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. 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. Imad Fayez Mugniyah is 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. 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. 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 the 1992 and 1994 attacks in Argentina 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. What major attacks is Hezbollah responsible for? Hezbollah and its affiliates have planned or been linked to a lengthy series of terrorist attacks against the United States, Israel, and other Western targets. These attacks include: * a series of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon, including several Americans, in the 1980s; * the suicide truck bombings that killed more than 200 U.S. Marines at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983; * the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which featured the famous footage of the plane’s pilot leaning out of the cockpit with a gun to his head; * and two major 1990s attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina—the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy (killing twenty-nine) and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center (killing ninety-five). Does Hezbollah play an active role in the Lebanese politics? Yes. After the 2005 elections, Hezbollah won eight new seats, giving the group twenty-three seats in 128-member Lebanese Parliament. In addition, Hezbollah has two ministers in the government, and a third is endorsed by the group.



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