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 Israel and it has been 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.
Israeli intelligence estimates Hezbollah has amassed a stockpile of 150,000 rockets, including missiles capable of striking every major Israeli city.
Hezbollah’s origins and ideology stem from the Iranian Revolution. The revolution called for the creation of a religious Muslim government that would represent the oppressed and downtrodden. Iran wanted an alternative to the Shi'ite Amal movement, which refused to accept strict political and religious obedience to Ayatollah Khomeini, to establish that government in Lebanon. Toward the end of 1982, Iran sent fighters from its Revolutionary Guard Corps to assist in the establishment of a revolutionary Islamic movement in Lebanon. 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. Iran’s hope was that the group would participate in the jihad 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.
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 an unwanted foreign power 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 later spread into the Shi’ite neighborhoods in southern and western Beirut as well as into 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 terrorists 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 guerrillas 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.
In November 2013, security officials learned that Hezbollah had close to 200 Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including those that can track movement from high altitude and “kamikazes” that can avoid capture by radar and fire or drop munitions from low altitudes.
On October 7, 2014 an explosive device was detonated on the Israel controlled side of the Israeli-Lebanon border. Hezbollah immediately took responsibility for the attack less than 4 hours after it happened, which is surprising considering their record of denying any attacks against Israel that they have been accused of. This marks the first time that Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for an attack against Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The explosive device was detonated in the area of Sheeba Farms, an area that Lebanon believes is unrightfully occupied by Israel, and that Syria also claims the rights to. The explosion seriously injured 2 Israeli soldiers and was supposedly a retaliatory attack in response to an incident on Sunday in which IDF soldiers witnessed individuals attempting to illegally cross from Lebanon into Israel. The IDF soldiers opened fire at these individuals and caused them to retreat back to Lebanese territory. According to Lebanese sources this is not how the confrontation proceeded, and they claim that Israeli soldiers fired on their military positions, injuring one soldier. According to IDF spokesman Lt Colonel Peter Lerner, this attack was a “blatant breach of Israel’s sovereignty.” In response to this attack, the Israeli military fired artillery at two Hezbollah positions in Southern Lebanon, no injuries were reported.
In a rare televised appearance on November 4 2014, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned of a third Lebanon war and stated that Israel should close “all of your airports and your ports” in the event of a third Lebanon war. Nasrallah threatened Israel and claimed that “there is no place on the land of occupied Palestine that the resistance’s rockets cannot reach.”
Israeli warplanes struck multiple positions in Damascus on Sunday December 7 2014 in an attempt to thwart weapons transfers to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These strikes hit a storage facility that was housing anti-aircraft missiles and drone fighters that were going to be sold to Hezbollah
Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven more injured when their military convoy was attacked while driving along the Israel side of the Lebanese border in the area of Shebaa Farms on January 28, 2015. The soldiers names were released the following day: Captain Yohai Kalangel and Sergeant Dor Nini. Israeli forces stationed at Mount Hermon were also fired upon. It is thought that the attack was carried out as a response to an Israeli air strike inside of Syria the week before that killed five Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general. Hezbollah immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, and issued a statement claiming that the Quneitra Martyrs Brigade had fired the rockets at the Israelis.
Shortly after the initial attack the Hezbollah militants fired more mortar shells at Israeli military positions near the border, but no injuries were reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to social media and explained that Israeli forces had responded to the attacks with “combined aerial and ground strikes” on Hezbollah positions. This exchange represented the most serious development in Lebanon-Israel relations in years, and Israeli Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner referred to the situation as “a severe escalation” on Israel’s Northern border. Military battalions from Israel returned fire and there were missiles being lobbed back and forth across the border during the afternoon, but by the next morning tensions had eased and the situation had resolved itself. This attack was condemned with harsh words in a statement from the State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki. Psaki reminded the world that “Hezbollah continues to incite violence and instability inside Lebanon by attacking Israel and by its presence and fighting inside Syria,” and extended her condolences to the victim’s families. The following day Israeli officials received a correspondence from a United Nations peacekeeping force operating in Lebanon, claiming that Hezbollah was not interested in any further escalation of conflict. Israel defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated in response that “Until the area completely calms down, the Israel Defense Forces will remain prepared and ready.”
