Beirut’s Port Explosion: Analysis and Strategic Implications

Introduction

Purpose: To analyze open source information about (1) the strategic context and (2) chain of events leading to the massive ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut’s port on August 4th, 2020, killing some 200 people, injuring over 6,500, and displacing 250,000.¹

Pre-and-Post Explosion Context

Lebanon Generally: Modern Lebanon with its East Mediterranean ports2 has been a coveted game square for nations, multinationals, political religions,3 terrorist groups, sectarian militias, criminals, and refugees trying to survive.4 It is also a generational home to people with little or no collective control over these forces. In part, the political economy of sectarian corruption had degraded the foundations of Lebanon’s collective security to the point that its political, legal, and security elites knowingly, willfully allowed Beirut to blow-up.5

The corruption of Lebanon’s government is a truism by now, however, and this analysis looks into open sources to better understand how outside forces and influences formed up around the explosive event. Lebanon had been on the ropes before the port explosion, with blinkering utilities, inefficient services, massive debt, poverty, protests, calls for revolution, and COVID-19.

Lebanon, Syria, Russian Entanglement, & Israel: Hope for a new Lebanese energy economy had arisen in 2010 with a USGS estimate of some “1.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and a mean of 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas in the Levant Basin.” However, the Syrian civil war began the next year, flooding Lebanon with refugees from both sides of the war while Lebanon was still suffering effects of the global financial crisis.

Seeing Russia as the best hope to quell the neighboring civil war before it spread to Lebanon, Lebanon sent then-Energy Minister Gebran Bassil to Moscow in 2013 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding  on energy cooperation with the Russian Federation as a part-incentive for Russia’s decisive action to end the civil war. By doing so, Lebanon likely entangled its resources with Russia and Syrian post-war reconstruction.

The Syrian civil war worsened and Russia intervened in 2015. It took four more years for the Russian military and Assad’s forces to get the upper hand in Syria with help from Tehran. By 2019 Lebanon had licensed a non-operating Russian firm with French and Italian operators to exploit its offshore oil and gas. Per Al-Monitor:

“Russia’s private Novatek company is part of a consortium with France’s Total and Italy’s ENI for drilling oil on the eastern Mediterranean shelf, while Russia’s state-owned Rosneft holds a 20-year license to modernize an oil storage facility in Lebanon’s seaport of Tripoli.”

And the tie-in to Syria:

“In return, Lebanese authorities may ask for Russia’s political assistance in getting access to lucrative reconstruction contracts in Syria.”

Yet Lebanon’s offshore project also faced delays in suppressed oil prices caused by the Russo-Saudi oil price war in 2020, COVID-19 slowdown, and its dispute with Israel over their maritime border and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), including rights to undersea oil and gas blocks that Russia’s Novatek and France’s Total were licensed to explore.

In 2019, Israel had called Lebanon’s licensure of block 9 provocative, and President Michel Aoun called Israel’s claim to block 9 “a threat to Lebanon.”

Then in a setback for Beirut, France’s Total came up dry drilling in Lebanon’s Block 4 in April 2020.

Less than four months later the Beirut port exploded.

Super and Great Power Competition: Russia and China have offered emerging nations autocratic alternatives6 to relationships with western democracies in finance,7 construction, arms,8 aid,9 energy, maritime commerce, and trade. Russia and China have not hidden ambitions in Lebanon or the Mediterranean,10 building diplomatic, security, and military influence on previous gains in Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa, cyberspace, space, and elsewhere.11 The competition is quickening.

Separately and together, China and Russia have pressed a global gray war to reverse and supplant western democracies’ public and private presence and influence abroad, including in Lebanon.12 For this report, ‘gray war’ means, at a minimum, sub-kinetic warfare through weaponized diplomacy, subterfuge, influence, information, sabotage, and hacked or stolen advantages that can turn kinetic through deniable agency or incitement.

In this geopolitical competition, seemingly legitimate business competition from China or Russia is tainted by their state-backed gray warfare from the perspective of free markets and private enterprise.

Recent Uptick in Russian Activity Courting Lebanon’s Ruling Elites: Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies has noted intensified diplomatic activity between Moscow and Beirut in recent months. U.S.-based Armenian Weekly cited Lebanese government releases listing 14 meetings between Russian and Lebanese officials in the past three months reporting Russian efforts to broker a unity government in Lebanon even as it continues to seek more energyreconstruction, and development contracts with Beirut. Most recently, Beirut tapped Russia for help in rebuilding grain silos destroyed in the Beirut blast and new grain silos at the Tripoli port.

The latest Russian efforts appear to be aimed at protecting and leveraging Lebanon’s corrupt, ruling elite at a time when the majority of Lebanon’s population wants them out.

Israel: As Russia and China rise in the region, Israel has been recalibrating its national security after the Trump Administration signaled a reduction in U.S. commitments in the Mideast and Africa. Israel expanded normalized relations with the U.A.E.,13 Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco,14 while navigating its traditional Ethiopian relationship as a counterweight to autocratic and terrorist influences in Africa.15 Time will tell how reliable these new relationships are as China buys majority stakes in management of one key Mediterranean port after another, and Russia builds bases for military and private mercenary units in several African states.

In the above context of decreased U.S. roles in the Mideast, Israel’s offshore oil and gas is more critical than ever to Isreal’s future security. For Israel and Lebanon, a positive, sustainable maritime boundary resolution could open-up opportunities for future negotiations on Israeli-Lebanese border security cooperation if there was an end to the corrupt sectarian system running Lebanon.

Currently, however, Russia’s efforts appear aimed at unifying and bolstering Lebanon’s governing elite, not removing them.

Syria: A recurring regional weakness is the Assad dynasty in Syria, which has repeatedly undermined Lebanese, E.U., Mideast, Israeli, and NATO member security over the decades. In 2011, Syria cracked down on dissenters, put them in concentration camps, and inflamed a civil war that drove masses of refugees into other sovereign countries, spreading instability . Syria’s leadership has also hosted Iranian proxies that attack Israel. During the Cold War, Syria used nazi war criminal Alois Brunner and East German Stasi as advisors and trainers of Syrian security services, shaping the institution. This sad fact helps explains why today there is a Caesar Act and photographic exhibits of Syrian concentration camp victims under Bashar-al-Assad (see also HRW’s site).

By insisting on supporting regimes like the Assad and Kim dynasties, Russia and China keep them as strategic wildcards that cause international diversions, divisions, provoke free nation responses, and otherwise serve Moscow’s and Beijing’s strategic and tactical ends. When free nations respond with force, Russia or China excuse themselves from multilateral obligations on the false pretext that the world’s democracies do not respect national sovereignty of emerging nations. And yet it seems that WMD-proliferating, crime-state satellites such as Syria and North Korea never really seem to “emerge” as thriving or prosperous nations. They do, however, as zombie satellites, tend to help Russia and China look better by comparison.

