Hezbollah

FormedApril 9, 1983
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackApril 9, 1983: A group called Islamic Jihad, which would later become Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed sixty-three. The attack brought global attention to the group for the first time. (63 killed, unknown wounded). [1] [2]
Last AttackApril 2, 2016: Hezbollah and Syrian Government forces clashed with Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army near the village of Tal al-Ais outside of Aleppo. The village overlooks the main road connecting Aleppo to Damascus and is thus of strategic importance to both pro-government and opposition forces. Eight Hezbollah troops were killed in addition to 25 pro-Assad soldiers and 18 rebel fighters. (51 killed, unknown wounded). [3]
UpdatedAugust 5, 2016

Narrative Summary

Hezbollah is a Shiite political and militant organization based in Lebanon. Since its early days as a loose collection of underground terrorist cells, it has evolved into a hybrid organization woven into the structure of Lebanese society by providing social services and actively participating in politics while also engaging in international terrorist attacks and regional military operations. [4]   

Largely left out of the state formation process when Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, Shiites in Lebanon were often economically and politically marginalized. In the early 1960s, Imam Musa al-Sadr began mobilizing segments of the Shiite community, eventually resulting in the emergence of Amal, the organization from which Hezbollah would one day split, in 1975. [5] Like Hezbollah, Amal is a Shiite organization with both political and military elements whose members are motivated by a wide range of ideologies and concerns.  The most prominent among these concerns in the 1970s was the presence of local Palestinian militias and Shiite political bosses in the southern, predominantly Shiite region of Lebanon, although some members also were also motivated by anti-Israeli sentiments. [6] [7] [8] [9] Amal and a wide variety of other militant organizations grew and developed in the context of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, which pitted a variety of political, religious, and ethnic organizations against each other in a complex series of shifting alliances and battles that also included foreign influences and multinational peacekeeping forces. 

Palestinian militants were among the groups operating in southern Lebanon at the time, particularly in Shiite dominated south. Using the area as a base from which to attack Israel, the groups received some support from locals, while others accused them of bringing violence to the region. Ultimately, many Palestinians eventually clashed with local Lebanese militias.

During the chaos of the civil war, Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982 in pursuit of these Palestinian militants, and remained in certain areas as an occupying force after both invasions. While some Shiites initially supported the Israeli forces because of the security they provided against Palestinian militants, popular opinion against Israel began to turn as the occupation continued and outside influences ,such as the Iranian Revolution, inspired Shiites in Lebanon to mobilize. [10] Two incidents in particular galvanized popular Shiite opposition to Israeli occupation. While the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps were under the control of the occupying Israeli forces, a Christian Lebanese militia linked to the Phalanges Party entered the camps and killed at least 800 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, including many women, children, and elderly men. An internal Israeli investigation found that the Israeli Defense Force was complicit in allowing the militia into the camps and took no action to prevent the massacre, and used mortar and aircraft to illuminate the area for the Phalangists. [11] [12] In 1983, another incident sparked outrage and prompted many to join the Shiite resistance. An Israeli patrol accidentally crashed through a Shiite festival called Ashura, and when observers began throwing stones, the patrol responded with gunshots and grenades, killing several in the crowd. [13] Following these incidents and amidst growing anti-Israeli sentiment, several Shiite leaders of Amal led by Husain al-Musawi broke away from the group to form a new organization espousing a more militant response to the occupation, which they named Islamic Amal. [14] [15] [16]  [17]

Islamic Amal quickly gained momentum through the recruitment of members from other revolutionary Shiite organizations in the country such as the Muslim Student Union and the Dawa Party of Lebanon. [18] The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) became involved in the group’s formation, supporting the group with funding and training.  The Syrian government also played a small but significant role in sponsoring the group.  [19] [20] This external support allowed the organization to expand rapidly, becoming one of the most prominent Shiite organizations of its kind. [21] The group first gained international notoriety with the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. and French military barracks in Beirut, which was carried out under the alias “Islamic Jihad.” [22] [23] It remains somewhat unclear whether a group of Islamic Amal members split away from the lager group to form Hezbollah or whether Islamic Amal was simply an earlier iteration of Hezbollah. Although some members point to the year 1982 as Hezbollah’s founding date, the official manifesto was not released until 1985. [24]  