Following the January 2015 attack, Israeli security forces set to work drilling deep around the perimeter fences meant to keep the border communities safe, looking for Hezbollah infiltration tunnels. Although residents had claimed to have heard noises coming from underneath their homes, and security officials are convinced that Hezbollah is planning for their next attack, no tunnels were found. IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Benny Gantz made it clear that Israeli border towns need to be better protected from these threats, and asked for more funding for the IDF to protect these vulnerable areas in the days after the attack.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged for the first time on February 16, 2015, that Hezbollah had sent fighters into Iraq to combat the Islamic State. During the taped speech Nasrallah encouraged Arab states in the region to fight the Islamic State aligned with Hezbollah, and to abandon their US allies. It had been reported that Hezbollah had been sending fighters into Iraq to combat the Islamic State since mid-2014, but this speech represents the first time that Hezbollah leaders have acknowledged the existence of these fighters.
The Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Communities removed Hezbollah and Iran from its list of terrorism threats for the first time in recent history in February 2015. The assessment, presented to the U.S. Senate by the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, detailed how Iran had “intentions to dampen sectarianism, build responsive partners, and deescalate tensions with Saudi Arabia” during the past year. Iran and Hezbollah were still listed in the Defense Intelligence Agency’s terrorism threat assessment.
Four individuals from Syria approached the Syria-Israel border armed with ammunition and explosives under the cover of darkness on April 25, 2015. These individuals were spotted by Israeli security services as they attempted to set up explosive devices on the border fence. The Israeli Air Force was informed of this suspicious activity, and all four individuals were killed in an air-strike soon after they were spotted. It was assumed after the attempted attack that these terrorists were members of Hezbollah.
The majority Saudi-owned satellite company Arabsat dropped Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station from its broadcasts in December 2015. Arabsat was not the first provider to drop the Hezbollah channel, but it is one of the largest. The Al-Manar station is banned in France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Canada, and Australia, and is classified on the U.S. Specially Designated Global Terrorist list. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar channel is still broadcast around the globe by Egypt’s Nilesat, Russia’s Express, and Indonesia’s Indosat.
Hezbollah fighters set off a large explosive device as an Israeli armored convoy drove past near the Lebanon border on January 4, 2015. No casualties were sustained in the explosion. The attack was in retaliation for the killing of Samir Kantar, a prominent Lebanese militant fighter who was killed in Syria during December 2015. The IDF responded with targeted artillery fire against Hezbollah outposts.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officially recognized Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on March 1, 2015. The action was prompted by Hezbollah attempting to recruit fighters and smuggle weapons and drugs within GCC states, according to a spokesperson.
Prominent Hezbollah leader Mustafa Amine Badreddine was killed in an alleged air strike near Damascus airport in early May 2016. Badreddine was a well-respected member of the organization, who was believed to have been behind all of Hezbollah’s activities in Syria since 2011.
In a periodic report on the implementation of UN resolution 1701 released in March 2017, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres argued that recent statements and rhetoric espoused by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah increase the risk of tension and could lead to renewed war between Hezbollah and Israel.
An Israeli air strike on April 26, 2017, destroyed a Hezbollah operated supply hub near the Damascus Airport in Syria. Regular shipments of weapons were sent from Iran to Hezbollah militants through the supply depot. A similar Israeli air strike struck and destroyed a weapons warehouse belonging to Hezbollah five months later, on September 24, 2017.
Speaking at the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv in June 2017, Israeli Air Force Major-General Amir Eshel stated that if war were to break out with Hezbollah once again, Israel would open with all our strength from the start. Assuring the audience that Israel contains air power unimaginable in its scope, Eshel bragged that what the air force was able to do quantitatively in the… Lebanon war over the course of 34 days we can do today in 48-60 hours.
The Trump administration announced a new public campaign against Hezbollah in October 2017, including cash rewards for the groups most wanted members and stepped up counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.
On November 20, 2017, Nasrallah boasted in a speech that Hezbollah is proud and honored to say we sent Kornet missiles to the Gaza Strip.
Nasrallah announced on December 11, 2017, that “Jerusalem, Palestine and the Palestinian people will return to being the priorities” for the group, following the fall of ISIS in Syria and President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nasrallah called on all Arab nations to cease relations with Israel and engage in resistance on behalf of the Palestinian people. Nasrallah made the announcement in Beirut, Lebanon, to a crowd of thousands gathered at a rally.
