Tuesday, August 4, an explosion occurred at the port located in the heart of Beirut, causing a devastating amount of death and material destruction. 140 people died on the spot, 80 are still lost in the middle of the ruins and more than 5,000 were injured. More than 300,000 homes have been destroyed and many more damaged. Somehow, 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate (NA) – equivalent to 1000 tons of TNT (dynamite) ignited and caused the biggest explosion since the end of World War II. Many theories circulate in the Lebanese capital, accusing Israel or Hezbollah, and even the CIA for the explosion. Where’s the truth? Cui bono?
A Moldovan-flagged ship, The Rhosus, was sailing from Georgia to Mozambique taking (among other goods) 2,570 tons of Ammonium Nitrate to the Explosives Factory in Mozambique. The International Bank of Mozambique paid for the shipment. The ship stopped in Beirut on November 20, 2013 to unload agricultural machinery and was supposed to ship goods from Lebanon to Jordan on its way to Mozambique. An inspection concluded that the ship was unsuitable for navigation and local Lebanese authorities prevented Rhosus from leaving port. The port authorities unloaded the ship and placed the cargo in port warehouse No. 12. The cargo was later confiscated because of bills not paid by the ship’s owners.
Ammonium nitrate has several properties, including that of being a component of explosive mixtures (Mellor, 1922; Elvers, 1989, Suslick, 1992). Pure NA is stable and must fulfill certain specific qualities in order to be used in the production of industrial explosives. According to the European Fertilizer Producers’ Association, NA is especially difficult to detonate and thus needs substantial stimulus to detonate. But it should be stored carefully in a dry, well-ventilated and sealed storage area. In addition, the electrical installations of the warehouse must be resistant to ammonia vapor.
For more than six years, 2,750 tonnes of NA remained in the Lebanese warehouse without any plans to resell or transfer it. In addition, the chosen storage area is subject to the climate changes of Lebanese climatic seasons, including the suffocating heat of summer. The area is constructed of metal and without adequate ventilation.
In the past, Captain Naddaf, who works in the port under the orders of the National Security Service, informed his superior about the presence of a “dangerous cargo in warehouse No. 12”. His senior officer, General A. instructed him to provide a written report and take pictures of the warehouse and its contents. The building had a breach of sufficient size for a person to pass through, which could facilitate entry and even possible theft.
How is the Lebanese port organized? Its control is in the hands of a kind of local mafia made up of high-ranking officers, customs officers, administrators and security officers. Each person in his post is appointed by a certain political leader who offers him immunity and protection. The port produces huge sums of money and bribes are the daily bread for all who run the “show”. In the face of corruption at this level, it will not be easy, even with scientific experts, to find out what happened to NA storage and under what conditions it was stored. In reality, many officers in the port have no competence for the job for which they were appointed, as we have seen, out of pure favoritism and through political connections. This is the case of the Director of Customs and Army intelligence, General S., responsible for handling and contents of the port. So, taking everything into account, when a disaster like Tuesday’s occurs, it will obviously be quite difficult to find the real responsible. The question is: how did the conditions that led to the explosion of NA arise?
At 15hoo on August 4, a locksmith was called in to close the holes in the warehouse to prevent possible theft of the contents. The locksmith was not informed about the dangerous contents of the warehouse, nor was he told to take the necessary precautions to prevent hot metal particles from spreading or producing fragments that could cause a fire. He worked a few centimeters away from the NA bags that lay on the ground, from which a white substance leaked. After the work was done, between 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm, the smoke was seen leaving the warehouse.
Firefighters were called in to deal with the potential fire. At 6:08 pm the first explosion was heard, followed by the second about a minute later. After the first explosion, a fire broke out inside the warehouse. The fire generated even more heat, enough for the entire NA to explode and create a vacuum (negative pressure). The pressure of the explosion caused most of the deaths and destruction that devastated the city.
Who called the locksmith and budgeted his work? Was he informed of the danger of welding near Ammonia Nitrate? Why were the 2,750 tonnes of NA left for more than six years, with no storage regulations and no justifiable reason?
We have to ask: “who benefits from the explosion?” The affected area mostly belongs to people who are enemies of Hezbollah. Thus, it would not be in the interests of Israel or the United States to bomb and cause so much damage to properties and friendly traders. It also does not make sense to destroy this part of Beirut to impose a “New Middle East” or a “New Lebanon”, because the current population that is against Hezbollah is currently weaker than ever and is unable to face it. France and the United States are not in a good position to influence the Lebanese population.
Speculation about the possibility that Hezbollah could be stockpiling weapons in warehouse 12 is ridiculous and unfounded – not least because the site is under constant surveillance by cameras controlled by the security forces themselves. Hezbollah would certainly not stock up on weapons in an area that is not friendly to it and over which it has no control.
Hezbollah is currently awaiting the verdict to be announced by the Special Court on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. That is how the United States and Israel are trying to lessen the organization’s influence in Lebanon – in vain. In reality, all attempts by the United States and Israel, whether in Lebanon, Iraq or Syria, ended up failing. The United States is imposing harsh sanctions against Syria and Lebanon (preventing the countries of the Gulf and Europe from helping in the severe financial crisis facing Lebanon), but the result is always the same: they will not be able to submit Hezbollah.
The various conspiracy theories do not fit the facts of this accident. Ignorance, incompetence, favoritism and bureaucracy are the reasons for the loss of so many lives and the destruction and Beirut, a capital where the people have not yet learned to live together. It is a national tragedy. Lebanese have properties in several foreign countries to the east and west. It is an expression of the lack of feeling of belonging to a nation – because this is a country where elected politicians have gathered and stolen all of Lebanon’s wealth, where they accumulate power that is passed on to their children.