By Mohammad Mazhari

Beirut blast caused social solidarity: Lebanese expert

August 20, 2020 - 0:17

TEHRAN – The Beirut blast on August 4 not only caused human and financial losses but also raised doubts about the time of the incident and its location.

It prompted the Lebanese government to take a series of measures to face the repercussions of the massive explosion.

The Lebanese government decided to form an administrative investigation committee headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose government resigned on August 10, to submit a report that takes the most severe penalties against those who have failed to do their duties properly.

The government requested the Supreme Defense Council to impose house arrest on everyone who has managed works related to storing and guarding the ammonium nitrate since June 2014.

Besides economic losses and deaths, the massive explosion may affect the Lebanese political future. Some observers say it has deepened the division between the rival political parties, while others prefer to underline that the blast will cement solidarity in the Lebanese society.

In this regard, Ali Yahia, a Lebanese consultant in international relations, tells the Tehran Times that the Beirut blast triggered a global sympathy and helped create social solidarity between the people of Lebanon

The text of the interview is as follows:

Q: There are unconfirmed reports that the blast was caused by a missile or fighter jet? What authorities in Lebanon think?

A: As of now, there exists no evidence that targeted missiles were responsible for the Beirut blast; investigators have yet to identify any rocket remnants and the preliminary results of perimeter samples collected and tested by both Lebanese and French laboratories show no indication of an external attack. 

I do want to note that the two explosions were separated by 33 seconds. The first occurred after the ammonium nitrate experienced an explosive shockwave with a temperature of more than 210 degrees Celsius (the minimum required to trigger such an explosion), and equivalent to the explosive force of 2,750 tons of ammonium. 

This was essentially similar to a tactical nuclear bomb that formed a massive mushroom-like cloud.

According to some experts, it is known as "Riley Taylor's Instability," which indicates the movement of two liquids with a different density, pushing the heavy liquid, thus producing the mushroom shape. 

It is expected that the investigation, which is separated in three phases, will include identifying the source of the payload and its intended destination (especially since it entered Beirut port months after the confiscation of weapons from the ship Lutfallah II, which was en route to the Syrian opposition), as was announced by Lebanese President Michel Aoun. Additionally, the results of the chemical tests require a longer waiting period than that for radiation tests.

Q: How may the explosion affect the Lebanese political future? 
A: There is no doubt that the Beirut blast triggered a response of global sympathy and social solidarity with the people of Lebanon. With the immediate assistance of the Palestinian Civil Defense, Lebanese Red Cross, and Lebanese civil society in addition to the generosity of many Syrian citizens, including workers and refugees who were helping pull victims buried under the rubble; laymen could hear different dialects as they lent a hand.

However, internal political divisions and the soft counter-war that continues to exploit existing tensions exacerbated the situation.

For example, Dr. Milton Friedman's 'Shock Doctrine' promotes economic policies that cannot be accepted in "normal situations," as witnessed in Chile, Argentina, Indonesia and Brazil, East Asia, Iraq, Libya. 

The attempt to restore the nation to the 'post-Hariri assassination of 2005' status is unfeasible due to local, regional and international developments.
Given Lebanon's primary political parties, including Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, and the Future Movement are trying to maintain the cohesion of the state whilst preventing the collapse of the remaining institutions, external factors have become more influential, active and necessary.

However, many international actors are only now involving themselves once faced with the danger of economic and societal collapse.

Q: What are the reasons for the resignation of Hassan Diab's government? How do you see the role of foreign interference, especially the economic pressure imposed on Lebanon?

A: No government, especially a democratic parliamentary system such as that in Lebanon, can withstand and respond to the ramifications of such a disastrous explosion. This, combined with external factors such as French President Emmanuel Macron calling for a national unity government and existing internal tensions following, the resignation of some parliamentary figures. 

The Beirut port explosion has significantly reduced the financial and political blockade declared upon Lebanon during the previous phase, whether through tactical assistance such as the Paris Conference ($298 million), promises of strategic assistance via the Seder conference funds ($11 billion) in exchange for the start of reforms.

In addition, Lebanon has been promised assistance from the World Bank, and through a relative change in America's approach to the Lebanese file; an about-face from the path of strangulation and sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury on Lebanese banks and companies via a historic telephone conversation between the Lebanese and American presidents, and the dispatch of U.S. envoy David Hill, who adopts a less hardline approach than David Schenker. 
The broad title and main objective of the Western return to Beirut from the port gate are to prevent the collapse of Lebanon and change Eastward direction for reconstruction.

Q: What are the possible scenarios for the post-government resignation?

A: We are at a flashpoint; applying the same measures adopted at the 1991 Taif Agreement has proved fruitless. Further, Lebanon is facing a Homeric challenge; should Beirut apply similar methods used in the past, instead of embarking on reforms that mitigate the power of the entrenched oligarchy, thereby denying the existing clientelist system via the construction of a productive, diversified economy, and a concerted effort to complete the Taif Agreement by the abolishment of political sectarianism, governmental reforms will stagnate.

Q: How do you evaluate the positions of Western countries, including France, whose president came and issued orders for reform and also America's approach to the Beirut blast and their solutions for rebuilding the port? Is Lebanon going to internationalize its port?

A: No doubt that Beirut's port is critical to Lebanon's bottom line as it is the backbone of internal trade and 50% of the nation's GDP (it has contributed $250 billion to the economy over the past decade). Lebanon imports more than 70% of its consumer goods through the port, and it is one of the ten most important ports in the Mediterranean Sea. 

It is also a fundamental node in the War of Ports and strategic straits, especially in response to Chinese efforts to establish the "String of Pearls," to complement the "One Belt One Road" initiative and its entrance to the ports of Piraeus in Greece and Ashdod in Palestine. 

In an effort to compete with Haifa, Beirut's port was considered as an alternative. As for calls for an international investigation, the U.S. and France have committed to assist under the authority of the Lebanese judiciary.

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