Leadership: Following the Money In Lebanon

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August 2, 2006: Hizbollah is a major economic factor in Lebanon, with an annual operating budget of $650-700 million a year, of which some $250 million seems to come from Iran. The rest comes from other donors, including some Islamic charities, and a large number of legitimate businesses, which includes banking, and illegal activities (drugs and smuggling). A fair chunk of this money is spent on social programs, rather than the movement's military wing, but the ratio between the two is unknown.
There are about 1.3 million Shia in Lebanon, and they are the main benefits of Hizbollahs spending. Since the Shia have, and remain, the poorest segment of Lebanese society (the Christians have always been the wealthiest), the Hizbollah money is very important. As such, that comes to over $500 of Hizbollah money, per capita each year for Lebanese Shia. Hizbollah is the major employer for Shia. Because so much of that money comes from Iran, and the Shia supported the two decade Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the Shia remain at odds with most Lebanese.
While the Israeli air campaign in Lebanon has been expensive (a hundred or more sorties per day, each costing up to $10,000, or more), the cost to Hizbollah has been even greater. While many non-Hizbollah assets have been attacked, the Israelis have concentrated on what Hizbollah owns, and will miss. While Hizbollah can depend on Iran to help repair billions of dollars in damage, this is already causing popular unrest in Iran. The large annual subsidies have long been unpopular in Iran, where poverty is still widespread. The non-Shia Lebanese will also note that they will have to dig into their own pockets to repair the war damage, while the Shia get lots of money from Iran.
But what the non-Shia Lebanese fear most of all is a resumption of the 1975-90 civil war. This cost nearly 200,000 Lebanese their lives, impoverished many more, and sent several hundred thousand into exile (some have returned since 1990). And Hizbollah, and all its money, remain the most likely outfit in Lebanon to revive the civil war.

 


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