China, Lebanon, Syria: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has sought global commercial investments in all hemispheres,16 and both Syria and Lebanon are on the list. In 2019, China sent shipping container cranes to Lebanon’s port of Tripoli (where Russia’s Rosneft has a 20-year license to manage the port and oil commerce) in anticipation of negotiating a contract with Lebanon to widen and deepen the port as a conduit to Syria’s reconstruction and China’s BRI. Tripoli port is about 35 km from the Syrian border. However, China’s interest in Lebanon’s ports depends in part on the likelihood of Syria’s reconstruction and reliability as a BRI node bypassing the Suez Canal.

Syria’s leadership favors a leading role for China in Syrian reconstruction. China’s readiness to lead Syria’s reconstruction is conditioned on the end of the smoldering civil war there, if recent Chinese communist party messaging accurately represents Beijing’s foreign policy. The problems are many: Syria’s sectarian enclaves remain, warfare continues, the economy is in shambles, U.S. Caesar Act sanctions remain, there are protests, and the matter of returning displaced Syrians home is up in the air. Yet China is nothing if not patient and persistent.

Presently, Russia’s economic base, Putin’s age, and his expectations do not allow Russia to be as patient as China. Russia does count on China to invest not only in Syria’s postwar reconstruction, but in Lebanon’s development as part of Russia’s pathway around U.S. Caesar Act sanctions to make Putin’s Syrian war a historic success in contrast with the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But Putin may not wait for China. The Putin power structure has excelled in the past at gray war options for getting its objectives met and funded as part of its publicized skill of ‘punching above weight.’

Russia, Syrian Reconstruction, Port Focus, & International Aid: China and Russia have both long known that Lebanon’s and Syria’s ports would better suit Russian and Chinese ambitions for Syrian reconstruction and trade if expanded to handle more commercial traffic, and impliedly, the Russian and Chinese navies to secure their interests.

Russia’s message at its February 2020 Russian International Affairs Conference  was that Syria’s reconstruction would be an international aid and business project but-for European and U.S. opposition to the Assad regime imposed by the Caesar Act.17 (See Endnote 17 for details on the Caesar Act and on the sequence of Russian messaging from February 2020 to May 2021.)

At that RIAC conference, Russian representatives suggested that 2021 Syrian elections could bring regime change and clear the way for western money for Syrian reconstruction. And yet Bashar al-Assad won all too easily in May 2021 despite that Russia could have applied pressure to avert rubber-stamped elections in Syria, by overseeing elections fairly and inviting displaced Syrians to vote. Russia could even have arrested all elements of the Assad dynasty responsible for atrocities, turn them over to an international tribunal, and officiated a legitimate Syrian election if it believed in that sort of thing. It did not happen, evincing Moscow’s intent to keep Syria as a perpetual Russian satellite under Assad family rule.

Yet without western and or Chinese help, it had been clear to Putin and Assad that they could not and would not afford the estimated 250-400 billion USD cost to rebuild Syria. In that light, Assad’s 2021 token election victory strongly suggests that Russia intended to create other means of getting western reconstruction aid to Syria, if indirectly.

Coincidentally or not, 2015 estimates of potential net proceeds from hydrocarbons in Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone was a little over 250 billion USD. A healthy chunk of that could help secure loans to defray Russia’s and China’s risk of investing in Lebanon and Syria while freeing Lebanon’s elites to invest in Syrian reconstruction under the right conditions.

The problem before the explosion was, (1) delays in the production of Lebanon’s oil and gas, and one dry well in its EEZ; and (2) no crisis emergent enough to loosen credit and cash conditions on western aid through Lebanon’s banks to help put the gem of Syrian reconstruction in Putin’s crown. If that sounds like a stretch, remember that Russia has recently called “Syria and Lebanon “interrelated tools” in security and economics.” In any case, until the Beirut port exploded, Caesar Act sanctions, debt, and dysfunction made direct contracts for Lebanese companies to help rebuild Syria very unlikely.

As such, Beirut’s port explosion may have become a tipping point for Lebanon’s part in Russia’s multivariate path to funding Syrian reconstruction, putting pressure on the West to approve loans and grants to Lebanon to avoid Lebanon becoming a failed state. In January The Guardian reported that Lebanese documentary maker, Firas Hatoum had found evidence supporting the theory that the ammonium nitrate was intended for Beirut not Mozambique, citing U.K. Company House registrations showing that the same addresses for the company involved in the ammonium nitrate transaction, Savaro Ltd. were formerly used by three joint-Syrian-Russian citizens sanctioned by the U.S. for bolstering the Assad regime’s war effort, including attempts to source ammonium nitrate for Assad in 2014. (Ya-Libnan’s report added some on-topic photos and documents. Caveat: some experts point to bias for certain clans in Ya-Libnan and Firas Hatoum’s work in Lebanon.)

The Beirut port blast also put pressure on Lebanon to settle with Israel on the maritime boundary dispute and fast-track oil and gas production while U.S. producers remain conservative and conditions favor the Russian oil and gas sector.

From the Russian perspective, Lebanon’s impending failed state status would force the west to provide international aid, while Lebanon sought exemptions from Caesar Act sanctions (perhaps likely to cite the Biden Administration’s waived sanctions for Nord Stream 2) to help rebuild Syria out of Lebanon’s need for an emergent business line to sustain its recovery.

Russia’s and Lebanon’s problem, pre-explosion, was how international foreign aid funds could be generated and redirected around Caesar Act sanctions to expand Lebanese ports for China’s BRI and Syrian reconstruction when debt and humanitarian needs were so great? In part answer, the West is handling most of the humanitarian aid to the people. However, consider the following report by the Global Banking and Finance Review, citing Thomson Reuters Foundation on Lebanon’s handling of international aid during 2020:

Lebanon is home to over 1 million Syrian refugees, nine in 10 of whom live in extreme poverty, according to U.N. data.

The country received at least $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid in 2020.

An internal U.N. assessment in February estimated that up to half the programme’s value was absorbed by Lebanese banks used by the U.N. to convert donated US dollars.

The document, seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said that by July 2020 a “staggering 50%” of contributions were being lost through currency conversion.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL), which represents the country’s commercial banks, denied using aid to raise capital.

It said the U.N. could have distributed in dollars, or negotiated a better rate with Lebanon’s central bank.

Where did the “absorbed” 525 billion dollars go?

So far Lebanon’s banks have stalled forensic audits regarding aid. Currently, the Swiss are investigating record Lebanese deposits in Swiss banks during Lebanon’s crisis, and the French are investigating the head of Lebanon’s Central Bank on suspicions of graft, money laundering, and ties to organized crime.

It is a question: If international aid and relief dollars before the Beirut blast could be absorbed via currency conversion at Lebanese banks before the explosion, could greater post-explosion aid be siphoned off by Lebanon’s elite with Russia helping the regime straight-arm the world aid community’s call for audits in the name of national sovereignty? Does this explain Russia’s efforts to preserve Lebanon’s government actors and form a unity government of the same or related players?

