G. Fontana (I.O.D.) on the Beirut explosion of August 4
The huge explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut and caused hundreds of victims is only one of the last episodes of the permanent imperialist war. A war fueled by the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production, which has in fact turned the cedar country into a theater of death.
The ‘Ainfijar’, the explosion
August 4, 2020 will remain etched in the memory of the Lebanese people as the day of the “Ainfijar!”, the explosion. The explosion involved a warehouse where 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored and seized in 2014. The explosion was huge, it has devastated Beirut with a force of about a tenth of the first atomic bomb, someone has even called this event the “Lebanese Ground Zero”.
Diverse hypotheses open up before the investigators, from the neglect for the custody of ammonium nitrate to the attack by terrorist cells, to the Israeli military mission against Hezbollah (the area of the port is under the control of the “Party of God”). The presence of such a significant amount of ammonium nitrate in that area already raises more than one question.
Let us briefly reconstruct the story. The ship MV Rhosus, flying the Moldavian flag, came from the port of Batumi, in the Black Sea, in September 2013; after two months of navigation, it arrived at the port of Beirut asking to dock. The ship, destined to the “Fabrica de Explosivos de Moçambique”, with all its cargo of death remained moored in the port of Beirut, officially because the owner did not have the money to pay for the passage of the Suez Canal. The Lebanese judiciary, in August 2014, freed the crew and seized the ship with all the cargo, which was crammed in hangar 12 of the port. The shipowner’s version left many doubts and many perplexities, also because the Mozambican port, as later confirmed by the Minister of Transport, had never been notified of the arrival of the cargo.
That there was only ammonium nitrate in that area of Beirut raises some doubt with Danilo Coppe, one of the greatest Italian experts in explosives, who in the summer of 2019 directed the works for the demolition of the Morandi bridge in Genoa in view of the reconstruction. In an interview he made the following statement: “Ammonium nitrate generates a yellow cloud when it detonates. Instead, from the videos of the explosion, in addition to the white sphere, which can be seen expanding, and is condensation of air on the seashore, you can clearly see a brick-orange column tending to bright red, typical of the participation of lithium. Which in the form of lithium metal is the propellant for military missiles. I think there were some armaments there.” (Corriere della Sera, August 5, 2020)
An area of imperialist tensions
But beyond the uneasy task of tracing the actual cause of the explosion, the relevant issue is that the Mediterranean is once again the center of international tensions.
A crossroads of different cultures, cradle of ancient civilizations, the land of cedars is known to the world for the devastating civil war that from 1975 to 1990, which saw the opposition of Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shiites and Druze. In 1982, the American-French-Italian multinational force gave life to the peacekeeping operation “Missione Italcon”, officially with the task of defending the civilian population.
Subsequently, in 2006, the UN set up “Operation Leonte” (currently still operational) in order to implement the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon, protagonists of the second Israeli-Lebanese war.
This troubled process saw another milestone in the 2011 Syrian war on Lebanese territory, with the support of the Hezbollah militia. And it is precisely Hezbollah, sadly back in the news these days, who is to be called into question as the main responsible of the Lebanese economic disaster, and who – according to the Saudi newspaper Arabnews – will probably be blamed for what happened in these days.
Hezbollah, the party of God
Let us draw a brief profile, without going into details – as it goes beyond what we set out here – of the Lebanese Shiite movement, whose main fault, in the eyes of the Western powers (in this case the USA), is to be an ally of Syria and Iran.
Hezbollah (“the party of God”), born after the Israeli invasion of 1982, grew up over the years under Iran’s protective wing. It soon became the protagonist of a double attack against the international peacekeeping force in Beirut. The transition from military militia to Shiite Islamist party took place thanks to the political vacuum left by the more traditional parties, and this has allowed it in the 2005 legislative elections to win 14 seats in parliament, and in time to constitute a State within the State.
Before the birth of “the party of God”, the Shiite community in Lebanon, in the early twentieth Century, was composed of sharecroppers and laborers subject to the power of the landowners (zu’ama) in a real feudal system, where high-ranking Shiite families acted as intermediaries between the popular masses and the State, advocating for themselves the role of guarantor, however, being de facto holders of privileges and power.
Caught in a stranglehold between exploitation by the powerful landowners and abandonment by the state apparatus, most of the Lebanese Shiites were forced to leave the countryside, to emigrate to the suburbs of Beirut, (1) constituting a nascent form of an urban sub-proletariat. This would cause a form of “empathy” to spread between the Lebanese Shiites and the Palestinian refugees, united by the perception of themselves as “oppressed peoples”.
It is not by chance that personalities such as Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah and Muhammad Mehdi Shams el-Din, fundamental reference points of the future “party of God”, and Abbas al-Moussawi, the future first Secretary General of Hezbollah, come from these areas.
“The party of God”, strongly rooted as a military militia after the Israeli invasion in 1982, as we have seen, turned into an Islamist party, finding an important inspiration in Ruhollàh Mostafàvì Mòsavì Khomeinì, the founder of the Islamic State. It is the latter who, in open contrast with the most conservative fringe of the Shiite world, elaborated an ideology and a doctrine that, in the name of war, faith and martyrdom, had characterized the “Islamic revolution” of February 1979. This would be the inspiring ideology of Hezbollah, which with the “Open Letter to the oppressed in Lebanon and the world”, written in 1985, made its political profile explicit, in the name of the establishment of an Islamist government in Lebanon.
