Hezbollah is a Shi’a Islamist group particularly active in Lebanon politics through the control of major social, political and economic aspects of the country (Norton 1). Hezbollah has been commonly known to provide basic social services like building schools, hospitals, and other similar amenities. Apart from this social outfit, Hezbollah is widely known as a political and resistant movement throughout the Arab world and indeed even in Western nations (Norton 1).
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The Arab world is extensively divided on whether to support the group’s activities but countries such as Syria and Iran have openly come out in support of the group while countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have expressed outright condemnation of the group (Norton 2).
Even in the Western world, Hezbollah has not been correctly classified as either a political or terrorist group because European nations have hesitated to list it as a terrorist group while America has openly come out to condemn it as a terrorist group (Norton 3).
Even as these conflicting opinions take centre stage in international politics, Hezbollah is actually known as a political outfit which emerged as a resistance movement for Lebanon when the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982 (Norton 2). The existence of the movement has therefore been largely inspired by the liberation of Lebanon from Israel with Norton interpreting its manifesto as constituting
“Israel’s final departure from Lebanon as a prelude to its final obliteration; ending imperialist powers in Lebanon; submission of the Phalangists to “just rule” and bringing them to trial for their crimes, and giving the people the chance to choose with full freedom the system of government they want” (5).
These goals were formulated without shying away from the fact that Hezbollah does not hide its commitment to the rule of Islam.
Initially, Hezbollah was a small movement made up of untrained militia but it is surprising to note that the group has now evolved into a political movement with a substantial representation in the Lebanese government.
In fact, some of the group’s members occupy 11 cabinet seats out of a possible 30 seats in the Lebanese government (Norton 11). The movement now owns a radio station and satellite television stations which are commonly used to marshal up local support and promote programs of social development (Norton 12).
The group now commands a strong following among the Shi’a Islamist population and also within Lebanese borders because most people believe the group represents and fights for Lebanese interests (Norton 3). This support especially surged right after the 2006 Lebanese war.
Most of the group’s financial support has been sourced from the Syrian and Iranian government but a significant degree of financial support is also sought from donations by the Lebanese citizens and sympathizers of the Shi’a Muslim group (Norton 15).
As a result, the movement has been able to strengthen its army since the early 2000s even though Israel, through United Nation (UN), asserted that it had already left Lebanon. Currently, the government of Lebanon acknowledges that Hezbollah is an armed military organization that seeks to repossess all occupied lands from Israel (Norton 2).
From the understanding of the existence of Hezbollah, we can understand the numerous comments made by Hezbollah leaders that Israel should be destroyed because it is allegedly a Zionist entity and has deprived Lebanon of its ancestral land for decades (Norton 4). As a result of the growing strength of the Lebanese forces and the apparent withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon territory, this study seeks to establish the eminent threat Hezbollah poses to Israel.
As noted earlier in this study, Hezbollah has now been acknowledged as an armed resistance movement. Currently, Hezbollah has a military wing known as Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya which is quite dangerous because it is believed to sponsor more miniature military groups such as Organization of the Oppressed, the revolutionary justice organization and other smaller military organizations which subscribe to the Jihad movement also guiding the activities of Hezbollah (Dershowitz 22). These groups are largely armed even after the United Nation resolution of 1559 which recommended the disarmament of Hezbollah and its subsidiary forces.
Hezbollah has in the past opposed this resolution and subsequent conflicts (especially the conflict with Israel in 2006) further legitimize its position to hold on to its weapons (Dershowitz 12). The organization has therefore fought attempts to disarm it (in violation of UN recommendations) and since such rebellion has been evidenced, Israel (and even Hezbollah) has affirmed that the group has tremendously increased its military strength (Norton 21).
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Opinion polls taken after the 2006 Lebanese – Israel conflict noted that most Shi’a Muslims believed that Hezbollah should still be armed but a significant majority of the Sunni, Druze, and Christians believed that the group should be disarmed (Norton 45).
However, Hezbollah sources its armed security from the support it is given by the Lebanese cabinet which is of the opinion that they should remained armed because their core mandate is to liberate Lebanese lands from the Israelites (Norton 3). Recent reports cited from assertions by top Hezbollah authorities confirm that Hezbollah now has more rockets than it did in 2006 (Sieff 67).