Immediately after the Beirut port blast, August 2020 reports forecasted that international aid to Lebanon was in danger of being siphoned-off from Lebanon’s banks, and yet, humanitarian needs cannot wait for long.

On March 17, 2021 the European Union, United Nations and World Bank risked granting aid on the strength of a February agreement by Lebanon’s Central Bank chief and deputy prime minister that aid would be distributed directly in U.S. dollars to needy people, businesses, and organizations in Lebanon. And relief organizations were encouraged to donate directly to people and businesses in need. No audit has so far been allowed.

So other than to prop up the Lebanese Army as a bulwark of societal stability, and some 55 million USD directed to small businesses and individuals for immediate recovery needs, the U.S. continues to insist on meaningful anti-corruption reforms before providing big bailouts for Lebanon. In August 2020, per the Wall Street Journal, “Washington, as the IMF’s most powerful shareholder, said it wouldn’t back a bailout until Beirut agreed to broad policy overhauls that Western officials say are critical to address the country’s systemic corruption..

However, despite Lebanon’s sieve-like crony corruption, Russia seeks to solidify that existing governing system. Impliedly, Russia may be counting on Lebanese elites to go on skimming the cream off of international aid monies over time, stalling audits, and negotiating until energy production comes online for Lebanon. Meanwhile, Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and others will make a show of aid to people in the street. If oil and gas hits peak prices after Lebanon begins producing oil and gas, all the better. Which leads to Moscow’s leverage over OPEC+.

Moscow’s OPEC+ Leverage: Moscow’s OPEC+ membership and geopolitical leverage over select OPEC members such as Libya and Venezuela, aligned with continuing western sanctions against Iranian oil and gas, gives it growing influence over supply-sensitive oil prices as suits Russia’s global plans. For example, in 2020, Russia and Saudi Arabia entered a production war, grabbing market share as U.S. producers slowed investment to retire past debt.

After gaining market share on U.S. producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to end their price war in early April 2o2o, cutting production after President Trump’s informal promise that U.S. producers would cut back on new production to boost prices and prevent lost energy jobs in the U.S. from hurting his re-election prospects. And U.S. producers did so, despite increasing oil prices.

Indeed, Russian energy firms even gained market share inside the United States as Russian foreign policy encouraged Venezuela’s corrupt, brutal, and dysfunctional dictatorship to provoke Trump Administration sanctions on Venezuela that caused supply shortfalls in the U.S. and opened a U.S. market vacuum that Russia readily entered. This seemed a form of active measures by which Russia used Venezuela to provoke U.S. sanctions that enriched Russia with U.S. dollars. This, while the U.S. oil and gas industry struggled with debt reduction, tariffed pipeline steel, pipeline issues, extreme weather disruptions, and growing competition from Russia’s Siberian pipeline to China and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline coming online to Germany.

Theoretically, in such a global energy environment, Moscow has power to leverage global oil and gas supply when it needs more market share, revenues, and or profits to support its geopolitical expansion, gray war, and military buildup. This could benefit Russia’s Lebanon gambit.

However, Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas has not materialized in production yet which poses a timing problem for Moscow making Lebanon a capable slave for participating in Syrian reconstruction. To be sure, Lebanon, like Venezuela, is a degraded leadership scenario vulnerable to Moscow’s manipulation of crises, chaos, and profiteering from both.

Possibly, to keep leverage for longer, Moscow may attempt to incite clashes between U.S. forces and Iran to try to stall reinstatement of the Iran nuclear deal, keep the sanctions regime going, and retain enhanced leverage over oil and gas prices.

Pre-and-Post-Explosion Events, Propaganda, & Leverage Patterns: Before the Beirut blast, International Monetary Fund requirements for investment in Lebanon had become unacceptable to the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese government which turned toward financial sponsorship from China and Russia instead.18 Also, one month before the explosion, Israel had warned Lebanon it could face consequences after a Hezbollah incursion and firefight in Israel in July 2020.19

Russia promotes Hezbollah as a legitimate political party, not a terrorist group, and has some influence with Hezbollah’s leaders and sponsors. The timing of Hezbollah’s provocation of Israel one month before the Beirut port explosion, therefore, might have created a pretext for conspiracist claims that Israel was fed-up and struck Lebanon to effect regime change.

Indeed, after the Beirut explosion, Russian-supported agitation propaganda website “Veterans Today” pursued a conspiracy theory that Israel had “nuked” the port and at Michel Chossudovsky’s Russian agitprop gateway, “Global Research” an author pointed fingers at Israel by writing that the Beirut port explosion reminded him of a past Israeli operation. These narratives, as is a pattern in Soviet and Putin eras, preemptively accuse Israel and the United States to deflect attention from Moscow’s and Beijing’s activities leveraging the corruption of Lebanese and Syrian ruling elites to use them for their own purposes. Such corruption has been largely responsible for triggering the Syrian civil war and Lebanon’s many crises.

The agitation narratives against Israel would also try to deflect attention from increasing Russian and Chinese control over Eastern Mediterranean ports and parasitic influence over smaller states’ ruling elites, while hardening Arab sentiments against the U.S. and Israel.

Regarding Beirut’s port, widely reported post-explosion evidence has emerged of a purposeful, knowing ring of inaction on many levels among Lebanese authorities, agencies, and political leaders that kept a massive, city-destroying “building-bomb” intact in the port for nearly seven (7) years. As we will see in the Explosion and Investigations section below, a Lebanese Judge of Urgent Matters could be persuaded to order the release of the crew of the Russian chartered ship abandoned with the ammonium nitrate on it, so that they could leave Lebanese jurisdiction on humanitarian grounds. But no judge would issue an emergency court order directing the dispersal of the 2750 tons of contaminated, high-density ammonium nitrate on humanitarian and national security grounds out of concern for Lebanese citizens.

Blame-shifting and tainted probes appeared to illustrate a chronic human factor problem enabling the explosion. The ineptitude and corruption narrative has become a truism and a form of theatre in Lebanon, akin to the deceptive shadows on Plato’s Cave. All of the condemnations of negligence and corruption, while important, distract from the urgent need for investigation that could lead to the discovery of the specific cause of ignition of the fire in Hangar 12 that led to the Beirut port explosion.

Recently, the new judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, Judge Tarek Bitar, has pushed to remove immunity for select high officials, lawmakers, and judges who knew of the devastating explosive threat yet did not act individually or in concert to insure its prevention, although a fog of political dysfunction that interferes with the probe is likely. A repeat shadow-performance on the wall of Plato’s Cave is again possible, akin to the Russian concept of “maskirovka.”

In 2019 and 2020, the Trump Administration, as it had done elsewhere, used aid to Lebanon as a bargaining chip to put pressure on the Hezbollah-aligned government. This prompted warnings that this could drive Lebanon into Russian and Chinese orbit.20 Russian offers of arms to Lebanon also brought warnings of suspended U.S. military supply to Lebanon in 2018-19.21 Despite the the threats, Lebanon accepted the Russian gift of arms anyway, setting a new precedent for Lebanon’s increased trust in autocracies to supplant U.S. providence.

