Large expositions which shook the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4th have caused a major stir across the Middle East and beyond, with figures for those confirmed wounded and killed continuing to rise and residents advised by the health ministry to leave the city due to hazardous materials left in the air.
The larger explosion was by far the biggest to occur in a major city in several decades, and comes amid growing tensions between the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah and its adversaries in Israel and the West – leading to widespread speculation of foreign involvement.
The Lebanese government has launched an investigation, and the prevailing theory at present is that approximately 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been confiscated and stored without safety measures for the past six years had caused the incident.
The explosion was large enough to be measured as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake, and estimates of its payload have ranged from a few hundred to up to three thousand tonnes of TNT.
With ammonium nitrate having approximately 40% of the power of TNT, the explosion could have measured around 400 tons – or 0.4 kilotons (kt). Comparing this to the size of other major explosions can help provide valuable context to the incident.
- 11 tons: America’s heaviest conventional bomb the MOAB,
- 10-20 tons: Mk-54 nuclear warhead on America’s Davy Crockett artillery system,
- 44 tons: Russia’s and world’s heaviest conventional bomb the FOAB.
- 190 tons: small ‘suitcase’ tactical nuclear bomb,
- 250 tons: Nuclear warhead on America’s AIM-26 air to air missile,
- 300 tons: B61 nuclear warhead at lowest yield.
- 400 tons: Beirut explosion,
- 500 tons: Nuclear warhead on Pakistan’s Nasr artillery system,
- 600 tons: W72 nuclear warhead on America’s AGM-62 glide bomb.
- 15,000 tons: British Red Beard Mk.1 tactical nuclear bomb,
- 21,000 tons: American Fat Man nuclear bomb used against the city of Nagasaki,
- 22,000 tons: Payload of China’s first nuclear detonation conducted under Project 596.
- 400,000 tons: B61 nuclear warhead at highest yield
- 50,000,000 tons: World’s heaviest tested nuclear bomb the RDS-220 Tsar Bomb.
It remains to be seen to what extent the incident will exacerbate Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis, and whether it will further inflame tensions between Hezbollah and Israel or internally within Lebanon between Hezbollah and pro-Western or pro-Israeli elements.
U.S. President Donald Trump notably referred to the explosion as having been caused by a bomb – although evidence for this allegation has yet to be presented.
It is expected that multiple actors could seek to use the explosion, whatever its cause, for political gain, with Hezbollah in particular likely to be targeted for blame by Western actors as a longstanding opponent of Western designs in the region.
The Lebanese militia has a long history of conflict with both the Western powers and with Israel, and is considered a terrorist organization in the majority of Western countries with Switzerland and Norway being the only notable exceptions.
The militia has received considerable material support from Iran, and training, equipment and infrastructure support from North Korea, since its formation.
And more recently has cooperated closely with the Russian Military during counterinsurgency operations in Syria.
Military Watch Magazine / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2020.