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Selling Terror

Madison Avenue meets the Bekaa Valley.

12:00 AM, Apr 16, 2008 • By JONATHAN SCHANZER
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HEZBOLLAH, THE RADICAL Shiite terrorist organization in Lebanon, is best known for attacking Israelis. But the organization also attempts to gain the support of Lebanese citizens with a sophisticated network of social services, political outreach, and financial aid. And recently, the militia has turned to advertising campaigns to bolster its image.

Hezbollah owns or controls at least two known advertising companies: Ressalat and Media-Publi Management. The U.S. Department of the Treasury should designate both as Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities (SDGTs) immediately as part of its ongoing campaign to cut off Hezbollah from the global financial system.

According to a recent article in the Lebanese al-Nahar, Ressalat is a "Hizbullah-funded organization that handles advertising and cultural events for the group." The company does not appear to have a web presence, but al-Nahar identified Mohamed Noureddine as Ressalat's creative director. One French report also identified Noureddine as the director of a think tank tied to Hezbollah's secretary general Hassan Nasrallah. His name can also be found alongside pro-Hezbollah videos on YouTube.

After the car bombing that killed Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh on February 13, Noureddine and his team launched a sophisticated advertising campaign to lionize the slain terrorist leader. Within hours of the bombing, colorful stencil drawings of Mughniyeh's bearded and bespectacled face appeared on huge billboards throughout Lebanon. The stenciled portrait was similar to the iconic drawing of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara. These Mughniyeh billboards--some of which read: "Prophecy of the Final Victory"--now line the road from the Beirut airport to the city's downtown district. According to Mohammed al-Amin, managing director of a billboard company that rented space to Ressalat, the entire network of billboards along the airport road and within the group's stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut cost at least $100,000.

In 2006, following Hezbollah's war against Israel, the group reportedly paid an unnamed public relations firm some $140,000 to design an ad campaign called "Divine Victory," glorifying the 34-day war that ended with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire on August 14, 2006. Last year, Hezbollah posted a huge billboard in southern Lebanon, facing northern Israel, with the faces of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Additionally, near the coastal town of Naqura (where the U.N. peacekeeping force maintains its headquarters), Hezbollah posted a large mural portraying an Israeli warship that had been hit by the terrorist group during the 2006 war.

Was Ressalat behind all of these billboards? The answer is still unknown. There may be other unidentified Hezbollah advertising companies lurking in Lebanon.

However, Hezbollah's advertising operation is not limited to billboards. As first revealed by analyst Avi Jorisch, a Lebanon-based company called Media-Publi Management handles ads and promotions for al-Manar, Hezbollah's television station. Media-Publi is now listed (complete with address and phone number) with the Lebanese Advertising Agencies Association. The company also openly operates a website (www.mpmlb.com), which actually lists al-Manar's scheduled programming and boasts of serving as "the exclusive media representative of al-Manar T.V. station...We are responsible of reservation and monitoring of the ads on al-Manar [sic]."

Media-Publi reportedly worked with numerous advertising agencies, including the world-renowned Saatchi and Saatchi, selling ad space to numerous multinational corporations. After the SDGT designation of al-Manar in March 2006, however, many advertisers pulled their products from al-Manar's airwaves.