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memri
May 9, 2019 No.
1453

Due To U.S. Sanctions Against It And Against Its Sponsor Iran, Hizbullah Turns To Its Supporters For Aid

By: N. Mozes*

Introduction

"Again we need greater solidarity... The Resistance needs popular assistance. This [fundraising] activity must be stepped up." This March 8, 2019 appeal by Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to the organization's supporters to increase their donations is an indication of Hizbullah's economic straits since the U.S. has tightened sanctions on it and on its sponsor Iran.

The UAE-owned London-based Al-Arab daily reported that U.S. pressure has also impacted the revenues Hizbullah receives from Iraq via the contraband oil trade and allocations by Hashd Al-Sha'bi – the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) umbrella organization of Iran-backed Iraqi Shi'ite militias that are part of the Iraqi armed forces.[1]

According to Arab and Western media reports, after the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA nuclear agreement with Iran a year ago, Hizbullah streamlined operations and instituted sweeping cutbacks in its ranks, even cutting fighters' salaries. This is not the first time that Hizbullah has appealed to its supporters for aid; in 2015, after serious defeats in Syria, it asked supporters to help equip its fighters.[2] In May 2016, it again turned to supporters for donations, after Bank of Lebanon Governor Riad Salame ordered Lebanese banks to implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in December 2015.[3]

It appears that most of the funds Hizbullah raises from its supporters are in cash, in order to circumvent the sanctions on the organization, so it is difficult to ascertain how much it is raising. In a video released March 23, 2019, Nasrallah stated that in just a few weeks, Hizbullah had raised $2 million. About a week later, the Lebanese press reported that it had raised between $7 million and $10 million. Despite its fundraising success, Hizbullah is not likely to be able to meet its deficits if Iran reduces the estimated $700 million it provides to it annually. Also, in addition to fundraising, Hizbullah seems to be seeking to bolster its relationship with its base of support, and to increase solidarity with it, out of concern that the organization will be adversely affected by its inability to maintain its previous level of aid to its supporters.

This document reviews reports about the economic difficulties Hizbullah is currently facing, and about its efforts to raise funds from its supporters.

Reports In The Arab Press: Hizbullah Curtails Its Activity And Cuts Salaries

Following U.S. President Donald Trump's May 8, 2018 announcement that the U.S. was withdrawing from the JCPOA and reinstating sanctions on Iran, Arab and Western media began reporting that Hizbullah had in response started streamlining its operations, including by cutting budgets and reorganizing. In June 2018, it was reported that the organization was curtailing operations in various arenas, including Syria; cancelling planned courses; and merging offices. At the same time, it insisted that it remained determined to avoid cutting its fighters' pay.[4]

These measures do not appear to have been sufficient, however, for reports of Hizbullah's economic troubles persist, claiming that the organization is having cash-flow problems or is even facing a dire economic crisis that has prompted significant across-the-board cutbacks in recent months. There have also been reports of reductions in operational activity and in the auxiliary combat support, primarily among interim operatives, specifically Syrians from Al-Qalamoun and Al-Qusayr, and cuts in pay for operatives in the paramilitary Sunni-Christian-Druze Lebanese Resistance Brigades (Saraya Al-Muqawama) that it supports. Also, according to several reports, fighters' wages have been cut for the first time since Hizbullah was founded, by 30%-50%, and there were also cuts to benefits to them and their families, such as payment of rent and transportation costs within Lebanon. Pension payments to retired fighters were also stopped, and employees in Hizbullah's social, educational, and health institutions also reportedly saw their wages cut, and  wages for its media employees, for example at Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV and Al-Noor radio, were both delayed and decreased, and Hamas's Al-Quds TV broadcasting from Beirut and supported in part by Hizbullah, was shut down.[5]

Hizbullah Is Now Increasing Fundraising Efforts Among Its Supporters

In addition to cutting operations and services, Hizbullah is attempting to expand its sources of funding. According to the Lebanese anti-Hizbullah Janoubia.com website, the organization is appropriating funds collected from its supporters as zakat (charity)[6] and khums ("one-fifth tax"),[7] as well as from budgets of the local councils under its influence.[8] It is thought that one reason Hizbullah insisted on being given the Health Ministry was to gain access to its budget, which is the third largest in the Lebanese government. 