In 1985, the group published a manifesto under the new name of Hezbollah. In the manifesto, Hezbollah outlined several key goals of the group: to destroy Israel, to expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East, and to combat their enemies within Lebanon, particularly the Phalanges Party. It asserted that an Islamic state was the only legitimate option for the Lebanese government, and emphasized that it considered the international system and the 1985 Lebanese government subject to imperial influences and hostile to Islam. The manifesto denied Israel’s right to exist. [25] As Hezbollah’s constituency broadened to include more moderate Shiites, organization leaders like Hassan Nasrallah and Na’im Qassem would periodically suggest that the manifesto was becoming more disconnected from the group’s day-to-day operations and goals. [26] 

As Hezbollah expanded, it came into direct competition and eventually conflict with Amal. Not only was Amal more focused on the Palestinian militias than the Israeli occupation, Amal also chose to cooperate with the Maronite and Sunni factions from Northern Lebanon, while Hezbollah preferred to work outside the existing political system.  Furthermore, whereas Amal received the majority of its funding from the Assad Regime in Syria, Hezbollah was financed by the IRGC and clashed with the Syrian backed Christian and Sunni groups from northern Lebanon. [27] [28] Despite Syria’s initial aid to Hezbollah in the early 1980s, by 1987 Syria’s direct intervention in Lebanon and its fear of Iran’s growing power in Lebanon led to direct armed clashes between Hezbollah and Syrian troops. Vying for predominance over the support of the Shiite population of Southern Lebanon, Amal and Hezbollah also came into direct conflict during this period. [29]

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s on a local level Hezbollah pursued its goal of combatting Israel and the West through militant means. Hezbollah carried out a total of twelve suicide attacks against Israeli forces and their allies during the occupation in addition to a number of other military assaults. [30] Their attacks killed an average of twenty-five Israeli soldiers per year throughout the occupation. [31] 

Groups linked to Hezbollah also kidnapped foreigners throughout the late 1980s, including Terry Anderson, an American journalist who was held for nearly seven years until his eventual release in 1991. [32] Negotiations to free Hezbollah hostages were often complex, as captors not only demanded freedom for Lebanese prisoners in Israel but also fought to compel the U.S. to unfreeze Iranian assets. [33] The 1988 kidnapping of U.S. Marine Lt. Colonel William R. Higgins sparked clashes between Amal, which sought to maintain good relations with the UN force in Lebanon, and Hezbollah, which supported the kidnapping. Amal attempted and failed to free him, and the incident resulted in continued clashes between Hezbollah and Amal. Amal ultimately lost ground to Hezbollah. [34] 

From 1985 through the 1990s, Hezbollah also maintained an active global presence under the leadership of Imad Mughniyah, who ran what came to be known as the group’s External Security Organization (also known as the Islamic Jihad Organization or the External Services Organization), the branch that plans and executes attacks outside of Lebanon. Members of this group, guided by Mughniyah, hijacked TWA Flight 847 from Cairo to Athens in 1985, holding hostages for weeks and killing one in order to draw attention to and free Lebanese prisoners in Israel. [35] [36] [37] [38] The hijackers called for the release of 766 prisoners, and, after the Israeli government released 300, the hijackers freed the remaining hostages. [39] In March 1992, Hezbollah operatives carried out a truck bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing twenty-nine and wounding 242, and in in July 1994 it was accused of bombing the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, which killed nearly 100 and wounded more than 200. Hezbollah denied responsibility for the attack. [40] [41] In June 1996, the group bombed the American Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 19. [42] [43] 

In addition to Hezbollah’s militant agenda abroad and war against Israel at home, the group became deeply ingrained in the social and political landscape of southern Lebanon. Shiite groups in the region had a history of providing social services to the local population, and Hezbollah’s were among the most professional and extensive, from infrastructure construction to health services. In 1989, the Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese Civil War, opened the door for Hezbollah to join the Lebanese political process as an official party and also allowed the group to remain armed. It competed in its first national elections in 1992 and won eight seats in Parliament, but would not gain significant political power until the Doha Agreement of 2008. [44] 

