Hezbollah is involved in a number of illicit activities and is siphoning off Lebanese state resources despite its public stance against corruption, a think tank has said.
A Chatham House report details how the group has partly been able to “cover its tracks in Lebanon” over its money laundering because it has representatives embedded in anti-corruption agencies.
The report “How Hezbollah holds sway over the Lebanese state” notes that the group’s control of the Syria-Lebanon border has allowed it to smuggle drugs and goods as well as to obtain steady access to weapons coming from its main international backer, Iran.
While corruption is rife in the Lebanese political system, Hezbollah “has always projected an image of itself as being ‘above’ corruption,” the report says.
“Although Hezbollah uses the rhetoric of anti-corruption, its politicians have not used their influence to push through reforms to clean up a state system that benefits them,” said Lina Khatib, director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
Ms Khatib notes that what separates Hezbollah’s corruption from that of other political parties is its role in global illicit activities.
A witness interviewed by Ms Khatib said that Hezbollah has used its sway over the agriculture ministry to move drugs “with transport paperwork being falsified to declare illegal goods as seeds for use in agriculture”.
Within the civil service, Hezbollah and other Lebanese government parties are able to use ministries for their own ends.
“Hezbollah’s influence through the civil service is another channel for generating revenue, as is the case with other parties in Lebanon. The director-general of each ministry has access to dedicated funds that can be deployed without the minister’s signature,” Ms Khatib said.
“This allows Hezbollah, like other parties in the Lebanese government, to access funds regardless of who is minister at any given time. The parties in government, including Hezbollah, acquire such funds through having ministries give grants to NGOs (some of which may be bogus) affiliated with them.”
Ultimately, the paper says, Hezbollah has spread its influence throughout the Lebanese state and security bodies.
The group benefits from a reliable international backer in Iran, the exploitation of the Lebanese system and a large amount of funding, resources and followers.
Ms Khatib said it has also spread its influence through “the presence of a political system based on elite pacts, which removes incentives for implementing measures to promote transparency and accountability.
“As such, while Hezbollah is a contributing factor to the weakness of the Lebanese state, it is also a product of the political system in Lebanon. For as long as the current political system in Lebanon continues to exist, it will not be possible to reverse Hezbollah’s sway over the Lebanese state.”
But it would not be in the group’s interest to seize power, Ms Khatib said.
Given the devastating economic situation in Lebanon, were Hezbollah to be seen as the sole state authority, it would come under greater scrutiny to deliver on the demands of the people.
“As Hezbollah operates through a complete lack of transparency, it is also not in its interest to be subject to calls for accountability,” Ms Khatib said
With many western countries having designated the group as a terrorist organisation, taking power would cut Lebanon off from the foreign aid it is dependent on.
Ms Khatib said this was especially important “at a time when the severe economic impact of sanctions on Iran limits the extent to which it can support Hezbollah”.
Its status as a “hybrid actor, enjoying state legitimacy in Lebanon and operating both within and outside the state without being accountable to the state” has allowed it considerable control throughout the country.
“Hezbollah’s hybridity can be defined as a status in which it is regarded as an actor from outside the Lebanese state, that does not take orders from the state, but that is granted legitimacy by the state on the basis of playing a supporting role in the defence of the state from external threats,” Ms Khatib said.
“Hybrid status therefore came to mean that Hezbollah acquired power without responsibility.”