By Keith Preston
Hezbollah is one of the most unique political organizations in the world and has the distinction of having forced the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to withdraw from southern Lebanon on two separate occasions. The first of these was in 2000, ending Israel’s 18-year occupation of the region. The second was during the 2006 Lebanon War following a renewed assault on Lebanon by the IDF. Hezbollah is also considered to be a model “fourth generation warfare” organization by theorists of generational warfare, such as William S. Lind. Fourth generation warfare theory argues that the nature of war has been transformed since the end of World War Two. Because of the invention of nuclear weapons, international warfare between states has largely become cost prohibitive. Consequently, the waging of war has become a matter of conflict between states and non-state actors primarily.
Non-state actors may include any organization that engages in armed conflict outside of the state system, such as guerrillas, insurgents, or terrorists. However, non-state actors also include organizations that provide functions usually considered to be the prerogative of states (such as the provision of social services, education, public infrastructure, or public security), or focal points of public loyalty other than states, such as movements, causes, religions, ideologies, or gangs. Fourth generation warfare theory indicates that many people around the world are transferring their primary loyalties away from traditional national patriotisms toward fourth generation forces of many kinds. For example, rather than considering themselves to be a patriotic citizen of their nation, a person may first consider themselves to be a loyal Muslim, socialist, or devotee of animal welfare. Hezbollah is considered by fourth generation warfare theorists to be the most sophisticated fourth generation model because of its ability to provide traditional state functions on a significant scale, and Hezbollah’s having superseded the Lebanese military as the “national defense” force of Lebanon.
Accusations of Terrorism
Hezbollah is an organization that is based in southern Lebanon and is classified as a terrorist organization by many of the world’s nations. The status of Hezbollah is controversial around the world, and there is much disagreement about the nature of the organization and its activities. Many nations consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization. For example, the United States, the Arab League, France, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada, the Netherlands, and Israel, have classified Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Additionally, it is also true that the European Union, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Australia consider the military wing of Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization. However, this status is not applied to the political wing of Hezbollah. Russia does not consider Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization but instead regards Hezbollah as a legitimate and genuine social movement and political party. The government of China is neutral concerning to Hezbollah and maintains diplomatic relations with the organization.
The labeling of the Hezbollah organization as a terrorist group is controversial because many nations and many people around the world regard the organization as a legitimate political force that is fighting for the independence of Lebanon and social justice for its people. Hezbollah has a great deal of support among Shiite Muslims in Middle Eastern nations including not only Lebanon but also Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Palestine. However, the Gulf States and Israel consider Hezbollah to be significant threats to their national security. Hezbollah is also an organization that has undergone a vast array of changes during its 37-year history, and has developed many unique social, political, economic, and military operations as well.
Description and Origins of Hezbollah
Hezbollah began in 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon. A civil war had already been taking place in Lebanon for seven years at this point, and much of Lebanon was under the occupation of Syria. Southern Lebanon was also the home of many Palestinian refugees and was being used as a base for Palestinian resistance activities. Israel invaded Lebanon in part because of the perceived threat to Israel’s national security that these activities represented. In response to the Israeli invaders, the Hezbollah militia was formed by Shiite Muslim militants that were at the time loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini, who had led a revolution against the US-backed regime in Iran three years earlier. Originally, Hezbollah was a Shiite fundamentalist organization that wished to export the Iranian Revolution to Lebanon. The term Hezbollah means “Party of God” in Arabic.
The original objective of the Hezbollah organization was to eliminate American, French, and Israeli influence in Lebanon, and to fight against the rival Falangist forces composed of right-wing Christian militiamen. The organization wished to achieve an independent Lebanon under an Islamic state, although Hezbollah also called for the protection of members of all faith communities in Lebanon against the imperialists. Originally, Hezbollah was comprised of 1500 militia fighters that were trained in Iran and then placed in Lebanon with the support of the government of Syria. In the subsequent years, Hezbollah became known as a terrorist organization because of its relationships with Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian resistance movement, and because of violent actions that were carried out against American, Israeli, British, Saudi and another Gulf State targets, and which were attributed to Hezbollah.
