Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, the highest-ranking Sunni Muslim cleric in Lebanon, added his support Wednesday to calls for an independent international investigation of the massive Beirut explosion on August 4.
The top Christian cleric agrees, while the Iran-backed Shiite Muslim terrorist organization Hezbollah most certainly does not.
“The existential threat to Lebanon requires urgent attention: an international investigation to delineate responsibilities and restore confidence,” Derian said.
The top Maronite Christian cleric of Lebanon, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, also called for an independent investigation last week.
“It is a right for countries that provide Lebanon with generous assistance to know the mysterious causes, and the body that kept this big quantity of explosive material for six years at the most dangerous place in the capital, and the reason for keeping them,” al-Rai said during his Sunday sermon on August 9.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has thus far insisted his government — or what remains of it, after a wave of resignations following the explosion — is fully capable of investigating the incident. He has also deflected accusations that the Iran-backed terrorist organization and political party Hezbollah was responsible for stockpiling the material that exploded.
Although Aoun is a Maronite Christian, this puts him at odds with his patriarch, whose sermon seemed to suggest questioning Hezbollah about why 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate sat in a warehouse at the Port of Beirut for six years, and what other explosives they might have been keeping at the port.
Aoun said on Wednesday it was “impossible” that Hezbollah weapons caches had anything to do with the Beirut explosion, which is a very bold statement given that Hezbollah’s control of the port, and its weapons smuggling activities, are common knowledge.
“Serious events like these light up spirits and imagination,” Aoun said dismissively, before promising that “even this lead will be investigated,” a promise the Patriarch and Grand Mufti seem united in mistrusting.
The Maronite and Sunni leaders also both wanted elections to be held swiftly so a new government could be quickly seated.
“We must start immediately with change and quickly hold early parliamentary elections without the distraction of discussing a new election law and to form a new government,” al-Rai argued, while Derian said Aoun “must adhere to the will of the people and conduct parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister.”
Aoun said he is unwilling to step down because it would cause even more chaos in Lebanon, and argued his traumatized country is not yet ready to hold a vote.
“The political and popular atmosphere can’t take new elections before restoring calm. They would be emotional, and not a true representation of the people,” he said this week.
The National noted that Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest Christian political bloc in Lebanon’s very blocky system, have been telling the Lebanese people to expect a very long and “deep” investigation.
Bassil warned on Sunday that increased Western sanctions against his political allies in Hezbollah would “drown Lebanon in chaos and discord.” Sanctions have been discussed in Europe and the United States as a means of loosening Hezbollah’s (and Iran’s) grip on Lebanese politics and prodding the moribund factional government to implement serious reforms.
Forbes on Wednesday cited analysts who argued a “unity government” dominated by Hezbollah would be unlikely to make reforms, so further international financial aid for the ailing Lebanese government should be made conditional on the reduction of Hezbollah’s influence. In any event, outsiders will not negotiate rescue packages with a caretaker government, so Aoun’s resistance to holding elections and seeming determination to drag out the investigation of the Beirut explosion could leave the country in a perilous position.
“By getting the majority [in parliamentary elections] and a president on their side, they thought they controlled the country, but what happened now with Hezbollah and its allies is that they got power but they lost the country and the people,” a source close to Hezbollah’s Christian political allies told Reuters on Wednesday.
“There are so many problems internally apart from the port explosion. The country is breaking under their feet,” said Hezbollah expert Magnus Ranstorp.
“What Hezbollah doesn’t understand about the port explosion, the outcry, the protests, is that people view it as the latest manifestation of the corrupt elite and they hold Hezbollah responsible for safeguarding this elite. Hezbollah is losing the narrative inside Lebanon,” assessed London School of Economics Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges.
Gerges noted that instead of reaching out to the grieving people of Beirut and vowing to help them get to the bottom of the explosion, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a menacing speech that denied all responsibility and threatened to hit back against protesters who blamed his organization for the catastrophe.
Stated bluntly, Hezbollah and its allies probably would not like the findings of an independent investigation of the Beirut blast, nor would they like the results of an election held today.
“Most analysts say Hezbollah will sit tight, hoping that time will work in its favour, either through a new U.S. president or a possible new understanding between Tehran and the Trump administration ahead of the November election,” Reuters wrote, alluding to the strategic and economic pressure President Donald Trump has brought to bear against Hezbollah’s patrons in Iran.
Proposals for a unity government have suggested it might be led by Saad Hariri, formerly prime minister of Lebanon and son of another prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who was killed by a massive bomb attack in 2005.
Saad Hariri on Tuesday rejected the judgment of a United Nations tribunal that found no evidence of Hezbollah leadership ordering the murder of his father. Remarkably, only a single member of Hezbollah was found guilty of the elder Hariri’s assassination by the tribunal.
Saad Hariri was heartened that someone from Hezbollah was finally held accountable for the murder of his father, but vowed not to rest until the leaders who gave the order are brought to justice.
“Hezbollah is the one that should make sacrifices today. It is clear that the network responsible is from its ranks. I repeat: we will not rest until punishment is served,” he said on Tuesday, adding stress to the tense political situation in Lebanon.