What happened: Israel has offered to send humanitarian and medical aid to Lebanon, via third party mediators, following the massive explosion in Beirut’s port yesterday.
- Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi issued a joint statement to say that Israel approached Lebanon through international defence and diplomatic channels to offer the government humanitarian aid.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat to speak with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov in order to clarify how Israel can further assist Lebanon.
- President Reuven Rivlin offered his condolences for the dead and injured. In a tweet that was posted in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Rivlin wrote: “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”
- Independently, hospitals in the north of Israel offered to receive and treat Lebanese victims of the blast. So far there has been no response from Lebanon.
- Israeli officials said the country was not connected to the explosion in any way. Hezbollah also denied that the explosion was the result of an Israeli attack. They also denied that the site had been used to store weapons. However, there is Israeli media speculation that it was, at least in part, a Hezbollah weapons depot, possibly for their advanced precision-guided missiles.
- Although the cause of the blast is unclear, initial reports suggest an electrical fault ignited flammable materials in one warehouse that then caused fuel tanks in a nearby warehouse to explode. President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored unsafely in a warehouse for six years in the port.
Context: The explosion further compounds Lebanon’s economic crisis, which has seen shortages in food and electricity, huge unemployment and daily protests.
- The timing is also difficult for Hezbollah as this Friday the International Criminal Court is expected to announce its verdict into the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed 15 years ago. Many analysts have concluded that his murder was ordered by Syria and carried out by Hezbollah.
- The Beirut port is well known to the Israeli intelligence community. In October 2018 Israel exposed three Hezbollah sites in Beirut that were being used as factories for assembling precision-guided missiles, one of which was in the port (another was in a football stadium and a third near the airport). However, it was not the same location of yesterday’s explosion.
- If the Lebanese Government were to accept Israeli aid it would have the potential of dramatically changing the relationship between the two countries.
Looking ahead: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is expected to make a speech later today. Israeli security analysts place a great deal of importance in his statements.
- Israel remains on high alert on the Lebanese border and prepared to respond if Hezbollah does try to attack Israel again in retaliation for the death of one of its members in Syria in late July.