After the civil war, Hezbollah continued its day-to-day social service efforts and also demonstrated its professionalism and effectiveness in times of crises; for example the group undertook to rebuild the homes and businesses of Christian families returning to southern Beirut after the war. [45] Hezbollah led the reconstruction process after a 1996 Israeli bombing campaign in southern Lebanon, reportedly rebuilding 5,000 homes and repairing roads and infrastructure. It also claims to have provided compensation to 2,300 farmers in the area. [46] 

While participating as a political party and a provider of social services, Hezbollah continued to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli occupation.[47]  Other Lebanese organizations also attacked Israeli forces in the south, but by the 1990s Hezbollah was by far the most prominent resistance force. [48] Israel’s departure in 2000 was widely attributed to Hezbollah, increasing the group’s popularity amongst the Lebanese population.  [49] [50]  

After a period of relative calm from 2000 to 2006, the group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in July of 2006, resulting in a month-long war with Israel. [51] The conflict resulted in the deaths of 164 Israelis, including forty-five civilians, and over 1,125 Lebanese, mostly civilians. [52] When the fighting ended with a ceasefire in August, Hezbollah claimed victory because Israel had been unable to destroy the organization. Supporters lauded Hezbollah’s endurance and supposed victory against Israel, while others accused the organization of instigating an unnecessary and highly destructive war. [53] [54] 

Meanwhile, Hezbollah continued to gain support as a political party. In December 2006, in an attempt to force the sitting government to resign, it led the opposition in a sit-in that resulted in eighteen months of political deadlock.  [55] [56] Tensions between the group and national government erupted again in May 2008, when the government began to follow through with a plan to shut down Hezbollah’s private telecommunications network. Violence broke out between government supporters and Hezbollah on the streets of Beirut while the Lebanese army largely sat out the conflict. Hezbollah and its supporters took over parts of Beirut, but speculation that the violence would lead to a coup was quelled when the Arab League brokered a settlement between the government and Hezbollah. [57] The settlement, called the Doha Agreement, granted Hezbollah veto power in the government and pledged that no political group would use weapons for in-country disputes. [58] [59] 

While Hezbollah remains headquartered in the Bekaa Valley and its most prominent global terrorist attacks ended in the 1990s, the group is still active internationally. The organization runs its own camps to train members as well as members of other terrorist organizations. [60]

In 2011, Hezbollah began sending military advisors to aid the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.  In June 2013, Hezbollah officials confirmed that the organization had also deployed combat forces to fight alongside Assad’s troops and other allied Shiite organizations. At first, Hezbollah forces in Syria were mainly concentrated in the city of al-Qusayr on the border of Syria and Lebanon. However, by 2015, Hezbollah units were operating in increasing far-flung areas of Syria, including in the northwest in Idlib and Aleppo, in the south near Daraa, and even in the central and eastern parts of the country. [61] In June 2015, the group was particularly active in the Qalamoun mountain range, which straddles the Lebanon-Syria border and overlooks the Bekaa Valley. Hezbollah defeated elements of both Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in the battle for the Qalamoun Mountains, successfully reopening a path from Lebanon into Syria. [62] Since 2015, the group has continued to operate throughout the country, fighting alongside both Iranian and Russian troops as well as other pro-Assad militant groups. Its most common opponents are the Islamic State, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and elements of the Free Syrian Army. [63] [64] [65]

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war has not been without its consequences. Of the 6,000-8,000 Hezbollah troops deployed to Syria, over 1,000 are estimated to have died in action. [66] [67] Furthermore, several top Hezbollah commanders, such as Abu Jaafar and Ali Fayyad, have been killed while serving in Syria. [68] In addition to its human toll, Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war has severely undermined the organization’s popularity and credibility around the Arab world.  Once considered one of the most popular sub-state Arab movements in the region, Hezbollah’s support of the Assad regime has alienated much of the Middle East’s Sunni population. [69] This growing unpopularity is believed to have been a key factor behind the decisions by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab League, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the spring of 2016. [70] [71] [72] Despite this, Hezbollah leadership has repeatedly stated its intent to continue fighting until Assad regains control over the Syria. [73]

