Hezbollah (a.k.a. Hizbollah, Hizbu'llah)

CFR.org Staff
Council on Foreign Relations
Thursday, February 14, 2008; 1:00 PM

What is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah is a Lebanese umbrella organization of radical Islamic Shiite groups and organizations. It opposes the West, seeks to create a Muslim fundamentalist state modeled on Iran, and is a bitter foe of Israel. Hezbollah, whose name means "party of God," is a terrorist group believed responsible for nearly 200 attacks since 1982 that have killed more than 800 people, according to the Terrorism Knowledge Base. Experts say Hezbollah is also a significant force in Lebanon's politics and a major provider of social services, operating schools, hospitals, and agricultural services, for thousands of Lebanese Shiites. It also operates the al-Manar satellite television channel and broadcast station.

What are Hezbollah's origins?

Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and subsumed members of the 1980s coalition of groups known as Islamic Jihad. It has close links to Iran and Syria.

Who are Hezbollah's leaders?

Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah is considered the group's spiritual leader.

Hassan Nasrallah is Hezbollah's senior political leader. Nasrallah was originally a military commander, but his military and religious credentials -- he studied in centers of Shiite theology in Iran and Iraq -- quickly elevated him to leadership within the group. Experts say he took advantage of rivalries within Hezbollah and the favor of the head of Iran's theocratic government, Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, to become the group's secretary general in 1992, a position he still holds.

For over twenty years, Imad Fayez Mugniyah was considered the key planner of Hezbollah's worldwide terrorist operations. During the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s, experts say Mugniyah trained with al-Fatah. When the Palestine Liberation Organization and al-Fatah were expelled from Lebanon by Israeli forces in 1982, Mugniyah joined the newly formed Hezbollah and quickly rose to a senior position in the organization. On Februrary 13, 2008, Mugniyah was killed in a car bombing in Damascus. Hezbollah officials accused Israel of launching the attacks that killed him, but the Israeli government has denied involvement.

Where does Hezbollah operate?

Its base is in Lebanon's Shiite-dominated areas, including parts of Beirut, southern Lebanon, and the Bekaa Valley. In addition, U.S. intelligence reports say that Hezbollah cells operate in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America. Despite Israel's 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah continues to periodically shell Israeli forces in the disputed Shebaa Farms border zone.

Hezbollah has also carried out attacks outside the Middle East. In his September 20, 2001, speech to Congress, President Bush pledged that the U.S.-led war on terror "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." Hezbollah's cells outside the Middle East, its reported involvement in the January 2002 attempt to smuggle a boatload of arms to the Palestinian Authority, and its role in a pair of attacks in Argentina in the early 1990s, imply that it might meet the president's definition, terrorism experts say. In June 2002, Singapore accused Hezbollah of recruiting Singaporeans in a failed 1990s plot to attack U.S. and Israeli ships in the Singapore Straits. Hezbollah was also among the few terrorist groups that President Bush mentioned by name in his January 2002 State of the Union address.

How big is Hezbollah?

Its core consists of several thousand militants and activists, the U.S. government estimates.

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