On Friday, Hassan Nasrallah made a direct appeal to Hezbollah supporters. Speaking on the Lebanese militant group’s TV station Al Manar, he urged them to wage “jihad with money”. It appears to be no coincidence that this plea for donations comes just a few months after the latest wave of US sanctions against Iran. Clearly, both the nation and its proxies are feeling the pinch. It also coincides with increased international efforts to isolate Hezbollah. Just last month, the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid made the decision to ban all membership of Hezbollah in the UK as part of an amendment to the 2000 Terrorism Act, ending a previously established distinction between the group’s political and military wings.
However, sanctions are not the only factor eroding Hezbollah’s finances. Although Tehran’s financial support of the Lebanese group has tripled since the beginning of its involvement in the Syrian war – reaching $700 million in 2018, according to Sigal Mandelker, the US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence – it still is not enough to keep the organisation afloat. Hezbollah deployed an estimated 7,000 fighters to prop up the regime in Syria. It also had to build a costly arsenal. This whole enterprise has been a tremendous drain on the group’s budget. However, as the war draws to a close, that burden will eventually be lifted, making strict sanctions all the more essential.
In addition to its lavish funding by Iran, Hezbollah has long pursued lucrative sidelines in money laundering and drug trafficking. These activities led to it being designated a “transnational crime organisation” by the US in October 2018, in addition to its status as an international terrorist group. Ironically, after holding up the formation of a government for nine months, key Hezbollah figures are now pushing for anti-corruption measures in Lebanese politics.
As the UK has recognised, Hezbollah’s political and military wings are inseparable. It is unfathomable that donations to the political party will not easily find their way into Hezbollah’s military coffers. Unfortunately, few other countries have acknowledged this fact. For example, the EU still insists on treating the two sections of Hezbollah as separate entities, viewing only the party’s military wing as a terrorist organisation. Economic sanctions are proving an effective way to impede Iran’s influence and weaken its proxies. The international community must wake up to Hezbollah’s true nature and take further action to undermine its incursions into Lebanese politics and its adventurism in the wider region.