The war in Syria has not had only negative consequences for Hezbollah, however. The group has received significant amounts of high tech military equipment and weaponry from Russia and Iran and has gained valuable tactical and strategic experience. [74] [75] Additionally, reports suggest that the group’s recruiting capabilities in Lebanon have expanded since 2011. [76] The group has also been able to build a heavily fortified base within Syria, near the town of al-Qusayr, where it has stockpiled artillery capable of targeting major Israeli towns and cities. It is also currently using the base for joint training of IRGC and Hezbollah forces. [77] [78]

Leadership

Hezbollah is run by a seven-member Shura Council. The Council oversees both regional and functional committees, serving such interests as ideology, finances, policy, military affairs, social affairs, and legal affairs. The leadership position of secretary-general was later added, as were political councils when Hezbollah entered the Lebanese political landscape in the 1980s. [79] However, due to its focus on security and secrecy, little is known about the command structure within the organization’s military wing. [80] 

  1. Naim Qassem (Unknown to Present): Qassem is the deputy chief of Hezbollah.[81]
  2. Talal Hamiyah (Unknown to Present): Hamiyah leads the group’s External Security Organization, which is the branch of Hezbollah that plans and executes attacks outside of Lebanon, formerly run by Mughniyah. [82]
  3. Sayyad Abbas Musawi (Unknown to February 16, 1992): Musawi was Hezbollah’s cofounder and first secretary-general. He was killed in 1992 by an Israeli helicopter strike that also killed at least six others. [83]
  4. Imad Mughniyeh (1983 to February 12, 2008): Mughniyeh was Hezbollah’s senior military commander and was reportedly responsible for a number of overseas attacks. He was killed in a car bombing in 2008 that was allegedly carried out by Mossad in coordination with the CIA.[84]
  5. Hassan Nasrallah (1992 to Present): Nasrallah is Hezbollah’s current secretary-general. Under his leadership, Hezbollah continued military operations and increased its role in politics.[85]
  6. Mustafa Badr al-Din (2008 to May 16, 2016): ) Badr al-Din allegedly replaced Imad Mughniyah as military commander of Hezbollah. Badr al-Din was killed in Syria on May 10, 2016 in an explosion at the Damascus airport. The circumstances surrounding the explosion are somewhat unclear; some sources allege that it was the result of rebel artillery while others have blamed an Israeli missile strike. Hezbollah has released a statement that it is investigating both possibilities.[86]

Ideology & Goals

According to Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto, its original goals were: to destroy Israel, to expel Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East, and to combat its enemies within Lebanon, particularly the Phalanges Party. It also claimed that it aimed to “permit” Lebanese people to choose their own government, with the caveat that “only an Islamic regime can stop any further tentative attempts of imperialistic infiltration into our county.” The group considered the international system and the 1985 Lebanese government subject to imperial influences and hostile to Islam, and it denied Israel’s right to exist. [87] As Hezbollah’s constituency broadened to include more moderate Shiites, organization leaders like Hassan Nasrallah and Na’im Qassem would periodically suggest that the manifesto was becoming more disconnected from the group’s operations and goals. [88] [89] 

A new 2009 manifesto reflected changes in the organization’s role in Lebanon since 1985. It emphasized national unity and denounced sectarianism, and did not single out Islamic governance as the only option for Lebanon’s future. However, it continued to highlight its goal of liberating Palestine, its opposition to the United States, and its commitment to fight Israeli expansion and aggression. [90] [91]  

In 2011, the group vocally supported many of the Arab Spring uprisings. [92] However, it also aims to protect the Assad regime, one of its key allies in the region, and has sent troops to support the Assad government in Syria and expel extremist Sunni militias from the country. [93] Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to continue to militarily support the Assad regime until it regains control of Syria. [94] 

Name Changes

Hezbollah first announced itself as a cohesive group in 1985. Before that, its members were part of organizations like Islamic Amal, which many analysts consider an early iteration of Hezbollah. [95] [96] The U.S. government considers Islamic Jihad, which the group used to claim its first attack, to be an alias of Hezbollah. [97] 

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

European Union – designated July 22, 2013[101] 

United States – designated October 8, 1997[102] 

