Category Archives: Hezbollah

Hezbollah’s teen military recruits

Ana Maria Luca

Supporters explain how teens become Hezbollah fighters and why they might want to


Hezbollah mourned last week the death of a teenager killed “on jihadist duty” in Syria. The party’s Al-Manar television reported last Tuesday that “Hezbollah bid farewell to the mujahid martyr Mashhur Fahd Shamseddine.” Neither Hezbollah nor media outlets associated with the party made any reference to the boy’s age. Hezbollah only announced that he had died in a tragic accident while performing his jihadist duty. However, Arabic-language newspapers reported Shamseddine was only 15. Al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that the teenager was killed a week ago in an Israeli raid on Hezbollah positions in the Qalamoun area.


Hezbollah did not explain what kind of jihadist duty the teenager was performing so close to a battlefield, but a close look at how the party recruits its young members is cause for serious concern, says political analyst Ali al-Amine. “Hezbollah does not think that low—they won’t bring a 15-year-old child soldier to the battlefield. They haven’t reached the stage of recruiting child soldiers,” he said. “But sources of Hezbollah said that [the boy] died while he was receiving a military training. This raises a question: why are you giving military training to children?”



Hezbollah’s military greenhouse


Getting into Hezbollah’s military ranks was not easy before the group got involved in the Syrian war. They recruit and start training at very young ages—typically at around 10-13 years old, when they join the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, says 35-year-old Hussein, a former scout. Later, when the scouts are 16 or 17, they can join the party’s military ranks or opt to continue their education.


The Imam al-Mahdi Scouts were founded in 1985 and are registered with the Lebanese Ministry of Education. The organization includes children from four to 17 years of age, split into Cubs, Scouts and Rangers. Besides outdoor activities and charity work, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts also teach the young to be good Muslims, to volunteer at local mosques, and to defend Lebanon against Israel.


“This is no secret. I was a scout myself, but I did not join the military ranks,” Hussein told NOW. “It was the sheikh at the mosque who chose the ones who were fit for the military [the scouts get intense religious training]. Not all are selected. The family can refuse, of course. But usually they don’t. On the contrary; some bribe the sheikh to pick their sons, because the family gets perks like jobs or free education for the rest of the children.”



The connections


Hussein also said that Lebanese wasta [nepotism] is prevalent in Hezbollah. “Usually, the boys who have family members in Hezbollah have more chances to get picked for the military,” he says. Hussein’s uncle was a Hezbollah member and could have made it easy for him to be recruited, but his own father begged the uncle not to take the boy because his father was blind and Hussein was the only one who could support his family.


It all depends how good the boys are in school. “If you have good grades and a good family, you’re most likely to finish school and go to university. But all boys go to military training until they’re 14 and get the brevet,” Hussein said. The boys are trained in an annual summer camp located in a remote area. After they take their brevet, boys with good grades continue school while the military recruits start real combat training. These rules do not apply to girls. Hezbollah encourages women to join the party, but they are also encouraged to study and to graduate university so that they can later teach, Hussein explained.


“This is exactly what used to happen in the ‘80s and 90s,” Houssein said. “But the mentality has changed in the last 10 years or so. Most people now concentrate on studying and opt for the teaching career. I guess that’s why maybe they have this problem with recruiting fighters now.”



Social class matters nowadays


Mahdi Magazine, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts magazine for boys between 13 and 17, teaches scouts how to avoid becoming an extremist, among other things. It also features a story about a scout’s first military mission. The boy is sent to scout an area and is not happy because it’s not a real fighting mission and, therefore, not manly enough. “My friend was joking with me. ‘When are you going to get married?’ he asked. ‘When I become a man.’ ‘And when would that be?’ ‘When I go on my first mission on the front.’ The boy is finally sent to the front, gets shot, and is taken to the hospital where he meets a nurse and falls in love with her.


