Hezbollah: The Overview
Hezbollah, also known as 'The Party of God,' is a radical Shi’a Muslim group fighting against Israel and “western imperialism” in Lebanon. The group does not recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel and it has labeled as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department since October 1997.
Hezbollah refers to itself with multiple titles including the “Organization of the Oppressed on Earth” and the “Revolutionary Justice Organization.” Its main goal is the establishment of an Islamic government across the Arab world that will “liberate” Jerusalem and the entire area of the present-day State of Israel.
- Founding & First Lebanon War (1982-2000)
Hezbollah’s origins and ideology stem from the Iranian Revolution. The revolution called for a religious Muslim government that would represent the oppressed and downtrodden. According to Hezbollah, the United States was to blame for many of the country’s problems. Israel was seen as an extension of the United States and a foreign power in Lebanon. The organization itself started in 1982 as part of the Iranian government’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. Led by religious clerics, the organization wanted to adopt an Iranian doctrine as a solution to Lebanese political malaise. This doctrine included the use of terror as a means of attainting political objectives.
Toward the end of 1982, Iran sent fighters to assist in the establishment of a revolutionary Islamic movement in Lebanon. Iran’s hope was that the new members would participate in the Jihad, or Holy War, against Israel. These forces, which were located in the area of Ba’albek in the northern Beqa’a valley, brought Iranian-Islamic influence to the area and constituted the core of the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon.
As the organizational infrastructure developed, Hezbollah, with Iranian and Syrian assistance, began to establish an extensive military network in the Ba’albek area. Its militias have since spread into the Shi’ite neighborhoods in southern and western Beirut as well as into southern Lebanon.
Thousands of Hezbollah activists and members are located in the Beqa’a valley, Beirut and southern Lebanon. These areas also offer a base for the recruitment of additional activists and fighters among the local Shi’ite populations.
After Israel’s war in Lebanon, the organization gained strength as it fought against the presence of French and American peacekeepers who remained in Lebanon after Israeli forces withdrew from Beirut. In 1985, the IDF withdrew from Lebanon, with the exception of a security zone created to protect Israel’s northern border. For the next five years Israeli troops worked with the South Lebanese Army to defend the border. Meanwhile, Hezbollah stockpiled weapons and and recruited many new members, all with the goal of driving the Israelis out of Lebanon.
To gain support from the local population in South Lebanon, Hezbollah donated money, equipment, and medical supplies. In October 1997 , the U.S. State Department added Hezbollah to its list of terrorist organizations.
Following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah continued to mount terrorist operations against Israel. It accused Israel of continuing to hold Shaba’a Farm lands (which Israel and the UN agree are not part of Lebanon) and refusing to release Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Hezbollah, with the help of a UN peacekeeping force, kidnapped three IDF soldiers. A prisoner swap was not agreed upon until 2004, four years after the kidnapping.
The “Al-Aqsa intifada” in Israel created additional opportunities for Hezbollah to perform acts of violence against the Jewish state. The organization funded the Palestinian Authority (PA) and collaborated with other terrorist organizations, including Hamas, to systematize attacks on Israel. It stepped up its recruitment in order to more efficiently infiltrate Israel’s international borders. It also continued to smuggle arms and advanced weapons into Lebanon from Syria and Iran and the PA.
In 2002, the IDF intercepted a Palestinian Authority-owned ship, the Karine-A, carrying 50 tons of weapons, including anti-tank missiles, Katyusha rockets, and long range mortar bombs. Many of the weapons were made in Iran. A senior Hezbollah member was responsible for loading the weapons onto the ship.
During this time, Iran and Syria both financially supported Hezbollah, facilitating its military growth to help enable it to fight Israel with more precision and lethality.
On July 12, 2006, the military and financial support that Hezbollah had been receiving from Iran and Syria was put to the test when its guerrilla's perfidiously attacked an IDF patrol on the Israel-Lebanon border and abducted two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Simultaneously, Hezbollah units inside Lebanon began firing katyusha rockets to pound northern Israel and create panic and fear.
After more than a weeklong campaign of artillery and air fire to suppress Hezbollah targets, the IDF invaded southern Lebanon at the end of July with the mission to destroy Hezbollah's military capability and kill as many of its terrrorists and fighters as possible. Though the war is widely considered to have ended in a stale-mate, with neither side producing a decisive victory, Israel maintains that it killed nearly 600 Hezbollah guerrilla's and destroyed tons of their illegal weaponry.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah mentioned in various interviews that he did not expect such a high level response and invasion by the IDF following the initial attack but that he believes his forces acted heroically and not only withstood the Israeli assault but inflicted their own damage, killing more than 120 Israeli soldiers.