Motivations and Ideology
The primary motivation that has always driven Hezbollah’s activities has been Lebanese independence from either Western or Israeli occupation or influence. The organization released a manifesto in 1985 which clearly stated the organization’s goals. These goals included the expulsion of American, French, and Israeli interests from the nation, retaliation against the Falangists for their crimes against the Lebanese people, political independence, the right of the Lebanese to political self-government, and the protection of people of all faiths in Lebanon, but with a preference for Islamic government. Over time, the organization’s ideology has changed. While Hezbollah continues to be primarily dominated by Shiite Muslims, the organization has become less theocratic in orientation and evolved into a more inclusive political organization that is oriented towards the achievement of social justice for the Lebanese people. The organization has also shifted its position from advocating revolution to advocating participation in domestic Lebanese politics.
Hezbollah has frequently been described as a “state within a state,” and its military wing is now more powerful than the Lebanese state itself. Hezbollah provides a wide range of health, educational, and social services to the Lebanese. The organization also operates its own media networks and maintains a political arm (Loyalty to the Resistance Block) that holds seats in the Lebanese parliament. Hezbollah has also formed a multi-confessional front in Lebanon consisting of Shiites, Sunni, Druze, Christians, and even secular leftists against Israeli incursions into Lebanese territory. Hezbollah is part of what is called the “Resistance Block,” an alliance of Iran, Syria, Yemen’s Houthi, Hamas, Hezbollah, and various Palestinian, Iraqi, and Afghan groups against Western, Israeli, and Gulf State actions in the region. More recently, Hezbollah has been involved in the Syrian civil war.
Financial and Non-Financial Support
As an organization, Hezbollah maintains significant sources of both financial and non-financial support. Because Hezbollah is a secretive non-state actor, its financial activities and sources of funding are not entirely known. Western and Israeli intelligence agencies widely believe that Hezbollah continues to receive a substantial amount of financial assistance from Iran, Syria, and wealthy sympathizers around the world. However, Hezbollah denies that it is receiving financial assistance from any other nation. It is doubtful that Hezbollah’s denials are correct given the historical relationship between Hezbollah and these two nations. Indeed, the United States and other nations have accused both Iran and Syria of sponsoring terrorism on an international basis because of their support for Hezbollah. It is clear that Hezbollah is a wealthy organization given the vast array of enterprises and activities that the organization maintains.
The non-financial support that is given to Hezbollah mostly originates from the organization’s sympathizers around the world, particularly in countries with a large Shiite population or where there is considerable support for the Palestinian cause. Hezbollah is widely regarded as a heroic organization to many people in the Middle East because of its successful defense of Lebanon against Israel in 2000 and again in 2006, and because of its anti-Americanism and support for an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel. However, it is also true that Hezbollah has lost some of its popularity in certain sectors due to its involvement in the Syrian civil war, and support for various factions there.
Use of the Media
Hezbollah also maintains media outlets of its own. The group’s purpose for using the media has traditionally been to popularize the causes that the organization promotes such as anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, and support for Lebanese autonomy, and to demonstrate the strength of Hezbollah as an organization. The image of Hezbollah that is often portrayed in the international media depends upon the media outlet in question. For example, Hezbollah’s media outlets present news events from the organization’s point of view. The preferred methods of communication that are utilized by Hezbollah are the organization’s media outlets. The organization is also portrayed as a heroic group of freedom fighters that are committed to social justice in some international media representations (such as the media is Resistance Block nations) while Hezbollah is presented as a terrorist organization in other media outlets, particularly those in the West, Israel, and the Gulf States.
Over the years of its existence, Hezbollah has received considerable media coverage based on a range of actions that have either been attributed to the organization, or in which the organization is believed to have played a role. One of the most significant of these from the point of view of the United States was the bombing of a US Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed over 300 people including 241 US Marines. The organization is also blamed for bombing a US embassy building in Lebanon in 1984, an incident that resulted in 24 casualties. A wide range of other terrorist actions has also been attributed to Hezbollah as well.
Questions of Legitimacy
The question of whether or not Hezbollah is a legitimate political organization or a terrorist group is one on which world opinion is profoundly divided, and which involves a significant amount of subjectivity. The cause to which the organization has traditionally been the most committed involves its support for the independence of Lebanon against Israeli incursions. National independence movements frequently gain a fair amount of support from around the world. Hezbollah is also very supportive of a Palestinian state, and given that the Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation for seventy years this cause is one that generates a high level of sympathy as well. Indeed, Hezbollah’s supporters from around the world, including those in Western countries, often cite these reasons as the primary motivations they have for supporting the organization. However, Hezbollah has also been accused of furthering anti-Semitism and promoting a dangerous variety of Shiite fundamentalism that is committed to political change through violence. Hezbollah has been implicated in a range of terrorist activities and accused of providing support for other terrorist organizations. Hezbollah has also been criticized for its alliance with Iran and Syria, nations that are sometimes accused of violating human rights, maintaining authoritarian governments and sponsoring terrorism.
