I guess the big news of the past 24 hours was the explosion in Lebanon that rocked Beruit. I usually don’t meddle in foreign news, but this was such a massive (and preventable) tragedy in a country already hanging on by a thread I felt it was necessary to at least look at it. Plus, the U.S. has meddled so much into Middle East politics, particularly Lebanon, it’s like South America. We owe it a debt.
Anyhow, yesterday evening a warehouse full of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate went up. As of this morning, 168 people have been killed and over 4,000 have been injured. The explosion rocked the Lebanese capital, displacing over 300,000 and wreaking untold damage across the city. It’s being described as “apocalyptic” and it’ll be a while yet before any sort of hard numbers can be figured out when it comes to damage costs.
There was, of course, plenty of speculation last night when the blast went off, everything from an explosion in a Chinese fireworks factor to a missile attack/bombing carried out by either Israel or Hamas, depending on which way you lean. Trump, undoubtedly still smarting from the entire world seeing what a drooling moron he really is in that Axios interview and how quickly he falls apart when a journalist does something dastardly as ask follow-up questions, had his own take, of course. He claimed “generals” told him it looked like an attack but neglected to go into detail. No word on if they had tears in their eyes or called him “Sir,” either.
Turns out the cause of the explosion was the aforementioned ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at Beruit’s main port since 2014. The exact details of what set off the explosion are still unknown, but officials have said the material was stored improperly and the folks over that warehouse have been placed under house arrest.
Ammonium nitrate is usually used as fertilizer. However, it also makes for a fairly nasty explosive in large quantities. When Timothy McVeigh decided he needed to kill a bunch of people to prove a point about the government, he used 5,000 tons of the stuff for the job when he could get his first choice, hydrazine, or a sufficient amount of TNT. More or less, ammonium nitrate packs about 40% of the bang of TNT. So yesterday’s explosion is reckoned to have the power of a one kiloton bomb and brought the same sort of rattle as a 3.3-level earthquake.
Folks, Lebanon is already up against the wall and didn’t need this. One of the nations formed when the Western powers decided to carve up the Mediterranean-Middle East to suit its needs, it was under the thumb of the French until 1946 or so. It declared independence in 1943, but you know how those things go. Since then, it’s been in a tug-of-war from all sorts of powers.
The U.S. invaded in 1958 to “help” with some religious strife, and that’s one of the ones we don’t brag about, put it that way. We’ve maintained pretty decent-ish relations with the country since, though it suffered a bloody 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. It was also the battleground between Israel and Syria for years, and they didn’t leave until 2000 and 2005, respectively.
It first drifted across my personal radar in 1983 when the Hezbollah blew up a barracks of a joint U.S.-French peacekeeping organization. The explosion killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers, and resulted in Reagan sending a further 800 soldiers to Beruit to make a point. It did result in a massive study that exposed huge security holes that allowed the perpetrators to get there in the first place, much like Bengahzi. Iran is thought to had some sort of hand in it and for a while a theory that the Israeli Mossad knew something beforehand. That, however, has been fairly well debunked and discounted.
Since running everyone out in 2005, Lebanon has struggled to get back on its feet. Once known as a jewel of the Mediterranian, the country has been slowly falling apart at the seams. With skyrocketing inflation and unemployment, lack of confidence in government, and the almost total elimination of worth in the Lebanese dollar, it’s estimated over half of the country’s 6.8 million residents live below the poverty line. Furthermore, they’ve taken in over 1.5 refugees from the current horror in Syria. One of the fallouts from the explosion is resignations of officials protesting the government’s incompetence in preventing the explosion. And this was all before the recent COVID-19 pandemic that’s doing them a serious amount of no good.
So, friends and neighbors, that’s where we stand. As I said, this city was once considered one of the brightest lights of that part of the world. The people of Lebanon have truly put up with more grief and heartache since than is humanly imaginable. It’s almost totally the fault – and responsibility – of other countries. We in the States like to pretend we don’t owe the countries we decide to kick around anything, but that’s bullshit. So, if you can, here are some links for donations to help folks out.
Remember, the Lebanese dollar isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, but do what you can. This is absolutely nothing but a tragic accident. We’ll be keeping an eye on things regardless, but this poor old world could definitely use a break.