In early 2018, the IDF began construction of a ten-meter high concrete wall along the Lebanon-Israel border, to keep Hezbollah operatives from infiltrating Israeli territory. A representative from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) announced that the organization was closely monitoring the construction to ensure the work stays on the Israeli side of the border to prevent unnecessary tension.
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.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly resigned November 4, 2017, during a trip to Saudi Arabia, saying his life was in danger and accusing Iran of causing “devastation and chaos.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir subsequently described Hezbollah as a “first-class terrorist organization" that should lay down its arms and respect Lebanon's sovereignty. He accused Hezbollah of destabilizing the region, and said “consultations and coordination between peace-loving countries and Lebanon-loving countries are underway to try to find a way that would restore sovereignty to Lebanon and reduce the negative action which Hezbollah is conducting in Lebanon.” Hariri later returned to Lebanon, withdrew his resignation and accused the Saudis of kidnapping him.
In May 2018, Lebanon held its first parliamentary election in nine years, which resulted in a strengthening of Hezbollah’s grip on the government. Hezbollah and its allies won 67 out of the 128 parliamentary seats. The big loser was the Future Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which lost 13 seats and now has only 20. The Lebanese Forces, which opposes Hezbollah, increased its representation, but still has only 15 seats.
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.
In 1989, Hezbollah terrorists planned to kidnap Israel’s consul general in Sao Paolo or a diplomat in Brasilia to use as hostages for negotiations to free Hezbollah prisoners in Israel. Security forces searched for the terrorists for a month before learning they had left the country.
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 beginning to extend even further than many believed it could.
On October 7, 2014, an explosive device was detonated on the Israel controlled side of the Israeli-Lebanon border. Hezbollah immediately took responsibility for the attack less than 4 hours after it happened, which is surprising considering their record of denying any attacks against Israel that they have been accused of. This marked the first time that Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for an attack against Israel since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The explosive device was detonated in the area of Sheeba Farms, an area that Lebanon believes is unrightfully occupied by Israel, and that Syria also claims the rights to. The explosion seriously injured two Israeli soldiers and was supposedly a retaliatory attack in response to an incident in which IDF soldiers witnessed individuals attempting to illegally cross from Lebanon into Israel. The IDF soldiers opened fire at these individuals and caused them to retreat back to Lebanese territory. According to Lebanese sources this is not how the confrontation proceeded, and they claim that Israeli soldiers fired on their military positions, injuring one soldier. According to IDF spokesman Lt Colonel Peter Lerner, this attack was a “blatant breach of Israel’s sovereignty.” In response to this attack, the Israeli military fired artillery at two Hezbollah positions in Southern Lebanon, no injuries were reported.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a press conference with Argentinian Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie on February 4, 2018, where the two announced that their respective countries would begin doing more to cut off Hezbollah’s funding networks in South America.
The Argentinian government froze the assets of a suspected Hezbollah fundraising network in July 2018, following an investigation into the Hezbollah-linked criminal organization the Barakat Group. According to the Financial Information Unit of Argentina, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese citizens in Argentina were laundering money through casinos in Iguazu to finance the groups terrorist activities. A statement released by the Financial Information Unit claimed that the Barakat Group were involved in smuggling, falsifying of money and documents, extortion, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering and terrorist financing. The United States Treasury targeted the Barakat Group in 2006, and named their leader, Assad Ahmad Barakat, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2004. A few weeks earlier, two other Lebanese nationals suspected of ties to Hezbollah and involvement in the network were arrested by Paraguayan authorities.
Hezbollah has a presence in Colombia under cover of a legitimate organization called the “External Security Organization” (ESO), which is essentially Unit 910, Hezbollah’s foreign operations arm responsible for the 2012 terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria and the attacks in Argentina during the 1990’s. Hezbollah’s presence and activities were confirmed by the Colombian police in a three-year investigation carried out jointly with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The investigation found that Iran directs the ESO through Lebanon and Hezbollah recruits Colombians from the 40,000 Muslims living in the country and sends them to Lebanon for indoctrination and training. A senior member of the group responsible for Hezbollah operations in Panama was expelled from Colombia in 2017 after being indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering. Imad Mughniyeh was the ESO’s founder and leader until his assassination in 2008; its current head is Talal Hamiyeh.