While pre-explosion Russian economic and security influence over Lebanon met with apparent political resistance and competition from the United States, it was ineffective, and Russia gained leverage in Lebanon at U.S. and European expense. Similar patterns emerged in the past with Russian and Chinese inroads into the Philippines, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela where autocrat-catalyzed crises provoked U.S. warnings that pushed distressed, corruptly-led governments closer to Russia and China.

Explosion and Investigations

The August 4, 2020 ammonium nitrate explosion in the port of Beirut at Hangar 12 (a warehouse), was so powerful that it shook buildings 100 miles away in Cyprus and registered on regional seismographs.22 [See the video report by Australian Broadcasting Corporation and a June 2021 World Bank report to gain perspective on the explosion’s human and economic impacts.]

Open-sourced Forensic Architecture reported its detailed fact-finding and spatial analysis of the Beirut port explosion, below:

The analysis below assumes readers have watched the above 12-minute Forensic Architecture report, entitled “The Beirut Port Explosions.” Another excellent report is provided at Bellingcat, publishing a photo from Twitter posted on August 4, 2020 purporting to show men stacking ammonium nitrate in Hanger 12, yet it is uncertain whether the photo was of men loading the warehouse in 2014 or the repair crew repairing a “hole” at the port later on.

Taking the Forensic Architecture digital presentation and its cited open sources as true and accurate, Hangar 12 in Beirut’s port was transformed into a massive building-sized bomb. More questions than answers remain in understanding:

(1) How and when the fire was ignited;

(2) The cause of a hole in the warehouse necessitating a welding repair speculated by some to be the cause of the fire; when the hole was made, its handling, and how long the hole was there before it was repaired;

(3) Who ordered the hole repaired, who repaired the hole, and the background information and connections of the employees and employers involved in repairing the hole; evidence of an actual repair, and whether the crew repairing the hole was informed of the contents of Hanger 12;

(4)  The course, behaviors, conditions, actions, statements, timing, and abandonment of the ammonium nitrate shipment on the MV Rhosus at the port of Beirut;

(5) How, when, and by whom fireworks, slow burning fuse spools, tires, and other chemicals came to be stored in Hangar 12 with the 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate.

A week after the explosion, Beirut’s Director of Customs, Badri Daher confirmed reports that fireworks were stored in the hanger with the ammonium nitrate, and BBC reported the following:

If as the port manager said, the welding work at Hangar 12’s door on August 4, 2020 was done at 12 noon, and the fire brigade was called-in at about 5:55 PM EEST, how could the welding work have started the fire?

Assuming the port’s general manager Hassan Koraytem was accurate and honest in his facts, investigators would need to know how long the welding job lasted; how long the smoke was visible before the firefighters were called; and how long a spark can smolder before igniting fire inside a hangar without putting off smoke visible to the surrounding port and city. Surveillance cameras with time and date stamps, if any were in operation on the driven route to, and surrounding Hangar 12, might help determine if and when the work crew arrived and left, and when smoke was first noticeable before the fire brigade responded.

“State Security,” per port manager Koraytem had asked the port’s management to repair a door on Hangar 12. Who at state security contacted port management? How did that order pass through the chain of command at State Security? Was the repair crew briefed on the explosive danger in Hanger 12’s contents? And who were the workers who repaired the hole? What were their backgrounds and connections?

The hole is another concern. What caused the hole in the warehouse, and when? How old was it? Were there photos taken of the hole? With a hole in the warehouse, a bad actor could have entered before the hole was discovered, or before the repair crew got to it. When the hole was discovered and reported, was a walk-through of Hangar 12 conducted to investigate whether any contents of the warehouse had been removed, disturbed, or tampered with? Were any sentries assigned to guard the warehouse until the repair was done? If not, why not? Were any security cameras monitoring Hangar 12 over time to indicate how and when the hole occurred? If so, were the digital recordings preserved, saved, or backed-up?

The Rhosus, Russia, Cyprus, East Ukraine, & Mozambique: Since publication of the Forensic Architecture video, further investigative reporting traced the massive ammonium nitrate stores in Hangar 12 in the Port of Beirut to the Russian-leased, directed, and abandoned MV Rhosus. The Rhosus was, by appearances, a Mozambique-bound, Moldavan-flagged, Russian skippered, Ukrainian crewed, and safety-challenged cargo vessel. The Independent reported:

The Rhosus sailed under a Moldovan flag but was reportedly owned by Igor Grechushkin, a native of Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East, and was manned by a crew of Russians and Ukrainians.

According to contemporary reports, the Rhosus was scheduled to transport its cargo from the Georgian port of Batumi to Biera in Mozambique in late 2013. But along the way it fell into technical problems, and failed a safety inspection in Beirut.23

The Rhosus failed a safety inspection in Beirut in 2013 after its Russian lessee and de facto controller Grechushkin claimed he was unable to cover the vessel’s costs and directed the Russian captain on a fool’s errand to pick up and deliver heavy machinery in Beirut that could not safely fit on the Rhosus with the high-density ammonium nitrate, especially given a hole noted in the Rhosus’s hull gradually admitted water, requiring a generator and pump.

Grechushkin had to know of the vessel’s previous impoundment in Spain, its loss of crew in Tuzla, Turkey due to his alleged failure to pay costs, and the hole in its hull that likely led to its sinking in the Beirut port in 2015. It is less clear why the Rhosus cleared Athens’ Piraeus port in Athens, where it remained 25 days before sailing to Beirut with a hole in its hull. It is not clear which pier at Piraeus port the Rhosus spent time at, but China did control franchising rights at one pier there by 2013.

It is clear that Grechushkin and Prokoshev did everything financially and physically possible to make sure the Rhosus’ shipment of 2750 tons of high-density ammonium nitrate could not proceed from Beirut’s port to the Suez Canal, and onto Mozambique. The decisions to put a 2750-ton load of a compound as dangerous as high-density ammonium nitrate onto a poorly-maintained ship like the Rhosus; starve the ship and crew of funds needed to repair and maintain the ship; and direct them to try to load heavy machinery the ship could not handle at the Beirut port appears to be sabotage and abandonment by design at the Beirut port.

Adding to this line of thought is that while the Rhosus’s Captain Prokoshev claimed that Igor Grechushkin was greedy, cheap, and had abandoned and ripped-off the Rhosus and crew in 2013, in 2014 Grechushkin reportedly “resurfaced” to pay for the return home of the Russian and Ukrainian crew after a Lebanese judge ordered their release on compassionate grounds in 2014. In retrospect, Grechushkin’s act could be interpreted as returning material witnesses to Russian or East Ukrainian jurisdiction or control before non-credible aspects of Captain Prokoshev’s accounts emerged; or before the Odessa-based “charity” “Assol Foundation” that publicized the danger to the crew of being held on the Rhosus (calling it a “floating bomb”), could be fully investigated.

