Hezbollah is preparing a parallel state in Lebanon by using food as a tool.

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‘To shop in these stores, you must have a Hezbollah card,” said a Hezbollah official who declined to be identified in a recent France24 report on Lebanon. A few paragraphs later, the official reiterated his claim, saying that “anyone in need can shop with us, regardless of religious affiliation or even if they are not Hezbollah supporters,” according to France 24.

Hezbollah, an armed militant organisation with a political wing that aims to dominate Lebanon and use it as a regional centre of operations, is now establishing new information on the ground for its parallel economy. As Lebanon’s economy has faltered, Hezbollah has sought to prosper, strangling Lebanon and devouring it. As a result of the digestion, a new chain of supermarkets operated by the extra-paramilitary armed group has emerged. According to the paper, it offers “Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian products at reduced prices that are accessible with a party-issued card.”

This ensures that Lebanese who shop at Hezbollah’s markets would be able to buy from other Iranian-occupied countries. In short, Hezbollah now controls Lebanon and is outsourcing Iranian goods to it in order for both Hezbollah and Iran to benefit. The more Lebanon disintegrates, the more powerful Hezbollah becomes.

This condition was largely established, or at least tolerated, by the international community, which approved of Lebanon’s parallel military regime, unlike any other country in the world. No other nation has members of parliament who are members of an irregular armed militia that is not accountable to the administration. Only Lebanon, a beneficiary of US assistance and Western generosity, is in this condition. Hezbollah was once a small sectarian organisation that thrived on the premise that it was “resisting” Israel. As Israel invaded, it seized southern Lebanon and refused to hand over its arms, despite the fact that other militant militias had been demobilised by the 1989 Taif agreement. Following the 2006 war that Hezbollah precipitated in Lebanon by invading Israel, it rose in prominence, using its control over reconstruction funds to build apartments.

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Hezbollah has developed concurrent building and infrastructure agencies, such as Jihad Al-Binaa and the Waad initiative, as well as its own communications network, television stations, and radio communications networks. In certain parts of the region, it has taken over healthcare, schooling, welfare, and finance. More information on this can be found in Casey Addis and Christopher Blanchard’s 2010 Congressional Research Service article on Hezbollah’s history.

Hezbollah also pursued initiatives such as supplying drinking water in areas of Lebanon, saying that this was part of its “resistance” against Israel. In short, it persuaded the government to delegate some of its obligations to Hezbollah, and then it seized control of the region. It also built its own fibre optic communications network to avoid detection by the authorities. Any effort to thwart the invasion is greeted with Hezbollah retaliation. As the government’s opposition threatened to crack down on the country’s military contact network, Hezbollah targeted opponents and took over a portion of the country in 2008. Using the network, Hezbollah orchestrated the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

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.”

By opening new stores, Hezbollah took advantage of the country’s economic failures and food shortages. “Food in Lebanon is not only overpriced, but it is frequently impossible to find,” France24 reports. Now, Al-Sajjad supermarkets offer lower-priced merchandise, but you must have a special card and demonstrate that you do not earn any income. “Anyone in need can shop with us, regardless of religious affiliation or whether they support Hezbollah,” a Hezbollah official told France24.

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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.

What happens if you try to shop at Hezbollah’s market? According to the paper, you can apply, but then a member of the Hezbollah party will come to give you the pass. People are obviously so scared that they requested that their names be changed for the post. “The stores have the appearance of large depots and are always fully stocked. “I was able to get cheaper milk, rice, sugar, and vegetable oil,” one person told reporters.

Food has been used as a tactic by some Islamist groups. During the Syrian civil war, pro-Turkey forces will store stores near Kilis and transport supplies to displaced civilians. It’s uncertain whether they just gave it to their followers. Food was used as a tactic in Somalia and other conflicts in the 1990s.

According to the article, the Al-Sajjad card entitles the holder to rive, sugar, cooking oil, and other essential items. According to one teacher, “he was approached by Hezbollah members from his village who offered to give him an Al-Sajjad card.” He may also get health insurance with the passport. According to critics, this demonstrates how the regime no longer exists in Lebanon.

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But is Hezbollah merely retaining peace in Shi’ite regions, or is it now using food as a weapon? “The party sees itself as a victim of a plot devised by the US to bring it to its knees,” one source 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 appears to favour Iran, even as Iran has subverted Iraq’s economy, ruined a portion of Iraq, and holds it hostage by armed groups. Iran is doing the same thing in Yemen. It isolates the government, establishes a parallel militia state, and then forces everyone to access resources through that parallel state, eroding the actual institutions. Western policymakers often attempt to shore up state institutions by claiming that doing so will balance Hezbollah in Lebanon, but this has the effect of only empowering and legitimising Hezbollah by allowing the broken state to limp along as Hezbollah gradually establishes a modern, more powerful Hezbollah-state alongside the remnants of the old state.

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