Residents of Beruit woke up to apocalyptic scenes on Wednesday, the morning after a massive explosion ripped through the city, killing at least 100 people and wounding thousands.
Around 6 p.m. on Tuesday, a warehouse adjacent to the waterline at the port of Beirut exploded, creating a 3.5-magnitude earthquake felt over 150 miles away in Cyprus. Footage of the blast showed a huge shockwave emanating from the port that flipped over cars and hollowed out nearby buildings.
Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local tv station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014.
By comparison, two tons of ammonium nitrate were used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The explosion in Lebanon was almost 1,000 times more powerful, equivalent to the use of half a kiloton of TNT.
According to the Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud, damage from the blast reached half of the entire city. Initial estimates put the damage at $15 billion with 300,000 people homeless, or 15 percent of the city’s population. “Beirut is a disaster city and the scale of the damage is enormous,” Abboud told reporters, saying the blast was a “national disaster akin to Hiroshima.”
The explosion couldn’t come at a worse time for Lebanon. Since the end of its civil war in 1990, it continues to face multiple challenges. The nation is facing unprecedented economic collapse, with its currency losing 85 percent of its value in the past year. More than half the population is now in poverty. Food scarcity and rolling blackouts are common across the nation. Lebanon typically imports 80 percent of its needs, including food and fuel, and most of that came into the port of Beirut.
Added to that, the explosion was adjacent to huge grain silos that were said to have held 85 percent of the nation’s grain. Lebanon’s minister of economy and trade told state-run news that all the wheat stored at the facility was now contaminated and could not be used. However, he said that Lebanon will have what it needs for the immediate future.
The Blame Game
Initial reporting on the explosion indicates that this was not an attack by a foreign power. It was caused by a fire that produced enough heat to detonate the massive store of ammonium nitrate often used for explosions in the mining industry.
The ammonium nitrate arrived at the port in late 2013 or early 2014 when the Russian-owned cargo vessel Rhosus was forced to dock in Beirut after facing technical problems at sea. The incident was described by lawyers representing the boat’s crew in the October 2015 issue of The Arrest News: “Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses.”
However, storing the volatile material at the port worried port authorities. Six separate appeals were made by customs officials to the Lebanese government from June 2014 through October 2017 to remove the ammonium nitrate. Timour Azhari quoted one of the letters, stating, “In view of the serious danger of keeping these goods in the hangar in unsuitable climatic conditions, we reaffirm our request to please request the marine agency to re-export these goods immediately to preserve the safety of the port and those working in it, or to look into agreeing to sell this amount” to the Lebanese Explosives Company.
And yet, three years after the last letter was sent, the explosive material was still in the hangar.
Given the obvious paper trail of repeated requests of port authorities to remove the ammonium nitrate, it is only a matter of time before Lebanese turn from the immediate rescue operations to finding out whose neglectful or purposeful mismanagement led to the substance remaining at the port.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised on Tuesday that “all those responsible for this catastrophe will pay the price.” President Michel Aoun called the failure to deal with the ammonium nitrate “unacceptable” and vowed the “harshest punishment” for those responsible.
A Connection to Hezbollah
An investigation into the explosion has been launched and is due to give its findings to the Lebanese Judiciary within the next five days.
Clearly, someone within the government decided to leave volatile bomb-making ingredients at the port. While no direct links to Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization-turned-political party, are yet to surface, many Lebanese are alluding to its role. The Spectator’s Paul Wood wrote on Wednesday that he has received messages from Lebanese friends saying that Hezbollah was to blame. “Even if that’s not true,” he wrote, “it shows what some Lebanese are thinking—and therefore how this crisis might develop.”
Certainly holding the ammonium nitrate at the port would make it easier for Hezbollah to ship large quantities of the bomb-making material where it wanted. Both Israel and the United States have said previously that Hezbollah controls much of the Beirut port facilities. Curiously, soon after the shipment was confiscated, Israel’s Mossad agency began tipping foreign governments on increased Hezbollah actions involving ammonium nitrate. According to the Times of Israel, the Mossad learned in 2014 that Hezbollah’s foreign operations group Unit 910 was developing the means to launch terror attacks around the world. This led to a bunch of foiled plots in 2015.
In May 2015, Cypriot authorities found 9 tons of ammonium nitrate in a Lanarca home. Hezbollah paid a Lebanese-Cypriot man over $10,000 to guard the material, which it planned to use to target Israeli interests in Cyprus.
In August 2015, Kuwaiti authorities arrested three Hezbollah operatives who had stored 21 tons of ammonium nitrate in a residential house.
In the autumn of 2015, British authorities discovered 3 tons of ammonium nitrate in a Hezbollah-run bomb-making facility in the outskirts of London. The compound was stashed in thousands of disposable ice packs.
Then last year, the Mossad reportedly gave Germany information about warehouses in the south of the country where Hezbollah stashed hundreds of kilograms of ammonium nitrate. The discovery, in part, led to Germany banning the organization from the nation.