Indeed, the NY Times later interviewed Captain Prokoshev by phone from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Prokoshev told the Times he was “horrified” about the “accident,” with the Times showing little interest as to how the apparently poorly paid, former Soviet sailor could afford Sochi.

The legal owner of the Rhosus, according to an OCCRP investigation was Panama registered Briarwood Corporation, run by Charambolos Manoli, of Limassol, Cyprus. Manoli ran offshore companies that had falsely passed the Rhosus’s inspection for seaworthiness in Georgia, per OCCRP. Limassol, Cyprus is also where Igor Grechushkin lived before and after declaring bankruptcy following the Beirut blast of August 2020.

Of interest is that the last four letters of the Cypriot town Limassol coincide with the Odessa-based sailor-advocacy “charity” of various alias-monikers referenced in Russian media sites as the Assol Foundation, the Assol Sailor Assistance Fund, etc..

Originally, the Rhosus’s explosive cargo was by appearances destined for Biera, Mozambique for delivery to Fábrica de Explosivos Moçambique (FEM). In early reports, an anonymous source at FEM denied that the shipment was paid for by the company. In later reporting by the NY Times:

The ammonium nitrate was purchased by the International Bank of Mozambique for Fábrica de Explosivos de Moçambique, a firm that makes commercial explosives, according to Baroudi and Partners, a Lebanese law firm representing the ship’s crew…

In October 2014, the 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate cargo, including torn, leaking bags, was transferred from the Rhosus to multiple open bays within Hangar 12, Beirut Port, sharing confined space with potentially contaminating and accelerant caches of the following items and chemicals listed in the still shot from the Forensic Architecture video above:

The Independent’s two reports of August 5th and 7th, 2020, and a number of others thereafter, highlighted the extreme danger surrounding the Rhosus cargo and its handling, yet queried two maritime shipping experts, Mikhail Voytenko, the editor of Maritime Bulletin and Natalya Klamm, Director of the Odessa-based Assol foundation, respectively, who together shifted attention from the behavior of the Rhosus’s owner and charterer, Igor Grechushkin and from the Rhosus’s captain and crew, toward Georgian and Lebanese port authorities, Lebanese politicians, and a narrative about lack of financing and corrupt practices in the global shipping trade.23

Mikhail Voytenko has described himself as a “Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience,” and Natalya Klamm’s Odessa-based Assol Foundation is reportedly a charity aiding Ukrainian sailors in trouble, coincidentally, in areas of acute Russian geopolitical interest. Few online sources cite Assol Foundation activities, also referred to as the “Assol Sailors’ Support Foundation in Odessa,” by Russian state media outlet TASS on August 5, 2020. Note the political activist tone in the photo below, citing the “Assol Foundation” with the photo’s credit at the Marine Insight website, suggesting a nationalistic activist approach for the Russian Captain and Ukrainian crew rather than a professional insurer’s approach.

Another online Russian news reference to the activities of the Assol Foundation or Assol Sailor Assistance Fund regarded the plight of Ukrainian crew members of the tankers Ruta and Captain Khayyam, (cached link) imprisoned in Libya for alleged fuel smuggling, leading to protests by family members in Odessa.

Uncertain is whether many of the Ukrainian crew members on the Rhosus, the Ruta, and the Captain Khayyam were pro-Russian irredentists from East Ukraine and loyal to Moscow, with the Ukrainian advocacy organization’s Odessa address designed to put a Ukrainian stamp on Russian-controlled shipping adventures. That is not certain, but worth further research by investigators of the Beirut blast of August 4, 2020.

As for timing, the MV Rhosus ostensibly carried massive amounts of ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique in 2013-14, a time when Russian covert operatives had been flooding Crimea and pro-Russian crowds rioted to free jailed pro-Russian separatists in Odessa, the base for Assol Sailor Assistance Fund. Such ties and timing lend skepticism to the Independent’s sources’ rationales shifting attention away from the Russian owner, captain, and East Ukrainian crew of the Rhosus. Also, in 2014, Russian ministers were warning the Obama Administration not to sanction Russia for annexing Crimea, threatening asymmetric responses if it did so.

Reuters in 2020, investigating the question of ownership of the MV Rhosus ammonium nitrate shipment found a series of red flags:

Clear identification of ownership, especially of a cargo as dangerous as that carried by the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus when it sailed into Beirut seven years ago, is fundamental to shipping, the key to insuring it and settling disputes that often arise.

But Reuters interviews and trawls for documents across 10 countries in search of the original ownership of this 2,750-tonne consignment instead revealed an intricate tale of missing documentation, secrecy and a web of small, obscure companies that span the globe.24

Ultimately, Reuters’ scrutiny returned to Igor Grechushkin of Cyprus after other parties linked to the shipment “denied knowledge of the cargo’s original owner or declined to answer the question,” including the Rhosus’s captain, the Georgian fertilizer maker Rustavi Azot, and the Mozambican firm that agreed to pay for it on arrival.

Enter the many firms named of “Investec,” tied to Mr. Hendrik Jacobus du Toit that were deeply tied to African investment, including Mozambique, as revealed in this 2016 piece and later in 2019 embroiling Mozambique in a debt scandal as reported by Bloomberg in 2019 as ensnaring the son of former Mozambican President Armando Guebuza.

The Mozambique debt crisis apparently caused the IMF to take a step back from Mozambique, after which the Russian Federation’s role offering energy, financial, and mining expertise became more prominent there. Russian state oil companies are deeply interested in Mozambican Liquified Natural Gas projects in Northern Mozambique, however, the rise of ISIS in Mozambique had made Russia’s security capabilities more important to the Mozambican government and economy in recent years.25 Wagner Group, Russia’s worst kept secret as a state-linked mercenary firm undertook anti-ISIS security efforts to protect Russian diplomatic and business interests in Mozambique.

OCCRP reported that the current first family of Mozambique may also have been ensnared by more nefarious ties than hiding debt, to a Portuguese firm investigated for arms and terrorist financing intertwined with the explosives company that ordered the Ammonium Nitrate that blew up Beirut on August 4, 2020:

Documents obtained by OCCRP show that the factory, Fabrica de Explosivos de Mocambique, is part of a network of companies with connections to Mozambique’s ruling elite. The companies had been investigated for illicit arms trafficking and supplying explosives to terrorists.

