On August 4th, a massive explosion rocked Lebanon’s main port killing nearly 200, injured thousands, and left over 300,000 homeless. The ammonium nitrate explosion in Lebanon is the most extensive non-nuclear explosion ever recorded. The ship that brought the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate left the port of Batumi in the Black Sea in 2013. According to the ship operator Igor Grechushkin, the Rhosus made a detour to Lebanon because it did not have the money to pay the tolls to pass through the Suez Canal. The ship and crew were abandoned in Beirut leaving the crew stranded aboard the Rhosus for over a year.
The plan, according to Igor Grechushkin, was to pick up additional cargo at the port in Beirut to sell to a buyer in Jordan to get through the Suez Canal tolls. When loading the first piece of cargo onto the Rhosus, which was a vehicle, the ship was damaged, and Beirut’s Port Authority deemed the vessel to be unseaworthy. The Rhosus was than seized by the Port Authority because the ship’s owner Charalambos Manoli reportedly owed nearly 1 million to various companies in Lebanon.
Within days of the explosion in Lebanon, media outlets were publishing stories stating that the shipowner of the Rhosus had connections to “Hezbollah’s bank.” The evidence that Mr. Manoli has ties to Hezbollah have never been proven aside from accusations. In 2011 the FBME Bank in Lebanon loaned Mr. Manoli 4 million dollars to buy a separate ship eight years ago, but Mr. Manoli never made a single payment on the loan, and he currently owes FBME Bank 982,000 euros.
A spokesman for FBME publicly stated:
“Neither FBME, the Saab family, their associates, nor the Federal Bank of Lebanon had any involvement with the MV Rhosus. FBME Bank did provide, in around 2012, a loan to SeaForce Marine Ltd, owned by Mr. Charalambos Manoli, for the purchase of the MV Sakhalin. Neither Mr. Manoli nor SeaForce Marine Ltd made any repayments towards the loan, and the Bank initiated legal proceedings against them. Since the Administrators took over the Bank in July 2014, we are unaware of the current status of the case. The MV Rhosus was never collateral for the loan, and FBME Bank never had any involvement either with its financing or ownership. We believe these allegations are commercially motivated and confirm that we have no relationship with Hezbollah.”
Although there is zero evidence that the explosion in Lebanon was a terrorist attack or had any connections to terrorism, countless media outlets continue to publish stories claiming the shipowner had ties to Hezbollah. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Spiegel International partnered to publish a report, and in the headline, they pose the question, “Shipowner Linked to Hezbollah’s Bank?”
The following quote is by far my favorite sentence in Spiegel International’s whole article; “However, one investigator notes that FBME is notorious for pressuring defaulting borrowers into doing favors for dubious customers like Hezbollah.” I would ask which investigator? And where is the source for this information aside from the author’s collective imagination?
Falsely claiming that the shipowner of Rhosus, which sank in the harbor years before the explosion rocked Lebanon, has connections to Hezbollah does nothing to help the public find explanations to what caused the blast on August 4th. These wild accusations are to try and blame Hezbollah for the government of Lebanon’s failures to protect their people. It is not the FBME Bank’s fault or Hezbollah’s fault that the Lebanese government allowed ammonium nitrate to sit in an unsecured warehouse in torn burlap bags for over seven years. The Lebanese government knew how volatile the substance taken off the Rhosus was, and their negligence caused the August 4th explosion that rocked Lebanon.
Spiegel International’s article goes on to implicate the fireworks company Moura Silva e Filhos as also being involved in terrorism. This claim comes from the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 in which some of the explosives used in that attack traced back to Moura Silva e Filhos, but the company was cleared of any wrongdoing by Spanish authorities. Moura Silva e Filhos also owns 95% of FEM Mozambique, and it was FEM who ordered the 2.7 tons of ammonium nitrate that ended up in Beirut. FEM stated that they never pay for a shipment before it arrives and when their shipment of ammonium nitrate didn’t arrive, they ordered another load of ammonium nitrate.
It is no secret that the United States and Israel accuse Hezbollah of being a terrorist organization that uses violence to further its interest. But an informed mind would argue that the United States and Israeli governments also use brutality to advance their interest. Mainstream media blindly accepts the United States government at its word. I guess if the United States claims that the FMBE Bank is “Hezbollah’s bank,” then it must be a fact. This action is the opposite of journalism; its propaganda regurgitated from the highest levels of government.
Blaming Hezbollah does not help solve what happened on August 4th. This narrative will be used by warmongers in Washington and Jerusalem to perpetuate the “War on Terror.” The United States has at least one sanction issued on a person or entity in every country in the world. Some of these sanctions are legitimate such as the ones against human traffickers and drug smugglers, but most are illegitimate and are put in place to further the interests of the United States.
Mainstream media is less likely to point out that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened to target Lebanon’s infrastructure on July 30th, five days before the ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut. A senior Israeli defense official told the Israeli news outlet Yisrael Hayom that “Gantz issued the order to prepare such a response during meetings on Thursday with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and other high-ranking members of IDF.” The Homadia daily newspaper in Israel reported that “Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday instructed the IDF to bomb Lebanese infrastructure if Hezbollah harms IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians.”
How come influential media outlets are so quick to pounce on Charalambos Manoli’s feint far-reaching alleged ties to Hezbollah when the ship he owned brought the ammonium nitrate to Beirut seven years before it exploded? The so-called connection between the shipowner and Hezbollah boils down to Charalambos Manoli getting a 4 million dollar loan eight years ago from FBME Bank to buy a completely different ship from the one that brought the ammonium nitrate to Beirut. Are we to believe this was some seven-year conspiracy to bomb the port in Beirut?
There is now an international investigation into what caused the August 4th explosion with key details coming out that may offer some answers to basic questions. We know that the ammonium nitrate was kept in an unsecured warehouse and that port workers were using a blowtorch to fix a steel door on the warehouse that stored the ammonium nitrate. Sparks from the port workers fixing the door ignited the ammonium nitrate that was stored in torn bags, causing the fire and eventually leading to the explosion.
Customs officials at the port in the Beirut tried for years to petition judges in Lebanon to allow them to seize the ammonium nitrate so it could be sold or handed over to the Lebanese military. Despite customs officials warning local judges about how volatile the cargo they had was, their request to seize the ammonium nitrate was repeatedly ignored. The port in Beirut remains, “well known for corruption that its common nickname is Ali Babas Cave, according to Bassem Mroue of the Huron Tribune. Since the ammonium nitrate explosion, 16 port officials have been arrested including, the head of the port in Beirut, Hassan Koraytem, the Chief of Customs in Lebanon Badri Daher, and the Director-General of Beirut Port Hassan Qureitem.
In a press conference, President Aoun of Lebanon admitted that he knew about the ammonium nitrate three weeks before the deadly explosion. “The material had been there for seven years, since 2013. It has been there, and they said it is dangerous and I am not responsible, I have no authority to deal directly with the port”. Aoun went on to say that he became aware of the ammonium nitrate on July 20th and ordered military and security officials “to do what is needed.”