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—designated March 2, 2016. [103]

Arab League—designated March 11, 2016 [104]

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—designated April 14, 2016 [105] [106]

Lebanon does not consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. [107] 

Resources

Hezbollah is supported by Iran, Syria, and fundraising networks across the globe, especially within the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. [108] Much of its funding comes from private donations and profits from both legitimate and illegal businesses. [109] Groups and individuals support Hezbollah from abroad through revenues from illicit activities, from blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone to credit card fraud in the United States. [110]  

Although most members of Hezbollah are Lebanese Shiites, the organization recruits globally. Foreign-born recruits and Arab Israelis living abroad, whose passports allowed them to pass through Israeli security more easily, were especially sought after in the early 2000s when Hezbollah reportedly attempted to carry out terrorist operations inside Israeli borders. Other global members do not serve as militants but instead logistical or financial operatives, serving functions like fundraising and recruiting. [111] 

Since Hezbollah’s creation, Iran and its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have played a large role in training, supplying, and funding the group. The IRGC has trained thousands of Hezbollah militants and continues to provide it with supplies, as evidenced by the 2009 Israeli seizure of a navy ship carrying 400-500 tons of weapons destined for Hezbollah from Iran. [112] While analysts agree that Iran is a key source of funding for the organization, estimates of its annual financial support to Hezbollah vary wildly over time, from $60,000 per year to $200 million per year. [113][114][115] Western and Israeli observers worry that the amount of aid Iran is providing to the group will rise in the wake of the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal, under which many of the international sanctions crippling the Iranian economy were lifted. [116] 

The Syrian government has played a key role as an intermediary between Iran and Hezbollah, shuttling arms and intelligence between the two parties. [117] In addition to facilitating weapons transport from Iran, Syria has also provided weapons directly to the group. [118] [119]  Since the onset of Russian participation in the Syrian Civil War alongside Hezbollah and the Assad Regime, the Syrian government has given Hezbollah a number of advanced Russian anti-aircraft weapon systems provided to the Assad regime by the Russian military.  Among these systems are a number of SA-17 Buk missile batteries, which can directly threaten Israeli aircraft operating over Northern Israel and Syria. [120]

Hezbollah is estimated to have amassed a vast arsenal of relatively sophisticated weapons over the past several decades.  For instance, Israeli intelligence reports suggest that Hezbollah has stockpiled over 100,000 rockets and missiles of a variety of ranges and sizes. [121]

External Influences

Although Hezbollah has close ties to Iran and the Syrian government, its relationship to both nations has fluctuated over time. For instance, the level of financial support that Hezbollah receives from Iran has largely depended on those in power in Iran; for example, Iranian funding to Hezbollah decreased dramatically after the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. [122] Analysts are now predicting another increase in Iranian funding to Hezbollah following the Iranian nuclear arms deal concluded last summer that lifted many of the sanctions that had been crippling the Iranian economy. [123] Furthermore, although presently Hezbollah is one of the Syrian regime’s most vital allies in the Syrian civil war, during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon in the 1980s, Hezbollah and Syrian Army units clashed multiple times in the border areas between Lebanon and Syria. [124] 

Geographical Locations

Hezbollah is based in southern Lebanon, headquartered in the Bekaa Valley. [125] It conducts the majority of its operations there, but also operates cells globally. Members abroad may raise money for the group, recruit, or plan operations. [126] [127]

Hezbollah has also had troops deployed in Syria fighting alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad since June 2013. [128] At first, Hezbollah forces in Syria were mainly concentrated in the city of al-Qusayr on the border of Syria and Lebanon. However, by 2015, Hezbollah units were operating in increasing far-flung areas of Syria, including in the northwest in Idlib and Aleppo, in the south near Daraa, and even in the central and eastern parts of the country. [129]

The group has also sent military advisors to aid the Iranian-supported, Shiite paramilitaries in Iraq. [130] [131]

Targets & Tactics

Hezbollah has targeted Israeli and Western interests, military, and citizens, particularly in the Middle East and, most recently, the Syrian opposition forces and the Islamic State in the civil war.  

