Following the massive explosion in Lebanon on August 4, toxic ammonium nitrate fumes dissipated over Beirut and its pulverized seaport, the Eastern Mediterranean’s key deep-water maritime facility. Meanwhile, the stench of corruption at the highest levels mingled pungently with the odors from the burnt-out hangars as well as the dust from destroyed buildings, businesses, and apartments in the stricken city. Important as it is, how the precise sequence occurred that finally ignited the supposed 2,755 tons of extremely explosive ammonium nitrate is secondary. Who put them there six years ago, for what purpose, who knew and remained silent—these are the pressing questions crying out for answers. Such answers can only be reached through an independent international investigation that Lebanon’s president and government, all puppets under the control of Hezbollah, are predictably resisting.

Hezbollah and their cronies have been steadily destroying Lebanon and the Lebanese people over the last 30 years. They and the band of mafia dons they protect have not only ruined livelihoods, alliances, the government, the environment, the economy, and the banking system; most importantly, they are trying to destroy the very spirit of the Lebanese people. They have bankrupted the people, starved the people, humiliated the historically very proud people of Lebanon, committed major atrocities against them with the August 4 explosion being the worst to date, and transformed once open and vibrant Lebanon into a failed and international pariah state. In short, Hezbollah and their accomplices have committed some of the most heinous crimes against humanity that the world has seen since World War II. This is not only about what has happened in the past; it is about what will happen in the future if they are allowed to continue to get their way.

It is safe to assume that all the governments, presidents, and political leaders in power over the past six years knew about the deadly ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut port. No one lifted a finger to remove this lethal time bomb or even warn the public about it. Whether it was colossal negligence, or complicity with those storing this explosive material for whatever military or terrorist purposes, the result is the same: criminality of the highest degree at the highest levels of government.

Hezbollah, together with the criminals it covers for, stands head and shoulders behind the systematic devastation of Lebanon. Whether it has been the unconscionable venality of Lebanon’s robber-barons, Shiite triumphalism of the imposed Qom apocalyptic Mahdist variety, Hezbollah’s treasonous transformation of Lebanon into an advanced military platform for the manufacture and storage of Iranian precision-guided missiles, or all these combined—a clear strategy to hijack Lebanon’s identity and thereby reorient it away from its historic Western-Arab direction is being executed with military precision. Something more sinister than just corruption and defrauding the people is going on here.

Hezbollah has persistently instructed its puppet government to ignore any calls for serious reforms, and of course the crooks have welcomed such a position to protect their illicit gains and rackets. Meanwhile, the international community—in particular the Western governments along with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank—have been emphatic that not a single dollar would come to Lebanon’s rescue unless the government implemented real reforms. This recurring cycle of demands for reform met with authorities’ noncompliance, played out at the ordinary people’s expense, sent Lebanon hurtling toward the abyss of utter collapse, something Hezbollah welcomed exactly as a parasite feeds off its host’s misery. If the people of Lebanon were pushed up against a wall of destitution and despair, they would lose hope, so the diabolical reasoning goes. Hopelessness would prepare them to accept anything, including a new overseer in the form of China offering a lifeline of billions of dollars in “aid” and pledging to rebuild vital infrastructure like the hammered Beirut port. This would effectively sever ailing Lebanon from its traditional Western and Arab strategic, political, and cultural moorings, taking it eastward toward Iran and China. It is no secret that Hezbollah is the designated agent entrusted with engineering such a shift, premised on compounding the misery of the already exhausted Lebanese as a quick way to oust the West permanently from the Arab Levant. Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hezbollah, even came on television several weeks ago to declare that he had secured a commitment from Beijing to “help,” if only the Lebanese would jump on this opportunity. Among other hidden benefits, China would gain a naval foothold for the first time on the Mediterranean Sea, close to Israel, and decisive economic influence in a vital gateway linking Europe through the Levant to the rest of the Middle East. Lebanon would thus become another feather in the cap of China’s expanding Belt and Road scheme with its not-so-concealed military dimension.

So far, alarmingly, this plan seems well advanced. It relies on reducing an innovative, successful, and bright Lebanese population to mere automatons who are preoccupied with worrying about basic survival, where their next meal is coming from, whether they have electricity, whether their kids can go to school, whether they can afford proper medical care, whether they can secure enough funds to begin to rebuild their shattered homes, and whether they can go through the day without suffering major injuries. When you force a population to be consumed by such primal needs, you get a boost on the broader plan you are steering them toward.

The only sign of hope amidst this gloom is that a good majority of the people of Lebanon are on to this ploy and reject it out of hand. This majority is composed of most of the country’s Christians, nearly all its Sunnis, and a growing number of courageous Shiites fed up with Hezbollah’s reckless behavior that they feel is endangering their community. This majority constitutes a good 70 to 75 percent of Lebanon’s population. These people reject Hezbollah’s illegal arms, their stifling domination, their protection of the corrupt, their alien imported ideology, Iran’s imperial expansionism behind it, and the China gambit associated with all of these. Astounding, however, is the apparent Western nonchalance when it comes to this Chinese open bid for Middle Eastern influence that uses Lebanon as its conduit and Iran’s proxy as its facilitator.

Even in the best of days the Lebanese state was weak, while Lebanon’s real strength lay in its effervescent and independent-minded civil society. Ordinary people, mostly the youth from all over and not only those from the devastated neighborhoods, are spearheading the cleanup operation and distributing aid to victimized families at and around the blast’s ground zero. The authorities are nowhere to be seen—they know that if any one of them shows his or her face on the streets, they will be beaten up. But a foreign president, Emmanuel Macron of France, came to the people, mingled with them on the streets, listened to their grievances, and embraced some of the most miserable.

Washington and the West need to stop neglecting Lebanon, primarily for the sake of their own strategic and regional interests. Not doing so risks generating untold hazards to regional and global security.