It was described by many of my friends in Lebanon as a “nuclear bomb” with the sheer strength of its wind tearing everything apart in its path. And the apartment which I lived in previously, less than two kilometers from the port of Beirut, would not have survived it, I am certain.
But if the reports are true, that the Beirut explosion was merely an accident – a storage depot of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate confiscated from a Panamanian or Moldovian registered ship over burdened with debts which ignited – then the metaphor still applies. It was an accident waiting to happen and whether it is true that it was set alight by clumsy welders or not, pales in significance when you look at the broader picture.
The port itself in Lebanon has a reputation for being a record-breaking zone of monumental corruption.
The port itself in Lebanon has a reputation for being a record-breaking zone of monumental corruption. What the port authority (controlled by Hezbollah) was thinking by storing the nitrate – the same “fertilizer” of which the Oklahoma bomber had used only two tons to destroy a US government building in the spring of 1995 – is unclear. Given that Hezbollah has used such facilities for its own dirty smuggling work, many will speculate that it was the Iranian-backed group which was keeping hold of it. Others might surmise that corrupt government officials were looking for a buyer probably outside of Lebanon for it. Reports just recently indicate that the port wanted to move it to a safer place.
And indeed some will assume that in fact the accident wasn’t even an accident at all, but a plot carried out by Israel – probably from an airstrike, given Israel’s unsurpassed intelligence and number of agents it has in Lebanon and how anxious it is to hit Hezbollah in one blow and, in another, deal a second one to the country in general.
Plausible deniability will be critical in this analysis. Military experts might chime in here and say that a site that is critically close to blowing up itself, is a superb target for an enemy which doesn’t want to take the credit for the hit in order to escape retaliation.
Regardless, the explosion should focus the minds in Lebanon, even among President Aoun’s supporters that the aging president can no longer duck and dive and repudiate any responsibility for the colossal failure of governance of his own unfathomably tarnished presidency since it started in October 2016.
There is literally nothing you can say about Aoun’s presidency in any favorable terms.
And yet when it started, there was some feel-good factors to his inauguration. The argument was that Aoun was Hezbollah’s choice and that he might be the one who can hold out the branch to the Sunnis and Christians who loathe Hezbollah. His age was also flagged up as a positive point in a country which in reality is assiduously conservative. Some even said Aoun gave middle-aged men in Lebanon a feeling that they had a new lease on life. If a man in his mid-eighties could become president, there’s is hope for all of us.
However, Aoun did not take control, but was led by Hezbollah which made him a “super puppet” in a nation renowned for its pusillanimous leaders. He proved to be stubborn and failed to reach out to Hariri on key matters and, indirectly, could be blamed for the collapse of relations between Saudi Arabia and the Hezbollah government.
Aoun is a military man who, despite having a reputation in Lebanon among many Lebanese as a man who left his wife and children to the mercy of Syrian soldiers while he fled to the French Embassy in 1990, managed to stay relevant in politics – and even changed his political colors so as to align himself with Assad and Hezbollah, just to secure his presidency.
The abysmal state of Lebanon is going to place Aoun in the history books as a military figure whose own unique style of presidency has actually destroyed the country.
The abysmal state of Lebanon is going to place him in the history books as a military figure whose own unique style of presidency has actually destroyed the country which was once an extraordinary beacon in the region, but now increasingly looks like a disaster zone, whether one talks about the economy, human rights, or the environment.
Aoun’s legacy will be that he alone made Lebanon truly third world in every respect. He not only did nothing about off-the-scale corruption and embezzlement in Lebanon, he actually endorsed those who took it to the next level with the crisis in recent months leaving Lebanese not only with empty bellies but sleepless nights fretting over loved ones not being able to get care in hospitals.
Aoun’s presidency is responsible not only for the explosion – either by astounding recklessness or by something more nefarious with its relations with Hezbollah – but also for the crisis in Lebanon today which has created a freefall economy and massive electricity blackouts. A war zone, in fact.
For a presidency with all its priorities focused on survival and asset protection, rather than governance, it is only a question of time before such egregious “accidents” happen. Lebanon is under a military dictatorship which is locking up more and more humble Lebanese for merely posting their views on social media – while supporting Hezbollah and the business elite who are waging a war against the people and holding them to ransom over food shortages, inflation, and a currency in freefall.
We had warnings in 2016 when Aoun came into power. Some journalists mentioned in their self-censored op-eds that Aoun had a loathing for the free press and journalists in general. He had even a track record of taking one or two to court on defamation charges.
What happened at the port of Beirut was simply an amalgamation of fiascos of President Aoun to carry out his responsibilities as a guardian of the entire country.
What happened at the port of Beirut was simply an amalgamation of fiascos of President Aoun to carry out his responsibilities as a guardian of the entire country. And we should expect more of such mishaps from the inept Mr. Aoun whose term in office has evolved from merely “useless but well meaning” to “totally incompetent Iranian puppet who has single-handedly destroyed the country.”
It’s time for Mr. Aoun to consider his legacy and his family and how he will be remembered. History is indeed written by the winners and the only hope he can possibly hold onto now is that there will be no winners in Lebanon at all to write unkindly about his cataclysmic act as a president.
It’s time for Mr. Aoun to stand down and do the right thing for Lebanon. The Beirut blast was a wakeup call as to how little control he or his government has.
* The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.