An unstable area
In the meantime, this area of the Mediterranean had become increasingly unstable. Already in the spring of 2002 rumors of a probable American attack in Iraq were circulating. In the night from 19 to 20 March 2003 the American bombers began the area raids in Baghdad, on April 9 Saddam Hussein’s regime fell.
To restore the centrality of the dollar was and is of primary importance to the American empire. With a massive military intervention in the Middle East, the U.S.A. secured an uncontested war presence and a constant control of the area, either directly or by proxy. (2) Subsequently, the Arab Spring, the Caliphate, the American invasions, the Russian and Turkish intervention, and most recently the air raids by Israeli jets, have inevitably caused the massacre of unarmed populations, the flight of millions of refugees and the collapse of the economy of entire countries.
The times are far away when the Lebanese pound, anchored to the U.S. dollar, could boast a good financial stability, when bank deposits exceeded three times the GDP, so much that Lebanon was called the Switzerland of the Middle East. (3)
Today numerous interests that are indispensable to all [parties involved] converge in this area, from Iran that exploits the position of Lebanon and the alliance with Hezbollah as a strategic position in the Mediterranean, to the [United Arab] Emirates that hold important sums in the Lebanese banks.
After the default of March 9, 2020, declared by the government that has not repaid bonds for 1.2 billion dollars, expiring in March, and 1.3 billion, expiring between April and June, the International Monetary Fund is evaluating a credit line of 10 billion dollars, of course under conditions dictated by the international negotiators.
Terrain of imperialist clashes
It is no coincidence that the French President Macron was already on the spot the day after the disaster, protecting French economic and strategic interests, and pointing out that the financing will arrive, but monitored by the United States and the World Bank (4): after all, jackals smell blood immediately.
Lebanon, already on its knees because of a devastating economic crisis, with unemployment at 30% and inflation at 56%, a crisis that the pandemic has further worsened, with a political class inept and corrupt to the bone, and now deprived even of its main port, with resources reduced to a small amount of [electricity], has no other cards to play if it is not to sink definitively.
The opportunity was too favorable for the US–Israeli–Saudi super coalition not to take advantage of. In Lebanon the great game of the Middle East reopens, in order to reduce the uncomfortable Hezbollah, the Syrian and Iranian influence and the Turkish advance in the Mediterranean. The enormous explosion of August 4, 2020 has set in motion inter-imperialist dynamics that find one of the major points of tensions in Lebanon, and that risk to extend the theaters of the permanent imperialist war even more.
The demonstrations in the days following the tragic event, in the absence of a political class point of reference that nails capitalism to its responsibilities, will most likely have a political facade as their epilogue, with the usual ballet of a government of national unity, with the priority of getting the country out of this impasse, and taking due account of the indications of international institutions. The script of a film already seen, in which, like in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “everything is changed” so that nothing [really] changes. Meanwhile, as the World Food Program correspondent explained a few days ago, after seeing the blown up silos: “Lebanon has bread and flour for two and a half weeks. We’re sending ships, but there could be problems…” (5); all in all, in Lebanon we could go back to the war for bread.
This is the only future that capitalism can offer us: hunger and permanent imperialist war. It is the task of the small revolutionary vanguard to point the way forward for the revolution, in order to put an end to the barbarity of capitalism once and for all.
Gaetano Fontana, August 19, 2020
Source: Il martoriato paese dei cedri
Translation: H.C., October 2, 2020
1 Where later, because of the Nakba, a large wave of Palestinian refugees, expelled from the nascent Israeli state, will converge.
2 For a more in-depth and detailed reading, see G. Paolucci: Oil and oil revenues have moved the Gulf War and shuffled the cards, Prometeo, no. 1, V Series, 1991.
3 See R. Bongiorni: Libano, corsa contro il tempo per salvare il paese dal collasso” (“Lebanon, race against time to save the country from collapse”), Il Sole 24 ore, August 6, 2020.
4 See the quotation from Antonio Negri below.
5 V. Nigro, The tycoon deputy: ‘Lebanon destroyed by bankers and politicians’, La Repubblica, August 12, 2020.
As Antonio Negri wrote: “There is obviously the traditional role of the former colonial power France, the task that Paris took on as guarantor of international aid, the French support for the Hariri family tied hand and foot to Saudi Arabia. In addition, France wants its slice of the cake of civilian but also military supplies to strengthen the bloodless Lebanese army to oppose the Shiite militia. But there is also something else, the strategic match in the Mediterranean and the creation of a new anti-Turkish alliance. Lebanon is also part of this picture. France clashes with Ankara in Libya, where it has so far supported General Haftar, has an open dispute – as does Italy – for the exploitation of offshore energy resources in the Aegean. Erdogan is therefore a rival against which to create alternative alliances. Not only Erdogan is also the great protector of the Muslim Brotherhood, detested by Saudi Arabia with which France has huge war business. Macron thus sponsors an axis composed of Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel which also includes the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline to constitute a block of interests of the anti-Ankara front. Lebanon is part of the “French” system and it is no coincidence that Beirut has entrusted offshore oil and gas exploration to a consortium led by the French Total with ENI and Russian Novatek. The rescue plan for Lebanon, before the explosion at the port, was estimated at 10 – 15 billion dollars, today it is much more. Even a child who is too rich to leave it to Hezbollah and their Iranian allies understands this: this is why the “commissioner” Macron arrived in Beirut.”
(See A. Negri, The “commissioner” Macron in Lebanon tries to dictate the rules, Il Manifesto, August 7, 2020).