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Lebanon’s Agony

The silver lining of the warehouse explosion that destroyed much of Beirut may be that the blast averts – or at least forestalls – a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel. But the root-and-branch reform of Lebanon's political system and regional alliances that the country needs to weather its crises remains unlikely.

TEL AVIV – Last week, a warehouse stocked with nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up, laying waste to the port of Beirut and ripping through much of the rest of the Lebanese capital. At least 137 people were killed, thousands were wounded, and hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless. For a country that was already roiled by political and economic crisis, the challenges ahead just became more profound. The only chance of overcoming them lies in root-and-branch reform of Lebanon’s political system and regional alliances.

According to Beirut’s governor, total economic losses from the blast may reach $10-15 billion. Yet the Lebanese state is already on the brink of bankruptcy. And, with an incompetent kleptocratic regime running the country, no international lender, including the International Monetary Fund, is willing to offer it loans.

To be sure, in the wake of the latest crisis, Lebanon will receive considerable international aid. Already, donors have pledged nearly $300 million in humanitarian assistance at a virtual summit, in order to support health care, food security, education, and housing.