An aerial view shows the massive damage done to Beirut Port's grain silos (center) and the area around it on August 5, 2020, one day after a mega-blast tore through the harbor in the heart of the Lebanese capital. Photo: AFP

Four days after the Beirut blast of August 4, Lebanese President Michel Aoun attempted to explain what caused the massive explosion. He attributed it to either the accidental ignition of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut or a planned attack by some external entity. There may be a nexus between the two suggested causes. 

Whether or not the blast was an accident, its impact has been devastating. More than 160 people have died so far and at least 6,000 were injured. Most observers agree that the storage of the fertilizer did not adhere to safety procedures. Negligence and incompetence appear to have been hallmarks of the six-year storage of the substance. Besides, it has been alleged that fireworks were also stored close to the warehouse.

Also read: More questions than answers in ashes of Beirut

A number of officials connected to the port and customs have been arrested. The elected government made up largely of representatives from the Shiite and Christian communities is determined  to show that it will not tolerate gross dereliction of duty and ineptitude. At the same time it is aware that it should not scapegoat any individual or group in order to protect the real culprits behind the blast. 

It is quite conceivable that the real culprits are linked to the second likely cause, a planned attack. This theory, which has different variations, has been advanced by some respected commentators.

Israel has of course denied that it was behind the Beirut blast. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has also insisted that his group had no arms depot at the Beirut Port. In this regard it should be noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018, alluded to alleged Hezbollah arms at a warehouse in Beirut Port. The allegation has never been proved.  

This is why there has to be an impartial inquiry into the Beirut blast. President Aoun and Hezbollah are against internationalizing the inquiry. They fear that given US and Western influence within the international system, such an inquiry would be manipulated to exonerate Israel.

A way out of this situation would be for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to establish a small commission of inquiry comprising a representative each from the US, France, China and Russia with himself as the chairman. Its main objective would be to determine who was responsible for the blast. The commission would report its findings directly to the UN General Assembly.

Such a commission should look deeply at the two possible causes that Aoun referred to. In examining the second possibility – an external attack – the commission, one hopes, would have the courage and the principles to reveal why Lebanon has been under tremendous pressure in the last few months, both economic and political, aimed at emasculating the government and bringing about a regime change that will benefit Israeli and Western interests.

Without such an understanding of the geopolitical forces at work in the region where Lebanon is located, it will not be possible to determine why the Beirut blast occurred.

Chandra Muzaffar

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.