And in 2017, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the terrorist group could use ammonium nitrate in a potential attack against Haifa, Israel’s port city in the north.
Lebanon Is Turning Against Hezbollah
Even without taking the blame for the explosion, Hezbollah is facing increasing calls for its demise in Lebanon. Given the sectarian divisions within the country, and the way that the Lebanese constitution divvies up power, the Shiite Hezbollah has an amplified say in running the nation. By virtue of its alliances with other groups, Hezbollah has been able to virtually dominate Lebanese policy for the past decade.
The result has been cronyism, mismanagement and increasing flight of foreign capital, as the typical backers of Lebanon, such as the Gulf states, do not want to fund an Iranian proxy. This resulting economic downturn led to the almost yearlong Lebanese protests, which increasingly took an anti-Hezbollah tone.
Foreign nations as well as the International Monetary Fund are ready to provide Lebanon with a massive aid package. But that money is conditional upon Lebanon accepting fundamental changes to its system, which will curtail Hezbollah’s power. Hezbollah has refused to make the adjustments, thus preventing aid money from getting to the state and on to the people.
Last month, Beshara al-Rai, Lebanon’s patriarch of the Maronite Church, which represents 40 percent of Lebanon’s population, began speaking out against Hezbollah. “Today, Lebanon has become isolated from the world,” he stated on July 14. “This is not our identity. Our identity is positive and constructive neutrality, not a warrior Lebanon.” Such comments were clearly interpreted to be against Hezbollah’s violent acts interfering in foreign nations.
Rai’s comments are significant because many Maronite politicians have abetted Hezbollah’s rise to power inside the government. President Aoun is a Maronite Christian, but his alliance with Hezbollah has largely stalled any economic help from the outside world. Rai’s comments are a loud warning to Aoun and the other Christian leaders that the Maronite population wants to be independent rather than aligned with Hezbollah. “It is to Patriarch Rai’s credit that he has shown that [Hezbollah’s] sway over Lebanon is more fragile than it appears,” wrote Michael Young last week.
Timing Is Everything
Even before the Beirut explosion, it was going to be a bad week for Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On Friday the verdict for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafi Hariri is to be announced. The trial that began on Jan. 16, 2014, will almost certainly find four Hezbollah members guilty of Hariri’s murder.
Hariri’s death means almost as much today as it did 15 years ago. While prime minister, Hariri envisioned the establishment of a truly independent Lebanese government without the intrusion of Iran or Syria. He was candid about his desire to remove Syrian interference from within the government; he also called for the ouster of Syrian forces, which had been occupying the country since 1976.
His assassination was the event that thrust Lebanon into action to rid the nation of Syrian influence, which became known as the Cedar Revolution.
But the exit of Syrian troops and the pro-Syrian government did nothing to bring about an independent Lebanon. Instead, as is now increasingly obvious, Lebanon has become entirely subject to Hezbollah—and through Hezbollah, Iran.
In 2014, when the trial into Hariri’s death began, we asked, “Could the final verdict be the catalyst to a second Cedar Revolution? Might this spark an uprising that vows to remove Iranian influence from Lebanon, this time by removing its proxy Hezbollah? It certainly looks that way.”
At the time we wrote that, Lebanon was already deeply divided and unstable.
In the aftermath of the blast that ripped through Beirut yesterday, a verdict finding Hezbollah guilty of the murder of Lebanon’s much-loved prime minister could fully ignite Lebanon into a second civil war.
The big difference between the Cedar Revolution and now is that Hezbollah fighters are not Syrian—they are Lebanese. They have nowhere to retreat to, so would have to put up a fight. And with Hezbollah’s military arsenal larger than some countries, the war would be devastating.
Nevertheless, this is something that we at Watch Jerusalem expect to take place.
Watch Jerusalem editor in chief Gerald Flurry announced on a 2015 Key of David program, “There’s going to be now a civil war, a bloody civil war in Lebanon for control of Lebanon.”
Mr. Flurry based this forecast on a prophecy found in Psalm 83, which details an end-time alliance that includes Lebanon. Compellingly, one nation that is not listed alongside Lebanon in that alliance is Iran, the patron of Hezbollah. This means that in order for this latter-day prophecy to be fulfilled, Lebanon must part ways with Iran, which most likely means parting ways with Hezbollah too.
For years, we have been waiting for conditions inside Lebanon to get to the point where this is possible. And the events of the current week may provide this catalyst.
There is no way that Hezbollah will go quietly into the night. This fact does not bode well for Lebanon’s future in the near term.
No one takes pleasure in Tuesday’s explosion, nor the coming fight for control of Lebanon. However, the shift in Lebanon’s alliances away from Iran is a critical event to take place for end-time events to progress. Only through understanding where such events are leading can we derive hope. This hope, as well as more of the biblical basis for our Lebanese forecast, can be found in Mr. Flurry’s article “Why You Need to Watch Lebanon.”