Hezbollah is a controversial organization because European countries have refused to classify it as a terrorist group while countries such as the United States (US), Canada, Australia, Egypt and other nations have classified it as a terrorist group.
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Nonetheless, Hezbollah is essentially a paramilitary group particularly based in Lebanon with its activities extending into social services like the building of schools, hospitals and other social amenity institutions (Deeb, 1986, p. 19). In addition, this group is a proactive political entity in Lebanon with much of the resistance in the Muslim world being attributed to its activities.
The Muslim world is interestingly torn right in the middle regarding the activities of Hezbollah, with prominent Muslim nations such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan coming out strongly to condemn the group while other Muslim countries such as Iran and Syria openly supporting the group’s activities (Al-Manar, 2010).
Currently, the group which only started as a small militia group to defend Lebanon from Israel invasion currently has some of its members seated at the Lebanese government and their presence being felt across radio stations and satellite televisions in Lebanon. Their programs are majorly steered towards socially developing the poor.
Most of Hezbollah’s support comes from the Muslim Shi’a group but extensive support also comes from other groups such as Sunni and Druze (Standwithus, 2010).
At present, most of the group’s activities have been centered on the liberation of Lebanon from Israeli influence but the 21st century has seen an increase in military numbers in order for the group to protect Lebanese interests in lands perceived to be anciently Lebanese.
These factors withstanding, this study proposes that Hezbollah is not a fully-fledged terrorist group; with a specific emphasis on its history, demographics, agenda, and the group’s primary target.
The primary focus of the Hezbollah group was to liberate South Lebanon from Israeli invasion in the 80s (Deeb, 1986, p. 19). Hezbollah essentially waged a guerilla war targeting Israeli defense forces and other Israeli bases out of Lebanon. The Hezbollah group is therefore considered among the first Islamic groups to use suicide bomb tactics and assassinations as a method of retaliation (Robert, 2005).
The group later evolved and started using more lethal forms of weapons such as detonators, missiles, rocket launchers and other deadly weapons. At this point, the group had already turned into a paramilitary group which was a deviation from its contemporary combat tactics such as suicide and hijackings.
“The Lebanon war of 1982 was later resolved by the Taif agreement which stipulated that all Lebanese and non Lebanese groups be disbanded; although Syria, which at the time was in control of Lebanon, allowed Hezbollah to maintain their arsenal and take control of the Southern part of Lebanon which was at the border of Israeli’s Northern frontier” (Robert, 2005).
In the 1990s Hezbollah revolutionized from an activist group to a political one, which in the words of some political experts marked the Lebanonization of Hezbollah (Alagha, 2006, p. 23). Contrary to its strong stand during the Lebanese war, the group adopted a softer stand towards ideals of the Lebanese government.
In the early 1990s, Hezbollah decided to take part in national elections and later received endorsements from Iran leaders including their Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Interestingly, Hezbollah won twelve seats, which was the total number it contested for, despite opposition from its secretary general.
By the end of that year, the group started to engage the Christian population in Lebanon in discussions because it treated all political, social and economic freedoms enjoyed by the Lebanese as sanctified.
It did not however extend a leaf of compromise to any group related to Israel or sympathetic to it. In 1997, the group rejuvenated its efforts to stamp out any Israeli troops in Lebanon by marshalling its troops once again to revolt against Israel (Alagha, 2006).
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Reports are not clear on whether Hezbollah is indeed a jihadist group but its leaders have not distanced themselves from such accusations; noting that they are a nominal element of Jihad movements while some reports note that they are a satellite group of the movement (Standwithus, 2010).
Nonetheless, some radical Islamic groups have often operated under the disguise of being Hezbollah even though they are not. An American court however established that the military group identified itself as an extreme Islamic group when it attacked Israel and also when it perpetrated certain attacks in Europe and the Middle East.
Hezbollah currently derives most of its ideologies from the holy book of Quran with excerpts from its manifesto stating that “We are the sons of the umma (Muslim community)…
We are an ummah linked to the Muslims of the whole world by the solid doctrinal and religious connection of Islam, whose message God wanted to be fulfilled by the Seal of the Prophets, i.e., Prophet Muhammad…. As for our culture, it is based on the Holy Quran, the Sunna and the legal rulings of the faqih who is our source of imitation…” (Standwithus, 2010).
The group’s manifesto therefore affirms the fact that the group strongly supports jihadist principles.
Hezbollah’s Attitudes and Actions
Hezbollah bases its arguments, attitudes, actions and statement from the holy book of Quran. It also regards any group that has a different opinion as an enemy. However, of late, the group has been lenient on this stand with some quarters noting that it has started to embrace diversity.
The group’s primary goal of liberating Lebanese from Israeli invasions was however abandoned as soon as the war was over. Now, the group wears a totally different outlook. Its goal is therefore much broader, with a section of its manifesto stating that “our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated” (Alagha, 2006, p. 53).
The occupation of the Sheba farms by Israelis and the imprisonment of some Lebanese prisoners in Israeli prisons further justifies the group’s intention to eliminate Israel (despite Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in the year 2000).
Some Hezbollah officials have further reiterated that they will continue their hostility against Israel even in light of these developments (withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon) because Israel is a key rationale for the existence of the group (Standwithus, 2010).
