BREAKDOWN: Who is Hezbollah?

Always menacing Israel’s northern border and breathing threats against Israel and the U.S., will Hezbollah jump into this war?

 

It goes without saying that when Hamas opens up a front with Israel on its southern border that everyone will look to the north to see if Hezbollah is going to get involved as well. 


Hezbollah is the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor, and has been described as “a militia trained like an army and equipped like a state.” 
 

The name Hezbollah means party of God or Party of Allah. Hezbollah was founded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 1982 during Lebanon’s civil war. This was a way for Iranian clerics to export their 1979 Islamic Revolution around the region and also a way to keep at bay Israel and the regional influence of the United States. 

 

 

Like the nation of Iran, Hezbollah is Shia Muslim. So once in Lebanon, the group recruited Shi’ites from the local population to join. Now we must also know a little bit about Lebanon in order to understand how this impacted the country. 

 

 

The population is about 5.4 million. The country has no relations with Israel and is considered to be in a state of war with the Jewish state. Modern-day Lebanon is very sectarian and has a diverse population of Christians, Muslims, and Druze that are fractured into smaller groups. 

 

 

Christian Maronites make up the largest Christian denomination in Lebanon. Christians constitute about 40% of the total population. Both Sunni Muslims and Shittes account for about 30% each of the rest of the population.

 

 

These three major religious groups are further divided into 18 different groups or denominations, with many of them having their own political party.

 

 

Now a political party as well, Hezbollah wields a huge amount of influence in Lebanon. However, many Lebanese also accuse Hezbollah of unilaterally dragging Lebanon into armed conflicts with Israel on its own terms.

 

 

Hezbollah has ministers in government and lawmakers in parliament. The group runs a vast social services network – including hospitals, schools, and charities. However it also acts as a mafia of sorts controlling the Beirut port, managing a drug trade and doing what it wants in its territory such as attacking Israel but without any accountability to the overall government.

 

 

Several years ago I spoke with a U.S. security analyst who told me that Hezbollah also functions as an international criminal syndicate specializing in narcotics, money laundering, and weapons. They are especially active in South America. He said that Hezbollah laundered $200 million a month on behalf of drug cartels and other criminals.

 

 

This money is used to finance the IRGC, Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

 

HOW POWERFUL IS HEZBOLLAH’S MILITARY?

 

 

According to the groups’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah in 2021, Hezbollah 100,000 fighters. 


 

 

The groups’ rocket arsenal is believed to be between 130, to 200,000 rockets many of which can strike anywhere in Israel. With this quantity they could easily overwhelm Israel’s anti-rocket defenses.

 

 

Experts believe that like Hamas, Hezbollah has a network of bunkers, tunnels and underground storage depots.

 

 

Crucially, Hezbollah has vast stocks of long-range missiles, which could strike almost anywhere in Israel and overwhelm defensive shields to destroy essential infrastructure as well as hit population centres. Recent Israeli airstrikes in Syria are likely to have been aimed at interdicting further supplies reaching Hezbollah from Iran.

 

 

In its last major conflict with Israel, Hezbollah operative crossed into Israel, kidnapping two soldiers and killing others, and sparking a five-week war with Israel in 2006. During that time it fired more than 4,000 rockets rockets into Israel. Some 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon and 158 Israelis were killed, most of them soldiers.

 

 

They are believed to be better armed now.

 

 

HEZBOLLAH ON THE WORLD STAGE

 

 

The United States — among other Western nations — has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. So do some Muslim states including Saudi Arabia.

 

 

Hezbollah is believed to be behind major terror attacks including the massive suicide bombing at a U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut in 1983, that killed 241 servicemen and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires which killed 85, and the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29. Iran and Hezbollah both deny responsibility.

 

 

The European Union classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group, but not its political wing.

 

 

WHAT REGIONAL SWAY DOES HEZBOLLAH HAVE?

 

 

Hezbollah supports other Iranian-backed groups across the Middle East including in Syria and Iraq and possibly also the Houthis in Yemen — although Hezbollah has denied this. 

 

But Hezbollah does have deep ties to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Since the invasion of and massacre in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, Hezbollah has been poised to escalate Hamas’ war. We’ve seen cross-border exchanges of fire with Israel almost every day and some attempted and actual incursions into Israel.

 

Meanwhile, over the last two weeks, the United States and other countries urged their citizens to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible.” Do they know something we don’t?

 

 

Finally, on Oct. 25, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah met with Hamas and PIJ leaders in Beirut to discuss what they must do to QUOTE “achieve a real victory for the resistance.”

 

 

“An assessment was made of the international positions being taken and what the parties of the Axis of Resistance must do … to realize a real victory for the resistance in Gaza and Palestinian and to halt the brutal aggression,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

 

 

Now, this certainly lines up with Hezbollah’s manifesto in which it says its “struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated.”

 

 

The only question is whether they plan that for now, during this war, or later.

 

 

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