However, more recently, after Russia’s mercenary firm Wagner Group suffered setbacks in protecting Mozambican LNG projects from ISIS insurgents, Mozambique has sought training for its military from the U.S.26

OCCRP also reported that Grechushkin’s MV Rhosus business partner and fellow Limassol, Cyprus neighbor, Charambolos Manoli had done business with the FBME Bank Ltd. (FBME), formerly known as the Federal Bank of the Middle East Ltd., “a financial institution of primary money laundering concern pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Section 311)” per FINCEN and the U.S. Department of Treasury. which found: “In late 2012, the head of the same international narcotics trafficking and money laundering network continued to express interest in conducting financial transactions through accounts with FBME in Cyprus. Separately, in 2008, an FBME customer received a deposit of hundreds of thousands of dollars from a financier for Lebanese Hezbollah. FBME also facilitates financial activity for transnational organized crime. As of 2008, a financial advisor for a major transnational organized crime figure who banked entirely at FBME in Cyprus maintained a relationship with the owners of FBME.”

The Cyprus interconnections with entities involved in arms, explosives, and money laundering include past conduits for funding Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah. Current reports are that Iran had funded anti-U.S. terrorist groups in Somalia including al-Shabab, some of whose followers incrementally moved South along the East African coast to Tanzania, and Mozambique after their Salafist leader Aboud Rogo Mohammed was killed in Kenya in 2012.27 Of concern in these murky interrelationships are past Soviet practices in state sponsored terrorism leveraged against emerging nations with coveted resources creating crises that make Russian security contracts, weapons sales, petroleum licenses, and mining agreements more permissive to secure those states yet ‘help’ those states pay for Soviet-Russian services and weapons.

Post-Explosion Events and Updates

After the Beirut port explosion, the severity of Lebanon’s national economic crisis was rated among the three worst in the world in over a century. With over 250,000 people displaced due to structural and environmental risks in Beirut, and the port at low capacity, food security appeared in doubt. The port of Tripoli, Lebanon, managed by Russia’s Rosneft, took on traffic interrupted by the Beirut port’s explosion.

Many are leaving Lebanon following the Beirut port explosion, including professionals and companies, worsening Lebanon’s brain-drain.

Post-explosion, the Lebanese are in dire need for help from all sides. With global demand for oil and gas driving prices up and Lebanon in danger of being a failed-state, Lebanon and Israel have found new incentives to restart negotiations to resolve their maritime border dispute so they can get busy producing oil and gas with less risk.

Russia, France, Iran, the U.S. and others have offered financial and investigative support. By invitation, France and the U.S. had been investigating the explosion and its causes in the Fall of 2o2o, with European sources leaning toward calling the blast an accident, and the U.S. having reached no conclusion one way or the other by October 2020.

In early April 2021, Lebanese Prime Minister designate Saad al-Hariri’s special representative told Russian media that Lebanon would ask for Moscow’s aid in “restoring the port in Beirut, devastated by a huge chemical explosion last August, and building electric power stations,” per Reuters.

According to a report by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, Lebanon’s April quest for reconstruction, oil, energy, and port help from Russia arises from the view “that Lebanon needs external aid from any possible source,” and that “a request to the Russians could be a means of exerting pressure on the West to grant aid to Lebanon.”

Strategic Implications of Beirut Blast

The Russian state’s activity in Lebanon appears to follow a pattern of crisis-opportunism and or creation, patrimony, and incremental seizure of controlling leverage and influence over corrupt ruling elites in emerging nations facing dire situations. These behaviors involve varied strategies for securing usefulness, wealth, and resources from the states patronized, influenced, or controlled. The Russian state and private security presence is one line of business laying the foundations for future military rights and privileges inside influenced or controlled countries.

The Chinese activity in Lebanon and Syria fit the Chinese pattern of filling economic vacuums and turning them into mercantilist networks leading back to China that enrich Beijing while asserting a military and intelligence presence to influence compliance and protect those interests.

Russia and China seek control over the Mediterranean region as a gateway to the Eastern Hemisphere’s markets, resources, and strategic locations, including Eurasia, the Mideast, and Africa. They seek strategic military advantage in tandem with mercantilist economic expansion. Their activities in Lebanon and Syria, or the Syrian-Track, aka the BRI or Silk Road, appear to be motivated by a will to maintain control over the ruling regimes of both countries.

The Beirut blast, whether it became a case of crisis-opportunism exploited by Russia, or engineered by Russia, is likely being used as a tool to break the logjam that Caesar Act sanctions put on Syrian reconstruction via Lebanon, and to incrementally acquire economic and military control over both Lebanon’s and Syria’s ports, perhaps divvying-up control and exploitation with China whose financing is needed to sustain Russia’s strategy between oil booms.

Russia’s leadership and its loyal foot soldiers are in a Stalin-glorifying phase in their history, showing themselves willing to engage in state terror, incremental aggression, doomsday weapons, development of first strike weapons, use of criminal proxies,  and international assassination. Stalinist behaviors cannot be ruled out in possible interpretations of events advantaging Putin’s Russia that follow the history of ‘going big or going home’ and adhering to the saying attributed to Joseph Stalin: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

This is not to say that there is proof that Russia’s, and to some extent, China’s services shaped and moved the forces that blew up the Beirut port as if they had done it themselves, or even did it themselves, however, in 2014 and following, Russia’s services were alleged to be involved in a spate of explosions at a Czech and Ukrainian ammunition depots, having also performed bold, multiple high-profile assassinations in the U.K., at home and elsewhere. In the case of nation states with deep resources showing patterns of internationally aggressive conduct, obtaining smoking gun evidence that the nation committed an act of strategic terror is an unlikely occurrence.

However, denying it out of hand while a pattern of terroristic events advantaging the aggressive nation continue to occur at increasing distances outward from its territory is at best self-blinding appeasement that enhances the fund of intended coercive fear-power the suspect state has amassed that it may take what it wants.

Endnotes

Introduction

¹Ferguson, Sarah. “UNICEF USA BrandVoice: Ramadan In Lebanon: After A Deadly Explosion, Trauma Lingers.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, April 23, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/unicefusa/2021/04/23/ramadan-in-lebanon-after-a-deadly-explosion-trauma-lingers/?sh=6daa57c01d38; and John, Tara, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim, and Ed Upright. “Lebanon’s Capital City Rocked by Explosion.” CNN. August 06, 2020. Accessed August 24, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/middleeast/live-news/lebanon-beirut-explosion-live-updates-dle-intl/h_5153adf93882736fc4999b7d0f46a8ac.

Pre-and-Post Explosion Strategic Context

Ports

² DP World. “Lebanon Maritime Ports.” SeaRates. Accessed August 16, 2020. (https://www.searates.com/maritime/lebanon.html).

Refugees:

3 Bazzi, Mohamad. “The New Lebanon Is the Old Lebanon.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 29, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/lebanon-crisis.html;

4 Alfred, Charlotte. “Dangerous Exit: Who Controls How Syrians in Lebanon Go Home.” Refugees. August 16, 2018. Accessed September 11, 2020. https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2018/08/08/dangerous-exit-who-controls-how-syrians-in-lebanon-go-home; and Reidy, Eric. “Tripoli: The First Stop On The Refugee Trail To Greece.” HuffPost. April 08, 2016. Accessed September 11, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tripoli-mediterranean-refugee-trail_n_5707fbc7e4b063f854df9632.