Members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, the youth movement of Hezbollah, some of them future soldiers. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat) 


It’s with stories like this that teenagers in the best schools in Dahieh and South Lebanon are enticed to join Hezbollah’s military ranks. A Hezbollah supporter who wished to remain anonymous told NOW his children go to one of the best schools in the southern suburbs of Beirut and frequently go on trips to Hezbollah museums and camps. They watch presentations about weaponry and are told stories of heroes of the Resistance.


He says, though, that despite the indoctrination, it’s up to the family to decide a child’s future. “I encourage my children to be very good in school so that they avoid a military career,” he said. He also says he’s committed to his support for Hezbollah because he feels protected. “I was never asked to join the party directly. But I know that I get a lot in return for being a supporter. If I lost my job, I would get another one the next day.”



Recruiting from the street


Hezbollah is in a very tight spot in terms of human resources on the battlefield in Syria. Its troops are stretched out and many experienced commanders have been killed in the fighting, by Jabhat al-Nusra car bombs and even by Israeli air strikes. There is a lot of recruiting going on in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hussein said. “If you want to fight, you have to go to one of the offices and they can hire you. It’s not required, but they prefer that you’re a supporter; that you have the preliminary training.”


Al-Amine told NOW that Hezbollah indeed has a problem with the number of troops involved in the Syrian conflict and is recruiting fighters without proper experience. “A very large number of soldiers who went to Syria were not, in fact, proper soldiers of the Resistance, so they were poorly trained. They are supporters willing to fight for the party, rather than members of Hezbollah’s military ranks,” he explained. “The increasing fatalities of Hezbollah in Syria put pressure on the party, but the real pressure is the general feeling among the people that Hezbollah’s victory in Syria is unlikely. This feeling creates a kind of confusion, not to say a reluctance, to fight in Syria.”


Hezbollah has also endeavored to recruit soldiers from the Druze community in Syria, Al-Amin says, which indicates that Hezbollah can no longer rely on its supporters and sympathizers, adding that this is why the party is also accepting Afghans and Iraqi Shiites in its ranks in Syria and Iraq.


Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609


Amin Nasr and Myra Abdallah contributed translation

Syria: The fight for the strategic weapons

Myra Abdallah

Hezbollah is under pressure as the regime faces military setbacks and Israel has targeted its missiles.

Iranian missile. (AFP/Mehr News/Raouf Mohseni)

The Syrian regime has faced a series of dramatic military setbacks, starting from the loss of Idlib up to its most recent reverses in the rest of the province as well as in the South, where earlier this week the the Free Syrian Army announced that it had launched the “Battle of the Cutting of Joints” to cut the Damsacus-Quneitra highway. Bashar al-Assad’s grip on the country is once again in question, just as his regime’s grip over its sizeable and powerful arsenal of strategic weapons.


“The Syrian regime is currently suffering a lot especially after all the losses he encountered on the  ground,” said retired LAF general Wehbe Qatisha. “The Syrian regime attacked in February and March [2015] after the Houthis started wining the battles in Yemen; they hoped they would win too.But, when it turned out that the Houthis couldn’t really take over Yemen, the [Syrian] regime started to slow down the military activities, especially that they lost in Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur, and the cities they hold in Hama [province ]are now under attack.”


Despite the relatively calm situation in Qalamoun recently, Israeli Air Force (IAF) jets bombed Hezbollah and regime positions in the rugged mountain region along the Lebanese-Syrian border. A source close to Hezbollah said to Al-Hadath that Israel had “targeted an artillery and rocket [launch site] containing mid-range rockets used periodically to target the movements of armed groups in the [mountains].”


“The Israeli strikes targeted the military bases of the Syrian regime’s army and Hezbollah in Qalamoun,” said Paris-based Syrian activist Fahed al-Masri, coordinator of the Al-Inqaz Al-Watani opposition group. “In fact, the strikes targeted 65th and 155th Brigades specialized in strategic weapon in addition to few Hezbollah bases in Qalamoun, especially that the party is trying to move the regime’s weapon to Lebanese Beqaa.”


