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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 20-Oct-2021
20-Oct-21 World View -- Investigation of Beirut Lebanon's seaport explosion leads to more violence

Web Log - October, 2021

20-Oct-21 World View -- Investigation of Beirut Lebanon's seaport explosion leads to more violence

Hezbollah threatens large-scale violence

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

Bloody gun battle in Beirut Lebanon stokes memories of civil war

A man stands near the Beirut blast site on August 11, 2020.  Graffiti reads 'My government did this' (Reuters)
A man stands near the Beirut blast site on August 11, 2020. Graffiti reads 'My government did this' (Reuters)

One again, new events have occurred to prove that Lebanon is an island of grief surrounded by woe. The people have to suffer through one disaster after another in Lebanon, where there is nobody on the side of the angels.

On Thursday of last week, there was a bloody five-hour gun battle in Lebanon's capital city Beirut, pitting Syriac Maronite Christians versus Shia Muslim Hezbollah. Seven people were killed, all Shia Muslims, and dozens were injured.

The gun battle was carried live on al-Jazeera. The gun battle occurred in an ordinary residential neighborhood, where the apartment buildings on one side of the street were mostly occupied by Hezbollah supporters, while the apartment buildings on the other side were mostly occupied by Christians. The Hezbollah protesters marched down the street separating the two neighborhoods. According to the news reports, snipers were on top of the apartment buildings on the Christian side, shooting protesters in the head as they walked by. Hezbollah, which is a military force backed by Iran, and its political arm, the Amal movement, are accusing the Christian party of conducting an "ambush."

According to the reports, the residents of the apartment buildings were elderly people who remembered the extremely horrific 1975-90 civil war, and did not want to see it repeated. This is what always happens after a crisis war. The people who lived through the war are traumatized and keep the war from recurring. In the case of an ethnic civil war, the result is the Democide pattern which means that the government (the winning side in the civil war) uses violence to keep the losing side under control.

As the gun battle was progressing, many people feared that it would escalate into a renewal of the civil war. But this is a generational Unraveling era for Lebanon, and there are too many people alive who remember the horrors of the last civil war, and will do everything in their power to prevent a new one. So it's not surprising the gun battle fizzled after five hours.

Lebanon's government of impunity

In August of last year there was a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, which could be felt as far away as Cyprus. It has been described as the greatest non-nuclear explosion in world history. The people of Beirut, many of whose lives were destroyed by the catastrophe, correctly blame government officials. Many go to blame the most powerful force in Lebanon's government, Iran-backed Hezbollah. (See "22-Aug-20 World View -- Hezbollah implicated in catastrophic Beirut Lebanon explosion")

In 2013, 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in an unprotected warehouse in the seaport of Beirut next door to a fireworks factory. The government did nothing about it for years, despite repeated warnings, and there are reports that Hezbollah used some of the ammonium nitrate to create bombs and weapons that it used in the war in Syria. Finally, on Tuesday, August 4, 2020, a catastrophic explosion in the Beirut seaport leveled thousands of homes, killed and injured thousands of people, and left 300,000 people homeless,

Prior to the explosion, goverment services like providing electricity, water and garbage collection were spotty. Since the explosion, the value of the currency has fallen 90%, homes go for days with no electricity, the water is filthy, and there's no garbage collection.

Anecdotally, they now live the “shawarma paradox”: the national sandwich which cost 5,000 Lebanese pounds or $2 a couple of years ago, today is priced at 20,000 pounds or less than a dollar.

Lebanon's government is a government of impunity. Any government official can skim money and put it into his Swiss bank account or buy a Swiss villa with impunity. There have been numerous political assassinations, and no one is ever held accountable. There are never even any investigations.

With the seaport explosion, a whole city was blown up, and so many of the Lebanese people were traumatized, and are still traumatized, that the ordinary people (not the élite) and are demanding to know who was responsible for the explosion so that they can be held accountable.