History of Chaos and Its Manipulation in Lebanon:

5 Mroue, Bassem. “Lebanon at 100: Upheaval, Crises, a New Prime Minister.” The Christian Science Monitor. August 31, 2020. Accessed September 11, 2020. https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2020/0831/Lebanon-at-100-Upheaval-crises-a-new-prime-minister; See also: Fisk, Robert. “Clues to the Lebanese Revolution Are All Contained in Country’s Modern History.” The Independent. January 30, 2020. Accessed September 11, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/lebanon-revolution-beirut-history-france-protests-a9303491.html.

Alternatives to U.S. Democratic alliance, friendship, partnership:

6 Gates, Robert Michael. “Chapter 1: The Symphony of Power.” In Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World, 47-49. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020 (Robert Gates describes the potent ideological attack on American constitutional democracy with Russia’s Putin calling the liberal idea “obsolete” and Xi Jinping offering China’s authoritarianism as a stronger model for developing and organizing the emerging nations of the world).

Finance:

7 Shepherd, Christian. “China’s Xi Pledges $20 Billion in Loans to Revive Middle East.” Reuters. July 10, 2018. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-arabstates-idUSKBN1K0072

Arms:

8Bar’el, Zvi. “Russia to Gift Lebanon with Arms, Military Supplies to Bolster Army.” Haaretz.com. January 11, 2018. Accessed October 16, 2020. https://www.haaretz.com/1.5140463; More comprehensively: Borshchevskaya, Anna, and Hanin Ghaddar. “How to Read Lebanon’s Acceptance of Russian Military Aid.” The Washington Institute, December 7, 2018. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/how-read-lebanons-acceptance-russian-military-aid.

Russia and China’s Sovereign Company Vaccine Influence:

9 Geddie, John, and Aravindan Aradhana. “China in Talks with WHO over Assessing Its COVID-19 Vaccines for Global Use.” Reuters. October 06, 2020 (China has at least four experimental vaccines in the final stage of clinical trials – two are developed by state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG), and the remaining two are from Sinovac Biotech SVA.O and CanSino Biologics 6185.HK688185.SS respectively..They are tested in such countries as Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.) Accessed October 06, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-who-china-idUSKBN26R19B; Russian Sputnik V Vaccine: Chander, Vishwadha, Dania Nadeem, and Mrinalika Roy. “FACTBOX-Russia Strikes Global Deals to Make, Sell Coronavirus Vaccine.” Reuters. October 02, 2020 (Russia has signed manufacturing and supply agreements for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate with at least 10 countries in Asia, South America and the Middle East..). Accessed October 06, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-russia-vaccine-idUSL4N2GS24X; Also: Burki, Talha Khan. “The Russian Vaccine for COVID-19.” The Lancet. September 4, 2020. Accessed October 06, 2020. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30402-1.

Russian and Chinese Ambitions in Lebanon and Security Arrangements:

10 Tashjian, Yeghia. “Russia’s Interests in Lebanon: Fulfilling a Middle Eastern Dream.” The Armenian Weekly, June 3, 2021. https://armenianweekly.com/2021/06/02/russias-interests-in-lebanon-fulfilling-a-middle-eastern-dream/; Melamedov, Grigory. “Why Russia Wants Lebanon.” Middle East Forum. Middle East Forum, 2020. https://www.meforum.org/60026/why-russia-wants-lebanon; And see: Daly, John C. K. “Russia and Lebanon Drafting Agreement for Increased Military Cooperation.” Jamestown. February 26, 2018. Accessed October 16, 2020. https://jamestown.org/program/russia-lebanon-drafting-agreement-increased-military-cooperation/

Russia in Lebanon, Africa, Mediterranean: Lebanon: 

11 Samaha, Nour, Sajad Jiyad, Adam Baron and Monder Basalma, Nicholas Danforth, Aron Lund, Dina Esfandiary, and Nadwa Al-Dawsari. “Is Lebanon Embracing a Larger Russian Role in Its Country?” The Century Foundation, April 22, 2019. https://tcf.org/content/commentary/lebanon-embracing-larger-russian-role-country/ Africa: Schmitt, Eric, and Thomas Gibbons-neff. “Russia Exerts Growing Influence in Africa, Worrying Many in the West.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 28, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/world/africa/russia-africa-troops.html. Mediterranean: Grady, John. “Panel: Russian Navy Expanding Presence in the Mediterranean Sea, Africa.” USNI News, April 30, 2021. https://news.usni.org/2021/04/30/panel-russian-navy-expanding-presence-in-the-mediterranean-sea-africa. Syria: Western view: Weiss, Andrew S. “Managing Russia’s Ambitions – From Hardware to Holism: Rebalancing America’s Security Engagement With Arab States.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 18, 2021. https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/05/18/managing-russia-s-ambitions-pub-84528. Qatari state press, Bulgarian writer Lens: Petkova, Mariya. “What Has Russia Gained from Five Years of Fighting in Syria?” Middle East | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, October 1, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/1/what-has-russia-gained-from-five-years-of-fighting-in-syria

China-Lebanon et al.:

12  Taleb, Wael. “China Emerges as Potential Investor as Lebanon Runs Low on Options.” Al. July 24, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/lebanon-china-money-investment.html; And: Mroue, Bassem. “Lebanon Looks to China as US, Arabs Refuse to Help in Crisis.” The Washington Post. July 15, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/lebanon-looks-to-china-as-us-arabs-refuse-to-help-in-crisis/2020/07/15/52a013f4-c661-11ea-a825-8722004e4150_story.html;

China-Africa: Gebre, Samuel, and David Wainer. “Africa News: China Steps Up Pressure Over Ethiopia Hydro Power.” Bloomberg.com. May 21, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020 (Excerpt: China is Ethiopia’s biggest trading partner… estimated to have provided more than $16 billion of loans to the Horn of Africa nation, including a $1.2 billion credit to build transmission lines that will link to the plant. The electricity will help power a Chinese-funded railway that connects landlocked Ethiopia to ports in neighboring Djibouti.) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-21/diplomatic-pressure-mounts-on-ethiopia-over-filling-of-giant-dam

Arctic: Staff. “US, Russia and China Seek Edge as Battle for Arctic Heats Up.” Nikkei Asia. May 18, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/US-Russia-and-China-seek-edge-as-battle-for-Arctic-heats-up; U.S. Navy Secretary’s view: Staff. “US Awakens to Risk of China-Russia Alliance in the Arctic.” Nikkei Asia. Nikkei Asia, May 23, 2020. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/US-awakens-to-risk-of-China-Russia-alliance-in-the-Arctic; Viewpoint: UiT The Arctic University of Norway Staff: Science X. “An Agile Superpower: China’s Various Roles in Africa and the Arctic.” Phys.org. Phys.org, March 18, 2021. https://phys.org/news/2021-03-agile-superpower-china-roles-africa.html

Middle East: Fraser, Gen. Douglas. “Iran-China-Russia Axis Threatens US and Israeli Interests.” Commentary. The Defense Post, October 14, 2020 (20 and 25 year strategic cooperation agreements between Moscow and Beijing respectively, with Iran). https://www.thedefensepost.com/2020/10/14/iran-china-russia-axis/ SCO: Economy, Elizabeth C., and William Piekos. “The Risks and Rewards of SCO Expansion.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, July 7, 2015. https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/risks-and-rewards-sco-expansion

Military Axis: Isachenkov, Vladimir. “Putin: Russia-China Military Alliance Can’t Be Ruled Out.” AP NEWS. Associated Press, October 22, 2020. https://apnews.com/article/beijing-moscow-foreign-policy-russia-vladimir-putin-1d4b112d2fe8cb66192c5225f4d614c4 (Putin admitting joint military cooperation and shared military information and refusing to rule out alliance).