Its tactics have evolved since its creation. Beginning in the 1980s, kidnapping both foreigners and locals to bargain with the West remained a key tactic until the early 1990s. [132] However, other forms of violent attacks against Israel during the occupation were largely limited to military targets. [133] Large-scale attacks on Western and Israeli targets across the world throughout the 1980s and 1990s drew attention to the group and resulted in hundreds of casualties. While it still engages in acts of terrorism, Hezbollah has also developed elements of a more traditional military force and has proven its capabilities as such in the Syrian Civil War. [134] Despite its official opposition toward the U.S., the group has not explicitly targeted U.S. assets since the 1990s. [135] 

After the 2000 Israeli withdrawal, there was reportedly an extensive internal debate on whether to focus on Lebanese politics to the exclusion of the “resistance” against Israel. Nasrallah reportedly consulted with Ayatollah Khamenei on the decision. Ultimately, the group chose to continue carrying out attacks against Israeli military targets; Hezbollah attacks along the “Blue Line” and in contested farming areas in the south would kill seventeen Israeli soldiers up through 2006. Six Israeli civilians were also killed in this period, including five killed in a Palestinian operation that may have received assistance from Hezbollah. [136] 

Political Activities

Hezbollah is active in Lebanese politics as a political party called Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc. However, before it formed an official party after the 1989 Taif Agreement, the group participated in national political discourse only through the media. In 1984 it began publishing a weekly newspaper, al-Ahad, and subsequently began broadcasting two radio stations. In 1989, it created its own television station, al-Manar. These media outlets provided political commentary, news, cultural programs, Islamic programs, and propaganda associated with the organization’s fight against Israel and Western forces. [137] [138] 

After extensive internal debates on whether or not to enter the political system at all, the organization created a party that would act within the Lebanese system, but would also employ violence and the threat of violence as a tool in its political dealings. It ran in national elections for the first time in 1992 and won eight seats in the parliamentary elections. [139] Since then, it has regularly won about ten percent of parliamentary seats. [140] 

The party has focused largely on nonreligious themes, but officials say that Hezbollah members are required by Islamic law to support the party. [141] In December 2006, it led the opposition in a sit-in that resulted in eighteen months of political deadlock.  [142] [143] Tensions between the group and national government erupted again in May 2008, when the government began to follow through with a plan to shut down Hezbollah’s private telecommunications network. Violence broke out between government supporters and Hezbollah on the streets of Beirut while the Lebanese army largely sat out the conflict. Hezbollah and its supporters took over parts of Beirut, but speculation that the violence would lead to a coup was quelled when the Arab League brokered a settlement between the government and Hezbollah. [144] The settlement, called the Doha Agreement, granted Hezbollah veto power in the government and pledged that no political group would use weapons for domestic disputes. [145] [146]  

Although Hezbollah was defeated in the 2009 parliamentary elections, it still managed to wield considerable political influence in government. It successfully negotiated ten seats in a new executive cabinet, and managed to get another five reserved for “independent” presidential appointees, so that only half of the thirty seats were actually taken by government coalition. [147] 

Hezbollah supported some Arab Spring movements, but opposed the uprisings in Syria. Bashar al-Assad is a critical ally and his fall would jeopardize Hezbollah’s power and security in the region. [148] 

Major Attacks

Hezbollah is known for its attention-grabbing attacks worldwide, but authorities have foiled a number of Hezbollah operations across the globe. A plan to attack the Israeli Embassy in Azerbaijan was stopped before it reached fruition, as was a 2008 plan to target Israeli tourists and ships in the Suez Canal. Other disrupted plots may be unknown to the public. [149]  

