‘To be able to shop in these supermarkets, you have to have a card issued by Hezbollah,” said a Hezbollah official, who asked not to be named in a recent France24 report on Lebanon. A few paragraphs later the official clarified his point, “anyone in need can shop with us, regardless of their religious affiliation and even if they are not Hezbollah supporters,” an official told France 24.
Hezbollah, an armed terrorist group that also has a political wing and seeks to control Lebanon and use it as a base of operations in the region, is now creating new facts on the ground for its parallel economy. As Lebanon’s economy has faltered, Hezbollah has sought to thrive, strangling Lebanon and increasingly digesting the country. Out of that digestion comes a new chain of supermarkets controlled by the extra-paramilitary armed group. It sells “Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian products at reduced prices that are accessible with a party-issued card,” the report says. What that means is that Lebanese who shop at Hezbollah’s markets can buy from other Iranian-occupied countries. In short, Hezbollah now owns a country called Lebanon and is outsourcing Iranian products to it so Hezbollah and Iran can profit. The more Lebanon falls apart, the greater Hezbollah becomes.
This situation was largely created, or at least tolerated, by the international community that rubber-stamped the idea that Lebanon would have a parallel armed state unlike any other country in the world. No other country has members of parliament from an illegal armed militia that does not answer to the state. Only Lebanon, recipient of US aid and western largesse, has such a situation. Hezbollah was once a smaller sectarian movement that thrived off claiming it was “resisting” Israel. When Israel left it occupied southern Lebanon and didn’t hand over its weapons, even though other armed militias had been demobilized by the Taif agreement in 1989. After the 2006 war that Hezbollah brought on Lebanon by attacking Israel it grew in importance, using its power over reconstruction funds to build up apartments.
Hezbollah has created parallel construction and development entities such Jihad Al-Binaa and the Waad project, its own communications network, TV stations and radio communications networks. It has taken over healthcare, education, welfare and finance in parts of the country. Further information on this can be found at the 2010 report at the Congressional Research Service on Hezbollah’s background by Casey Addis and Christopher Blanchard.
Hezbollah even undertook projects like providing drinking water for parts of Lebanon, claiming this was part of its “resistance” against Israel. In short it got the government to outsource part of government responsibilities to Hezbollah and then it had an iron grip on the country. It even put its own fiber optic communications network to use to bypass the government. Any attempt to stop the takeover is met with Hezbollah violence. Hezbollah attacked adversaires and took over part of the country in 2008 when opposition in the government sought to crack down on the military communication network in the country. Hezbollah coordinated the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005 using that network.
Now Hezbollah wants the fruits and vegetables too. France24 says this is a “welcome initiative in a country crippled by a financial crisis and food shortages. But critics say it’s yet another bid by the powerful Shiite movement to win loyalty by providing services in a weak state and oversee a parallel economy.”
Hezbollah exploited the country’s economic failures and food shortage by opening the new supermarkets. “Food in Lebanon is not just overpriced but often impossible to find,” France24. Now Al-Sajjad supermarkets provide cheaper goods but you need a special card and you have to prove you don’t earn much money. “Anyone in need can shop with us, regardless of their religious affiliation and even if they are not Hezbollah supporters,” the Hezbollah official told France24.
The report notes that Hezbollah has been accused of smuggling the goods over the border, stocking shelves by preying on Syria and Iraq. Only 8,000 people so far have supposedly joined the new Hezbollah supermarket membership chain, which acts like a Costco, if Costo was run by an American religious armed militia with members in Congress.
How does it work if you want to shop at Hezbollah’s market? According to the report you may apply but then a Hezbollah party member comes to give you the card. People are apparently so afraid they asked France24 to change their names for the article. “The stores look like large depots and are always fully stocked. I was able to buy milk, rice, sugar and vegetable oil at reduced prices,” one person told the reporters.
Other Islamist groups have used food as a weapon. Pro-Turkey groups would stock warehouses near Kilis during the Syrian civil war and bring it across to displaced people. It is unclear if they distributed it only to their supporters. Food was used as a weapon in Somalia in the 1990s and other conflicts.
According to the report the Al-Sajjad card means a person can get rive, sugar, cooking oil and some other basic products. One teacher said “he had been approached by Hezbollah members from his village who offered to give him an Al-Sajjad card.” With the card he can get health care too. Critics have pointed out that this illustrates how the state no longer exists in Lebanon.
But is Hezbollah only maintaining stability in its Shi’ite areas or using food as a weapon now. “The party sees itself as a victim of a plot hatched against it by the United States, to bring it to its knees,” one person told France24. “It’s responding by ensuring that its public doesn’t go hungry by securing its own supply channels through Iran, Syria or Iraq.”That seems like it is benefiting Iran, much as Iran subverted Iraq’s economy, destroyed part of Iraq and holds it hostage through armed groups. Iran does the same thing to Yemen. It holes out the country, creates a parallel militia state and then makes everyone go through that parallel state for services, eroding the real institutions. Western governments tend to try to prop up state institutions by arguing this will balance Hezbollah in Lebanon, but that has the affect of only empowering Hezbollah and legitimizing it by enabling the weakened state to limp along while Hezbollah increasingly creates a new, more powerful Hezbollah-state, next to the ruins of the old state.