August 7, 2020

Massive Explosion in Beirut Rocks Lebanon & Leaked Data on Iran’s COVID-19 Outbreak

This week, a catastrophic explosion in Beirut shook the whole country, leaving Lebanon on the precipice of collapse. Also, data leaked to BBC Persian indicates the COVID-19 crisis is more pervasive than official statistics indicate. Please see our breakdown and analysis below: 

Massive Explosion, Equivalent of 400 Tons of TNT, Rocks Beirut 

  • City Still in Shock; Questions Linger About Culpability

      • On August 4th, 2020, a cataclysmic explosion in Beirut’s shipping port destroyed almost half of the city. Video of the incident showed the port of Beirut on fire before a secondary explosion went off, stripping the metal off buildings, flipping cars over, and shattering glass for miles around. Those on the ground described it as a war zone.

      • Lebanon’s government Wednesday declared a two-week state of emergency in Beirut, a day after a devastating explosion killed 135 people and injured 5,000, according to Health Minister Hamad Hassan. The death toll is expected to rise, as several people remain buried under the rubble of the country’s main port that was leveled to the ground. According to Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, who burst into tears while speaking on camera, the damage is estimated to be $10 – $15 billion.

      • Lebanese authorities have blamed the blast on 2,750 tons of high-density ammonium nitrate – a highly explosive material – stored in a warehouse at the port for six years. Official documents that emerged after the incident showed that the chemicals were confiscated by the Lebanese authorities in 2014 and were kept in Hangar 12 of Beirut’s port. In a 2016 letter to the judiciary, port officials cited “the serious danger posed by keeping this shipment in the warehouses in an inappropriate climate” and asked that it be dealt with “to preserve the safety of the port and its workers.”

      • In a speech after the event, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said, “Facts about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014, i.e. for 6 years now, will be announced. I will not preempt the investigations. At the moment, we are focusing on handling the disaster, pulling the martyrs out, and treating the wounded. But, I promise that this catastrophe will not go unpunished and those responsible will be held accountable.”

      • Meanwhile, Lebanese President Michel Aoun tweeted that it was “unacceptable” for such a large quantity of the dangerous material to be stored without proper safety measures. The city awaits results of an ongoing investigation, which for now has detained ports and customs officials and frozen the bank accounts of several officials, including the port’s general manager and customs chief Badri Daher.

      • French President Emmanuel Macron visited the city on Thursday, August 6th, where he walked the streets of Beirut, hugging residents still in shock from the disaster. Some Lebanese officials attempted to do the same but were forced to leave. In a speech at the French Embassy in Beirut, he described the explosion as a “metaphor for Lebanon’s current crisis” and said a “new political order” was needed.  France controlled the mandate of Lebanon from 1920 – 1945 and was one of the main proponents of the “confessional” political pact that currently governs Lebanon.

      • In a press conference, President Trump gave a statement of condolence on the incident and stated that U.S. aid was on the way. However, he also said that “some of our great generals … seem to think it was an attack, it was a bomb of some kind,” prompting a swift clarification from Pentagon officials. In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also offered his condolences, stating that “Iran is fully prepared to render assistance in any way necessary”  and announced they were “sending field hospital & medicine to assist with disaster relief” to Lebanon as well.

      • The blast and the destruction left in its wake could not have come at a worse time for Lebanon. Since Oct. 17, 2019, the country has been roiled by rounds of anti-government protests calling for a dramatic shift in the country’s political system and against the country’s corrupt ruling elite. At the same time, it is experiencing its worst economic crisis to date. According to the World Bank, “The current economic and financial crisis could put more than 155,000 households under the extreme poverty line; and 356,000 households under the upper poverty line.” The government debt is currently over 160%.

      • To compound the county’s misery, it is engulfed in the COVD crisis, which has seen a spike in recent weeks, prompting the government to order another lockdown which was supposed to start this week. Moreover, the country’s southern borders saw tensions between Hezbollah and Israeli forces spike yet again early last week.

    • Key Takeaway

      • August 4th, 2020 will be remembered in Lebanon as one of its darkest hours – it’s Chernobyl momentThe country’s collapsing economy, trash crisis, and lack of basic services are all indications of the country’s rotten political system and the elites and factions that prop it up. But this recent incident, most likely a result of gross negligence, is the starkest “manifestation of the dysfunction that has marked the Lebanese state for three decades.”

      • Questions still remain as to how the fire at the port started and why the cargo was left there for 7 years. However, questions of culpability are less vague. No matter how many port officials are arrested or put on trial, the true blame of this catastrophic tragedy lies at the feet of the country’s elite. Not a single leader, religious constituency, faction, or outside entity, all of whom are party to the country’s endemic failures, should escape blame for enabling a system they benefit from at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.

      • Over the last 40 years, the Lebanese people have had to endure civil war, war with Israel, assassinations, terrorist attacks, economic collapse and a pandemic. No people should have to endure so much. With so much anger towards the government, this incident may be seen in the future as the moment a new political contract was born. Or, a time when the country’s elite skirt accountability yet again, forcing the country to muddle on towards a bleaker future. 

Leaked Documents Show Coronavirus Deaths In Iran Higher Than Gov. Statistics 

  • A BBC Report Suggests Death Are 3x Higher Than Official Numbers

      • According to an investigation and to documents leaked to the BBC, Iran’s COVID-19 related deaths may be 3 times greater than officially reported by Iranian government officials. The “government documents” appear to show almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up until 20 July. This contrasts substantially to the 14,405 reported by its health ministry. In reference to the source of the documents, the article states that they were “sent to the BBC by an anonymous source.”
      • The data also suggested that Iran’s first death from Covid-19 was recorded on 22 January, almost a month before the first official case of coronavirus was reported there in February. There had been many reports from doctors and on social media accounts from families of those affected by the disease. However, this data has been the most conclusive evidence of an earlier breakout.

      • Many countries around the world, including the U.S., have had issues in developing the testing capacity capable of tracking and enabling effective suppression of the virus. However, data procured by the BBC seems to suggest an intentional suppression of how bad the outbreak has been in Iran.

      • The overall trend of the statistics from both official statistics and those leaked to the BCC seem to follow the same path with a steep increase between February and March, followed by a steady decline. However, since May, Iran has seen a steep rise in COVID-19 cases which has slightly leveled off in the last few days.

      • The potential suppression of the true extent of the disease developed in the background with the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and with parliamentary elections. An admission of the outbreak of the disease may have put both events in jeopardy. Both were seen as crucial in drumming up support after deadly protests that broke out in Iran in November 2019. This, followed by an attempted coverup of the accidental downing of a civilian airliner by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, saw a rapid decline in the Iranian government legitimacy.

      • Making matters worse, Iran’s economy has been in free fall for months prior to the pandemic as a result of crippling U.S. sanctions, all of which has made it difficult for Iran to procure necessary medical supplies and equipment. Iran’s economic situation has also made it difficult for the country to respond to the pandemic’s economic fall out, forcing the country to reopen earlier than it may have otherwise.


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