Amid the entire melee characterizing Hezbollah’s military strength, it is not correctly estimated how strong Hezbollah is, in armed strength. However, claims by the security director of the Dubai based Gulf Research institute notes that Hezbollah currently has about 1,000 full time military men while there are another 6,000 – 10,000 military men working on a voluntary basis (Nasr 87).
Among the military arsenal Hezbollah possesses are the Katyusha- 122 rockets which can cause destruction 18 miles away from the place of launch and long-range missiles which can attack targets up to 47 miles away from the point of launch (Dershowitz 33). These weapons have been noted to have the strength of attacking Israel’s ports of Haifa and Zelzal-1 which are approximately 93 miles away from the Lebanon border (Nasr 36).
Apparently, these arsenals can also attack central points in Israel such as Tel Aviv. The Iranian made missiles, Fajir-3 also have the potential of attacking targets which are 25 miles away while the Fajir-5 missiles (also in possession of Hezbollah) can also attack targets as far as 45 miles way (Dershowitz 37). Some sources also note that the Hezbollah are in possession of the Scud missiles which were allegedly supplied by Syria but Syria has strongly come out to deny such allegations (Nasr 33).
Other sources note that Hezbollah is in possession of anti tank guided missiles which are described by Nasr as “Russian-made AT-3 Sagger, AT-4 Spigot, AT-5 Spandrel, AT-13 Saxhorn-2 ‘Metis-M’, AT-14 Spriggan ‘Kornet’; Iranian-made Ra’ad (version of AT-3 Sagger), Towsan (version of AT-5 Spandrel), Toophan (version of BGM-71 TOW); and European-made MILAN missiles” (78).
These weapons were used to kill a lot of Israeli defense force soldiers in the 2006 Lebanese war but the Iranian made Saeghe-2 were also used to kill a lot of Israeli soldiers in the same war.
In addition, Hezbollah is also in possession of anti aircraft missiles, including the ZU-23 artillery among other deadly weapons such as SA 7, SA 18, C-802 anti-ship missiles which were some of the most deadly and effective weapons ever used in the history of Hezbollah (Norton 53).
In response to this strong military strength, the United States (US) secretary of defense made assertions that Hezbollah harbors more rockets and missiles than many countries with a legitimate army (Nasr 71). Fingers were also pointed at Iran and Syria with allegations that they were supplying Hezbollah with such weapons. Syria on the other hand has reiterated that it does not supply Hezbollah with such weapons and such allegations were directed towards coming up with an excuse to attack Syria (Dershowitz 37).
Israel also shares the same opinion with the US; purporting that Hezbollah has up to 15,000 long-range missiles stationed at its border with Israel and some of them have the capability of attacking targets as far away as Eilat (Dershowitz 77). Israel’s ambassador to the US (cited in Dershowitz 88) said that:
“the Syrian-Iranian backed Hezbollah poses a very serious threat to Israel…Hezbollah today now has four times as many rockets as it had during the 2006 Lebanon war. These rockets are longer-range. Every city in Israel is within range right now; including Eilat” (Dershowitz 88).
The Israel defense forces have further accused Hezbollah of storing these military arsenals beneath public institutions such as hospitals and schools (Dershowitz 78).
In as much as Hezbollah carries out sporadic attacks on Israel; there is a significant degree of public support especially from the Lebanese population who support attacks against Israel (Dershowitz 87). These sentiments are also held by a great part of the Arab world who view Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance movement meant to liberate the Lebanese from extreme Israeli oppression (Norton 8).
The Beirut centre for Research and information through a survey done at the height of the 2006 Lebanese conflict reported that about 87% of the Lebanese population supported Hezbollah’s attack on Israel (Dershowitz 121). This was a 29% increase on the same polls carried out less than a month before the current polls (Dershowitz 121).
This therefore means that Hezbollah has been receiving continued support form its locals; meaning that its military strength is likely to double and its legitimacy further supported throughout the Arab world. Interestingly, Hezbollah has also continued to enjoy legitimate support even from non-shi’a Muslims including the Christians who exhibit an 80% support for Hezbollah; the Sruze who exhibit an 80 % support for Hezbollah and the Sunnis who exhibit an 89% support for the movement (Dershowitz 122).
