Hassan Diab announced his resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon this morning. The former leader held a cabinet meeting before the announcement and it looks as though the entire cabinet will be stepping down as well. This means almost the entire Lebanese Government will be recycling over the next short period of time. The unrest comes after an enormous explosion rocked the Port of Beirut last week killing 160.
“I declare today the resignation of this government. May God protect Lebanon.”Hassan Dia
Lebanese protesters took to the streets and demanded change. Rumors and cover stories were spread immediately after the explosion. Some saying the blast came from a fireworks factory while others claim it was a missile from neighboring Israel. The public is not interested in the government’s claims and has essentially forced a turnover in leadership.
Local news had reported for years about a large cache of ammonium nitrate that was being stored in a port warehouse. Officials claim a defunct vessel came into port with the payload and abandoned it. The dangerous and explosive material sat for years while officials disputed what to do with it.
Intelligence and Israeli media reports that the site was home to a weapons assembly facility and that the ammonium nitrate was actually being used as solid rocket fuel for missiles. Ammonium nitrate is also commonly used as a fertilizer in agriculture. It’s also the main ingredient in TNT.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard routinely conducts activity out of Beirut. Ballistic missiles, drone operations, and naval operations are all carried out by Iran. Israel has been vocally complaining about Iranian logistics programs that bring military hardware into the region through the Port of Beirut.
Israel had recently reported Iran was using the site as a precision weapons assembly site. Iran had recently resumed it’s nuclear program and had conducted various missile tests. Iranian relations with the West have gotten worse over time and the US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani.
Iran has been experiencing a wave of suspicious explosions at their military sites. Almost none of these blasts have gotten attribution but there’s been a lot of finger pointing. Surely Iran does not want its precious military sites blowing up and by not identifying the purpose of the blast we can assume the Iranian leaders are getting very frustrated.
Despite early attempts to downplay the earlier explosions and keep them under wraps, information continued to leak out indicating something terrible had gone wrong. Finally a spokesman for the Iranian nuclear agency confirmed the story. He says the fire damaged precision instruments and measuring devices but Iran is notorious for downplaying the severity of military setbacks.
Iranian officials told Reuters that they believe last months explosions were caused by cyber sabotage. So far they have not provided any evidence. The stuxnet cyber worm targeted Iran’s enrichment program before so it’s natural for them to assume another cyber-attack if they don’t have other leads.
Centrifuge facilities such as this site are critical for advancing uranium enrichment. After the breakdown of the Iran Deal (JCPOA) Iran immediately resumed nuclear enrichment programs and announced it was starting back up development towards a nuclear weapon. Enrichment is an incredibly expensive, complex, and delicate process that’s required to create weapons-grade uranium.
Stuxnet famously disabled the Iranian nuclear enrichment program for years until it was exposed publicly during the Obama administration. Stuxnet was a ubiquitous computer worm of unknown origin that finally came alive to destroy Iran’s enrichment sites. The worm took control of PLC systems that controlled the large and expensive centrifuges. It would report to on-site operators that everything was OK while it would be internally destroying the centrifuge and spoiling the uranium inside.
This latest explosion in Beirut is much too large to be ignored. The proximity to Israel and the the large population center affected nearby will make this particular event one that gets highly scrutinized. If it’s true that the site was home to Iranian missile assembly the local citizens who suffered on Irans’ behalf will have a lot to gripe about.