What to know about Hezbollah the powerful Iran backed group on Israel border Hezbollah is an Iran-backed Islamist movement with a powerful paramilitary force based in the Lebanon-Israel border region. It has the potential to influence the Hamas-Israel conflict and potentially trigger a broader regional conflict. The ongoing conflict, which began with Hamas’ attacks on Israel, has had significant repercussions in the Middle East, leading to diplomatic tensions and global protests. Israeli strikes in response to the attacks have resulted in a significant number of casualties according to Palestinian health authorities. Tensions persist along the Lebanon-Israel border, with Hezbollah and Israel engaged in sporadic skirmishes since the start of the war, creating a highly volatile situation in the region.
The group’s beginnings
Hezbollah’s origins can be traced back to the aftermath of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. This military operation, during which Israeli forces occupied nearly half of Lebanon’s territory, including the city of Beirut, was aimed at expelling Palestinian militants. In this conflict, Israeli forces, in collaboration with right-wing Christian Lebanese militias aligned with Israel, laid siege to the western part of Beirut.
The consequences of Israel’s incursion were devastating, resulting in a tragic loss of over 17,000 lives, as reported at the time. One particularly distressing incident during this period was the massacre that occurred at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, which stands as one of the bloodiest events in the recent history of the region. The investigation into this massacre, known as the Kahan Commission of Inquiry, determined that Israel bore indirect responsibility for the atrocity, which was perpetrated by right-wing Christian Lebanese fighters.
Estimates of the casualties at Sabra and Shatila vary, with figures ranging from 700 to 3,000 lives lost.
As numerous Palestinian fighters departed Lebanon, a cadre of Shia Islamist combatants, who had received training from the emerging Islamic Republic of Iran, emerged as a significant presence within Lebanon’s already fractured political landscape. Despite their humble beginnings, this group left a profound and often violent mark. In 1983, two suicide bombers with ties to this faction launched a devastating attack on a US Marine barracks in Beirut, resulting in the tragic deaths of nearly 300 US and French personnel, along with several civilians.
A year later, fighters affiliated with Iran carried out a bombing at the US Embassy in Beirut, claiming the lives of 23 individuals. In 1985, these militants formally united under the banner of a newly established entity: Hezbollah.
Hezbollah openly declared its allegiance to Tehran’s ideology and received a consistent stream of financial support from the Islamic Republic. This backing significantly bolstered Hezbollah’s prominence. The group actively participated in Lebanon’s civil war, which concluded in 1990, and spearheaded the resistance against Israeli forces that had occupied southern Lebanon, ultimately forcing their withdrawal in 2000.
A classification for terrorism
In Lebanon, Hezbollah is officially recognized as a “resistance” organization with the primary objective of countering Israel, which is categorized as an adversary by Beirut. However, a substantial portion of the Western world has designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group. This designation is largely due to Argentina’s accusation that Hezbollah was responsible for two significant attacks: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, resulting in the loss of 29 lives, and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in the same city, claiming the lives of 85 people.
It’s important to note that both Iran and Hezbollah have consistently denied any involvement in these attacks.
In 2011, the Arab Spring protests, initially driven by pro-democracy sentiments, escalated into a series of proxy wars that extended across much of the Middle East. Hezbollah actively participated in these conflicts, aligning itself with Iran-affiliated forces in Syria and Iraq. As a consequence, it was also designated as a terrorist organization by multiple Arab nations.
However, these designations did not significantly diminish Hezbollah’s influence and power. Throughout the years of proxy warfare, the group underwent a remarkable transformation, evolving from a guerrilla insurgent force into a formidable regional fighting entity.
How Hezbollah relates to Hamas
Hezbollah and Hamas have had historical disagreements. During the Syrian civil war, they were on opposing sides, with Hezbollah supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Hamas backed the predominantly Sunni opposition. Despite these differences, in recent years, they have set aside their disputes, with Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, expressing support for the alliance between the two groups. Hamas leaders have also had meetings with Nasrallah, and their growing connections with Tehran are well-known.
An emerging regional influence confined within its borders.
As Hezbollah engaged in conflicts in distant lands, issues began to emerge within their home base in Lebanon. Consistent cycles of economic and political crises over the past two decades have significantly eroded the group’s popularity beyond its core Shia support. The organization found itself increasingly entangled in broader economic challenges that it couldn’t effectively resolve. It acted as a barrier against Lebanese protesters calling for change in the face of a political elite widely accused of corruption, even resorting to deploying its supporters to confront peaceful demonstrators.
Additionally, Hezbollah has been relatively successful in suppressing a judicial inquiry into the devastating Beirut port explosion that occurred in August 2020, causing extensive damage to the city.
Nonetheless, these issues may not greatly affect the group’s primary objectives. Hezbollah remains a key non-state ally of Iran, proving highly effective in advancing Iranian interests. As its regional influence continues to grow, it could potentially pose an even more formidable challenge to its longstanding adversary, Israel.
The reasons Hezbollah might become involved in the conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Hezbollah’s involvement in the Hamas-Israel conflict remains uncertain. On one hand, they share a common goal with Hamas of opposing Israel, but on the other hand, Hezbollah faces significant risks. Israel, with substantial U.S. support, possesses advanced military capabilities. The recent conflict in Gaza has shown the potential consequences of provoking Israel. Additionally, a conflict with Hezbollah could create a third front in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which separates Israel from Iran-aligned forces. Hezbollah has an arsenal of precision-guided missiles, which is a notable upgrade from their capabilities in the 2006 conflict with Israel. Hezbollah claims to have over 100,000 fighters. If Hezbollah does enter the conflict, it could lead to a multi-front war in the Middle East with unpredictable outcomes.