Hezbollah is a Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing is the Jihad Council. After the death of Abbas al-Musawi in 1992, the organisation has been headed by Hassan Nasrallah, its Secretary-General. The United States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada and Israel have classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, though in early 2015 an assessment from the United States director of National Intelligence removed it from the list of terrorist threats against the United States. The European Union and New Zealand have proscribed Hezbollah’s military wing, but do not list Hezbollah as a whole as a terrorist organization.
Hezbollah was conceived by Muslim clerics and funded by Iran following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and was primarily formed to offer resistance to the Israeli occupation. Its leaders were followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, and its forces were trained and organized by a contingent of 1,500 Iranian Revolutionary Guards that arrived from Iran with permission from the Syrian government. After the 1982 invasion, Israel occupied a strip of south Lebanon, which was controlled by a militia supported by Israel, the South Lebanon Army. Hezbollah waged a guerilla campaign against them; with the collapse of the SLA, Israel withdrew on May 24, 2000.
Hezbollah has grown to an organization with seats in the Lebanese government, a radio and a satellite television-station, programs for social development and large-scale military deployment of fighters beyond Lebanon’s borders. The organization has been called a “state within a state”. Hezbollah is part of the March 8 Alliance within Lebanon, in opposition to the March 14 Alliance. Hezbollah maintains strong support among Lebanon’s Shi’a population,while Sunnis have disagreed with the group’s agenda. Following the end of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, its military strength grew significantly, such that its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah receives military training, weapons, and financial support from Iran, and political support from Syria. Hezbollah also fought against Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War.
After the 2006–2008 Lebanese political protests and clashes, a national unity government was formed in 2008, giving Hezbollah and its opposition allies control of eleven of thirty cabinets seats; effectively veto power. In August 2008, Lebanon’s new Cabinet unanimously approved a draft policy statement which secures Hezbollah’s existence as an armed organization and guarantees its right to “liberate or recover occupied lands”. Since 2012, Hezbollah has helped the Syrian government during the Syrian civil war in its fight against the Syrian opposition, which Hezbollah has described as a Zionist plot and a “Wahhabi-Zionist conspiracy” to destroy its alliance with Assad against Israel. Once seen as a resistance movement throughout much of the Arab world, this image upon which the group’s legitimacy rested has been severely damaged due to the sectarian nature of the Syrian Civil War in which it has become embroiled.
Ideology: Hezbollah has grown to an organization with seats in the Lebanese government, a radio and a satellite television-station, programs for social development and large-scale military deployment of fighters beyond Lebanon’s borders. The organization has been called a “state within a state”. Hezbollah is part of the March 8 Alliance within Lebanon, in opposition to the March 14 Alliance. Hezbollah maintains strong support among Lebanon’s Shi’a population,while Sunnis have disagreed with the group’s agenda. Following the end of the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon in 2000, its military strength grew significantly, such that its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army. Hezbollah receives military training, weapons, and financial support from Iran, and political support from Syria. Hezbollah also fought against Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War.
After the 2006–2008 Lebanese political protests and clashes, a national unity government was formed in 2008, giving Hezbollah and its opposition allies control of eleven of thirty cabinets seats; effectively veto power. In August 2008, Lebanon’s new Cabinet unanimously approved a draft policy statement which secures Hezbollah’s existence as an armed organization and guarantees its right to “liberate or recover occupied lands”.Since 2012, Hezbollah has helped the Syrian government during the Syrian civil war in its fight against the Syrian opposition, which Hezbollah has described as a Zionist plot and a “Wahhabi-Zionist conspiracy” to destroy its alliance with Assad against Israel. Once seen as a resistance movement throughout much of the Arab world, this image upon which the group’s legitimacy rested has been severely damaged due to thesectarian nature of the Syrian Civil War in which it has become embroiled.
Organization: At the beginning many Hezbollah leaders have maintained that the movement was “not an organization, for its members carry no cards and bear no specific responsibilities,” and that the movement does not have “a clearly defined organizational structure.” Nowadays, as Hezbollah scholar Magnus Ranstorp reports, Hezbollah does indeed have a formal governing structure, and in keeping with the principle of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists (velayat-e faqih), it “concentrate[s] … all authority and powers” in its religious leaders, whose decisions then “flow from the ulama down the entire community.”
