Same old, same old from tired old Hassan Nasrallah
Hassan Nasrallah is nothing if not predictable. In an interview broadcast on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television on Friday, the group’s leader trotted out many of the same old themes and anecdotes that he has for years about the US and the threat from Israel. His arguments are old, tired and repetitive.
Nasrallah now says it is time for Hezbollah, after 13 years, to re-evaluate its lack of action against Israeli warplanes in Lebanese airspace “since the government hasn’t done anything.” These threats are more for the internal audience then the external. Hezbollah is running out of money and retreating from Syria, not only because of the White House’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, but also because of the tremendous financial squeeze on the Iranian networks that support Hezbollah.
The Hezbollah leader knows his financial base will be further squeezed by US financial sanctions against two of its Lebanese MPs, Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Raad, and security official Wafiq Safa. The sanctions helped to provoke Nasrallah’s comments because of the internal ramifications in the Lebanese political space, especially surrounding the Druze but also the rest of the Lebanese fiefdom.
When Nasrallah hands out the begging bowl and pleads for donations, that is a significant marker for the status of finances between Iran and Hezbollah. It is also why the terror group puts so much effort into money laundering and drug smuggling to make up for lost revenue.
Hezbollah’s fighters are being pulled out of Syria, where they played an instrumental role in ensuring Bashar Assad’s survival. Large numbers of its forces have been withdrawn from regions in Damascus and the countryside, as well as southern Syria, which explains why its fighters and Iranian militias have been limiting their operations in “de-escalation” zones in Syria. Hezbollah’s contract soldiers have already been decommissioned and sent back to Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s whole structure is under severe stress. Financially, it has nowhere to go. Employees of its media, education, medical and military systems have complained of deep pay cuts, with some receiving only 60 percent of their salaries. They believe further pay cuts may be imminent. More surprisingly, even fighters and their families are beginning to complain about lost wages as well — a largely unprecedented development. Married fighters are receiving only half of their salaries, which normally range from $600 to $1,200 per month, and single fighters are receiving only $200 per month. This is not sustainable, and is testimony to the financial squeeze. Payments to Hezbollah’s religious institutions are behind by months too.
When Nasrallah hands out the begging bowl and pleads for donations, that is a significant marker for the status of finances between Iran and Hezbollah. It is also why the terror group puts so much effort into money laundering and drug smuggling to make up for lost revenue. Although this illicit behavior is not new, stretching all the way to Latin America through the Lebanese diaspora, the US and its allies have a growing ability to chip away at, and ultimately shut down, these financial flows. The success of measures to date is notable.
We should note, too, that Nasrallah’s plea for donations is also aimed at the larger pro-Iranian Shiite community in Lebanon. For the many Shiites who do not support Iran, this is a moment to take notice.
• Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. Twitter: @tkarasik