8 December 2023

Some have questioned Israel’s motive for rushing to deny any responsibility, writes Iqbal Jassat.

While Lebanon’s preliminary explanation offered by its government is that the devastating explosions in Beirut resulted from explosive material stored at a warehouse near the port, the cause is yet to be investigated.

The scale of destruction and huge impact on civilian lives in the midst of the country’s economic woes compounded by the Covid19 pandemic, is unprecedented.

Reports from the ground sketch a bloody picture of a major catastrophy with war-like scenes of screeching ambulances ferrying injured to overcrowded hospitals.

As Lebanon’s grieving population struggle to cope with the aftermath of this terrible disaster, images of a mushroom cloud rising from the blast invoke sad memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Analysts across most media platforms have warned about the possibility of a renewed civil strife given Lebanon’s tragic past. And some have explained that the government’s swift response by identifying the location of the blast where explosive chemical material was stored, has been to calm tensions.

Political uncertainty, socio-economic woes and street protests against government failure and corruption make a potent recipe for destabilization, encouraged by foreign actors. Chief amongst them are France, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

However following the recent flare up of tension in South Lebanon particularly the Occupied Sheba Farms, speculation is rife that Israel is responsible for causing the explosion.

Some have questioned Israel’s motive for rushing to deny any responsibility while it is known that it rarely admits liability in extra-judicial assassinations, bombing sprees and cross-border attacks. Yet it is known to be regularly violating Lebanese air spaces.

Netanyahu, who is facing his biggest legitimacy crisis and confronted with unprecedented street protests demanding his scalp, is quite astute at diverting attention. And what better than to set off a cyber attack on the storage housing explosive material with the hope that public anger will be unleashed against Israel’s nemesis Hezbollah?

In Israel’s calculation, the timing would be perfect to set off a chain of angry reprisals against Hezbollah. The expectation to have Beirut’s streets fill up in rage and to demand the disarming of Hezbollah, would have formed part of Netanyahu’s strategy.

However, the widespread devastation across most parts of Beirut and beyond, many dead, unknown numbers trapped below fallen buildings and thousands injured, includes Hezbollah members as victims not perpetrators. The grief caused by loss of lives and properties will in all likelihood unite Lebanon’s civil society, if agent provocateurs are denied any oxygen.

The Hariri factor may still loom large once the outcome of years of investigation is announced. In this regard some commentators have questioned whether the blast bears any connection to it.

So while Lebanon bleeds, the all important question awaiting a speedy probe will be to determine who caused the blast and why?

*Iqbal Jassat is an executive of Media Review Network, Johannesburg

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