Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged today for the first time that the explosion that leveled Beirut a few days ago may have been caused by Israel. This is a critical new piece of circumstantial evidence supporting my earlier reporting. It has led, for the first time since the bombing, to mainstream media reporting Israeli culpability as a serious possibility. For that reason, it serves as a watershed in reporting this story.
I was the first media outlet to offer evidence that Israel was responsible. Despite considerable opposition and even consternation among some circles, I remain committed to my reporting and subsequent events have only bolstered my confidence.
Of course, he did not acknowledge what my Israeli source reported: that Israel bombed a Hezbollah arms storage facility, which in turn caused the second explosion of ammonium nitrate. To do that would open his movement to fierce opprobrium within the devastated Lebanese society.
He further warned that if the Lebanese investigation confirmed an Israeli role, Hezbollah would “make Israel pay a high price.”
Now, both Lebanon’s Pres. Michel Aoun (tacitly) and Nasrallah (explicitly) have conceded the possibility of Israeli sabotage. Though there will be an internal investigation, given the corruption endemic to Lebanon there is little hope that it will be transparent and responsibility will be fixed with certainty. Aoun rejected an international investigation, which would achieve such a result. There appears to be too much at stake for the parties to relinquish control to an outside investigation.
Nevertheless, Nasrallah’s statement is important because he may be trying to get ahead of what he knows will come out sooner or later: that Israel was attacking a Hezbollah target when the disaster happened. The group’s leader may know or suspect that Lebanese authorities already have evidence Israel was responsible. Getting ahead of such a revelation allows him to shape the political narrative and do damage control.
I suspect this possibility because Hezbollah has until now diverged is from its usual protocol of blaming Israel for such attacks. In fact, in his first speech after the catastrophe, he didn’t mention Israel at all. It’s unlikely you can find any speech by Nasrallah that doesn’t mention Hezbollah’s mortal enemy. That was what was so striking to a Lebanese reporter who spoke to me.
If Israel did attack and Hezbollah refused to attribute it to Israel, then it could only mean that doing so might harm the group’s interests. In breaking with that earlier approach, Nasrallah is signaling a change in strategy and a greater level of transparency. Israel’s hand in the tragedy will eventually be exposed.