Hezbollah is a political party made up of Shia Muslims and based in Lebanon. Financially supported by Iran, the group now has its own military troops, TV station, parliamentary legislators, and cabinet ministers. The paramilitary group has gained popularity by providing social services, such as education and healthcare, to under-served, minority Shiite communities in the country. Its members find commonality in their opposition of the Israeli state and of western influence on its culture. They have consistently supported the Assad administration in Syria. Both the United Nations and the United States have called on the movement to demilitarize, but requests have been met with resistance. The United States, Israel, the European Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization.
4. Organizational History and Notable Members
The Hezbollah movement has its roots in the Iranian Revolution that took place during the 1980’s Israeli occupation of Lebanon. It began as a group of Islamic resistance fighters that employed guerrilla warfare against the more advanced Israeli military to push them out of the country. At the time there were between 5,000 and 10,000 fighters. When the war ended in 1990, Syria controlled the region and allowed Hezbollah to go against the Taif agreement which required all militia groups to dissolve. Hezbollah forces continued to guard the border between Lebanon and Israel.
During the 1990’s, the group began forming political ideologies and gaining power in government. Their involvement in politics was supported by Iran. The movement has always been against American imperialism and wanted to bring Muslims together, although, members respect the right to practice other religions. The promised to protect any community that was anti-Israel. The group eventually succeeded in driving Israeli troops out of the country in May of 2000.
In 2006, Hezbollah and Israeli forces once again began fighting along the border in a battle that lasted around one month. Neither side was able to gain the advantage although the Hezbollah leader claims that Israel’s inability to win was a victory for the less advanced militia group. Recently, the group has become involved in the Syrian Civil War by supporting the current president and sending troops to help fight. This move has increased the differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims resulting in attacks on Lebanese ground.
The Secretary General of Hezbollah is Hassan Nasrallah who has held the position for 22 years. He studied Islam under Ayatollah al-Sadr in Iraq where he became acquainted with the founder of Hezbollah, al Musawi. When he returned to Lebanon in 1978, Hassan began teaching at his school. He fought in the first Lebanese War and eventually was asked to lead Hezbollah in 1992.
3. Campaigns and Victories
Hezbollah has been successful at two noteworthy activities. The movement provides various welfare programs to under-served communities throughout Lebanon, a country that does not have the ability to provide health, education, and social assistance. Hezbollah has offices within Shiite communities, noted for their disrepair and stark poverty when compared to other urban areas in the country. The offices administer a complex network of service providers, many of which are legally registered NGO’s (non-governmental organizations).
Their Social Unit has increased access to water in some Beirut neighborhoods by as much as 45% and carries out construction of infrastructure projects. Another program offers financial assistance to families of those who have died in battles against Israel. The Health Unit operates 3 hospitals, 12 health clinics, 20 infirmary units, and 20 dental offices. They carry out such high quality healthcare services that the Lebanese government has given them control of several government-owned facilities as well. The Health Unit collaborates with a network of pharmacies to provide health insurance and low-cost medicines. Hezbollah’s Education Unit provides quality education to children living in poverty so that they are not forced to attend the underdeveloped public schools. For those that cannot afford their low-cost services, they provide grants, books, and financial assistance. Estimates suggest there are over 14,000 children in their schools. Additionally, the Education Unit supervises lending libraries throughout the region.
Hezbollah has also been successful in its political campaigns, currently holding several parliament positions and cabinet ministries. This participation began in 1992 when they won 12 of 128 seats in parliament. Their popularity gradually declined in the 1996 elections and then again in 2000. By 2005 however, Hezbollah politicians took 14 parliament seats and their political ally, Amal, won 23 seats. In 1998 elections, the Hezbollah party won 15% of the positions, this increased to 21% in 2004. Popular support has continued to rise, particularly in the southern region of the country. They have remained consistent in their efforts to embrace other religious groups and political ideologies in order to pursue a unified and strengthened Lebanese government.
2. Challenges and Controversies
Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by several large governments and international organizations. The group and its leaders continue to be the target of various political groups, particularly Israeli military. US and Israeli governments accuse the movement of being tied to al-Qaeda, something Hezbollah negates. Its leaders have even denounced the September 11 attacks for killing civilians. European governments have issued warnings that a Hezbollah attack could be imminent. In short, outside of the Arab world, Hezbollah does not have many supporters which has posed a challenge. Within the Arab world however, Hezbollah is largely considered a resistance movement that has increased national security. The organization does face some opponents within Lebanon, although the vast majority accept them as a legitimate political party. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have each claimed that Hezbollah’s actions are dangerous for the Middle East and do little more than stoke conflict within the region.
Hezbollah has been implicated in a number of attacks outside of Lebanon and Israel including bombing the US embassy in Beirut and US Marine barracks. The European Union has accused them of being involved in a 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria The Defense Minister of Russia has called on the organization to cease terrorist activity and the UN has repeatedly requested their dissolution of weaponry. Human rights organizations have accused the group of enacting war crimes against Israeli citizens and the Argentine government holds them responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center which left 85 people killed and over 200 injured.
1. Cultural Depictions and Legacy
Thanks to the organization’s social outreach programs, their legacy within Shiite populations everywhere will be one of goodwill. They have garnered support within a group of people who have suffered discrimination and powerlessness for many years. With the continued support and backing of Iran, Hezbollah has garnered respect throughout much of the Middle East as a valid resistance movement.