As recently as 2015, a legal document stated “the vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal.” A media report filed the previous year described the ship as a “floating bomb.”
An aerial view shows Abou Karim, a livestock carrier ship, lying on its side next to other damaged vessels in the port of Beirut on August 7, 2020, three days after a colossal explosion of a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse left scores of people dead or injured and caused devastation in the Lebanese capital. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
On the other hand, a 2017 letter from the director of customs in Beirut warned about the “extreme danger posed by the storage of the goods in the warehouse under inappropriate letter,” and one letter from a team of lawyers in 2015 explicitly stated the cargo was moved into a warehouse at the port.
As Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies pointed out to the
Washington Post, the small fireworks-type “popcorning” of flashes and small explosions, clearly visible in numerous videos taken before the giant blast, look more like small-arms munitions cooking off than fireworks.
“Hezbollah is known to exercise control or leverage over the airport and the port, for various reasons having to do with their activities. There’s a pre-existing notion in the psyche of most Lebanese that these facilities are either dominated by Hezbollah directly or through various surrogates,” said Firas Maksad of George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies.
The U.S. government sanctioned Hezbollah has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for using the Port of Beirut to smuggle contraband, including drugs, small arms, and precision-guided missiles. The
claimed on Thursday that Hezbollah has its own “special terminal” for receiving weapons at the port that bypasses customs inspectors, and the munitions are usually stored in port warehouses until Hezbollah can distribute them to remote bases and arms depots. Jerusalem Post
As for the ammonium nitrate, Hezbollah has a well-documented interest in using the chemical to make bombs. The
Washington Post noted there is not yet any hard evidence that Hezbollah was aware of the ammonium nitrate stockpile or controlled it, but the possibility will surely be investigated. Most countries have strict rules against storing so much ammonium nitrate in one place and mandate strict safety protocols.
The substance remains
widely used, and frequently shipped in substantial quantities, because there is high demand around the world for ammonium nitrate fertilizer, but not many sources for obtaining it in bulk. Russia is currently the leading exporter of ammonium nitrate and was reportedly the source of the cargo Lebanon seized in 2013.
Lebanese people remove a damaged car from an avenue overlooking the port of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on August 7, 2020, in the aftermath of a massive blast in the harbour that shook the city. Three days after the monster explosion that disfigured the city in a matter of seconds, the clock was already ticking down on any potential survivors’ chances, as rescuers from Lebanon, France, Germany, Russia and other countries worked shifts to try to find an entrance to a control room buried under metres (yards) of rubble. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
“Hezbollah finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the principal backer of the government presiding 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,”
Bloomberg News predicted, referring to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Experts expect a verdict against four Hezbollah operatives linked to the assassination from a U.N. tribunal soon and could be especially bad news for Hezbollah in the wake of Tuesday’s explosion.
Even if Hezbollah weapons were not involved in the deadly blast, it could still feel the wrath of angry Lebanese who have
taken to the streets to protest the incompetence and corruption they blame for the catastrophe.
News that high-level officials had ample reason to know about the danger of the ammonium nitrate stockpile during the six years it remained at the port led to
furious demonstrations in the streets on Thursday night. Every faction in Lebanon’s complex and already fragile government will be eager to avoid blame for the explosion.
A man stands in the rubble of his damaged office in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 7, 2020, three days after a massive explosion shook the Lebanese capital. The blast, which appeared to have been caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse, was felt as far away as Cyprus, some 150 miles (240 kilometres) to the northwest. The scale of the destruction was such that the Lebanese capital resembled the scene of an earthquake, with thousands of people left homeless and thousands more cramming into overwhelmed hospitals for treatment. (MARWAN TAHTAH/AFP via Getty Images)