- Hezbollah maintains an extensive network of social foundations in the Shiite community in Lebanon. These foundations deal with healthcare, education, finance, welfare, and media. They support Hezbollah’s military infrastructure. They also serve as a means of disseminating Hezbollah’s ideology and strengthening its position among the Shiite community and in Lebanon in general. They provide the Shiite community with large-scale social services that are generally provided by the state while exploiting the weakness of the Lebanese administration and its long-standing neglect of the Shiite community. Thus, Hezbollah’s civilian infrastructure enables it to maintain a sort of “Shiite mini-state” within the Lebanese state. The residents of this “Shiite mini-state” enjoy large-scale Iranian financial support and Hezbollah’s military infrastructure is located among them.
- The ITIC is carrying out a research project aimed at mapping Hezbollah’s civilian foundations and examining the nature of their conduct and their contribution to Hezbollah’s military wing. The aim of the project is also to expose their sources of financing and examine the Iranian assistance for their establishment and their ongoing activity (for a list of publications which were issued so far by the ITIC, see appendix).
The Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association is Hezbollah’s youth movement. It was established in May 1985, after the IDF’s withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards were involved with the establishment of the movement with the objective of providing Hezbollah with youth inculcated with radical Shiite Islam in accordance with the Iranian concept of Wilayat al-Faqih, the rule of the Muslim cleric, as developed by Imam Khomeini. All this was intended to create a new generation of operatives inculcated with Khomeini’s ideology, who would join Hezbollah’s ranks, take part in the violent struggle against Israel, and at the same time assist in establishing Hezbollah among the Shiite community in Lebanon. The branches of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association are located among Shiite population centers in Lebanon, currently numbering tens of thousands of youth (in mid-2015, the number of members in the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association was estimated at about 50,000-60,000).
Hezbollah considers members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts an important pool to be recruited to Hezbollah’s military as well as civilian infrastructure. For this purpose, youngsters undergo physical training as well as ideological indoctrination. At the age of 16-17, some of the youth enlist in Hezbollah’s military wing or serve in its civilian foundations. According to Bilal Naim, former director of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts, after the age of 16, most of the adolescents join Hezbollah and the military activities of the organization (2008). According to a news item in the Lebanese Janoubia website (2015), the overwhelming majority of the members join “jihadi activity,” i.e., the military activity of Hezbollah (for further details, see below). So far, over 200 former members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts died in fighting against Israel and in the Syrian civil war. The shahids of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts who died in the ranks of Hezbollah are commemorated with honor and appreciation and become role models for the Al-Mahdi Scouts members.
Right: Operative of Hezbollah’s military wing meeting members of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts in the village of Tir Daba in southern Lebanon (Facebook page in memory of shahids of the village of Tir Daba). Left: Member of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts salutes the flag of Hezbollah, apparently during the reenactment of a Hezbollah military activity (Facebook)
- The Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association is one of 32 scouting organizations operating in Lebanon as part of the Lebanese Scouts Federation. The various scouting organizations are distinguished from each other in their sectarian and geographic nature and ties with the various powers in Lebanon. Among the Shiite community in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s Scouts organization is the biggest, overshadowing that of the Amal Movement.
- Ideologically speaking, Hezbollah’s scouting movement is totally distinguished from other scouts organizations in Lebanon and worldwide. The worldwide scouting movement has embraced the values of freedom, equality, and brotherhood among religions and nations in order for the scouts to be more productive members of society. Conversely, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts are handled by Hezbollah, which is designated as an international terrorist and criminal organization, and by Iran, which supports it. During their training, the scouts are inculcated with narratives of religious fanaticism, belligerency, intolerance, and hatred for Israel. However, in spite of that, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts do collaborate with the Lebanese scouting federation and the World Organization of the Scout Movement.
