Hezbollah launches crowdfunding to make up missing millions

As US-led sanctions on Iran and its proxies begins to bite, the Lebanese terror group looks to supporters

Supporters of Lebanese Hezbollah Leader gather as he delivers a televised speech during a ceremony held by the Shiite party in the capital Beirut, commemorating the party's killed leaders, on February 16, 2018. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)
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Under pressure from escalating American-led sanctions, Hezbollah is aiming to pocket millions of dollars a month by soliciting money directly from its supporters in Lebanon and abroad.

Offerings of gold, symbolic donations by children and poetry-reading fundraisers have all been promoted by the wide network of traditional and social media outlets that support Hezbollah, an organisation blacklisted by numerous countries, including the United States, UK and Gulf states, as a terrorist group.

One recently unveiled fundraising drive, dubbed the “Campaign of Millions to Support the Islamic Resistance” touts a simple arithmetic for filling Hezbollah’s shrinking coffers.

A propaganda video released on March 19 argues that if there are at least 500,000 Hezbollah partisans willing to support the party with $4 a month (Dh 15), then Hezbollah would raise $2 million (Dh 7.3 million) a month from individual donations.

“Come buy victory for a dollar,” exhorts the video, which was first published by a group called “Awaiting Him” on the encrypted messaging application Telegram. The Hezbollah-affiliated social media channel also provides contact numbers for people seeking to donate to Hezbollah’s Islamic Resistance Support Organisation (IRSO), including a number for “international relations.”

The propaganda video, which referred to raising money from “around the world,” has since been re-posted on Facebook under the “Campaign of Millions to Support the Islamic Resistance” hashtag.

The $2-million-a-month figure draws its inspiration from a March 8 speech by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in which the Hezbollah leader said a similar fundraising drive for Yemen had raised the same amount. In the headline-grabbing address, Nasrallah called upon the financial backing of Hezbollah supporters to offset what he called a "US financial war."

The US Department of Treasury imposed more sanctions on Hezbollah-related individuals and entities in 2018 than in any previous year. That same year, US President Donald Trump signed into law a Congressional bill expanding sanctions on foreign entities supporting Hezbollah and its agents. The US is also considering sanctions against allies of Lebanon's parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri on account of his longstanding ties with Hezbollah and Iran, senior US sources told The National.

The UK has added to the mounting pressure on Hezbollah by proscribing the group's so-called political wing as a terrorist organisation.

The US Special Representative for Iran talked up the effects of Washington’s sanctions in an April 2 press briefing, noting Nasrallah’s appeal for funds while saying that Hezbollah has “been forced to undertake unprecedented austerity measures.”

epa07343524 A handout grab photo made available by Hezbollah's al-Manar TV shows Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaking on Al-Manar TV screen where he spoke about the latest political developments in Lebanon and the situation after the new government formed with three Hezbollah ministers, in Beirut, Lebanon, 04 February 2019.  EPA/AL-MANAR TV HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Citing a Washington Institute report, Brian Hook added that US sanctions on Iran have impacted Hezbollah, as Tehran provides 70 per cent of the group’s annual budget of $1 billion.

Hezbollah’s messaging for its crowdfunding has struck a defiant tone against the US. The not-so-subtly titled “Return the Favor: Your Support for Resistance” festival held on April 1 advertised its collection of donations for IRSO.

One of the event’s organisers told the party’s Al Ahed newspaper that the festival, which featured poetry readings and singing, was a response to US sanctions. “The festival confirms that Hezbollah will persist in the face of the blockade and that resistance society will not leave a mujahid without a rifle,” Ali Basha told the Hezbollah-linked publication.

His comment alludes to IRSO’s annual “Equip a Mujahid” fundraising campaign for arming Hezbollah fighters. In a February interview, an IRSO official said it cost 1.5 million Lebanese Lira ($1,000) to equip one fighter, without specifying what the equipping entailed.

The 2019 edition of “Equip a Mujahid” has netted a series of donations, Hezbollah’s network of affiliated media outlets say.

A donation of a gold chain worth $3,000 circulated social media in late March, including on a Facebook group honouring a late Hezbollah commander. Meanwhile, gold rings were offered up by residents of the south Lebanese town of Aita Al Shaab.

Hezbollah media has also highlighted donations made by children to the “Equip a Mujahid” drive, with Al Ahed newspaper profiling a 7-year old girl who decided to send her piggy bank money to IRSO.