10 years ago
International sources—the news departments of CNN, ABC, and CBS, et cetera—widely agree that Iran feeds Hezbollah upwards of $250 million in direct funding annually. This may be an overestimation, but the low-end estimate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies places Iranian aid to Hezbollah at a quite considerable $50 million annually. Even according to this most conservative figure, Iran spends, as a fraction of GDP, nearly three times as much arming Hezbollah as the United States spends arming the Marine Corps under the 2005 Navy budget. This astonishing comparison exposes the hopelessness of disarming Hezbollah with a strategy that does not include Iran.
This is interesting on several levels. First, it shows the commitment that Iran has to the spread of its influence around the region. As I have pointed out before, Iran sees itself at the head of a new regional Caliphate. This amount of money is not trivial, especially for a country that is widely acknowledged to be in some degree of economic trouble in spite of its oil revenue stream.
But second — and most interesting — is that this amount is not truly spent “arming” Hizballah. To be sure, a significant fraction of this is used directly for armaments and munitions. But a significant fraction is also spent as largesse in southern Lebanon … schools, medical care, welfare for the high numbers of unemployed, etc. … leading in no small part to the political influence of Iran, via Hizballah, in Lebanon.
Paralleling a theme in my posts on Iran, the study does come to the correct conclusion. We will not win in a battle to disarm Hizballah, the Shia militia in Iraq, or anywhere else where Iran has influence, unless and until we muzzle Iran — politically, militarily, or both.
We have worked hard to defang the Sunni extremists (al Qaeda, Taliban), but sooner or later we will have to face off the Shia extremists. If it is later, the costs will be higher.