Recent research studies carried out on Lebanese adults points out that a slight majority of Lebanese adults (6%) support the disarming of Hezbollah (Dershowitz 121). Respondents from the Gaza strip and West bank also reported that they held a good opinion of Hezbollah, while Jordan respondents approved, with a 60% validation, of Hezbollah as a legitimate Lebanese resistant movement (Dershowitz 121).
Interestingly, only about 5% of all Jordan respondents thought Hezbollah was a terrorist group (Dershowitz 121). In July 2006, USA today carried out a survey on Americans and reported that about 83% of Americans blamed Hezbollah, either in whole or in part, for the 2006 Lebanese conflict as opposed to 63% who blamed Israel to some degree (Dershowitz 121).
There also seemed to be a biased support on the part of Americans with regards to military action because 76% of respondents condemned Hezbollah’s military action in Israel as opposed to 31% who condemned Israel’s military action in Lebanon (Dershowitz 121). Other studies carried out by CNN reported that about 69% of Americans thought Hezbollah was an enemy of the US (Dershowitz 121).
From the above trend, we can establish that Hezbollah enjoys considerable support from Lebanon, Syria and most Arab states although its strongest critic is the US. The support the group is receiving in the Arab world could potentially increase the threat Israel faces from the group and it could also possibly lead to a more disastrous conflict than the ones experienced in the past.
In addition, Hezbollah continues to enjoy good foreign relations with historic Israel and US enemies such as Iran and Syria. Most notably, Hezbollah enjoyed a good relationship with president Haffez of Syria who died. Now, the same relationship is still nurtured under his son Basar Al – Hassad (Dershowitz 15).
More dangerous is the links Hezbollah enjoys with terrorist groups such as Hamas, The Sunni Palestinian Group and more recently, Al Qaeda (Dershowitz 15). The relationship among the groups largely revolves around military support and the facilitation of military training. The inter-link of possible terror groups poses an even more eminent danger for Israel through interlinked resistance.
In fact, the support Hezbollah has of the Al-Aqsa Intifada war is evidence enough that Hezbollah has the ability of sourcing support from other similar-minded organizations (Norton 44). The US also shares these beliefs by purporting that Hezbollah is in constant communication with low-level Al Qaeda leaders who left Afghanistan and now reside in Lebanon (Norton 44).
Dalit and Tamar Gas Fields
The assertions by Hezbollah leaders that it was going to attack Israel if it utilized the economic potential in the Dalit and Tamar gas fields expose the tension between the two states and the potential agility Hezbollah has on Israel (Norton 48).
This region is potentially regarded by the Hezbollah as part of Lebanon although it is only 50 miles to the West of an Israeli town, Haifa (Norton 47). Hezbollah’s leadership has often warned that it would not hesitate to use military force to protect its natural resources at the economic zone if Israel attempts to use this natural resource.
Though Hezbollah officials purport that their primary source of funding has been through donations from Muslims across the world, there is a deep cause for concern that the continual funding of Hezbollah from unknown sources potentially increases the threat Hezbollah has on its enemies; including Israel.
Of course, Iran has been exclusively singled out as providing Hezbollah with military and political support but the US estimates that Hezbollah enjoys monetary funding from Iran, to the tune of $60 – $100 million annually (Sieff 91). Other unconfirmed reports purport that Hezbollah enjoys financial assistance to the tune of $200 million annually (Sieff 91).
Nonetheless, Iran claims that its funding has been centered on providing support to the Lebanese health care system, education system and the support of war widows (Sieff 91). Interesting is the fact that Hezbollah controls a great part of these institutions and either implicitly or explicitly, this money can easily find its way into Hezbollah’s hands.
More funding is also said to be sourced from South America and from wealthy Shiites who live in the Diaspora (including America and Europe). The US also claims that Hezbollah has continually been able to counterfeit the US dollar and this has potentially helped them accumulate up to $10 million annually (Sieff 91).
Some reports have also cited extortion as a means of funding Hezbollah; especially in Paraguay where the US claims the group gets approximately $10 million or more annually (Sieff 91). Hezbollah has also been known to support certain worldwide criminal gangs which remit extortion money back to the organization. Operation Smoke Screen, a US governmental initiative, has in the past identified that Hezbollah raises funds through a cigarette smuggling syndicate in America (Norton 99).