Hezbollah is suspected of involvement in numerous terrorist attacks on Americans:
- Hezbollah held David Dodge, acting president of the American University in Beirut, captive for a year.
- Kidnaped and murdered Malcolm Kerr, a Lebanese-born American who was president of the American University of Beirut.
- Abducted Jeremy Levin, Beirut bureau chief of CNN, who later escaped
- Held Reverend Benjamin Weir for 16 months
- Seized the CIA Station Chief in Beirut, William Buckley, and he was never heard from again.
- Kidnaped Frank Reed, director of the American University in Beirut, and held him 44 months.
- Held Joseph Cicippio, the acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut for five years
- Abducted and murdered Col. William Higgins, the American chief of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization.
- On April 18, 1983, a truck-bomb exploded in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 employees, including the CIA’s Middle East director, and wounding 120.
- On October 23, 1983, a truck loaded with a bomb crashed into the lobby of the U.S. Marines headquarters in Beirut, killing 241 soldiers and wounding 81. This was the deadliest single-day death toll for the 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 243 soldiers were killed on the first day of the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war.
- On April 12, 1984, a Hezbollah bombed a restaurant near a U.S. Air Force base in Torrejon, Spain, killing 18 servicemen and wounding 83 people.
- On September 20, 1984, a suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in East Beirut killed 23 people and injured 21.
- On December 4, 1984, Hezbollah terrorists hijacked a Kuwait Airlines plane and murdered American passengers Charles Hegna and William Stanford.
- On June 14, 1985, Hezbollah terrorists hijacked a TWA flight and murdered Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver. Imad Mughniyeh, Hasan Izz-al-Din, and Ali Atwa, were on the FBI’s list of 22 Most Wanted Terrorists for the hijacking and killing. Mughniyeh was assassinated in 2008 in a joint CIA-Mossad operation.
U.S. State Department "wanted" poster for
Hezbollah operatives Talal Hamiyah and Fu'ad Shukr
Two alleged Hezbollah operatives were arrested in the United States on June 8, 2017. Ali Kourani, 32, and Samer el Debek, 37, both naturalized U.S. citizens, were charged with performing surveillance on prospective targets for attacks to be carried out by Hezbollah’s external operations wing, Islamic Jihad. Kourani, who was living in the Bronx, New York at the time of his arrest, had been gathering intelligence regarding operations and security at New York airports, and was working to identify individuals affiliated with the IDF in the U.S. Born in Lebanon in 1984, Kourani relocated to the United States in 2003. His family’s home in Lebanon was allegedly destroyed during the 2006 Lebanon War, and two years later he was recruited into Hezbollah. In 2016 and early 2017, Kourani was interviewed by the FBI multiple times, during which he mused that his family were the Bin Ladens of Lebanon, and bragged that one of his brothers was the face of Hezbollah in a particular Lebanese city.
Samer el Debek was living in Dearborn, Michigan when he was arrested, and had spent time observing security procedures at the Panama Canal and the Israeli Embassy in Panama, as well as identifying areas of weakness in the construction of the Panama canal. El Debek admitted during meetings with the FBI that he was first recruited into Hezbollah in late 2007 or 2008, and travelled to Lebanon to train with Hezbollah fighters at least four times between 2009 and 2013. An FBI special agent who interviewed el Debek stated that he possessed a high degree of technical sophistication in the area of bomb-making.
According to Colin Clarke, Hezbollah has had other operatives and activities in at least ten states. The Goodwill Charitable Organization run out of Dearborn, Michigan for example, was used to transfer money from American supporters to Lebanon. A money laundering scheme involved purchasing cars in the United States and reselling them in Africa. Yet another operation involved smuggling cigarettes. Hezbollah has also engaged in cyberwarfare and hacked into systems in at least four states.
Clarke says the FBI conducted an intelligence investigation in the 1990s, Operation Smokescreen, which resulted in 26 people being charged with a variety of crimes. Later, Operation Bathwater, uncovered what was then the largest credit card fraud scheme in U.S. history. Since then, the government closely monitors Hezbollah activities in the United States and abroad. Individuals affiliated with Hezbollah are barred from the United States and American citizens are prohibited from providing any material or financial support to the terrorists.