In the aftermath of the month-long war in 2006, the United Nations was tasked with maintaining a UNIFIL force both on Israel's border with Lebanon to prevent future skirmishes, but also on Lebanon's border with Syria to prevent further arms smuggling into the Hezbollah stronghold areas. Unfortunately, UNIFIL's mission has been compromised either by a lack of desire on the part of its soldiers to interfere or a lack of ability to stop the smuggling.
Israeli intelligence now believes that Hezbollah has completely rearmed itself from the 2006 war and has even enhanced its weapons stock further, despite UNIFIL's presence. It is believed that Hezbollah's weapons stores hold at least 10,000 katyusha and other short to medium-range rockets. In January 2012, the IDF further updated its operational assessment of Hezbollah to say that it believed the terrorist organization now had long-range surface-to-air missile systems imported from Syria that can match Israel's aerial dominance. The upheaval in Syria during the winter of 2011/2012 enabled Hezbollah to obtain the weapons systems in addition to other various Russian-made air-defense units.
While Hezbollah is known to have a large quantity of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, the IDF now assumes that the Lebanese Islamist group has received the SA-8, a truck-mounted Russian tactical surface- to-air missile system reported to have a range of 30 kilometers. In addition to the possible transfer of air-defense systems, Hezbollah is also believed to have received several dozen more M600 long-range missiles, as well as additional 302 mm. Khaibar-1 rockets, which have a range of about 100 kilometers.
Unfortunately, it seems that only time will tell the true depth and breadth of Hezbollah's arms cache.
Hezbollah has consistently tried to paint itself as a moderate national liberation organization aimed at “introducing the Islam that is confident in achieving justice, as well as introducing the Islam that protects all human rights.” It tries to portray an image as a group who would rather not commit acts of terror, but must for the benefit of the Arab world.
After expressing written statements against terrorist attacks, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, communicated to a Lebanese audience at a memorial for a Hezbollah suicide bomber that “we must continue the path of resistance and the path of the First and Second Intifada.”
Hezbollah is an active participant in Lebanese politics. In 1992, it participated in elections for the first time, winning 12 out of 128 seats in parliament. It won 10 seats in 1996, and 8 in 2000. In the general election of 2005, it won 23 seats nationwide. An alliance between Amal and Hezbollah won all 23 seats in Southern Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s main tactic is the use of suicide bombers. Hezbollah uses these human weapons to create mental and physical suffering for the Israelis and to force the Israelis to retreat out of “Islamic land.”
Shi’a Islam international bases are used to buy and sell weapons for organized attacks. Asia is a key target for Hezbollah, and Hezbollah has been pulling Malaysians and Indonesians into the organzation to expand operations and terrorist attacks around the world.
Hezbollah extended its operations across the globe throughout the 1980s, kidnapping individuals in a attempt to gain political leverage.
Hezbollah operates a satellite television station from Lebanon, Al-Manar TV (“the Lighthouse”) as well as a radio station, al-Nour (“the light”). Qubth Ut Alla (“The Fist of God”) is the monthly magazine of Hezbollah’s paramilitary wing. They are widely viewed by West Bank and Gazan Palestinians as well as some Lebanese.
The spiritual father of the movement in Lebanon is Sheikh Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah who acts as chief Mujtahid (arbiter of Islamic law) of the Shi’ite community in Lebanon.
The current Secretary General of Hezbollah is Hassan Nasrallah. At the start of the 1980s he was responsible for the Beqa’a area on behalf of the AMAL movement. He left the organization in 1982 and affiliated with Hezbollah, taking with him many of his followers. Following the death of Abbas Musawi, Nasrallah was unanimously elected to be his successor.
The organization views an Islamic republic, modeled after Iran, to be the ideal form of a state. Lebanon remains a religiously and ideologically heterogeneous society.
According to their published political platform in 2003, Hezbollah claims to favor the introduction of an Islamic government in Lebanon by peaceful democratic means. According to the United States Department of State and reports submitted to Defense Technical Information Center, the organization is seeking to create an fundamentalist Iranian-style Islamic republic and removal of all non-Islamic influences.
Hezbollah supports the destruction of the state of Israel and co-operates with other militant Islamic organizations such as Hamas in order to promote this goal. Hamas actually maintains its own “embassy” in Tehran. In 1992, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas signed an official agreement of cooperation. As recently as 2002, it has been known that Iran was directly involved in numerous attempts to launch rockets into Israel through members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who were trained by Hezbollah in Iranian camps.
