Following US sanctions, the political and military group is using commemoration events to call for donations and build support for its anti-American rhetoric.

Dressed in grey, Jafar sits still in his wheelchair, unrepentant.

The 20-year-old has been partially paralysed since he was injured in 2015, fighting in Zabadani, Syria. He was a teenager when he took up arms for Hezbollah on the side of the Assad regime, and does not know if he will walk again. But he says he doesn’t regret his choice.

“It was my duty to fight,” the resident of Beirut’s southern suburbs said. “My father was just here with me and he was laughing - we are not sad and I’m not depressed.”

Jafar, who gave only his first name, lives with his parents and survives on Hezbollah-provided benefits. He wouldn’t reveal the total of his monthly stipend. “I don’t know if I can say,” he said, slightly sheepishly.

Jafar was among the men in three rows of wheelchairs who listened to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah speak for the Lebanese political and military group’s ‘Day of the Resistance’s Wounded’ last week.

In a mosque in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Jafar and his fellow wounded former fighters - many of them blind or with amputated limbs - listened to Nasrallah compare them to Abbas, the brother of Imam Hussein and a revered figure in Shia Islam.

The Hezbollah leader lauded the war wounded as “beacons of victory” - the slogan printed on silky yellow tabards and milk chocolate wafers handed out to the audience. He spoke via TV link, having not appeared in public for years on security grounds.

Some of the men’s heads flopped downwards, while one former fighter in green military fatigues, both his hands missing, balanced his burgundy felt beret on the stump of an arm. Many of the men in wheelchairs did not appear to be older than 30.

Frormer Hezbollah fighters cheering outside the mosque.
Frormer Hezbollah fighters cheering outside the mosque. (Lizzie Porter / TRTWorld)

The injured had been wounded in Hezbollah’s multiple conflicts, including the Lebanese civil war and the July 2006 war against Israel, and now rely on the services of Hezbollah’s Association for the War Injured.

Like Jafar, others were crippled fighting in Syria, where the paramilitary group has fought for the Assad government and trained other pro-regime brigades. The involvement in Syria has been controversial, going against the Lebanese government’s official policy of ‘disassociation’ over regional conflicts.

Nasrallah also responded to the US designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation - the first time a US government has ever blacklisted part of another country’s government.

The IRGC founded Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1980s, and Iran continues to supply funds, weapons and ideology for the proxy group.

“Being placed on terrorism lists does not make us weaker; it makes us stronger,” Nasrallah told his audience. “Whenever you see Pompeo or Trump on TV, think of all the destroyed cities and tens of thousands of people displaced and killed because of the US presence [in the Middle East].”

The IRGC proscription follows US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Beirut in March, in which he presented a stark warning to Lebanon. It essentially read as a ‘them or us’ choice between US support for the country, or allowing Hezbollah to grow.

Nasrallah’s response to the US designation of the IRGC was to be expected, according to analysts.

“The only reason the IRGC designation may in any way affect Lebanon is because of Hezbollah’s presence - this isn’t an attack on Lebanon itself,” said David Daoud, a research analyst on Hezbollah and Lebanon at United Against Nuclear Iran, a Washington DC-based advocacy group.

In his speech to the war wounded, Nasrallah directly linked the veterans’ condition and US intervention in the Middle East.

“We see in your injuries and in your eyes the stamp ‘made in America’, there have been massacres and killings in Lebanon because of US weapons and its support to the enemy,” he said. “You are the living witnesses to the meaning of this resistance, the wounds of the resistance, the reality of the resistance.”

Hezbollah is ramping up its anti-US rhetoric as the Trump administration carries out what it describes as a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran and its proxies like the Party of God.

According to analysts and sources close to the party, the rhetoric is designed to garner both financial support and create a sense of community at a time when Nasrallah himself has acknowledged the financial difficulties the group faces, partly as a result of more US sanctions. “Any resistance needs money...I announce today that the resistance is in need of its popular support and embrace,” he said in a separate speech last month.

“There are two parts to their message,” said a source close to Hezbollah, who asked to remain anonymous. “They [Hezbollah] are acknowledging the crisis so people stop asking them for so much and believe they need to support the party financially. The second is to make people bear with things and support their cause in terms of politics.”

Hezbollah’s wounded former fighters watching Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah during a televised speech for “the Day of the Resistance’s Wounded” at a mosque in Beirut’s southern suburbs, April 2019.
Hezbollah’s wounded former fighters watching Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah during a televised speech for “the Day of the Resistance’s Wounded” at a mosque in Beirut’s southern suburbs, April 2019. (Lizzie Porter / TRTWorld)

Some of Hezbollah’s once-generous social and educational programmes had been cut completely, according to the source, while medical services for partisans had in some cases been halved. Services in Beirut’s southern suburbs have been relocated into fewer buildings as a cost-cutting measure.

“There has been significant damage, but Hezbollah is patient,” the source added.

Banners have appeared in Hezbollah-dominated parts of Beirut calling for donations for orphans of dead fighters, while last month the group called for participants in its “millions” fundraising campaign “to support the Islamic Resistance”. Donation tins litter the streets in Ghobeiry and Haret Hreik, two districts of Beirut’s southern suburbs where support for Hezbollah is strong.

Analysts say that veterans and the families of dead fighters lauded as ‘martyrs’ have in the past been spared budget cuts, but as US pressure ramps up, Hezbollah will continue to use events held in their name to encourage donations and create a sense of community.

“It’s to say, if you can’t go to the battlefield for whatever reason, if you give us money, you are just as much part of the ‘resistance’. So they get a double benefit - they get money and this sense of connection,” said David Daoud.

At the commemoration for wounded fighters, Fadi Qarout said Hezbollah funded his two children’s schooling and provided his family with housing. The 34-year-old, paralysed since fighting in the 2006 war against Israel, said his monthly stipend from the party, “was sufficient to live on”. He declined to say how much he received or if the amount had recently changed.

Another veteran called Jafar, 33, fought in Syria’s Ghouta, Aleppo and Idlib before being hit by shrapnel and paralysed in Hezbollah’s Syria-Lebanon border operation in 2017.

“I receive around $1,000 a month - it depends,” he said, although would not specify on what.

A Hezbollah press officer claimed that all the men would return to the battlefields if they could. “When you ask them, they will all say they want to return to fighting,” he said.

The former fighters cited returning to military action among their aims. But it wasn’t the whole story. The older Jafar had trained in electronics before fighting for Hezbollah, and wanted to continue building those skills.

Meanwhile, the younger Jafar, the 20-year-old paralysed fighting in Syria, claimed not to worry about his physical condition preventing him finding a wife or having children. He wants to learn. “In the future, I want to continue my education,” he said.

Source: TRT World