Director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas Rasmussen told reporters during a briefing in October 2017 that Hezbollah is determined to give itself a potential homeland option to launch attacks within the United States. The Trump administration is working to disrupt the group’s fundraising, logistics and operations, and to demonstrate to any doubters that the group is a terrorist organization and not a legitimate political party. As part of the new strategy to take on Iranian proxies in the Middle East, Rasmussen announced a $12 million reward for the capture of two top Hezbollah operatives: Talal Hamiyah ($7 million) and Fu’ad Shukr ($5 million). Hamiyah is in charge of coordinating Hezbollah attacks outside of Lebanon, and Shukr played a central role in the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marine corps barracks in Beirut.
Hezbollah finances its terrorism using a sophisticated drug-trafficking operation and continues to profit from its drug sales despite the world's objections.
Hezbollah primarily earns its profits through drug sales in Latin America, but its activities have been traced across multiple continents. The group combines its drug profits with proceeds from legitimate used-car sales in West Africa. Until it was uncovered by officials, this global money-laundering scheme effectively masked Hezbollah’s earnings.
In 2001, international intelligence sources identified Lebanese residents operating for Hezbollah in South America’s tri-border area (Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil). That area is a major source of funding for Hezbollah’s terror activities. In October 2008, investigators took down a cocaine smuggling operation in Colombia, noting that “profits from the sales of drugs went to finance Hezbollah.”
In 2009, U.S. officials discovered a series of criminal schemes, which ranged from stolen laptops, passports, and gaming consoles to selling stolen and counterfeit currency, procuring weapons. The origin of the plots was traced to a Hezbollah representative in Iran.
In January 2010, German officials arrested two suspects in Frankfurt’s airport after linking four Lebanese individuals to nearly 10 million euros in drug profits. Officials accused the suspects of trading drugs and sending the proceeds to relatives directly connected to top Hezbollah officials.
In 2011, the U.S. government seized drug profits linked to Ayman Joumaa, a drug trafficker and money launderer, linked to Hezbollah. His network was earning as much as $200 million per month. In April 2013, the United States Treasury Department took action against Hezbollah for working as a drug cartel and also blacklisted two Lebanese financial institutions, accusing them of transferring tens of millions of dollars to the terror group. American officials later confirmed that one of the banks agreed to pay the United States $102 million to settle a lawsuit involving Hezbollah's money laundering scheme. In June 2013, four Lebanese men were sanctioned for effectively acting as “ambassadors” for Hezbollah in West Africa.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration, with the assistance of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and other European nations, busted a drug smuggling network supplying money to Hezbollah operatives. On February 1, 2016, the DEA announced the arrest of four individuals, accused of working with South American drug cartels to transport cocaine and other illicit drugs into the U.S. and Europe and then using the drug money to buy weapons for Hezbollah.
On February 15, 2016, Panamanian authorities arrested a man travelling from Panama to Columbia with $500,000 cash in a suitcase on charges of managing drug-related operations and money laundering activities helping to support Hezbollah.
On January 12, 2018, the U.S. Attorney General announced the formation of the Justice Department's new Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (HFNT), including experienced narcotics, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors. The teams mission is to investigate and prosecute individuals and networks connected to the financing or support of Hezbollah.
Protests against the Syrian government of Bashar Assad began in March 2011 and escalated to the point of becoming a civil war. At the behest of its patron, Iran, Hezbollah forces joined the fight to keep Assad in power. Syria has long been a defender of Hezbollah and one of its primary sources of weapons, most originating in Iran and smuggled to Lebanon. An estimated 8,000 members of the group, one-third of its force, are stationed in Lebanon. Approximately 1,800 fighters, including some from its elite units, have been killed and 6,000 wounded. It is also fighting without a supreme military commander after the assassination in 2008 of Imad Mughniyeh in a joint CIA-Mossad operation and the murder of his brother-in-law Mustafa Badreddine, who was rumored to have been killed in Damascus in 2016 by one of his own men on the orders of Hassan Nasrallah.