Hezbollah strongly opposes Judaism and Zionism. Its hostility even spreads into education because some elements of literature have been eliminated from contemporary syllabuses due to their affiliation to Zionism. The group has further alleged that Judaism is out to spread Aids and other killer diseases throughout Middle East among other anti-Semitic allegations (Standwithus, 2010).
Hezbollah leaders have often denied the fact that the group is some sort of organization because its members do not carry any cards or bear any specific responsibilities. Moreover, the group claims that it does not have any defined organizational culture.
However, Hezbollah scholars think otherwise because they are of the opinion that the group has a formal organization structure and succinctly adheres to Islamic jurist principles (Alagha, 2006). Indeed, the actions of the group stems from a central location (its leaders) and flow right to community organizations on the ground.
In fact, the group’s decision-making body is segregated between the consultative assembly and the deciding assembly. The consultative assemble is mandated with the responsibility of implementing tactical decisions and overseeing the group’s overall operations across Lebanon.
The deciding assembly on the other hand is specifically mandated with overseeing strategic matters especially on issues to do with finance, politics, ideological issues, and other social issues (Alagha, 2006).
Over the years, the Hezbollah group has often looked up to Iran and especially its supreme leader for interventions on matters perceived too divisive for the group to solve among themselves (Al-Manar, 2010). However, the death of Knomeini who was an Iran supreme leader marked the development of the group’s autonomy in handling its own issues.
Currently, it is seldom noted that the group ever seeks intervention from Iran’s supreme leaders. Nonetheless, Iran has over the years invested billions of dollars upgrading the group, especially after the end of the second Lebanese war (Al-Manar, 2010).
From a functional point of view, it is hard to distinguish Hezbollah’s political activities from its social activities and at the same time, it is difficult to distinguish the groups’ political and social activities from its activities against Israel.
Moreover, the group gets its instructions from one central authority which gives instructions on all its activities regardless of whether they are political, social or jihad-like. This means that the same leader or click, which directs parliamentary activities, is also the same group of people who lead jihad activities in Israel.
“This revelation was affirmed in 2010, by Iran’s parliamentary speaker who said that he takes pride in Lebanon’s Islamic resistance movement for its steadfast Islamic stance. Hezbollah nurtures the original ideas of Islamic Jihad” (Al-Manar, 2010).
He further went on to praise the group for its steadfast stance on Islamic principles and rebuked the west for its allegations that Iran was supporting terrorism while they should have realized that the real terrorists were those that provided the Zionist weapons to carry out attacks on other people (Al-Manar, 2010).
According to Hezbollah’s leadership, the group’s funding comes from donations by the Muslim world.
However, a great percentage of Hezbollah’s finances come from Iran and Syria who provide support in form of training, military ware, diplomatic assistance, political help among others; findings supported by recent reports published in 2010 noted that the group received financial support to the tune of $400 million from Iran alone (Al-Manar, 2010).
US statistics however estimate that the group has been receiving financial support to the tune of $60-$100 million annually with other estimates projecting that the group receives up to $200 million annually (Al-Manar, 2010).
Recent reports have also noted that the group receives funds from minority Shi’te groups in West Africa and the US while other funds were identified to come from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay through drug smuggling syndicates (Robert, 2005).
Hezbollah stands out to be a fierce but legitimate organization, out to safeguard the rights of the Lebanese from Israeli influence. However, research expounding on the emergence of the group shows that Hezbollah is merely a national defense system but its operations are still active due to the tensions existent between Israel and the group.
For instance, its attacks against Israel cannot be referred to as terrorist acts because they majorly involved murders and kidnappings.
However, from preliminary observations, it is critical to note that the group indeed has elements of terrorism. This has even led to some Muslim countries terming the group as a terrorist group. Egypt for example has listed the group as a terrorists group. Hezbollah also has a declining support in other Arab countries.
Indeed, the group has some elements of terrorism but it should be understood that its military wing and the external security organization are the most notorious for undertaking terrorist-like activities. The activities of the group should therefore be analyzed categorically because some elements of its actions are obviously terrorist-like while others are merely acts of defense.
Though Hezbollah started as a national defense system, the group has currently evolved to be very aggressive; with a declining respect in the Muslim world. Despite the fact that some European countries still have the opinion that the group is not a terrorist outfit, there is enough evidence to conclude that the group currently bears some elements of terrorism, especially from its military and defense outfits.
The group gets its commands from a central location that carries out attacks in Israel while at the same time undertakes political activities in Lebanon. This questions the legitimacy of the group. Additionally, Iran which is its primary sponsor identified it as a jihad group.
Other sentiments held by Hezbollah with regard to Zionism and Judaism bear very strong semblance to jihad-like activism with strong sentiments advanced against contrary opinions. However, the group’s activism in social matters and its national defense outfit still holds the group together as a protector of the rights of the Lebanese population. These facts therefore imply that the group is not a fully-fledged terrorism outfit.
Alagha, J. E. (2006). The Shifts in Hizbullah’s Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideology, and Political Program. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Al-Manar. (2010). Larijani: Iran Proud of Backing Hezbollah. Retrieved from: http://english.almanar.com.lb/
Deeb, M. (1986). Militant Islamic Movements in Lebanon: Origins, Social Basis, and Ideology, Occasional Paper Series. Washington, DC: Georgetown University.
Robert, P. (2005). Dying To Win: The Strategic Logic Of Suicide Terrorism. Sydney: Random House.
Standwithus. (2010). The Hezbollah Programme. Web.