BEIRUT–In recent decades, Hezbollah has increasingly sought to recruit youth with slogans of “resistance” and “jihad against Israel,” but the strategy has become less effective since the truth about its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was revealed.
Hezbollah, now dealing with a popularity crisis, is still recruiting youth, but in lower numbers and with different motivations. Many among the youth who have joined the party in recent years have done so for financial reasons, while others have been recruited by force, revealed Abdallah, a Lebanese young man who escaped Hezbollah’s compulsory training courses.
Abdallah, 24, told The Arab Weekly about Hezbollah’s recruitment practices and how youth in predominately Shia regions under Hezbollah control are suffering.
Abdallah comes from a town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. He fled to a European country after Hezbollah attempted to gather all young men in Shia villages and train them to take part in battles in Syria.
“The opportunity to escape is not easy and available to everyone,” said Abdallah, noting that his family managed to secure $8,000 to pay smugglers to help him get overseas. His friends, he said, were unable to come up with such a large sum.
“People in the Shia areas of southern Lebanon are suffering from poverty and difficult conditions,” he said, adding that Hezbollah exploits families’ need of money to recruit children and men. The group promises stable monthly salaries and compensations for families in the event of death.
Before the war in Syria, Hezbollah was able to provide money to pay the salaries of its operatives and employees and compensate the families of dead ﬁghters, but in recent years, its finances grew strained because of US sanctions on the party and its Iranian sponsor, as well as the mounting costs of the Syrian war, in which the party has lost a large number of fighters.
“In addition to the promises of stable monthly salaries and compensations for families upon death, Hezbollah also recruits young fighters by force and pressure, as the party has a wide economic network of relationships with businessmen and they can have influence on youths, in addition to psychological pressures,” Abdallah said.
“In areas under Hezbollah’s control it is unacceptable to be neutral, the inhabitants must obey the party’s ideology, slogans and propaganda, otherwise it becomes an outcast,” he added.
Following its losses in Syria, including mounting casualties, Hezbollah is facing a critical situation that has been worsened by Lebanon’s internal crisis. Angered by the country’s deteriorating state, Lebanese are blaming all politicians and parties, among them Hezbollah, of corruption, incompetence and mismanagement.
Anger has recently begun to grow among Shia families, as Hezbollah is decreasing its assistance to families of slain soldiers.
“After the Qusayr battle in 2013, Hezbollah realized that the Syrian war will cost the party more than expected,” said Hanin Ghaddar, a Lebanese journalist and a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
She added that the party will be unable to cover most of the compensation costs for families of slain fighters. Now, the party has begun to ask single men to refrain from marriage and is focusing on recruiting single young men.
If a single fighter dies, the party will pay only a few thousand dollars to his families, but when a married one dies or is injured, the party must take care of his family forever through the “Martyr’s Foundation” and the “Wounded Foundation.”
With more than 2,000 fighters killed in Syria’s battles and many more wounded, Hezbollah’s organisations cannot cover all the costs, especially as the war continues.
In a new strategy to ease the burden, Hezbollah is encouraging youth who want to marry to become engaged to widows of “martyrs.”
The party is also looking for young fighters overseas it can recruit with its propaganda of ” holy jihad.” According to French newspaper Le Figaro, “the Shia militia began years ago to search for new recruits from around the world, which aroused the interest of Western intelligence services that closely monitored the Lebanese militia.”
The party is attempting to recruit a new profile of non-Lebanese youth from Arab and Muslim countries. “Dozens of Afghan and Pakistani Shias were recruited by Hezbollah,” said Le Figaro.
Many of these youth were recruited during the hajj season while studying in universities in Lebanon or Iran. They create the Hezbollah cell 901, whose members are trained in the Iranian city of Mashhad and the Lebanese capital Beirut. These elements move abroad while waiting for orders to conduct operations, according to the French newspaper.