Lebanese Militia: The Danger from the North: What is Hezbollah?

Social movement, political party and radical militia: the Lebanese Hezbollah is not easy to pin down.

Lebanese Militia: The Danger from the North: What is Hezbollah?

Social movement, political party and radical militia: the Lebanese Hezbollah is not easy to pin down. For years, the Shiite movement enjoyed a high reputation among the population in Lebanon, but with the attacks and hostage-taking it has carried out, it has joined the group of violent extremist organizations.

Hezbollah, which is allied with Iran and Hamas, has repeatedly waged war against Israel. There is currently growing international concern that the powerful militia is forcing a second front on the Israeli army in the war against Hamas.

Hezbollah (German: Party of God) was founded during the Lebanese civil war in 1982 as a coalition of Shiite militias. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards played a central role in its founding, supporting Hezbollah with trainers and weapons in the following years. The Islamist ideology of Hezbollah was also heavily influenced by Iran.

Shortly after its founding, the group attracted attention with several serious attacks on the US embassy in Beirut and international troops in Lebanon. Since then, a number of other attacks have been attributed to her, including the 1994 attack on the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. In the 1980s, Hezbollah took Western foreigners hostage and murdered several of them.

Hezbollah gained great support among the impoverished Shiite population in the capital Beirut and in southern Lebanon through its network of social institutions. She also earned respect among the Lebanese population when she forced the Israeli army to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

Hezbollah has already been represented in several government cabinets in Beirut, but it is also controversial in Lebanon. Her opponents accuse her of being an extension of Iran and Syria. The assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, which is said to have been carried out by the Syrian secret service and Hezbollah, caused a deep crisis. The protests that followed forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Hezbollah cost a lot of support when it intervened in the Syrian conflict in 2012 on the side of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Many Lebanese resented her operation against the Syrian opposition. Protests in Lebanon in 2020 were also directed against Hezbollah, which many people blamed for the social misery in the country.

Militarily, Hezbollah repositioned itself after its war against Israel in 2006 and began to "gradually expand and improve its military capabilities," says expert Eva Koulouriotis. The militia is now said to have up to 200,000 rockets of various ranges, including Soviet Katyusha and Grad rockets as well as Iranian Shabab rockets. There are also Iranian drones, including Shahed-136 drones, which Russia uses in Ukraine. In 2021, Hezbollah self-reported having 100,000 fighters.

Since Hamas' major attack on Israel, there have been repeated clashes in southern Lebanon on the border with Israel, which has fueled international fears that the war will expand. A second front in the north of the country would be a major problem for Israel. Compared to Hamas, Hezbollah is "bigger, more financially powerful, more professional, more battle-hardened, better equipped and better armed," says military expert Lucas Webber.