Another way Hizbullah is attempting to increase its revenues is by boosting its fundraising efforts among supporters, including encouraging them to donate even small amounts. This fundraising is carried out primarily by the Beirut-based Islamic Resistance Support Association (IRSO), a key Hizbullah fundraising organization established in 1989, which has representatives and branches across the country; it was designated in 2009 by the U.S. Treasury Department.[9] Ahmed Zein Al-Din, who heads the IRSO Department of Information and Connections (aka the Department of Activities and Information) explained that it aims to help those who want to participate in the resistance but are unable to fight, and called the IRSO "the link connecting citizens with the resistance."[10]

For the past several years the IRSO has also been conducting a "Buy Equipment for Fighters" campaign. Ahmed Zein Al-Din explained that equipping one fighter costs about $1,000 and that supporters can donate in installments, and can donate any amount to help reach the goal. He added that the IRSO was promoting other initiatives as well, such as building apartments for fighters and erecting and operating hospitals, clinics, and schools.[11]


Still image from a YouTube video released by the IRSO promoting its "Buy Equipment for Fighters" campaign (Source: youtube.com/watch?v=AhX2DMq Cx9g, February 2, 2019)

This year, the IRSO launched the "Campaign to Raise Millions for the Islamic Resistance," publishing contact information for the directors of IRSO branches in Beirut, southern and northern Lebanon, the Beka'a Valley, Jbeil (Byblos) and Kesrouane, Mt. Lebanon, and Al-Matn, as well as for members of its Department of Activities and Information, its women's activity department, and its general administration.  


Contact information for ISRO staff (Source: moqawama.org, March 25, 2019)

Supporters can also deposit funds into an IRSO account, Account 8142401,[12] at Al-Qard Al-Hassan (AQAH).[13] To date, no details of other accounts in Lebanese or other banks have been published, apparently due to the sanctions on Hizbullah. It should be noted that the IRSO is encouraging supporters to transfer funds directly to its representatives, so as to prevent donations from being tracked. Hizbullah also distributes collection boxes to its supporters, and encourages even small donations.


IRSO collection box (Source: twitter.com/atieh_abdallah, March 25, 2019)

The IRSO campaign is promoted by posters and billboards across the country, primarily in areas where Hizbullah supporters live, and disseminated on Hizbullah media, such as Al-Manar TV and Al-Noor radio, and on channels considered pro-Hizbullah, such as Al-Jadid TV. 

Nasrallah To Supporters: We Need Your Support Now More Than Ever

Despite Hizbullah's fundraising efforts, its goals do not appear to have been met, apparently due to the economic crisis in Lebanon. To energize the public to donate, particularly in small amounts, Nasrallah himself stepped in. At a March 8, 2019 event honoring the IRSO, he clearly set out the organization's economic woes and urged supporters to give generously. Attempting to reassure them, he stressed that Hizbullah was in better shape than it was prior to 2006, thanks to Iran's aid, but that supporters' donations were still needed. The economic problems, he said, were not due to "poor administration" of the organization's funds, but to the economic warfare waged against it by the U.S. He said: "We again require solidarity of the most meaningful kind... From 1982 to 2006, there was a pressing need [for aid]. After 2006, and because of tremendous aid, especially from Iran, I told you that we might not need funds – but that you should continue your [donation] activity, so that anyone who wanted to wage jihad with money could do so. Today we are in between – the IRSO must continue its activity, both to give [people] an opportunity to wage jihad with money and to help [Hizbullah confront] the current [financial] battle [against it]... Today, I announce that the resistance is in need of popular aid. This activity must be increased, as happened prior to 2000. This is because today we are in the heart of this battle..."[14]

In a video released March 23, 2019, Nasrallah encouraged his supporters to donate as much as they could, underlining the impact of even the smallest amount and reiterating that in just a few weeks of the fundraising campaign, Hizbullah had raised $2 million in small donations, via social media and other means. The video stressed that even one dollar makes the donor a partner in Hizbullah's victories.

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below.

It appears that Nasrallah's encouragement did indeed galvanize supporters, who redoubled their activity, with organized initiatives as well as individual ones.

On April 1, 2019, the IRSO, together with the pro-Hizbullah Al-Tansikiyya ("Coordination") organization, comprising Hizbullah supporters who use social media to disseminate the idea of the resistance and rebut negative statements about it, held a benefit called "Gratitude [For Hizbullah]: Your Support Is in Itself Resistance," featuring poets and bands. The invitation called the benefit "an opportunity to give monetary aid to the resistance via IRSO representatives on the premises."