Previous and new emblems of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts
Right: The previous emblem of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts movement (Hezbollah website, February 6, 2012). The fleur-de-lis is the international scout emblem. However, every scouting organization adds its own elements. In this case, the additions are two swords (taken from Shiite tradition), and a hand raised as if taking an oath. The inscription under the emblem reads, “Obey!” The clearly implied messages were militarism, belligerence, obedience, and commitment. Around 2013, the emblem was replaced and the belligerent messages were downplayed. Left: The modified emblem of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts. The two swords were removed and the Lebanese cedar tree was added, with the objective of downplaying the radical nature of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts and trying to present the scouts as “Lebanese” (Facebook page of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts)
The Iranian aspect
- Iran played a significant role in establishing the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts movement. By the second half of the 1980s, the Iranians had already organized camps for schoolchildren who were brought to the Bekaa Valley from southern Lebanon and Beirut and received military training and cultural and religious instruction during the summer vacation. Twenty years later, during the Second Lebanon War, a great deal of Imam al-Mahdi Scouts material was found, illustrating how members of Hezbollah’s youth movement had been indoctrinated with the principles of the Iranian Islamic Revolution and hatred for Israel. At the same time, Hezbollah’s youth movement nurture a personality cult of Ali Khamenei, and the Shiite community in Lebanon is being indoctrinated through them.
- In the ITIC’s assessment, Iran finances most of the expenses involved in the extensive ongoing activity of the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts and most of the infrastructure built among the Shiite population for the scouts’ activity (among other things, youth compounds in southern Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley, and in the western Bekaa).
The personality cult of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei
Inculcation with hatred of the State of Israel
Right: Inculcating the vision of “the liberation of Jerusalem.” Wearing a flak jacket and carrying a rifle, a child has a headband reading, “O Jerusalem, I am coming” (material seized in the Second Lebanon War in 2006). Left: The cover page of the booklet “Sharon [i.e., Ariel Sharon, Israel’s former prime minister] the Evil One,” issued by the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts. The following words appear on the next to last page: “Dedicated to our shahids, to our prisoners, to our wounded, to our children. You are surrounded by an enemy who robs you of the innocence of youth. The name [of this enemy] is Israel” (this is part of a series of booklets for children and adolescents)
Imam al-Mahdi Scouts not included in the USA’s sanctions list
As far as the ITIC knows, the United States has not designated the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts as a terrorist organization and has not imposed any sanctions on it, although this is a Hezbollah organization preparing adolescents to enlist in its ranks. Interim findings of the examination of Hezbollah’s civilian foundations reveal that the list of Hezbollah’s institutions which were sanctioned by the United States includes the Islamic Resistance Support Association (IRSA); the Al-Qard al-Hasan Association; and the Jihad al-Bina Association (three Hezbollah foundations included in the ITIC’s study, see appendix). On the other hand, Hezbollah’s Al-Jarha Foundation (the Foundation for the Wounded) and also, as stated, the Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association were not included on the sanctions list, although these are two Hezbollah foundations supporting the organization’s military wing.
Structure of the study
- The study includes the following sections:
- The Imam al-Mahdi Scouts Association: an overview
- Organizational structure and geographic deployment
- Preparing the youngsters in advance of their recruitment to Hezbollah
- Field training as preparation for recruitment to Hezbollah
- Adolescents’ indoctrination
- Funding sources
- Replicating the Lebanese model to other Iranian proxies in the Middle East
 According to Shiite tradition, the Imam al-Mahdi is the “hidden imam” who is supposed to reappear as the Shiite Messiah and redeem the world. Belief in the imam as super-human, omnipotent and infallible is one of the unique central beliefs of Shiite Islam. The first imam was Ali, “the emir of the faithful,” Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph, according to the Sunni Muslims. From his death in 661 A.D. until 874 A.D., when the 12th imam disappeared, there were 11 Shiite imams. The hidden imam, according to Shiite belief, will return to the world as the “Mahdi,” a term meaning “the one guided by Allah to take the straight path.” The Mahdi will bring the message of redemption, take revenge on the enemies of the Shiites, and bring justice to the world. ↑
 Wilayat al-Faqih is Khomeini’s concept of putting rule in the hands of a Muslim cleric. The Muslim cleric, according to this concept, has the authority to decide every issue in the Islamic state. ↑
 The scouts’ organization of the Shiite Amal Movement is called Al-Risalah al-Islamiyah (“the Islamic Mission”). ↑
 Al-Haqiqa, Beirut, May 16, 1987; Al-Ahed, Beirut, August 30, 1987; Shimon Shapira, “Hezbollah between Iran and Lebanon” (Hebrew) (Tel Aviv University, 2006), p. 144. ↑
 See the ITIC's Information Bulletin from May 6, 2019, “Hezbollah’s Foundation for the Wounded: Purpose, modus operandi and funding methods” ↑