Since the Supreme Leader of Iran is the ultimate clerical authority, Hezbollah’s leaders have appealed to him “for guidance and directives in cases when Hezbollah’s collective leadership [was] too divided over issues and fail[ed] to reach a consensus.” After the death of Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Khomeini, Hezbollah’s governing bodies developed a more “independent role” and appealed to Iran less often. Since the Second Lebanon War, however, Iran has restructured Hezbollah to limit the power of Hassan Nasrallah, and invested billions of dollars “rehabilitating” Hezbollah.
Structurally, Hezbollah does not distinguish between its political/social activities within Lebanon and its military/jihad activities against Israel. “Hezbollah has a single leadership,” according to Naim Qassem Hezbollah’s second in command. “All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership … The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.”
In 2010, Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said, “Iran takes pride in Lebanon’s Islamic resistance movement for its steadfast Islamic stance. Hezbollah nurtures the original ideas of Islamic Jihad.” He also instead charged the West with having accused Iran with support of terrorism and said, “The real terrorists are those who provide the Zionist regime with military equipment to bomb the people.
Financing: Hezbollah says that the main source of its income comes from its own investment portfolios and donations by Muslims, however, Hezbollah actually receives most of its financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid from Iran and Syria. According to reports released in February 2010, Hezbollah received $400 million from Iran. The US estimates that Iran has been giving Hezbollah about US$60–100 million per year in financial assistance. Other estimates are as high as $200-million annually. In 2011 Iran earmarked $7 million to Hezbollah’s activities in the region.
Hezbollah has relied also on funding from the Shi’iteLebanese Diaspora in West Africa, the United States and, most importantly, the Triple Frontier, or tri-border area, along the junction of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. U.S. law enforcement officials have identified an illegal multimillion-dollar cigarette-smuggling fund raising operation and a drug smuggling operation. However, Nasrallah has repeatedly denied any links between the South American drug trade and Hezbollah, calling such accusations “propaganda” and attempts ” to damage the image of Hezbollah”.
Members of the Venezuelan government have been accused of providing financial aid to Hezbollah by the United States Department of the Treasury. According to the testimony of a former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, Hugo Chávez’s government gave “indispensable support” to Iran and Hezbollah in the Western Hemisphere. In an article by the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, Noriega explained how two witnesses alleged that Ghazi Atef Nassereddine, a Venezuelan diplomat in Syria, was an operative of Hezbollah who used Venezuelan entities to launder money for Hezbollah with President Nicolas Maduro’s personal approval.
Campaign of violence: Hezbollah has a military branch known as the Jihad Council, one component of which is Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (“The Islamic Resistance”), and is the possible sponsor of a number of lesser-known militant groups, some of which may be little more than fronts for Hezbollah itself, including the Organization of the Oppressed, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, the Organization of Right Against Wrong, and Followers of the Prophet Muhammad.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 called for the disarmament of militia with the Taif agreement at the end of the Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah denounced, and protested against, the resolution. The 2006 military conflict with Israel has increased the controversy. Failure to disarm remains a violation of the resolution and agreement as well as subsequent United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. Since then both Israel and Hezbollah have asserted that the organization has gained in military strength. A Lebanese public opinion poll taken in August 2006 shows that most of the Shia did not believe that Hezbollah should disarm after the 2006 Lebanon war, while the majority of Sunni, Druze and Christians believed that they should. The Lebanese cabinet, under president Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, guidelines state that Hezbollah enjoys the right to “liberate occupied lands.” In 2009, a Hezbollah commander (speaking on condition of anonymity) said, “We have far more rockets and missiles [now] than we did in 2006.”
Between 1982 and 1986, there were 36 suicide attacks in Lebanon directed against American, French and Israelis forces by 41 individuals, killing 659. Hezbollah denies involvement in these attacks, though it has been accused of some or all of these attacks.
