeted and killed, just as 218 innocent people lost their lives one year ago.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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