The event that literally shook the world a month ago was a massive explosion that took place in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. 2,75,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the port, a highly explosive material. It is used for fertilizers in agriculture as well as to make improvised explosive devices, bomb making, etc..
Nobody knows why this highly hazardous material was stored in such a strategic location. And speculation is rife that what created the explosion. Some people suspected that it may have been a bomb directed at Lebanon's Hezbollah from Israel. Israeli government was very quick to say that it had nothing to do with this. Was it an accident? Was it stored there with the consent of the Lebanese government? Was it Hezbollah which is described as a state that was responsible for this? But whatever is this, it was a massively destructive, dramatic event.
More than 150 people lost their lives, 60 people are missing. More than 5000 people were seriously injured, 3,00,000 no less people were rendered homeless. And the explosion was so massive that it was registered as an earthquake of 3.3 on the Richter scale. And the blast was heard as far off as Cyprus, which is 250 kilometers away, almost. Window panes were shattered, buildings crumbled. Unfortunately, Lebanon before this blast was also dawdling on the verge of disaster. Its economy had collapsed. It was reading under the coronavirus. Corruption was rampant. There was malnutrition, inflation was spiraling, and people were wondering whether the state would survive what was already in a state where it should be declared as a failed state. Now, Lebanon is not a very large country. The population is 6.8 Million. The total area it occupies is a little over 10,000 square kilometers.
So why should the world be so worried about what is happening to this country, which was already in all kinds of difficult states?
A little background is in place. Lebanon is inherited to a historical and most ancient civilization of the Phoenicians and Phoenicians were very sophisticated cosmopolitan civilizations, maintaining international ties as early as 4000-5000 years before the birth of Christ. It has been a crucible of cultures. This is where Christianity and Islam have intermingled. Most people think this is an Arab country. It has many affinities with the Arab world, but it has many significant differences also. Its population is almost divided half between the Christians, Christians of Roman Catholic faith, Christians of Eastern Orthodox faith, and the other half, which is the Muslim population, also is again divided very evenly between the Sunnis and the Shias and the various small sex within that. This was a French colony, a French mandate between the end of the First World War and the closure of the Second World War for almost from 1920-1945, this was under French influence.
Now, this is partly what explains that at the moment, the people of Lebanon very, very dissatisfied with their government, have signed a petition which has been signed already as we speak to you, by over 55,000 people who want France to come back, reassert its mandate and try to bring back the country to good health.
The French president was quick to come to Lebanon, promised help, humanitarian help, and also said that he would try to bring around the international community to the help of Lebanese. He was welcome far more because people suddenly pointed fingers at their government that their president was missing. The prime minister was making big noises. The prime minister, of course, promised that the guilty would be punished, but nobody believes that the guilty will ever be identified, forget about their punishment. The credibility of the present Lebanese government is very, very low. They believe that it is a corrupt government. Everything which has gone wrong in the country is because of them, including the storing of this hazardous material for whatever reason in the port.
Now, the preliminary information, which is trickle down, tells us the customs had stored it here. The courts had asked them against their protest to keep it there because the court case was on. It is also being told that there is a firewall store next to it. And was it an accidental spark that triggered the conflagration? Was it sabotage? Was it enemy action? This will take a long time to come. Already as it is, the French have said that they will undertake an investigation. The British have offered that they will undertake an investigation. The Americans have said that they will chip in and of course, the Lebanese government has said that they will do that. But nobody believes the Lebanese government is credible and they are looking forward to international investigation to bring out the truth.
Now, what happens in this case is that if Lebanese cannot get over this, let's say the last storm on the back of the camel, it is going to destabilize the whole nation. Because this is where Hezbollah was working as a state within a state. After the French moved out in 1945 after their mandate was over, this country had to suffer occupation from Syria, occupation from Israel and unfortunately, the Palestinians who were persecuted moved in large numbers, millions to Lebanon. This is where the Palestinian rebels targeting Israel drew the ire of Israel against this. Hezbollah , which calls itself the Army of God, has been fighting shoulder to shoulder against ISIS in various military theaters in the Middle East.
What happens to all this?
Unfortunately, Lebanon is a country dependent on tourism for its economic welfare. Its economy depends to a very large extent on the remittances sent by Lebanese skilled workmen outside the country. They have a reputation of being excellent financial operators, excellent bankers. But all this in one stroke after this glass seems probably will never be repaired back in a reasonable time for Lebanon to get back on the rails. So this is a major, major challenge to the stability of the whole region which is a stray incident. If you call it a stray incident or an accident, but it has triggered.