According to analyst Philip Smyth, Israel targeted shipments in Syria that were supposed to go to Hezbollah, a weapons channel that has been open for years. “Right now, in terms of the regime’s power, it’s not very good for them,” said Smyth.


“There are tons of reports coming out now that the fights between the NDF and the Syrian army are minor compared to the larger problems. The Iranians have been shipping in a lot newer foreign fighters and Hezbollah has been trying to take the lead. The bigger problem on the field is that Hezbollah, the Syrian army, NDF and the other Shia militias that are controlled by IRGC are not doing very well. The regime is being pushed back on multiple fronts and it is not a comfortable situation.”


It is obvious that Israel is trying to preserve the power dynamics in the region, especially if Hezbollah as trying to reinforce is military bases in Southern Lebanon. “Today, Assad’s Syria extends from Naqoura to Latakia. There was more than one Israeli strike: one of the strikes was against Hezbollah brigades and their long-range missiles; and the other was against the groups who were trying to target the borders of Golan. It is obvious that Israel does not want to transform its borders to a ‘mailbox,’ whether it was the Lebanese or the Golan borders. In addition to this, through the last strike, Israel wanted to make sure that the fights remain inside the Syrian borders and do not extend to Lebanon,” Lebanese political activist, Lokman Slim, told NOW.


According to an Al-Hayat report, the Israeli strikes were meant to warn that Israel is still ready to defend itself against Hezbollah. The Israel Defense Forces claim that Iran is still trying to empower Hezbollah and provide the party with developed weaponry. The report also said that Israel “will not allow the strengthening of military capacities or the transfer of dangerous strategic weapon” and that it will not allow the arming of Hezbollah.”


Smyth told NOW that Hezbollah “has invested interests in taking over the [regime’s] stocks and also incorporating them into their own ranks. Beyond that, after learning what happened in Iraq, ISIS got former advanced weapons after capturing them from the Iraqi army. I think Hezbollah will also try to prevent them from getting anything else especially that the Assad’s regime has the most advanced weapons systems.”


Regardless of Hezbollah and Syrian regime’s priorities, Iran might have its own plans in the region. “We should not forget the [role of] the Iranian ‘master’ in all this,” Slim said. “First of all, we should find out what is left from the regime’s strategic weapons caches that might be a threat to the regional security. Regardless, the Syrian regime is only a deposit for Iran’s weapons. Iran is directly interfering in the region and it is obvious that it considers Lebanon as a free zone, including the Lebanese borders and airport without giving any importance to the Lebanese sovereignty. The repositioning of any weapons should be seen from the point of view of Teheran regardless what other players may have planned.”


Although, analysts who NOW spoke to confirm that, even though the rebels are trying to stop Hezbollah from taking over the Syrian regime’s weapon, they might not have the capacity or the needed equipment to do so. “The FSA also wants to seize Syrian regime’s strategic weapon; but unlike Hezbollah, they are unable to do so in the current time. The FSA is too weak and does not have the capacity to do it. Despite, if the FSA felt they were able to, they wouldn’t miss a chance,” said Qatisha.


Although Hezbollah is aiming to save what is left from the regime’s strategic weapon and move it to Lebanon to reinforce its capacity on Lebanon’s southern border, the losses both Hezbollah and the Syrian regime suffered from lately will have a big effect on the party.


“Hezbollah is now under a lot of pressure. The Syrian regime has lost Idlib and is worried about the Alawi coast. This is a monumental pressure to put on Hezbollah with so many fighters doing so many rotations and Hezbollah have a lot of pressure on them to hold the line and the ground they have. They also want to make sure that there won’t be more attacks executed against them,” said Smyth.


Qatisha predicted that the Syrian regime’s crumbling military situation will have repercussions on its ally Hezbollah.


“The weakness of the Syrian regime will definitely weaken Hezbollah. Hezbollah will pay the price especially since the party invested all its capacity to defend the [Syrian] regime. Eventually, Hezbollah will lose and retreat.”