By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
Over 200 people died in the Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4 last year. The survivors, too, have been abandoned to slow, torturous deaths from hunger, poverty, lack of medicine and the political turmoil yet to come. People lost everything that day; their families, their health, their possessions — 300,000 were left homeless.
The atrocity encapsulated everything that is rotten about Lebanon’s governing system: The rampant corruption, the incompetent inaction, a system held hostage by a terrorist organization whose pretense to be Lebanon’s savior and defender has shattered this nation many times over.
All Lebanon’s corrupt factions deserve to be wiped off the political map, but it is Hezbollah’s cancerous influence that encapsulates this murderous corruption, through its ceaseless efforts to transform Lebanon into a pariah state, rooted in Tehran’s business model of organized crime, paramilitarism and terror.
Judge Tarek Bitar is energetically pursuing indictments against officials both prominent and minor, despite the death threats and slanderous attacks that forced out his predecessor. The circumstances of the blast are brutally simple: Hezbollah must have known about the 2,750 tons of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate, an explosive it routinely used, stored for seven years in a port it controlled. Thus the need for Bitar to fully investigate the damning facts:
1. The owner of the MV Rhosus, the vessel that brought the explosives to Beirut, is Cypriot businessman Charalambos Manoli (whose identity was initially hidden). He has connections with the FBME bank, sanctioned for laundering funds for Hezbollah.
2. Neither the exporter nor the Mozambique designated end user FEM made any effort to recover the cargo, indicating that Lebanon was the intended destination. FEM’s parent company, Moura Silva e Filhos, was investigated over explosives supplied for Al-Qaeda’s 2004 Madrid train bombings.
3. The company that procured the ammonium nitrate, Savaro, is connected to Syrian businessmen George Haswani and Imad Khoury, who are under US sanctions for their Assad connections.
4. Hezbollah acquired 670 tons of ammonium nitrate from Iran during in 2013 and 2014, while Assad was using it in his barrel bombs.
5. Hezbollah smuggled ammonium nitrate into Bulgaria in 2012 for the Burgas bus bombing.
6. In 2015 UK authorities seized three tons of ammonium nitrate stored by Hezbollah in London, and eight tons were found in Cyprus. In Germany Hezbollah was found with enough ammonium nitrate to blow up a city. The US identified other states where Hezbollah had stockpiled ammonium nitrate for use in terrorist attacks.
7. Hezbollah’s security chief Wafiq Safa oversees the smuggling of explosives, weapons, drugs and other materials through Beirut port.
8. Hezbollah-affiliated businessman Abdul Shaalan is the key man procuring explosives for the Assad regime via the Hezbollah-controlled port.
9. Hezbollah’s former Agriculture Minister Hussein Hajj Hassan oversaw the bulk movement of materials such as ammonium nitrate between Syria and Lebanon from 2009 to 2014.
10. Hezbollah used its control of the agriculture ministry to import ammonium nitrate, the principal reason Hezbollah was insistent on holding this ministry.
Lebanon deserves the truth, but we must get beyond the truth, to the accountability. After 15 years of the Hariri special tribunal, Hezbollah’s assassins remain at large to deploy their murderous services.
Hezbollah official Nawar Sahili caused outrage last week when footage of his daughter’s disgustingly opulent wedding went viral. Over 70 percent of Lebanon’s population are at immediate risk of losing access to drinkable water, while Hezbollah’s leaders sip champagne and wallow in their ill-gotten wealth. With his superior smile and patronising tone, Hezbollah’s Naim Qassem spent an hour on Al-Manar TV last week ranting about “Al-Nasr al-Ilahi” (divine victory, referring to the 2006 war). This “victory” left 1,200 Lebanese dead, and destroyed villages and much of the national infrastructure. These crooks are feeding their starving audiences a diet of lies.
Can you believe that Lebanon today has among the lowest minimum wages in the world? At barely the equivalent of $30, it is about half the monthly minimum in the impoverished Central African Republic. A soldier’s salary before the crisis was equivalent to $800, now it’s about $80. The military can’t adequately patrol the Syria and Israel borders due to lack of fuel. Applications for passports have increased twentyfold as citizens rush for the exits. This would be all very well if Lebanon were accustomed to hardship, but its comfortable standard of living and vibrant culture were until recently the envy of the world.
There are two possible scenarios after Najib Mikati’s appointment to form a government: Either he caves in to Aoun and Nasrallah’s corrupt demands for a Cabinet, “technocratic” in name only and therefore unacceptable to the global financial system; or his effort will be blocked and he will have wasted everybody’s time. The ceiling of expectations for such a farcical “national salvation” government would be a few minutes extra electricity per day and fresh supplies of Iranian fake medicines.
The lesson of the Aug. 4 atrocity is that accepting the Nasrallah-Aoun regime means accepting leaders who think nothing of murdering their own citizens. If we allow Lebanon to continue fragmenting, it opens the door to catastrophes of an infinitely greater magnitude than the port explosion.
This disaster must be our wake-up call for inaugurating a new Lebanon. There is no salvation for a system that is rotten to the core. Our only salvation is through collectively banishing those who colluded in Lebanon’s downfall and who remain wedded to a medieval and inherently corrupt sectarian system.
The magnificent Lebanon we know and love can still be saved, if we unite to rebuild a secular, sovereign nation rooted in the rule of law and justice for all.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.