Pundits in the US and Israel are sounding the trumpets of war and trying to blame Hezbollah for the massive explosion in the port of Beirut. But a closer look at the stories being promulgated turn up the same old propaganda by the usual suspects
By Raul Diego,
he narrative that puts Hezbollah in the hot seat for the devastating explosion of ammonium nitrate, allegedly stored by the thousands of tons in one of the busiest ports in the eastern Mediterranean and which killed over two hundred people has a few holes in it, to say the least.
As the mainstream U.S.-led international media beats the drums of war with commercial breaks in between, they are relying on a few key stories to hang Lebanon’s most popular political body and lock mainstream news consumers’ sights squarely on Hassan Nasrallah, the third leader of Lebanon’s anti-Zionist party, Hezbollah, as the ultimate target of the next modern-day crusade in the Middle East.
The through-line of the stories is the insinuation that Hezbollah has been “stockpiling” the explosive agent for years, ascribing the jurisprudential concept of “opportunity” to the grassroots militant Lebanese resistance movement in the imaginary courtroom melodrama unfolding in the minds of cable news junkies.
A May report from The Times of Israel spotlighted a local TV news segment about a “months-long delicate operation” by Mossad to expose a supposed Hezbollah-linked group’s “operations in Germany,” which resulted in a raid on warehouses with stashes of ammonium nitrate tied to an “Iranian-backed… Shiite terrorist organization.” The raids concentrated on four mosque associations in Berlin, Dortmund, Bremen, and Münster with alleged allegiance to Hezbollah. The details of Mossad’s role in the raids were made public only after the Teuton state officially banned “all Hezbollah activities” from the country on April 30, 2020.
Mossad gave Berlin intel on Hezbollah ops on German soil ahead of ban https://t.co/Ry3kLhpUsf
— Magnus Ranstorp (@MagnusRanstorp) May 3, 2020
According to a German newspaper, however, the order for the raid of the suspected mosques was a preemptive move meant to “secure evidence before it could [be] destroyed” as a result of the announcement. Actual evidence about alleged Hezbollah-related activities has yet to surface. When a member of the local parliament of the German state of Bavaria – where the alleged cold packages containing ammonium nitrate had been stored – asked for confirmation from the Bavarian interior ministry, the ministry’s spokesperson denied having any information on the matter.
Other stories being propagated in the interest of framing Hezbollah for the blast in Beirut are much older and even more ephemeral. Such is the case of Atris Hussein; a Lebanese-Swedish citizen who was convicted in 2013 for “possessing a large amount of fertilizer that could be used to make explosives.” Hussein had been accused of hiding about three tons of ammonium nitrate for nefarious purposes. The 49-year old man had been arrested at the Bangkok airport just after a “terror warning” in the Thai capital had been issued by the U.S. and claims of a “possible attack by Hezbollah” from Israeli officials. Hussein, who denied any links to terrorist organizations, was eventually sentenced to two and a half months for illegal possession of fertilizer materials. The court found no evidence “to back the authorities’ claims that Hussein had ties to Hezbollah.”
The main piece at the center of the Hezbollah blame game is one that covers the actual stash of ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) that ignited earlier this month in the Port of Beirut. The 2,750 tons of NH4NO3 said to be stored at the port was the result of a curious chain of events that occurred in 2013. According to Eurasianet.org, a ship flying a Moldovan flag called Rhosus was on its way to Mozambique with the tons of ammonium nitrate when it had to make an emergency call on the port of Beirut. The ship is owned by a “rough-and-tumble businessman” from Russia named Igor Grechushkin who conducts business from the notorious tax-havens of Cyprus and the Marshall Islands.
After Lebanese authorities inspected Grechushkin’s vessel and deemed it unseaworthy, the Russian abandoned the boat and its contents in the Port of Beirut, leaving tons of the explosive material behind, material which was subsequently stored at a port warehouse where it reportedly “languished” for years without proper maintenance. The ammonium nitrate cargo, itself had been produced by the largest manufacturer of nitrogen-based fertilizers in the South Caucasus region; a company called Rustavi Azot in the Republic of Georgia.
Rustavi Azot has received substantial support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) over the years, including a $155 million financing package in 2016. The EBRD is a loan and equity finance institution formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union to help Eastern bloc countries “transition away from centrally-planned economies” and serves as a conduit for “EU accession” for Eurasian countries like Georgia, which also houses the Lugar Center; a DoD-funded facility exposed as a cauldron for U.S. biological and chemical weapons experimentation.
Israeli TV, meanwhile, is riling up the Jewish state with claims that the tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port were being stockpiled for a “Third Lebanon war” against Israel. Former Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, added fuel to the fire by claiming that he had “been aware of the material’s presence there and [that Hezbollah] had control over the port” and that the explosion of a “Hezbollah weapons depot” at the port had preceded the igniting of the ammonium nitrate.
Israel TV: Hezbollah apparently wanted Beirut’s ammonium nitrate for Israel war https://t.co/JCecb0qo2Q
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) August 7, 2020
But skeptics point out that the location of the port, which is in a Christian neighborhood, would preclude Hezbollah from operating any kind of weapons depot in the area. Doubts about whether ammonium nitrate had any role at all have also emerged. A renowned Italian explosives expert told Corriere Della Sera that he doesn’t believe the claimed amount of ammonium nitrate was present at the port and favors military weaponry as the real cause of the blast.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, has categorically denied having any knowledge of stockpiling ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut and a Lebanese intelligence official has outright blamed Israel for the conflagration.
An old tall tale
“For 37 years, Hezbollah has been murdering innocent people,” wrote U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell in a 2019 editorial published in Die Welt. The diplomat targeted mosques as the places where “Hezbollah sympathizers meet” and “tolerate terrorist propaganda in support of Hezbollah and the Iranian regime.” Grenell repeatedly called for the proscription of Hezbollah’s presence in the European nation. But his insistence had so far failed to overcome the lack of political will to do so.
That changed when the opportunity to justify the ban materialized with mosque raids in April 2020, in an operation with eerie similarities to the events that preceded a ban on Hezbollah by the UK government in January, when it officially classified the Lebanese political organization as a terrorist organization. Just as was the case in Germany, it was the Mossad who provided British officials with the “intelligence” leads.
At the end of the day, the consistent pressure by the U.S. and Israel on other nations to demonize Hezbollah and discredit them in the eyes of their supporters may well be the only provable fact surrounding the tragic incident that took place in Beirut last week. Unfortunately, it is also clear that the U.S. and Israel will stop at nothing – even lies – to perpetuate a geopolitical paradigm that is guaranteed to produce even more tragedy.
Feature photo | Women stand in their damaged house as they look at the aftermath of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Aug. 10, 2020. Bilal Hussein | AP
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