Invitation to the benefit (Source: alahednews.com.lb, April 1, 2019)

Al-Tansikiyya member Ali Basha said that the benefit was inspired by Nasrallah's words, and that holding it showed that despite the U.S. economic siege, "Hizbullah continues to exist, and its resistance continues to exist... and the society of the resistance will not leave a single fighter without a rifle."[15]


A performance at the benefit (Source: tansikeya.com, April 1, 2019)

On social media supporters launched several hashtags in Arabic encouraging support for Hizbullah, such as #YourSupportIsResistance, #TheResistanceHasItsMen, and others.


Poster released under #TheResistanceHasItsMen: "The Popular Campaign for Supporting the Resistance and the Struggle against the American Siege #TheResistanceHasItsMen – Donate at all Al-Qard Al-Hassan branches, to account number 8142401." (Source: @HosseinShoeib, March 8, 2019)

According to one report, supporters sent WhatsApp messages calling for donating their Mothers Day gifts to Hizbullah, to give up one nargila-smoking session a week and donate the money instead, or to cut back on sweets during Ramadan and donate the money saved.[16]

To further encourage donations and to underline Hizbullah's support for even the most minimal of them, the IRSO and other Hizbullah elements are careful to publicly acknowledge donors and what they donated, across various media. The pro-Hizbullah Al-Jadid TV did a story on Hawra Nada, a Lebanese girl who donated her pocket money to Nasrallah so that he could "get a missile and fight the enemies." Following the story, the channel showed her in the studio in a hijab, and the show's host explained that she had begun wearing one after being given a hijab, a copy of the Quran autographed by Nasrallah, and other items in thanks for for her donation.

To view this MEMRI TV clip, click here or below

Pro-Hizbullah media outlets published photos of bills, coins, and jewelry donated by supporters, and photos of letters of support for Hizbullah and Nasrallah sent by children to the IRSO.


Left to right: A donation of earrings (Alahednews.com.lb, April 12, 2019); daughter of a slain Hizbullah fighter who donated her savings (Yasour.org, April 6, 2019)


Letter to Nasrallah from Anis Ghanawi: "May Allah give you long life and protect you, oh treasure who lights the entire world. I love you very much. May Allah protect the Islamic resistance."  (Source: Alahednews.com.lb, April 19, 2019)

Lebanese Press: Within A Few Weeks, Hizbullah Raised $7-$10 Million

Hizbullah's fundraising efforts appear to be fruitful. According to various estimates in the Lebanese press, since Nasrallah's March 8 appeal, the organization has raised $7 million to $10 million in cash, and there is also an increased demand for collection boxes and an increase in the money collected in them.[17]

In a speech for Day of the Wounded, April 10, 2019, Nasrallah thanked all those who had responded to his appeal: "Children and teen boys and girls and sent me the contents of their penny banks. I thank you one and all, and later we will see how to send them gifts or copies of the Quran."[18] Nasrallah also noted that one supporter had offered to sell his home and his son's home and donate the proceeds, and that another had even written to him, "I am ready to sell my kidney, and have my son and wife each sell a kidney, and give the money to the resistance so that it can continue."

To view this clip on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

 

* N. Mozes is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Al-Arab (London), May 1, 2019.

[4] Newlebanon.info, June 26, 2018; almodon.com, November 3, 2018.

[5] Janoubia.com, February 16, 2019; Orient-news.net, February 23, 2019; Alarabiya.net, March 9, 2019 and April 2, 2019; Lebanon 24.com, April 3, 2019.

[6] Paying zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam; Muslims are required to give charity to help the needy, and to support soldiers during wartime.

[7] In the Shi'a believers are obliged to pay a fifth of their income to their religious leaders.

[8] Janoubia.com, April 4, 2019.

[9] Treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/hp73.aspx.

[10] Alnour.com.lb, February 19, 2019.

[11] Alnour.com.lb, February 19, 2019.

[12] Twitter.com/HosseinShoeib, March 8, 2019.

[13] Al-Qard Al-Hassan (AQAH) states that it provides small interest-free loans with convenient terms. According to a 2014 report, the association gave 123,696 loans valued at $276,532 (qardhasan.org, accessed May 2, 2019). The organization is suspected of being a cover for Hizbullah's financial operations, and was designated as terrorist by the U.S. Treasury in July 2007 (treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/pages/hp503.aspx).

[14] Almanar.com.lb, March 9, 2019.

[15] Alahednews.com.lb, April 1, 2019.

[16] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 30, 2019.

[17] Lebanondebate.com, Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 30, 2019.

[18] Alahednews.com.lb, April 10, 2019.