  1. November 1982: Hezbollah member Ahmad Qasir carried out a truck bombing against an Israeli headquarters in Tyre, killing at least 75 Israelis and fourteen Arab prisoners. (75+ killed, unknown wounded).[150]
  2. April 19, 1983: A suicide bombing on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut killed 63 people and was attributed to militants of the Islamic Jihad, an early alias of Hezbollah (63 killed, unknown wounded).[151]
  3. June 14, 1985: Hezbollah members highjacked TWA flight 847, holding hostages for weeks and killing one before releasing the rest in exchange for the release of 300 Lebanese prisoners in Israel (1 killed, 0 wounded ).[152]
  4. June 14, 1985: Hezbollah members hijacked TWA flight 847, holding hostages for weeks and killing one before ultimately releasing the rest in exchange for the release of 300 Lebanese prisoners in Israel (1 killed, 0 wounded).[153]
  5. March 17, 1992: Hezbollah operatives carried out a truck bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing twenty-nine and wounding 242 (29 killed, 242 wounded).[154]
  6. July 18, 1994: Hezbollah was implicated in the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 200. It denied responsibility (85 killed, 200+ wounded).[155]
  7. June 25, 1996: Hezbollah bombed the American Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 (19 killed, unknown wounded ).[156]
  8. February 14, 2005: In 2011, the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon indicted four members of Hezbollah for the February 2005 car bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri that also killed 21 others (21 killed, unknown wounded).[157]
  9. July 12, 2006: Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed 8 more, sparking a month-long war with Israel (8 killed, unknown wounded).[158]
  10. May 2008: Hezbollah took over parts of Beirut after government calls to disarm, resulting in street violence and over 60 deaths. The resulting negotiations with the government gave Hezbollah veto power in the national cabinet (60+ killed, unknown wounded).[159]
  11. July 18, 2012: Hezbollah’s international wing bombed an Israeli tour bus in Bulgaria, killing five Israelis and the Bulgarian bus driver. This was the first successful attack in a campaign to increase global operations beginning around 2008. Hezbollah denies responsibility for the bombing (6 killed, unknown wounded).[160]
  12. May 29, 2013: Hezbollah collaborated with and led the Syrian Army in their attack on al-Qusayr, a rebel stronghold, playing a significant role in the conflict for the first time after months of rumored involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Hezbollah and the Syrian Army were victorious, marking a turning point in the war in which Assad began to regain key strategic territory (unknown casualties).
  13. May 29, 2013: Hezbollah collaborated with and led the Syrian Army in their attack on al-Qusayr, a rebel stronghold, playing a significant role in the conflict for the first time after months of rumored involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Hezbollah and the Syrian Army were victorious, marking a turning point in the war in which Assad began to regain key strategic territory (unknown casualties).[161]
  14. January 28, 2015: Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli soldiers in the disputed Har Dov area between Lebanon and Syria, killing two. In a separate border incident on the same day between Israel and Hezbollah, a UN Interim Force member was killed (3 killed, 7+ wounded).[162]
  15. May 2015: For the final two weeks of May 2015, Hezbollah forces were engaged in heavy fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra) and IS across the Qalamoun mountain range in western Syria. By early June Hezbollah had recaptured much of the mountain range and reopened a path from Lebanon into Syria (unknown casualties).[163]
  16. April 2, 2016: Hezbollah and Syrian government forces clashed with rebel troops belonging to Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army near the village of Tal al-Ais outside of Aleppo. The village overlooks the main road connecting Aleppo to Damascus and is thus of strategic importance to both sides. Eight Hezbollah troops were killed in addition to 25 pro-Assad forces and 18 rebels (51 killed, unknown wounded).[164]

Relationships with Other Groups

Hezbollah first emerged as a splinter group from Amal, and has had a complicated history with the group since then. They both compete for the same Shiite constituency, and flare-ups have included pitched battles between the groups, for example in 1988 when they clashed over the kidnapping of U.S. Marine Lt. Colonel William R. Higgins, leading to a lasting feud. [165] However, the groups have also worked together, as in 2000 when an Amal-Hezbollah bloc won all parliamentary seats in southern Lebanon. [166]   

As Hezbollah has become more experienced, it has begun training and assisting other terrorist organizations, often acting as a facilitator for Iranian sponsorship. It is linked to Palestinian terror organizations such as Al-Aqsa Martyrs and Shia Iraqi militants like Kata’in Hezbollah, as well as various Christian and Muslim militias in Lebanon. [167] Hezbollah’s Unit 1800, or the “Nun Unit,” is responsible for supporting Palestinian militants. [168] It maintains close ties with Hamas, providing financial support and military training for the armed branch of the Palestinian organization, and according to one Congressional Report, has acted as “a role model” for Hamas due to its own political success. [169] Hezbollah also allegedly worked alongside the Iranian Quds Force to train Shia militants in the use of IEDs and other weaponry in Iraq beginning in 2004. [170] 