Israel’s Recalibration:

13 Vohra, Anchal. “Israel and the Emirates Are the Middle East’s New Best Friends.” Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy, January 1, 9366. https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/01/11/israel-and-the-emirates-are-the-middle-easts-new-best-friends/

14 Jakes, Lara, Isabel Kershner, Aida Alami, and David. “Morocco Joins List of Arab Nations to Begin Normalizing Relations With Israel.” The New York Times. The New York Times, December 10, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/10/world/middleeast/israel-morocco-trump.html.

15 Fabian, Emanuel, Aaron Boxerman, Jacob Magid, Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am, Marshall Weiss, Alex Galbinski, Afp, et al. “Report: Ethiopia Arrests 16 in an Iranian Cell Planning Attack on UAE Embassy.” The Times of Israel, February 5, 2021. https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-ethiopia-arrests-16-in-an-iranian-cell-planning-attack-on-uae-embassy/; See also: Zaher, Hassan Abdel. “Concerns Mount in Egypt as Israel Boosts Ties with Ethiopia: Hassan Abdel Zaher.” AW, July 20, 2019. https://thearabweekly.com/concerns-mount-egypt-israel-boosts-ties-ethiopia.

China’s BRI:

16 Hillman, Jennifer, and David Sacks. “How the U.S. Should Respond to China’s Belt and Road.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, March 2021 (Stating obvious: If unanswered, China’s BRI would give it “greater influence over countries’ political decisions, and acquire more power-projection capabilities for its military.”) https://www.cfr.org/report/chinas-belt-and-road-implications-for-the-united-states/; Also: “China Will Build String of Military Bases around World, Says Pentagon.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 3, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/03/china-will-build-string-of-military-bases-around-world-says-pentagon.

Russia-Syria-Lebanon-Hezbollah

17 Russian International Affairs Council, trans. “Reconstruction of Syria: Visions from Russia and the EU.” YouTube, February 19, 2020. https://youtu.be/8AAKBAX4SyU (Minute mark 31-36: Aleksander Aksenenok, RIAC Vice President, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation claiming that E.U. has made reconstruction process too political, with strict political and humanitarian conditions on aid to the Assad regime but opening door to possible changes after May 2021 elections in Syria), except, see more recently that a ‘symbolic’ election showed Assad firmly in power with little hope of reforms: Sherlock, Ruth. “Syrian Election Shows The Extent Of Assad’s Power.” NPR. NPR, May 27, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/05/26/1000503282/syria-presidential-election-2021-assad-fourth-term; See also, the U.S. Caeasar Act sanctions’ effect: Khalel, Sheren. “What’s the Caesar Act and How Will New US Sanctions Impact Syria?” Ya Libnan, June 18, 2020. https://yalibnan.com/2020/06/18/whats-the-caesar-act-and-how-will-new-us-sanctions-impact-syria/.

18 id. at 5: Mroue, Bassem. “Lebanon Looks to China as US, Arabs Refuse to Help in Crisis.” The Washington Post.

19 Reuters. “Netanyahu Warns Hezbollah Against Playing With Fire After Frontier Incident.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, July 27, 2020. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-07-27/exchange-of-fire-across-israel-lebanon-border-israeli-media-reports.

20 Dagher, Sam, Aya Majzoub, and Christophe Abi-Nassif. “The US Must Remain Engaged in Lebanon or Risk Russian and Chinese Gains.” Middle East Institute, March 18, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/us-must-remain-engaged-lebanon-or-risk-russian-and-chinese-gains.

21 Id. at 10: Daly, John C. K. “Russia and Lebanon Drafting Agreement for Increased Military Cooperation.” Jamestown. February 26, 2018. https://jamestown.org/program/russia-lebanon-drafting-agreement-increased-military-cooperation/ Also: Id. at 8: Bar’el, Zvi. “Russia to Gift Lebanon with Arms, Military Supplies to Bolster Army.” Haaretz.com, and See: Adamsky, Dmitry. “Russia and the Next Lebanon War.” Foreign Affairs, August 14, 2019. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/israel/2017-10-06/russia-and-next-lebanon-war.

Explosion and Investigations

22 Hernandez, Marco. “How Powerful Was the Beirut Blast?” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, August 14, 2020. https://graphics.reuters.com/LEBANON-SECURITY/BLAST/yzdpxnmqbpx/.

23 Carroll, Oliver. “Igor Grechushkin: Who Is the Russian Businessman Who Owned the ‘Floating Bomb’ in Beirut’s Port?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, August 7, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/igor-grechushkin-beirut-port-russia-floating-bomb-ammonium-nitrate-a9657816.html Also: Carroll, Oliver. “What Caused the Beirut Explosions and Is Russia Connected to the ‘Floating Bomb’ Cargo?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, August 5, 2020. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/beirut-explosion-port-ammonium-nitrate-floating-bomb-russia-lebanon-a9654906.html.

24 Vasilyeva, Maria, Lisa Barrington, and Jonathan Saul. “Who Owned the Chemicals That Blew up Beirut? No One Will Say.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, August 11, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-security-blast-ship-insight/who-owned-the-chemicals-that-blew-up-beirut-no-one-will-say-idUSKCN2571CP.

25 Nhamirre, Borges. “Russia Boosts Military Cooperation With Mozambique After Attacks.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, March 7, 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-07/russia-boosts-military-cooperation-with-mozambique-after-attacks.

26 John Vandiver. “US Special Operations Forces Train Mozambique Troops to Counter ISIS Threat.” Stars and Stripes, March 16, 2021. https://www.stripes.com/news/africa/us-special-operations-forces-train-mozambique-troops-to-counter-isis-threat-1.665958#:~:text=S.%20special%20operations%20troops%20have%20launched%20a%20mission,concerns%20about%20escalating%20violence%20by%20Islamic%20State%20militants.

27 Clark, Colin. “The Evolution and Escalation of the Islamic State Threat to Mozambique.” Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 19, 2021. https://www.fpri.org/article/2021/04/the-evolution-and-escalation-of-the-islamic-state-threat-to-mozambique/.

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