A relationship has also developed between Hezbollah and Al-Qa’ida, according to a former Al-Qa’ida member who was captured and convicted of bombing U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Ali Muhammad said that “Hezbollah provided explosives training for Al-Qa’ida,” and that he personally arranged a meeting between Hezbollah’s chief and Osama bin Laden in Sudan. In 2002, leaders of Hezbollah, Al-Qa’ida, and Hamas met formally in Lebanon to discuss future joint terrorist attacks against America, Britain, and Israel.
Syria backs Hezbollah morally and has also supplied it with money and arms. In return, Hezbollah protects Syria’s political and military interests in Lebanon.
Hezbollah also receives financial aid, training, weapons, and explosives from Iran. Iran also contributes political, diplomatic, and organizational aid. According to Iran’s official budget, Iran gave $500 million in support of radical Islamic organizations around the world in the 1990s. Of that money, Hezbollah was reported to receive at least $250 million.
It is also suspected that Hezbollah has received financial and military aid from Russia in the past. Russia did not denounce Hezbollah as a terrorist organization until approximately twelve years after its establishment.
Hezbollah has a number of illicit fund-raising rings operating in the United States. In 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered the existence of an organized drug smuggling operation that was funneling money to Hezbollah from Chicago and Detroit. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms investigated a multi-million dollar cigaretter smuggling ring that gave over $2 million to Hezbollah over a period of 8 years. The money received from the Charlotte operation allowed Hezbollah to purchase advanced military technology and global positioning systems. In March 2003, the leader of the cigarette smuggling ring, Mohamed Hammoud, received a 155-year sentence for racketeering and providing material support for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is believed to have kidnapped and tortured to death U.S. Army colonel William R. Higgins and the CIA Station Chief in Beirut, William Buckley, and to have kidnapped around 30 other Westerners between 1982 and 1992.
Hezbollah was suspected of involvement in numerous anti-US and anti-Israeli terrorist attacks. The organization was responsible for the suicide truck bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, in which 241 American servicemen were killed (220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and 3 Army soldiers) and the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984. The bombing at the Marine barracks in Beirut was the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima (2,500 in one day) of World War II and the deadliest single-day death toll for the United States military since the 243 killed on 31st January 1968 — the first day of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war. The attack remains the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.
Three members of Hezbollah, Imad Mughniyah, Hasan Izz-al-Din, and Ali Atwa, are on the FBI’s list of 22 Most Wanted Terrorists for the hijacking in 1985 of TWA Flight 847 during which a U.S. Navy diver was murdered. Elements of the group were responsible for the kidnapping and detention of Americans and other westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
In 1992 and 1994, Hezbollah is claimed to have carried out the Israeli Embassy Bombing and the AMIA Bombing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eight days after the AMIA Bombing the Israeli Embassy in London was car bombed by two Palestinians linked to Hezbollah.
In January 2000, Hezbollah assassinated the commander of the South Lebanon Army Western Brigade, Colonel Aql Hashem, at his home in the security zone. Hashem had been responsible for day to day operations of the South Lebanon army.
On June 16, 2004, two Palestinian girls aged 14 and 15 were arrested by the IDF for plotting a suicide bombing. According to IDF statement, the two minors were guided by Hezbollah. On June 23, 2004, another allegedly Hezbollah-funded suicide bombing attack was foiled by the Israeli security forces.
In February 2005, the Palestinian Authority accused Hezbollah of attempting to derail the truce signed with Israel. Palestinian officials and former militants described how Hezbollah promised an increase in funding for any cell able to carry out a terrorist attack
“There are parts of the Caribbean where we’ve seen some, certainly some travel,” said Henry Crumpton, the State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator said. “There are parts of Central America where we’ve seen some operatives, where we’ve seen transactions – financial transactions – in the Caribbean. In the southern part of the Caribbean, next to Venezuela, in Colombia, we’ve seen some activity there.”
In January 2012, one Hezbollah suspect was arrested and another managed to avoid capture, in Thailand's capital city, Bangkok, where security services believe they were working in a cell planning to attack areas commonly frequented by Israeli tourists. The attacks were thought to have been planned in coordination with the anniversary of the assassination of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyeh on February 12. Israeli counter-terror experts warned that Hezbollah's long arm was begining to extend even further than many believed it could.