On one hand, fighting has given Hezbollah a great deal of battlefield experience to prepare for a future war with Israel. On the other hand, the Lebanese Shiite community has become increasingly restless over the group’s involvement in what amounts to a foreign conflict. Families are also suffering as loved ones return with disabling injuries or in body bags. Hezbollah is also reportedly having financial difficulties, as its drug smuggling, money laundering and subsidies from Iran are insufficient to cover its expenses.
On May 17, 2015, the U.S. House unanimously passed the Hezbollah International Financial Prevention Act, aimed at stifling the finances of the Hezbollah terrorist organization. The act ratchets up sanctions foreign financial institutions that are known to have dealings with Hezbollah.
Four individuals and one organization, Global Cleaners SARL, were sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury on October 19, 2016, for providing assistance and support to Hezbollah. The four men, Muhammad al-Mukhtar Kallas, Hasan Jamal-al-Din, Yosef Ayad, and Muhammad Ghaleb Hamdar, performed financial services for Hezbollah members and assisted in the planning and execution of acts of terror. Two of the men were members of Hezbollah’s External Security Organization, and one had been arrested in Peru in 2014, under suspicion of planning attacks in the country. Global Cleaners SARL was found to be run by Hezbollah member and top financier Adham Tabaja.
The U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on February 2, 2018, against thirteen individuals and businesses allegedly associated with Hezbollah funding networks based in Iraq, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia.
On May 16, 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Hezbollah’s top two officials, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Naim Qassem, and four other officials of the group’s ruling Shura Council. The measures were imposed jointly by Washington and its partners in the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
On October 15, 2018, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions designated Hezbollah as a transnational criminal organization that will be subject to tougher investigations and prosecutions. A special team of “experienced international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors” will investigate individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah, Sessions said.
The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), imposed financial sanctions on Wael Baozi of Belgium and Hassan Tabaja for operating companies and conducting business transactions on behalf of two top Hezbollah financiers. In addition, the department also targeted three companies operated by Buzzi that are allegedly used to fund Hezbollah’s activities: Belgium-based petroleum company Voltari Transcor Energy BVBA and consulting company OFFISCOOP NV, along with UK-based computer firm BSQRD Limited.
Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement that the department “is relentlessly pursuing Hezbollah’s financial facilitators by dismantling two of Hezbollah’s most important financial networks.”
“As Hezbollah continues to attempt to obscure its activities by using seemingly legitimate businesses, we will continue to take action against the front persons who hide the movement of money, including the relatives of designated terrorists,” she continued.
U.S. sanctions against Iran are having an impact on Hezbollah, which has relied on the Islamic Republic’s funding to build its arsenal, provide benefits to fighters and support social services for its constituents. In early 2019, the group was recalling fighters from Syria and some were being furloughed or assigned to the reserves, where they receive lower salaries or no pay at all, a representative of the group told the Washington Post. The paper also reported the group has had to end or cut the supply of free medicines and groceries to fighters, employees and their families. In addition, Hezbollah’s television station, Al-Manar, has been forced to cancel programs and lay off staff.
During an August 2019 meeting with U.S. officials, Prime Minister Saad Hariri was told the Trump administration and Congress were committed to maintaining sanctions on Hezbollah and those who provide it with political, military and intelligence cover. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Lebanese people were threatened by Hezbollah and pledged to help Lebanon defend itself. According to one official, Hariri was told he was expected to “take concrete steps to distance himself from Hezbollah.” He was also informed the United States would not provide any assistance if any of the money went to Hezbollah.
In September 2019, Alexei Saab, 42, of Morristown, N.J., was arrested and accused of scouting potential terrorism targets — including Fenway Park, the Prudential Center and Quincy Market in Boston and the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building in New York. Prosecutors allege Saab is a member of Hezbollah.
Ali Kourani, a U.S. citizen and New York resident was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison for spying on Hezbollah’s behalf between 2002 and 2015. “Ali Kourani was recruited, trained, and deployed by Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization to plan and execute acts of terrorism around New York City,” said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Kourani considered himself a “sleeper agent” and called his family “the bin Ladens of Lebanon.”
The Trump administration announced on February 25, 2020, it was blacklisting three officials and 11 entities linked to the Lebanon branch of the Martyrs Foundation, a group the U.S. designated in 2007 as supporting terrorism and assisting Iran. The Foundation pays families of killed or imprisoned Hezbollah fighters, and families of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bombers.
