Recent defectors from Lebanese Hizbullah have given various reasons for leaving the party, voicing their objection to its policies and actions in Lebanon and to its continuing intervention in Syria's ongoing and bloody war.
One of these defectors has confronted Hizbullah on Twitter, describing what the party was like from the inside and exposing some of its secrets.
The defector, whose name has been withheld to protect him, sat down with Al-Mashareq for a wide-ranging interview about his experience with the party.
Al-Mashareq: When did you join Hizbullah?
Defector: I joined as a teenager in 1986. I was recruited during a period of forced displacement during Lebanon's civil war. The party recruited children and adolescents and brainwashed them with ideas centred on the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Lebanon.
I fell into that trap because because I was young. We were raised on slogans such as hostility towards the West and, more importantly, obeying Iran's Supreme Leader.
We were saturated with hatred for everything that contradicted our beliefs. We simultaneously fought several wars against the Amal Movement and the Communist Party to tighten our grip on the area.
I was trained and tasked with non-combat activities outside Lebanon, including surveillance and spying on the Iranian opposition.
Al-Mashareq: Why did you defect from the party?
Defector: I left the party after I became convinced that it has nothing to do with God and its religious orientation is simply a means to its end. I was opposed to the assassinations, the battles that destroyed Lebanon and the constant push to antagonise the Gulf states and create rifts in Lebanon.
I disliked the fact that Hizbullah's activity sabotaged Lebanon's economy and protected the corrupt. I was also against participating in a war against the Syrian people.
Al-Mashareq: What is the purpose of your Tweets?
Defector: I activated a Twitter account with the handle "Hizbullah Defector", after which a Hizbullah Defector hashtag became viral. The purpose of my tweets is to inform the Lebanese about Hizbullah and warn Arabs and the world of the danger of Hizbullah.
I feel it is my duty to let the world know the truth about its criminal nature, its bloody history and its activities to terrorise Lebanon, Arab countries and the world.
I wanted to expose the party's cultivation of hashish, its involvement in the drug trade outside Lebanon and its role in money laundering and smuggling.
I was the first to expose the party’s use of Beirut's port, airport and land crossings to transport its weapons and fighters and evade taxes under the pretext that they are for 'resistance' purposes. My objective is to see that weapons in Lebanon are solely in the hands of the Lebanese government.
Al-Mashareq: Have you received threats or cyberattacks on your account?
Defector: I have received both threats and enticements. I was offered money for silence. I used to be threatened from the party on a daily basis, which threatened to kill me and subject me to the worst forms of torture.
Hizbullah elements threatened to harm my family and come after me anywhere in the world. I was attacked by the party's cyber army, and my account got hacked into more than 30 times. I am always at risk of being banned from Twitter because there is a high number of reports to Twitter against me that accuse me of violating the platform's terms of service.
Al-Mashareq: Have you noticed any disgruntlement in Hizbullah's ranks?
Defector: Yes, there are credible reports of disgruntlement in the party’s ranks stemming from the refusal of many to take part in the Syrian war or the meagre amount of money paid to the families of the dead or maimed. Another source of disenchantment is the inability of the party to meet financial requests, including interest-free loans.
Most of the party's leaders hail from Lebanon's southern region, and only a few elements and leaders hail from the Bekaa Valley, which makes many unhappy. There also is a financial divide between the poor in the Shia community, those who benefit from the party and the emergence of wealthy individuals among the party’s leaders.
Al-Mashareq: Does Hizbullah recruit any non-Shia militants?
Defector: Hizbullah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have made efforts to do so since the mid-1990s.
Hizbullah recruited thousands of young people, particularly among Imam al-Mahdi Scouts. At times, threats and financial incentives were used to recruit members of other parties. Through financial support, Hizbullah succeeded in recruiting a large number of Sunni youth who were loyal to the Syrian regime.
The party made its way into a large number of towns and villages, where it took advantage of financial woes and widespread youth unemployment. Hizbullah elements handed out large sums of money, scholarships and other grants. They reportedly attempted to cultivate a positive rapport with Sunni clerics. They also recruited a number of fugitives by promising to protect them.
Al-Mashareq: How did Hizbullah benefit from such methods of recruitment?
Defector: Hizbullah has established what is called the Resistance Brigades, comprising at least 10,000 members. They received some weapons training, but not as much as the party’s core elements.
Hizbullah used them to establish weapons warehouses and to man checkpoints in order to connect the party to all parts of Lebanon. This way, it was confident it had resources to confront its opponents anywhere in the country.
Recruiting Sunnis also served as propaganda to promote the party, to suggest Hizbullah is not sectarian and defend the IRGC. They used the same rhetoric to attack Lebanon's allies, especially Arab countries and the US.