Hezbollah is a political and militant Shi'ite Muslim group based in Lebanon. Hezbollah, whose name means “Party of God” in Arabic, was founded in 1982 following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the First Lebanon War.
The group, which is currently led by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has close political and military ties with Syria and Iran, and is designated by the United States and other Western nations as a terrorist group. The political arm of Hezbollah is deeply involved in Lebanese politics, with seats in the government, and the group has a history of providing social programs, schools and health care to the Lebanese Shi'ite community.
Hezbollah opposes the West and Israel, and seeks to create in Lebanon an Islamic state modeled on Iran. It primarily operates in the Shi'ite dominated areas of southern Beirut, southern Lebanon, and the Bekaa Valley. The group’s founding was inspired by the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and it received military assistance from Iran during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Soon after its establishment, Hezbollah replaced the Amal movement, the dominant Shi'ite military group at the time. Throughout the 1980s, Hezbollah carried out attacks against the Israeli army in Lebanon as well as targeting Western interests abroad. Along with Iran, it is the prime suspect in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed.
Israel’s success in expelling militant Palestinian groups from southern Lebanon allowed Hezbollah to gain a stronger foothold in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah operatives were trained by Iranian forces and the group became highly organized politically and militarily.
After two decades of an Israeli presence in Lebanon, the IDF withdrew from the country in 2000 and Hezbollah assumed greater power in the war-torn south.
Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon did not end Hezbollah’s war against the Jewish State. Although the group initially stated that its primary goal was to “liberate” Lebanese soil, it also assumed the banner of fighting for the Palestinians and to defeat Israel once and for all. With close cooperation from Syria and Iran, Hezbollah continues to confront Israel over disputed territories.
In the summer of 2006, Hezbollah abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers in a cross-border raid that sparked the month-long Second Lebanon War. Supplied with advanced rocket power from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah viewed itself as the victor and it subsequently gained a greater political leverage in Lebanese politics. However, Nasrallah also admitted that he would not have ordered the raid had he known Israel would respond so fiercely. More than 1,200 people were killed in the confrontation and parts of the country lay in ruins from IDF bombing.
In the aftermath of the war with Israel, Hezbollah quickly moved towards demanding greater inclusion in Lebanon’s political decision making and in May 2008, the group successful received veto power over any cabinet decisions.
Today, Hezbollah remains a strong opposition force with representatives in Lebanon’s parliament and it still enjoys large support from the country’s Shi'ite population, as well as backing from Syria and Iran.
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