Commentary: The explosion has already changed the region radically. The effects will be the following: the obvious destabilization of Lebanon; the control and destabilization of the southern flank of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative; the annihilation of Hezbollah, without any more local networks and coverage; the creation of an endless war in Syria to destabilize Iran; and finally Turkey’s entry into its areas in Syria.
The powerful deflagration that destroyed the port and part of the city of Beirut on August 5, at 6 p.m. – with an unspecified toll of at least over 150 dead, 4,000 injured and 300,000 people left outside their houses – was generated by the explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, the residue of a strange “business” of a Cypriot-based company, owned by a small Russian “oligarch” – material never claimed or otherwise used. The oligarch’s unpaid sailors were repatriated by International Organizations.
It should be noted that the great explosion caused an earthquake of magnitude 3.5 Richter.
Meanwhile, in a few days – although the judgment has been postponed – the Lebanon is awaiting the verdict on the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 by an act of terrorism. There are only four defendants, in absentia, all belonging to Hezbollah, which was also the essential political part supporting the Lebanese government that has just resigned.
Many sources, however, also in the United States, think that the instigator of the attack against Rafik Hariri was Saudi Arabia itself. Just think of Saad, the son, who was “kidnapped” due to debt in a luxury hotel by Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017 before returning three weeks later.
Another inevitable piece of the puzzle: the default of the Lebanese State, officially announced last March by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, an “independent” politician that Hezbollah likes.
It should be noted, however, that the Lebanese private banks still have a significant amount of capital available, just in time, before the plundering of what little remains of the State.
At the time, the default was made on a debt of 1.2 billion Eurobonds, and already with a debt-to-GDP ratio at 170% – Eurobonds not repaid, but used to buy imports of primary goods.
The Lebanon has long been going on with a now imaginary economy, with the foreign reserves of the Central Bank reduced for all currencies to 29 billion U.S. dollars which, considering the bonds with local banks, fixed reserves and other assets, are down to only 4 billion useful to repay the debt.
On March 5 last, the Public Prosecutor suspended the activities of as many as 20 Lebanese banks.
Many local experts, however, swear that that some local banks are still full of deposits. This is very likely and those who are planning the Lebanon’s political default are waiting for nothing else.
Hence an economically destroyed country to which the explosion delivered the final blow. In an instant it put in the back burner the complicated constitutional system of division between the Druze, Shiite, Sunni, Christian and other ethnic groups that had also built the house of cards of the various governments.
Therefore, with finance no longer existing and tourism evaporated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an economy reduced to zero, the crowds always demonstrate together and no longer perceive the religious differences on which their old “political entrepreneurs” had made their fortunes
Furthermore, the old factions and cliques no longer have selective resources to distribute. Hence, with the relative exception of Hezbollah, they will no longer have followers.
A recent document of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Destroying Lebanon to Save It“, comes to mind. It reports a document that has come out of Republican circles, with a very simple final project, i.e. to integrate the Lebanon into the U.S. system against Iran. I see it as difficult to achieve.
But the implementation reported by the document of the U.S. think-tank envisages that not even the International Monetary Fund should give a single dollar to Beirut, a port that China wanted to buy. But now China arrives in Tripoli and here is another piece of the puzzle.
Not even a dollar, but only until the Lebanese crowds clearly turn against corruption (let us figure out!), but above all against Hezbollah which is also the only religious welfare network currently available in a failed state.
Hence for the United States or for its Republicans, when they try to think about foreign policy, the stability of the Lebanon is an irrelevant and indeed negative fact because it will become a strategic asset for Iran and Hezbollah itself in the future.
The Lebanese people, however, united but increasingly sick and hungry, should strongly demand “freedom” and the “war on tyrants” that have also their own faith, culture and habits. I wish them the best, but it is not an easy task.
Not even with the scenities and farce of the Einstein Institute will they be able to transform the Lebanese people. Another piece of the puzzle. Either they destroy the Lebanon or they must try to get the whole of it – and not only some factions – to their side and certainly not with this nonsense of pretence of democratic feelings.
Therefore, the ammonium nitrate at the port of Beirut has already changed the Middle East radically.
The effects will be and indeed already are the following: a) the obvious destabilization of the Lebanon, which will become part of the new blocs being created or simply a passage to Syria, to be destabilized again, and eventually to Iran; b) the control and destabilization of the Southern flank of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative; c) the annihilation of Hezbollah, without any more local networks and coverage; d) the creation of an endless long war in Syria to destabilize Iran; finally Turkey’s entry into its areas in Syria, including the new ones, aiming also at Jordan, now a failed state.
With 1.4 million Syrian refugees, who live on IMF loans that are increasingly “long-term” and make us foresee a future Lebanese “treatment” for a great King and his small Jordanian Kingdom.
There are two other factors that have changed recently on the Lebanese scene. For the countries that count little, geopolitical adjustments are made without any trouble and in a short time.
The point is the new configuration of the natural gas and oil wells between Cyprus and Egypt, passing through the Lebanon and Israel. We will talk about it later on.
The point is also the Covid-19 crisis, an accelerator for the creation of failed states, generators of migration, as in Africa, or of “hit-and-run” operations on their raw materials. As is the case with Africa.
The issue of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, however, is central after the destruction of the port of Beirut.
With a non-existent Lebanon, Turkey, for example, can close its Exclusive Economic Zone from the Libyan coast of Tripoli to Kastellorizo, on the borders of Greece, and then reach not only the Greek Cypriot areas, but also the already Lebanese coasts.
