In January and February of 1985, as Israel began slowly pulling out of Lebanon, a Lebanese sheik announced the official formation of a resistance movement named “Hezbollah,” the name that today is synonymous with Katushya rockets and terror. Hezbollah was founded in order to combat what the Lebanese perceived as Israeli occupation; even though Israel withdrew most of its troops, Hezbollah objected to the soldiers stationed in a “security zone” in southern Lebanon. Between 1982 and 2000, Hezbollah, which means “party of God,” waged guerrilla warfare against the IDF, attacking and kidnapping soldiers.
Hezbollah ideology is based heavily on the teachings of the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Kohmeini. In fact, Hezbollah and Iran are closely linked, the latter donating a tremendous amount of aid, weapons, and money to Hezbollah. Hezbollah also receives assistance from the Syrian government, as well as from donations from religious institutions around the world. Hezbollah has emerged as a well-funded, highly-organized terrorist group, evolving from a primitive cell to an organization with sophisticated weaponry and missiles. Hezbollah’s political arm is influential in Lebanese politics, and Hezbollah enjoys wide support among the general Lebanese population, especially within the Shiite community. The group has been accused of some of the worst atrocities in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the suicide truck bombings of the US Embassy and US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the wave of kidnappings of Westerners in the 1980s, known as the Lebanese hostage crisis; the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847; an attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992; and countless attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Hezbollah is defined as a terrorist organization by many countries, including the United States. Since 1992, the group has been led by Hassan Nasrallah, a charismatic leader, and an adept commander who takes a hard-line approach toward Israel, and was responsible for much of the military and propaganda campaign during Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. His popularity has surged within Lebanon since the withdrawal, and the social welfare networks in Lebanon that he created have allowed Hezbollah to make substantial gains in the Lebanese parliament. Nasrallah is one of the most popular figures in the Arab world.
The goal of Hezbollah is to eradicate the Jewish state. None of the leaders within the movement recognize Israel, and they have accused fellow Arabs in the Palestinian Authority of betrayal for agreeing to move forward with the peace process. Hezbollah justifies their attacks on Israel by claiming Israel unjustly occupies some of their territories and is holding Lebanese citizens prisoners. Like its fellow terrorist group Hamas, Hezbollah claims to be anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic, but has often issued statements regarding conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial which smack of anti-Semitism.
Hezbollah attacks were the main cause of Israel entering into a second war with Lebanon in 2006. Hezbollah had been conducting cross-border raids, killing and kidnapping soldiers, and firing rockets into Israeli towns. Though Israel responded with a mighty military effort, the “asymmetrical warfare” practiced by Hezbollah members, mostly in the form of devastating Katushya rockets, made it difficult for Israel to uproot the organization completely. While Hezbollah could not very effectively invade and conquer another country, what its army lacks in military strength it more than makes up for with deadly guerilla tactics.
Hezbollah and its parent country, Lebanon, have an uneasy relationship. Hezbollah is currently the most powerful political party within Lebanon, and although Lebanon denies supporting or encouraging the terrorism, they also do little to stop it. However, when the Lebanese government tried to weaken Hezbollah’s influence by breaking up its internal communications system, Hezbollah fought back. And despite Hezbollah’s promise to never harm a Lebanese citizen, many were harmed during the brief, decisive battle. At the end of the conflict, in 2008, Hezbollah was granted veto power in the Lebanese government and controls eleven of the thirty seats in the parliament. The agreement came just as the country was about to dissolve into another civil war. However, many hope that the discord present between Lebanon and Hezbollah will lead to a weakening of Hezbollah’s power.