Other reports advanced by the Los Angeles times report that Hezbollah has been receiving money through a cocaine drug trafficking scheme and a money laundering ring which remits 12 % of all profits acquired towards funding Hezbollah’s activities (Sieff 95).
Collectively, this monetary support sourced from all quarters of Hezbollah’s operations fuel the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict because Hezbollah is by all means sourcing its money to purchase more lethal weapons; recruit and train more military personnel to boost its military strength. These efforts are likely to pose a big challenge to Israeli forces because it could double the threat Hezbollah possibly has on Israel (which is its biggest enemy).
Ideology, Attitudes and Actions against Israel
Since the formation of Hezbollah as a resistance movement, the “death” of Israel has been one of its core goals (Norton 2). In fact, a translation of Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto points out that Hezbollah will only seize to exist once Israel is eliminated (Norton 2).
In this manner, the group has even gone as far as asserting that the group will never accept any treaty, cease fire, or peace agreements with Israel; meaning that the only way, the group can seize to exist is if Israel is eliminated from the face of the earth (Norton 3). This ideology is largely held by Hezbollah as the only way Middle East can attain lasting peace. Hezbollah therefore considers the existence of Israel as unlawful and illegitimate (Norton 13).
More complicating is the fact that Hezbollah’s influence has infiltrated the Lebanese government and therefore any efforts to come up with a long lasting agreement with Israel will be thwarted by Hezbollah’s officials in government. This belief is strongly held because Hezbollah believes that Israel’s existence is based on falsehoods, illusions and massacres (Nasr 16).
Israel’s occupation of Sheba farms and the existence of Lebanese prisoners in Israel furthers mounts the hostility between the two countries. This fact has been identified as the reason why Hezbollah has never retracted even after Israel left Lebanon in the year 2000. Hezbollah’s spokesperson Hassan Ezedin (cited in Nasr 19) affirms that:
“The Hezbollah campaign to rid Shebaa of Israeli troops is a pretext for something larger.’If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them,” he told [the New Yorker]. ‘Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine, …The Jews who survive this war of liberation can go back to Germany or wherever they came from.’ He added, however, that the Jews who lived in Palestine before 1948 will be ‘allowed to live as a minority and they will be cared for by the Muslim majority”
The ideology held by Hezbollah is therefore inclined towards the elimination of Israel at all costs. Since this sort of attitude is shared among many Hezbollah members and indeed the Arab world, the threat of Hezbollah on Israel is likely to increase. Most unfortunate is the fact that Hezbollah vows to attack Israel by all means because of its belief that Israel will collapse under the pressure of suicide bombings since it is more vulnerable than previously thought (Nasr 119).
This ideology is held because Hezbollah believes that Israel’s reverence for life; its hedonistic nature and subscription to Western ideals make it very vulnerable to Hezbollah’s hard-line stand on important matters. This they believe is the underlying factor why Israel will crumble under continued war and bloodshed (Nasr 119). With this type of ideology in existence, Israel faces an unrelenting threat from Hezbollah.
Hezbollah’s threat to Israel continues to mount by the day due to its growing military strength. Considering Hezbollah started as a resistance movement, much of its legitimacy has been sourced from this fact. However, even if Hezbollah has changed its outfit from a resistance movement to a terrorist group, it remains increasingly difficult to brand it as so because of its roots.
The continued public support the group now enjoys within its own country and partially from the Arab world increases the threat Israel faces because Hezbollah continues to receive acclamations even if it does certain wrongs to other nations. Most notable is Iran and Syria’s support for the movement because they have continually financed the group in monetary and military means.
The aggressive nature characteristic of Hezbollah can also be traced to the negative ideology and beliefs the group holds of Israel. In this manner, Hezbollah’s threat in Israel is unrelenting because the primary goal of Hezbollah’s existence is the elimination of Israel. This therefore means that the threat of Hezbollah on Israel will continually be there so long as Israel exists. This study therefore identifies that Hezbollah’s existence poses a great threat to Israel’s existence in an unquantifiable manner.
Dershowitz, Alan. The Case against Israel’s Enemies. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.
Nasr, Vali. The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape The Future. New York: Norton, 2007. Print.
Norton, Augustus. Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press, 2009. Print.
Sieff, Martin. The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East. Washington D.C.: Regenny Publishing Inc, 2008. Print.