A massive explosion at Lebanon’s main port has sent an already precarious state hurtling toward failure, according to experts.
The Middle East country was already struggling under a plummeting economy and skyrocketing inflation. The coronavirus pandemic had dashed any hope for a recovery coming any time soon. On Tuesday, “the last nail in the coffin” came after a government warehouse stocked with 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the middle of Lebanon’s main port in the capital city of Beirut, one former Lebanese government adviser told The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s the last nail in the coffin,” said Henri Chaoul, who resigned in June after advising Lebanese officials negotiating a potential bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Lebanese government defaulted on a $1.2 billion loan from the IMF in March.
“[Lebanese government officials] were incapable of running a much smaller crisis. How are they supposed to handle this?” Chaoul asked.
“I think Lebanon is fast approaching failed state status,” Lina Khatib, who studies the Middle East and North Africa at the Chatham House think tank in London, told WSJ.
The explosion killed dozens and injured thousands more while damaging buildings for miles around, blowing out glass and warping beams and supports. The destruction has left an estimated 300,000 people in Beirut homeless. Shards of broken glass were seen two miles away from the blast site, encompassing an area where roughly 750,000 people live. The sound from the explosion could be heard more than 100 miles away.
Many Lebanese are anxious to hold someone accountable for the disaster while Lebanon’s leaders, many of whom are holdouts from the country’s last civil war, are trying to avoid responsibility.
“I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened, to hold him accountable and impose the most severe penalties,” Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Anger at Lebanon’s political class has been building for years as the country’s economy has stagnated and the value of its currency has plummeted. Inflation is nearly 90%, and the IMF predicts that Lebanon’s economy will contract by 12% by the end of the year.
“We’re entering this catastrophe already on the brink,” Oxford Economics economist Nafez Zouk, an expert on Lebanon, told WSJ, referring to the port explosion. “This just accelerates the free fall.”
Lebanon has been on the “brink” of another civil war for several years. The terror group Hezbollah maintains a strong presence in Lebanon, and is a constant threat to Israel to the south and has fought the Jewish state openly.
Hezbollah’s relationship with Syria to Lebanon’s north and east has contributed to Lebanon’s fall as the terror group aids Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, according to the Atlantic Council. Lebanon has also been drawn into confrontations between Iran and the United States. Tensions between Lebanon’s populations of Christian, Sunni and Shiite Muslim, and Druze residents are growing as well.