The investigation of the port explosion paralyzes Lebanon's government

The "ordinary" people of Beirut have been demanding an investigation, and an end to the government of impunity. They want to know who is responsible, and they want someone to be held accountable. People want to know who owned the ammonium nitrate? Who refused to do anything about it, though they were repeatedly warned over and over? Who ordered the ammonium nitrate to be unloaded from the boat into the port in 2013 in the first place?

Last year, the people initially demanded an international investigation. Hezbollah's powerful leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, blocked those attempts, and said that an investigation would have to be local.

So surprisingly there actually was a Lebanese investigation, led by Judge Tarek Bitar has been praised by the international community for being unbiased and transparent in carrying out the investigation.

However, as the investigation has proceeded, it has been increasingly threatening to Hezbollah, as former Hezbollah ministers are being called to testify. At the same time, Lebanon's Christian President Michel Aoun has supported the investigation.

It's the success so far of the investigation that led to Thursday's shootout. The Hezbollah supporters were protesting the investigation, demanding that Bitar be removed. It's not clear why the Christians were ambushing the Hezbollah protests at this time, except that there's a lot of anger among victims of the catastophic seaport explosion, and they are willing to use violence to determine who is responsible.

Hezbollah threatens large-scale violence

Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has made it clear that he will not tolerate the Bitar investigation much longer. An investigation that finds that Hezbollah officials were responsible for the explosion would be a major humiliation to Hezbollah and to Iran.

The Christian president Michel Aoun and Hezbollah leader Nasrallah formed an alliance of convenience in 2006, to their mutual benefit. However, the Catholics want an investigation and Hezbollah does not, and this has caused a split between Aoun and Nasrallah.

This conflict has benefited Aoun's Christian political rival, Samir Geagea, a Hezbollah opponent with close Saudi ties. Geagea is leader of Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian party opposing Aoun.

Geagea was a military commander during the Lebanese civil war, and is accused of participating in massacres and an organized coup. Nasrallah is now blaming Geagea and the Lebanese Forces with being responsible for the shootout last week, allied with Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel. According to a pro-Hezbollah report, Geagea has sought to “impose himself as the sole representative of the Christians and return to the sectarian stronghold by committing a deliberate and organized massacre like the one he committed during the Lebanese Civil War.”

In a nationally televised speech on Monday, Nasrallah said:

"Civil war constitutes the real plan of the Lebanese Forces party, because civil war will lead to demographic changes, which will cram the Christians into a specific area, like in [their] past dreams, where they will establish a Christian canton, a Christian state, or a Christian ghetto, which will be dominated by the Lebanese Forces party. ...

[Geagea,] you should pay attention to the following figure. This is the first time I divulge this figure, and I do it to prevent a civil war, rather than to threaten to start one. You know me, I never say something that is not true. I belong to the school that maintains that lies are not useful even in psychological warfare. Only truth and reliability are useful in psychological warfare."

At the same time, Hezbollah continues to demand that Judge Bitar's investigation be ended, while the public at large is demanding that it reach a conclusion and identify the responsible parties.

Lebanon's future

Lebanon's government was already in a fragile state, but the dispute over Judge Bitar and the investigation has paralyzed the government completely, as it is now impossible even to call a cabinet meeting.

The situation is evolving on a daily basis. Nobody wants another civil war, particularly the elderly people who survived the last civil war. But there will still be sporadic violence.

Unanswered questions: Will Judge Tarek Bitar's investigation continue? Will the government collapse completely? The situation is so volatile, we may have at least a few answers soon.

The one emerging hope is that there will be reforms leading to the emergence of a non-sectarian government of technocrats. If such a government is acceptable to the international community, then sanctions will be removed, and aid will flow into Lebanon.

However, that's a dream. Iran and Hezbollah will never give up their power without a war, and it's more likely that the sporadic violence will recur and grow.


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(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Generational Dynamics World View News thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (20-Oct-2021) Permanent Link
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