-The 1982–1983 Tyre headquarters bombings -The April 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing (by the Islamic Jihad Organization). -The 1983 Beirut barracks bombing (by the Islamic Jihad Organization), that killed 241 U.S. marines, 58 French paratroopers and 6 civilians at the US and French barracks in Beirut -The 1983 Kuwait bombings in collaboration with the Iraqi Dawa Party. -The 1984 United States embassy annex bombing, killing 24. -A spate of attacks on IDF troops and SLA militiamen in southern Lebanon. -Hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, -The Lebanon hostage crisis from 1982 to 1992.
Since 1990, terror acts and attempts of which Hezbollah has been blamed include the following bombings and attacks against civilians and diplomats:
-The 1992 Israeli Embassy attack in Buenos Aires, killing 29, in Argentina, Hezbollah operatives boasted of involvement. -The 1994 AMIA bombing of a Jewish cultural centre, killing 85, in Argentina.] Hezbollah claimed responsibility. -The 1994 AC Flight 901 attack, killing 21, in Panama. Hezbollah claimed responsibility. -The 1994 London Israeli Embassy attack, injuring 29, in the United Kingdom. -The 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, killing 19 US servicemen. -Providing “direct assistance” to al Qaeda, including training and explosives, in orchestrating the 1998 United States embassy bombings. -In 2002, Singapore accused Hezbollah of recruiting Singaporeans in a failed 1990s plot to attack U.S. and Israeli ships in the Singapore Straits. -The January 15, 2008, bombing of a U.S. Embassy vehicle in Beirut. -In 2009, a Hezbollah plot in Egypt was uncovered, where Egyptian authorities arrested 49 men for planning attacks against Israeli and Egyptian targets in the Sinai Peninsula. -The 2012 Burgas bus bombing, killing 6, in Bulgaria. -Training Shia insurgents against US troops during the Iraq War
Conflict with Israel:
Hezbollah has been involved in several cases of armed conflict with Israel:
-During the 1982–2000 South Lebanon conflict, Hezbollah waged a guerrilla campaign against Israeli forces occupying Southern Lebanon. In 1982, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was based in Southern Lebanon and was firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon. Israel invaded Lebanon to evict the PLO, and Hezbollah became an armed organization to expel the Israelis. Hezbollah’s strength was enhanced by the dispatching of one thousand to two thousand members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the financial backing of Iran. Iranian clerics, most notably Fzlollah Mahallati supervised this activity. It became the main politico-military force among the Shia community in Lebanon and the main arm of what became known later as the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon. With the collapse of the SLA, and the rapid advance of Hezbollah forces, Israel withdrew on May 24, 2000 six weeks before the announced July 7 date.” Hezbollah held a victory parade, and its popularity in Lebanon rose. Israel withdrew in accordance with 1978’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 425. Hezbollah and many analysts considered this a victory for the movement, and since then its popularity has been boosted in Lebanon.
-On July 25, 1993, following Hezbollah’s killing of seven Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon, Israel launched Operation Accountability (known in Lebanon as the Seven Day War), during which the IDF carried out their heaviest artillery and air attacks on targets in southern Lebanon since 1982. The aim of the operation was to eradicate the threat posed by Hezbollah and to force the civilian population north to Beirut so as to put pressure on the Lebanese Government to restrain Hezbollah. The fighting ended when an unwritten understanding was agreed to by the warring parties. Apparently, the 1993 understanding provided that Hezbollah combatants would not fire rockets at northern Israel, while Israel would not attack civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon.
In April 1996, after continued Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, the Israeli armed forces launched Operation Grapes of Wrath, which was intended to wipe out Hezbollah’s base in southern Lebanon. Over 100 Lebanese refugees were killed by the shelling of a UN base at Qana, in what the Israeli military said was a mistake. Finally, following several days of negotiations, the two sides signed the Grapes of Wrath Understandings on April 26, 1996. A cease-fire was agreed upon between Israel and Hezbollah, which would be effective on April 27, 1996. Both sides agreed that civilians should not be targeted, which meant that Hezbollah would be allowed to continue its military activities against IDF forces inside Lebanon.