The individuals targeted were Jawad Nur-al-Din, the director general of the foundation’s Lebanon branch, and the chief executive and chairman of Atlas Holding, Kassem Mohamad Ali Bazzi, and one of the company’s founders, Sheikh Yusuf Aasi. Atlas is allegedly owned or controlled by the Martyrs Foundation and operates Lebanese companies in the fuel, pharmaceutical, tourism and clothing industries.
In September 2020, the United States sanctioned former Lebanese Transport Minister Yusuf Finyanus and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil sanctioned for directing “political and economic favors to Hezbollah, including ensuring Hezbollah-owned companies won government contracts worth millions of dollars and moving money from government ministries to Hezbollah-associated institutions.”
On October 23, 2020, the United States imposed sanctions on Nabil Qaouk, a member of Hezollah’s executive council, and Hassan al-Baghdadi “for being leaders or officials” of Hezbollah. The action freezes any U.S. assets they may have, bars Americans from dealing with them, and imposes penalties on anyone who engages in certain transactions with them.
The U.S. Department of State’s Rewards for Justice program has a standing reward offer of up to $10 million for information on the activities, networks, and associates of Hezbollah that form a part of its financial support, which includes financiers and facilitators like Muhammad Qasir, Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal, and Ali Qasir.
On September 10, 2018, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered Iran to pay $104.7 million to victims of a June 1996 truck bombing on the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. military personnel. Thirteen members of Hezbollah were indicted in federal court in June 2001 over their alleged roles in the attack. Chief Judge Beryl Howell entered a default judgement against Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which did not defend against claims over their alleged roles in the attack. Howell said plaintiffs could not collect punitive damages because the law did not allow them for attacks occurring before 2008. It is not clear if or how the judgement will be collected.
In December 2006, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered Iran to pay $254.4 million to family members and the estates of 17 Americans who died in the attack, also in a default judgement.
In July 2017, reports disclosed that Hezbollah is building a military industry in Lebanon with the help of Iran. One factory being constructed in northern Lebanon is designed to manufacture Fateh 110 medium-range missiles, which can reach most of Israel and carries a 500 kilogram warhead. A second factory is being built on Lebanon's southern coast. One reason for the new construction is that Israel has successfully interdicted a number of shipments of weapons from Syria.
The smuggling of arms and construction of weapons factories are violations of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for making southern Lebanon a weapons-free zone, except for the Lebanese army. The UN has taken no action in response to these violations and the UNIFIL force continues to fail in its mission to prevent Hezbollah from moving personnel, weapons and and assets into the area near the border with Israel.
Israel also claimed Hezbollah was violating UN resolutions by setting up a network of observation posts along the border with Israel under the guise of a civilian organization called Green Without Borders.
In May 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted a semi-annual report on implementation of the 2004 Security Council resolution ordering all Lebanese militias to disarm. He said Hezbollah’s military activity violates the resolution and the Taif Accords that ended the country’s 1975-90 civil war. His report called on Lebanon’s government and armed forces “to take all measures necessary to prohibit Hezbollah and other armed groups from acquiring weapons and building paramilitary capacity” outside the authority of the state.
As part of increasing cooperation with Hezbollah, Hamas’s deputy political chief, Saleh Arouri, has established the group’s main political headquarters in Beirut. In addition, Hezbollah is training Hamas fighters at its bases in southern Lebanon.
Israel has repeatedly struck targets in Syria to prevent the land transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, but Iran has reportedly increased its delivery of weapons by air via Damascus. According to former deputy Mossad chief Naftali Granot, Hezbollah has significantly upgraded its arsenal with the help of Iran. “It got antiaircraft missiles, antitank missiles, and recently received small numbers of GPS precision-guided systems which will help it convert some heavy rockets into accurate missiles,” he said in September 2018.
During his September 27, 2018, address at the UN General Assembly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed photos of what he said were three Hezbollah “secret sites”: a football stadium, a location near Beirut International Airport and a residential neighborhood 500 meters from the airport’s landing strip where the group is using Iranian technology to convert the group’s rockets into precision-guided missiles capable of threatening targets deep inside Israel. He accused Hezbollah of using civilian areas to shield them from Israeli airstrikes, but threatened to attack them if they were not shut down.
