| 15 April 2024, Monday |

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has made preparations for an all-out collapse of the fracturing state, issuing ration cards for food, importing medicine and readying storage for fuel from its patron Iran, three sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.

The steps, responding to a severe economic crisis, would mark an expansion of services provided by the armed movement to its large Sh’ite support base, with a network that already boasts charities, a construction firm and a pension system.

The moves highlight growing concerns of an implosion of the Lebanese state, in which authorities can no longer import foodstuffs or fuel to keep the lights on. They underline Hezbollah’s rising role in tackling the emergency with services that the government would otherwise provide.

The plan chimes with worries in the country that people will have to bank on political factions for security and food, in the way many did in the militia days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

When asked about Hezbollah’s plans, Leila Hatoum, an adviser to the caretaker prime minister, said Lebanon was “in no condition to refuse aid” regardless of politics.

The sources from the pro-Hezbollah camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plan for a possible worst-case scenario has gathered pace as an end to subsidies looms in the coming months, raising concerns of unrest and hunger.

Lebanon’s pound currency has crashed as the country runs out of dollars, with no state rescue in sight. Food prices have shot up 400%.

Brawls in supermarkets are now commonplace, as are people rummaging through trash. A fight over subsidized food packages this week killed one person and wounded two others.

According to the sources, Hezbollah’s plan would help shield its communities – not only members but also mainly Shi’ite residents of districts it dominates – from the worst of the crisis. It could also contain any restlessness among core supporters, analysts say.

“The preparations have begun for the next stage…It is indeed an economic battle plan,” said one of the sources, a senior official.

Already, the new ration card, seen by Reuters, helps hundreds of people buy basic goods in the local currency – largely Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian cheaper items at a discount up to 40%, subsidized by the party, the sources reported.

The card – named after a Shi’ite Imam – can be used at co-ops, some of them newly opened, in the southern Beirut suburbs and parts of southern Lebanon where Hezbollah holds sway. The sources did not give further details on the budget or recipients.

An Iran-funded paramilitary force which critics once called “a state within a state”, Hezbollah has grown more entangled in Lebanese state affairs in recent years.

Washington, which deems Hezbollah a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions to choke off its sources of funding, including what it estimates as hundreds of millions of dollars from Iran every year.

“They’re all doing it…But Hezbollah’s scope is much bigger and more powerful, with more resources to deal with the crisis,” said Joseph Daher, a researcher who wrote a book on Hezbollah’s political economy. “This is more about limiting the catastrophe for its popular base. It means the dependency on Hezbollah particularly will increase.”

And while Hezbollah gives ration cards, the state, hollowed out by decades of debt and graft, has talked up the idea of such a card for poor Lebanese for almost a year without acting.

Ministers have said the need for parliamentary approval has stalled the cabinet’s plan for cards.

  • Reuters