Hezbollah has had a troubled relationship with Sunni terrorist groups, particularly Al Qaeda (AQ). In April 2006, AQ attempted to assassinate Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who regularly condemns AQ attacks. [171] In 2013, Hezbollah began sending fighters to Syria to assist Assad’s army in the fight against rebel groups, including the Islamic State, Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, and elements of the Free Syrian Army. [172] In addition to cooperating with the Assad-regime’s forces and the IRGC, Hezbollah has also fought alongside elements of the Iraqi Shiite organizations Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq (AAH) in Syria. Hezbollah’s relationship with these groups predates the Syrian Civil War; it has helped finance and train both KH and AAH since their inception in the mid-2000s. [173] [174]

Hezbollah also has historically had a relationship with the Mahdi Army, now known as the Peace Brigades, which is another Shiite Iraqi militant group.  Hezbollah was particularly instrumental in training the initial members of the Mahdi Army following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. [175] [176] Unlike AAH and KH, however, the Mahdi Army has not sent fighters to Syria, nor is it as closely linked to the Iranian government.  However, the group is led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the cousin of Amal founder Musa al-Sadr, who has reportedly made several official visits to Lebanon to consult with top Hezbollah leaders in recent years. [177]

Community Relationships

During Lebanon’s civil war, the state was often ineffective as a service provider, so civil service organizations, including Hezbollah, have a significant history of providing needed services to Lebanese citizens, especially Shiites. [178] The Shiites have often felt marginalized in recent Lebanese history, bearing the brunt of the struggle with Israel, suffering poor economic conditions, and traditionally wielding little power in government. [179] The government is often accused of ignoring civilian needs in the south, where Shiites are concentrated and Hezbollah maintains its headquarters. [180] It is in this context, of a marginalized community in a country where civil service organizations often play a key role, that Hezbollah developed its social service capacity.  

While it is difficult to pinpoint the date that Hezbollah first became involved in social services, it earned a reputation as a movement of the poor early in its development in the 1980s. [181] Hezbollah is now deeply engrained in Lebanese Shiite society, using social outreach to cement the political support of the Shiite Lebanese it aids, recruit new members, and spread its interpretation of Islam. [182] Hezbollah has provided a number of social services in Lebanon, particularly in the south, operating schools, clinics, and hospitals, collecting garbage, providing credit assistance, and delivering drinking water. [183] As of 2009, Hezbollah’s schools reportedly reached about 14,000 students. [184]  

To carry out its work, Hezbollah has an organized social services sector made up of multiple NGOs grouped under three branches: Social Unit, Islamic Health Unit, and Education Unit. The work of the Social Unit spans across a number of areas, from the construction of infrastructure to supporting the families of killed Hezbollah members and civilian victims of the 2006 Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon. The Islamic Health Unit includes a number of hospitals and clinics in addition to social health programs, and the Education Unit provides scholarships and operates schools. [185]  

In addition to its day-to-day operations, it often garners support through responses to Israeli attacks. In 1996, for example, the group claimed to have rebuilt 5,000 homes in 82 villages after the Israeli attack, and after the 2006 bombardment the group suspended its military efforts to provide social services and reconstruction. While Shiites are the targeted recipients and some services are reserved for families of deceased Hezbollah fighters, the organization’s efforts also reach members of other sects. [186] [187]For example, they will advertise their health services to the Lebanese population at large after Israeli attacks, and receive heightened media coverage in turn. [188]  

Although Hezbollah gains support from the community by carrying out social services, it also is criticized by many in Lebanese society for its role in inciting Israeli attacks. [189] 


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  188. ^ Flanigan, Shawn Teresa, and Mounah Abdel-Samad. "Hezbollah's Social Jihad: Nonprofits As Resistance Organizations." Middle East Policy 16.2 (2009): 126. Wiley Online Library. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
  189. ^ Cammett, Melani. "Habitat for Hezbollah." Habitat for Hezbollah Comments. Foreign Policy, 17 Aug. 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

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