Suppose the August 4th explosion at Beirut’s port and the agreement between Israel and the Emirates were linked. Suppose that Israel intended the port of Haifa to be the port of entry for the Emirates and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. For this to happen, Israel would have to destroy Beirut’s port, then blame Hezbollah for the attack. Suppose Israel had already begun to plan its attack on Beirut’s port back in March 2005 when it signed an agreement with China, specifically with the Shanghai International Port Group, with the stipulation that the overhaul and modernization of Haifa’s port be completed by early 2021.
Until August 4, 2020, Beirut’s port was not only the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean, it was also the confluence of the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa, a role Israel has long coveted. Ever since Israel declared its independence in 1948, Haifa’s port has played a secondary role to Beirut’s. The Arab boycott of the Jewish community in Palestine predated the formal establishment of Israel and this contributed to Haifa’s secondary status. By 1950, the boycott was extended to keeping all Israeli products out of Arab countries, further sealing Haifa’s fate. The boycott only became a thing of the past when Israel signed the recent agreement with the Gulf states.
The Gulf states import practically everything from heavy construction equipment to trucks and cars to food and sanitation products from Europe. Until August 4th, all these goods came through Beirut, the preeminent capital of commerce and finance for the Middle East. Since 1943, when it declared its independence, Beirut’s port has been the lifeline of the Lebanon’s economy furnishing Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. This suggests two possible scenarios. Israel only intended to destroy the port, not the city itself, and was unaware that the Lebanese government had confiscated thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate from an abandoned ship that had limped its way into Beirut’s harbor in 2013 and been improperly stored. Or, Israel knew of the material stored at the port and did not care what it destroyed so long as Haifa was elevated to its rightful place as the most important maritime port along the eastern Mediterranean.
The Lebanese government, forced to resign a week after the blast, officially attributed the incident to negligence but Lebanon’s president acknowledged the port’s destruction could have been the result of an attack by outside forces. Residents throughout the city saw and heard military aircraft flying overhead moments before the explosion. According to Asia Times, unnamed Western officials claimed that Western reconnaissance craft were in the skies above the Lebanese coast at the time of the blast. A US Central Command official told Asia Times that the cause of the first fire/explosion was still an unanswered question, adding that there is no actual evidence to support or confirm the blast was caused by ammonium nitrate, and that other alternatives were quite possible.
Despite eye-witness accounts of Western aircraft sighted during the explosion and a long history of Israeli attacks and daily Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace, the US, Israel and their regional allies have all vigorously campaigned to pin the port blast on Hezbollah, even though there is no evidence linking Hezbollah to the explosion. In fact, the Lebanese resistance group would have everything to lose if it were involved.
Following the explosion, anti-Hezbollah groups, supported by the US, took over Lebanese government buildings and called for Beirut to demilitarize, an obvious demand for Hezbollah to lay down its weapons and end its fight against Israel which illegally occupied south Lebanon for twenty-two years (from 1978 until Hezbollah finally expelled them in 2000).
US Secretary of State Pompeo has portrayed his country as the noble protector of Lebanon but at the same time has threatened to impose more aggressive sanctions on Lebanon if it does not immediately expel Hezbollah from its government. The IMF has also refused to aid Lebanon at the request of the US government, which holds de facto veto power over the organization, until Hezbollah is removed even though it has thirteen duly elected members in the Lebanese parliament and enjoys not only the support of its fellow members but the majority of Lebanese.
The pro-Israel lobby group the American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted on August 9, five days after the port explosion, that international assistance to Lebanon “must be conditioned on the long-promised, long-avoided disarmament of Hezbollah,” something Hezbollah has refused to do, claiming its military power is Lebanon’s only deterrent to another Israeli attack.
AJC has made it clear that Western aid will be hung over Lebanon like a sword of Damocles (an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power), adding that, “Unless the malignant role of Iran’s terror proxy, Hezbollah, is addressed there will never be meaningful change for the people of Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, as millions of Lebanese civilians suffer, financial analysts expect the US and Israeli campaign of economic warfare and maximum pressure to continue for the foreseeable future.