Map of Hezbollah infrastructure 2019. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Netanyahu said on December 19, 2018, that Hezbollah had shut down plants to develop precision-guided missiles after Israel exposed them. Israeli intelligence, however, reportedly informed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March 2019 that Hezbollah has built a new missile factory in Beirut with the help of Iran. During a visit to Lebanon, Pompeo warned Prime Minister Saad Hariri that allowing the construction of facilities with the aim of manufacturing precision-guided missiles could provoke a response from Israel.
Another threat was exposed when Israel discovered a series of tunnels constructed by Hezbollah that extended across the Lebanese border into Israel. On December 3, 2018, the IDF launched Operation Northern Shield to destroy them.
Israeli officials have concluded Hezbollah is now largely in control of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). This is particularly disturbing given that the LAF has received more than $1.5 billion in assistance from the United States over the past twelve years and that LAF commander Joseph Aoun has said his forces intend to participate in any future war against Israel.
In the 2006 war, Israel distinguished between the two and restricted its operations to Hezbollah targets. “The distinction we made between Hezbollah and Lebanon during the Second Lebanon War was a mistake,” a senior officer in the Northern Command said. “In the next war we will not make this distinction. We will hit Lebanon and any infrastructure that would contribute to the fighting.”
As fears of a future conflict have grown, Israel decided to build an 80-mile security barrier along the border with Lebanon. Lebanese officials have called the plan an “aggression,” however, the entire project was planned, and is being implemented with close consultation between Israel and UNIFIL, which, in turn, informs the Lebanese army.
Members of the UK Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on January 28, 2018, classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist organization under the country’s terrorism legislation. Only the military wing of Hezbollah was designated a terrorist group in the UK previously, and this resolution additionally designated their political wing a terrorist organization.
In early 2019, the United Kingdom ended the fiction that a distinction can be made between Hezbollah’s “military” and “political” wings and designated the entire organization a terrorist group. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said, “There have long been calls to ban the whole group with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors.” He added, “Hezbollah themselves have laughed off the suggestion there is a difference.”
The UK now joins Canada, the U.S., Israel, the Netherlands and the Arab League in banning the terror organization.
In August 2019, Hezbollah appeared to adopt the arson techniques that Palestinians in Gaza have used repeatedly to attack Israel. Hezbollah operatives set fires near the border and winds spread the flames toward an IDF base and the community of Margaliot. Israeli news reported that officials believe Hezbollah were going to use this tactic to try to distract the IDF and clear the area to prevent Israeli forces from having cover near the border.
In 2019, the British finance ministry classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and, a year later, expanded the scope of its asset-freezing measures to cover the entire organization, including its ”military wing.”
In December 2019, the German Bundestag passed a non-binding resolution calling on the German government to ban the activities of Hezbollah. The government banned Hezbollah’s “military wing” in 2013 after the group was implicated in the July 2012 bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in which five Israelis were killed. Hezbollah’s “political wing,” however, continued to raise funds in the country. In April 2020, Germany’s interior ministry outlawed all Hezbollah activities within the Federal Republic. The same day German police raided four Hezbollah-controlled mosque associations in Berlin, Dortmund, Bremen and Münster.
The chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, was quoted as saying that Lebanon is at the forefront of Iran’s battle against Israel. This angered many Lebanese who are tiring of what amounts to Iranian occupation of their country through their Hezbollah proxies.
“Making Lebanon an extension of Iran violates the country’s sovereignty and independence,” wrote Lebanese commentator Souad Lazkani. “Iran can and will use its rockets to fire from Lebanon to Israel if need be and whenever it wants, even if Lebanon does not agree to it. It will fall on the Lebanese people to pay the price of the heavy consequences as its territory becomes an arena for Iran’s battle with Israel,” he said.
“Hezbollah’s illegal weapons did not protect Lebanon in the past and will not protect it today,” the Lebanese Social Democratic Party said in a statement. “Instead, these weapons subject Lebanon to all forms of isolation, boycotts and sanctions.”
Khaled Abu Toameh noted that Iran’s allies unveiled a statue in Beirut of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by the United States the year before. “Hezbollah seems pretty damn desperate to make late Iranian General Qassem Soleimani a local hero, despite knowing that for a majority of the people in Lebanon he simply represents a foreign power,” said Lebanese researcher Nizar Hassan.
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