Significance to the United States
While no documented cases of attacks on American targets by Hezbollah have occurred in decades, the United States still considers Hezbollah to be a threat to its interests. In order to determine why Hezbollah and its activities are of importance to the US, it is necessary to examine the timeline of Hezbollah’s evolution and activities as an organization. Early in its history, Hezbollah was a Shiite fundamentalist terrorist organization that was committed to anti-American violence and providing support for America’s enemy, the revolutionary Islamic government of Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini. During this time, Hezbollah carried out a range of terrorist activities against American targets such as the bombing mentioned above of the US Marine Corp barracks in Lebanon in 1983 and the attack on the American embassy in 1984. While terrorist activities carried out by Hezbollah against American targets have not occurred for quite some time, it continues to be true that Hezbollah conflicts with America’s ally Israel, and is supportive of Iran, a nation that is also in conflict with the United States.
However, it is also true that the terrorist threat to the United States from Shiite Muslim fundamentalists is far less significant than it was in the early 1980s when Hezbollah was formed. At present, the most significant terrorist threats to the United States are those presented by Sunni fundamentalists such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is Islamist organizations of this kind that have carried out the significant actions of terrorism against the United States in recent decades. Hezbollah opposes the Sunni fundamentalist jihadi organizations that have engaged in terrorism against the United States. The Salafist/Wahhabist interpretation of Islam that motivates organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS considers Shiite Muslims as heretics, infidels, and apostates, and therefore consider Hezbollah to be an enemy.
The Conflict between the United States and Hezbollah
The response of the US to Hezbollah and its activities, regardless of whether the group or its activities directly threaten the US, has been to officially declare the organization to be terrorist group. Hezbollah has been officially considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States since 1995, and the United States continues to hold Hezbollah responsible for the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 among other incidents. Consequently, the United States has barred the offering of support for the organization by American citizens and has sought to sanction international organizations that support Hezbollah. The United States has also criticized Iran and Syria for their support of Hezbollah and continues to support Israel in its ongoing conflict with Hezbollah. However, it would appear that this response by the United States to Hezbollah has not been effective.
Hezbollah has not only continued to thrive but also to grow and expand despite American opposition. The Hezbollah organization has grown from existing as a sectarian Shiite militia 37 years ago to be more powerful than the Lebanese state itself. While Hezbollah is a non-state organization, it primarily functions in the same manner as an independent country. The armed wing of Hezbollah functions as the de facto national defense force of Lebanon and the organization provides many necessary social, media, educational, and health services that the Lebanese state does not provide or is unable to provide. Additionally, Hezbollah maintains its foreign policy in the same way as a sovereign nation in the sense of establishing diplomatic relations with actual states and providing military forces to help other states such as Syria.
Hezbollah and the American-Israeli-Saudi Axis
The major source of the conflict between the US and Hezbollah during the present time stems not from actual terrorist actions carried out by Hezbollah against American targets, but because Hezbollah is regarded as an obstacle to the achievement of US foreign policy objectives, and the objectives of the American client states in the region, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The hostility of the United States toward Hezbollah at present stems from the ongoing support of the United States for Israeli military policy in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israeli aggression against surrounding countries; the support of the US for the Saudi-led Sunni block in the Persian Gulf in opposition to the Iranian-led Shiite block; and the ongoing opposition of the United States to the governments of Iran and Syria. The support of Hezbollah for anti-American Shiite forces in Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan is also considered to be objectionable from the perspective of US foreign policy interests.
Hezbollah is an organization that has been able to effectively develop itself as a kind of “state within a state” over the past 37 years. During that time, Hezbollah has evolved quite a bit on the ideological level as well. While Hezbollah was once a radical Shiite fundamentalist organization that was loyal to the Iranian Revolution, the organization has since evolved into a multi-confessional and often left-wing organization. While Western targets have been the recipient of terrorist attacks that have been carried out by Hezbollah, such attacks peaked during the 1980s and have diminished considerably and arguably disappeared in the ensuing decades. The principal role that Hezbollah assumes in the Middle East at present is that of a bulwark against ongoing Israeli expansionism and aggression; the support offered by the Gulf States for Wahhabi/Salafist terrorism in the region; and efforts by the United States to achieve full domination of the Middle East through the elimination of independent regimes, and the creation of a region that comprised solely of American client states.
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