Members of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement stand at attention in the southern town of Bisariyeh, August 10, 2017. (AFP)

By Track Persia

July 30, 2019

Since its establishment in 1982, the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah organisation has been relying on terrorist tactics carried out by its organised militia. The militia later evolved into a political party consisting of military and civilian wing. Iran supported the establishment of Hezbollah, providing it with all means that can keep it a powerful non-state actor capable of asserting its international and regional interests. By exploiting the weak governance in Lebanon, Iran succeeded politically empowering Hezbollah. In the Lebanese general elections in May 2018, Hezbollah won 15 seats.

Mechanisms that Hezbollah adopt to achieve Iran’s goal 

Since the success of Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 that overthrew the Shah, the theoretical regime in Iran has promoted the Islamic revolution values, including the  revolutionary version of the Shi’ite doctrine of wilayat al-faqih (the guardianship of a cleric to rule) which, in practical, means that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei should rule the whole Islamic world, imposing the radical Shiite values that the theocracy is  applying in Iran.

Hezbollah uses its position within the Lebanese politics and public spaces to empower the revolutionary Shiite vision adopted by the Iranian theocracy. For instance, Shiite religious festivals, such as Ashura, which are aired by Hezbollah’s broadcasting channels, such as Al-Manar TV,  are very much similar to those are being practised in the Islamic Republic.

Hezbollah portraits Shi’ism as a unified resistance against those who do not acknowledge the leadership of the Supreme Leader in Iran. That is why Hezbollah members and their allies in the Shiite communities in Lebanon and the entire region call themselves al-muqawama. It is one of the tactics the organisation is implementing to assert and increase its influence.

The downside of Hezbollah’s policies is that these policies deepen sectarian rifts among Lebanese communities because the organisation is affiliated to Shiite religious identity that is more responsive to the needs of its Lebanese Shiite supporters, more importantly, it is responsive to its foreign patrons in Iran.

As the case with all Iran’s allies in the region, Hezbollah projects itself as the arch-enemy of Israel, It claims that it will exist as long as Israel exists. With the end of Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 2006, Hezbollah redirected its rhetoric against Israel to domestic politics, claiming its stance toward Israel would be a non-military resistance. More recently, Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah has projected its party as an advocate for consensus democracy, despite the fact that it is supporting the Asad regime, the most savage dictatorship in the regime.

Hezbollah managed to infiltrate Lebanon’s political, social, religious and educational sectors to strengthen its power, including those related to media, security and healthcare. By exploiting the limited presence of state armed forces in some areas in Lebanon, Hezbollah managed to conduct military training for its members and for other militias allied with Iran politically and ideologically.

Since the start of the Syrian civil war, Iran has used Hezbollah to support the Asad regime, in particular, as logistic liaison actor between itself and the Syrian regime including provided the regime with money and weapons.

Its cooperation with the Russian air force and other Shiite militias fighting to support the Asad regime has made Hezbollah gain more military skills in urban warfare that involves using heavy artillery. Previously Hezbollah was only trained in guerrilla tactics.

After the Iranian involvement in the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah’s Lebanese support base has been decreased because the fund that  Iran used to send is currently being redirected to the Asad regime. Hezbollah has tried to offset the fund shortage by establishing international financial networks even through illegal means, in addition to domestic businesses which some are involved in corruption, but these funds have proved to be insufficient.

Additionally, the United States has exacerbated the financial shortage of Hezbollah with increasing its sanctions on Iran’s proxy organisation. On 19th July, the United States imposed sanctions on a senior Hezbollah operative for his involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. In a statement, the State Department also offered a $7 million reward for information on the whereabouts of Salman Raouf Salman, also known as Samuel Salman El Reda, who it said helped plan and carry out the attack in Argentina that left 85 people dead. The sanctions will freeze any assets belonging to Salman in the United States and prohibits US citizens from dealing with him.

Earlier this month, the United States had sanctioned three top Hezbollah officials, including two lawmakers. It was the first time the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) had designated a member of Lebanon’s parliament under a sanctions list that targets those accused by Washington of providing support to terrorist organizations. The Treasury named MPs Amin Sherri and Mohammad Raad to a terror-related blacklist, saying that Hezbollah uses its parliamentary power to advance its violent activities. In an unusual move, it also released photos of the individuals, including one in which Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani has his arm around Sherri’s shoulder.

OFAC said it also designated Wafiq Safa, who is in charge of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit responsible for coordinating with Lebanese security agencies. Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said: “Hezbollah uses its operatives in Lebanon’s parliament to manipulate institutions in support of the terrorist group’s financial and security interests, and to bolster Iran’s malign activities.”  The action by the US Treasury bars US citizens from dealing with the three individuals and blocks any assets they may hold in the United States. It also limits their ability to access the US financial system. “The message is actually that the rest of the Lebanese government needs to sever its dealings with these figures that we’re designating today,” a State Department official said.

The Syrian war has not only financially affected Hezbollah, but it has also led to raising the number of casualties among its militants fighting in Syria to defend the Asad regime. The rising casualties have forced Hezbollah’s leadership to give financial and social incentives for new recruits among Lebanese Shiites including salaries and education for their children. How long can Hezbollah sustain funding shortage? Only time will tell.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.