The arc closure of Turkish oil interests throughout the Mediterranean.
Certainly, with the poor-quality politicians lying around, Erdogan will have an easy time.
In the first year of production, Lebanon’s coastal oil and gas could generate at least 8 billion profit. If Turkey loses its role in the world of Eastern Mediterranean gas, however, it will also lose it as Russia’s pipeline partner. No way. Turkey does not even think of it. This is another key aspect.
There is also the role played by Saudi Arabia. Usually, the Lebanon was used for a game of equilibria and skirmishes between Saudi Arabia and Syria, with specific reference to Iran.
The Saudi channel in the Lebanon has always been clannish, namely the Hariri family.
Nevertheless, especially after Rafik Hariri’s assassination, Saudi Arabia is slowly getting closer to the Syrian regime, and hence to the “legitimate” influence that the latter exerts over the Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia thinks that Assad is better than Iran or Hezbollah.
With the beginning of the war in Syria, however, a complete and logically inevitable block of politics in the Lebanon has occurred: Shiites with Iran, on Assad’s side, even often directly employed on Syrian soil, while the Saudis strongly with Hariri to maintain a Sunni group not directly linked to the Syrian clash, as well as Christians and other religious groups divided between pacifism and engagement with Syria.
In February 2016 the Wahabi Kingdom stopped 3 billion U.S. dollars in military aid for the Armed Forces and an additional billion for security. Currently, there are proposals for financial aid from Saudi Arabia, but only under very tight economic and political conditions.
Another clue: also Saudi Arabia is no longer interested in the unity of the Lebanon as a country.
By now, considering the agreements with Israel and the U.S. support, as well as a new reconfiguration of relations between Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt, the former no longer needs a treacherous, unreliable and very fragmented rearward base against Iran, as the Lebanon was.
If anything, for the Al Saud dynasty it would be necessary to create very strong divisions in the Lebanese society – which are currently impossible – to counter Hezbollah’s influence.
Another clue: with the destruction of the Lebanon, those which carried out the attack or ordered it wanted to avoid the simultaneous creation of a “Levant Union” between Cyprus, the Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine (PNA), Jordan and Egypt – something which had been aired for years and would have been a considerable obstacle to some international players’ designs.
Since May 2019 Africa has already organized its African Continental Free Trade Area for a predictable traded GDP of 2 trillion U.S. dollars on average.
The “Levant” would offer direct port access to China – something that those who are destabilizing the Lebanon do not want at all. Another clue.
Certainly, the current Lebanon should not expect a financial bailout from the rest of the world.
Beirut, or what remains of it, immediately needs 20-24 billion fresh dollars from external funding alone. The fiscal deficit is 11.6% of GDP and, as already seen, the debt-to-GDP ratio is 170%.
The official Lira-Dollar exchange rate is 1:2000 and above.
Obviously capital flight is uncontrolled.
Another very important clue is the new relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
As is the case with Abu Dhabi, the Emirates have already placed Hezbollah among terrorist organizations and have condemned Hamas.
It has not been a short process, but the logic of collaboration is almost natural: both countries and areas, Israel and the Emirates, particularly Abu Dhabi, are linked to the United States, have good relations with Egypt and have the same anti-Iranian interests. They have also been exchanging selected intelligence for long time.
For Israel it means arriving in very rich markets, while for the UAE it is a new ally that is also an unparalleled regional military power.
Without the Saudi and Emirate danger, Israel no longer needs the old Lebanon.
For Russia, instead, there is the danger that the post-Lebanon will be reduced to a corridor between the Mediterranean and the areas of tension in Syria and later towards Iran, for a renewed “stabilization” war between Syria, Iraq and, in the future, Iran.
It would be the end of the great Russian project carried out so far with the victory in Syria, with the minimum use of forces, and the stabilization of Bashar al-Assad’s regime – a buffer between the Middle East coast and the Islamist area in direct contact with Russia.
On the other hand, the Russian Federation fears that Syria may fall into the hands of the various jihadist and terrorist factions, but it does not want to enter directly into the post-Lebanon arena.
Russia, however, follows directly both the Islamic terrorist networks, which are currently very active in the Lebanon, and the various pre-war moves of some Western countries.
What will Russia want to obtain from the Lebanese chaos? The sealing of borders towards Syria and the stop of the passage into Syria of the jihadists destined to destabilize it on others’ orders. It also wants to avoid the West regionally exporting the Lebanese crisis.
Another clue: the future crisis coming from the refugees. In every area where some are transforming political, demographic, strategic and geopolitical connotations (and also this is a clue), it is easier to create refugees to be used as an instrument of pressure, blackmail and even economic warfare than to keep the old populations there. Others will pay for them.
The Lebanon already has 1.5 million refugees from its peripheral wars to whom it does not grant rights.
Jordan hosts additional 780,000 refugees, but the Hashemite Kingdom is already in the sights of the “great transformers” of the Middle East, those who define the new borders with bombs as easily as Sykes and Picot redrew them with pencils and rulers.
There will be no new migrants to the EU from the Lebanon: the populations “in excess” will be directed to the rest of the Middle East or will emigrate to the new World, regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those who have already “burdened” the E.U. silliest Member States with African migrants, such as Italy, have no interest in increasing their number, which would make the political and probably military response of some E.U. countries impossible in the post-Lebanon arena. Said response will be demanded angrily. And we also have to prevent UNIFIL II from falling hostage to new “peacekeepers” or unscrupulous regional actors.
Giancarlo Elia Valori