US website reveals Saudi disinformation campaign to blame Hezbollah for Beirut blast

Rasa - The Daily Beast revealed the campaign in the aftermath of the Tuesday blast that was reportedly caused by explosion of some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port.

Immediately after the tragedy that killed at least 158 people, four Saudi-linked influencer accounts began flushing out a surfeit of conspiracy theories onto the social media platform, the website said, citing intelligence sources. The disinformation storm had the hashtag “Hezbollah’s Ammonia Burns Beirut” trending in just 24 hours.

In just 48 hours after the explosion, the campaign generated 14,000 interactions involving 9,870 unique accounts “spreading lies,” the website noted, citing Marc Owen Jones, an author and assistant professor of Middle East studies at the Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar.

“This part of the general trope coming out of Saudi,” he said, adding, “Obviously the impact of that is to create a vacuum of opposition voices, filled with government mouthpieces.”

‘Ecosystem’ of lying machines

As long as they are allowed on social media, “they will flourish without being controlled", the academic said, adding "they have created an ecosystem”.

“The purpose is to justify to the domestic audience in Saudi Arabia that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, not to be believed,” The Daily Beast noted.

Hezbollah turned itself into an integral part of Lebanon’s defensive structure after defending the country against two Israeli wars in the 2000s.

The movement that also features strongly on Lebanon’s political scene has been calling for unity in the wake of the tragedy.

The social media twister that has followed the explosion has prompted Lebanese authorities to call on the public to avoid either acting on or disseminating rumors and unverified information.

Dispelling one such rumor on Sunday, the army posted a message on its Facebook page, roundly rejecting allegations about the existence of “suspicious tunnels” under the site of the blast. The post identified the structures lying beneath the silo as an “administrative department.”

Anti-Iran disinformation bid ‘dates back years’

Intelligence sources say the disinformation is being generated and spread by four verified Saudi-linked accounts that have been active in recent years in disinformation campaigns designed to hurt Iranian interests.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabia’s name pops up in connection with anti-Iran propagandist efforts.

Last month, leaked images showed how members of the anti-Iran terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), which has the United States and Saudi Arabia as its main backers, were conducting a campaign of disinformation against the Islamic Republic.

The images, published by Iran's Khorasan newspaper, revealed for the first time part of the organization's secretive social media influence campaign targeting Farsi, English, and Arabic-speaking users on social media.

Members are "briefed at the start of their workday and start their social media operations at noon. At the end of the day, feedback is reviewed and issues that have to be used to defame the Islamic Republic are examined for the next day," read the paper.

The MKO, responsible for murdering thousands of Iranian civilians and servicemen since the 1979 victory of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.

Washington and Riyadh have, however, been dishing out immense financial and political support to the infamous group.

The outfit throws lavish annual conferences in Paris, with senior current or former American and Saudi officials in attendance.