Author: Drew Stragar-Rice
The purpose of this analysis is to track the military trends and political developments associated with Hezbollah. Of particular interest is the paternal relationship extended from Tehran and Damascus toward the “Party of God.” The implication of this nexus impacts American interests pertaining to a non-nuclear Iran, a secure Israel, and ultimately a stabilized Middle East. Through careful analysis of Hezbollah’s actions we hope to provide a better understanding to some of the most essential obstacles toward stability in the region.
“Party of God”
Hezbollah’s claim as a resistance organization derives from a firm insistence on opposing what it views as Israeli aggression and occupation of Lebanese territory. The Hezbollah military forces that fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006 are highly capable and effective. They operate with a decentralized force structure that emphasizes initiative and self-sufficiency.1 The training for this force has largely been provided by Iran, which continues to supply funding, training, and weaponry to Hezbollah, worth something like $100 million per year.2
There are two important points in Lebanese history that galvanized the Shiites and fueled the emergence of Hezbollah. First, the 1979 Iranian Revolution provided an ideological framework for an already politicized Shiite youth. Emphasizing radical change, this event provided inspiration to youths intent on importing the Iranian Revolution’s ideals into Lebanon. Second, the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon in 1982 ushered in the birth of Hezbollah as a militant organization. Designed to resist and destroy Israel and its supporters, Hezbollah has consistently used terror tactics such as suicide bombings to secure its goals, as was evident in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut3. The combination of the Iranian revolution and the Israeli invasion united many young revolutionary Shiites for a common cause based on ideology and resistance.
As evident during and after the 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah also has the power to galvanize the Arab world and unite Shiite and Sunni Muslims. As a testament to Hezbollah’s international support, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammed Mahdi-Akef, an Egyptian Sunni, promised 10,000 men to fight alongside Hezbollah while Muqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Iraqi Shiite, and head of Jaish al-Mahdi led demonstrations in support of the military campaign against Israel.4 Even though Hezbollah maintains relationships with Egypt, Syria and elements in Iraq, its connection with Tehran is the strongest and most dangerous.
Hezbollah and Iran: The Shiite Crescent
The relationship between Hezbollah and Iran was born of strategic need and ideological similarity. Iran has used the Shiite umbrella to spread its influence in the region, particularly in southern Lebanon where strategic pressure is placed on Israel’s northern border. To apply this pressure, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has reportedly helped train Hezbollah forces in anti-tank warfare, explosives, communications, the launching of rockets, and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Interestingly however, because of constant operations against Israel, Hezbollah fighters have gained far more combat experience than their Iranian counterparts.5
Tehran has also supplied Hezbollah with a considerable amount of arms to sustain attacks against Israel – as many as 10,000 Katyusha rockets (range 13 miles) have been sent to south Lebanon. Furthermore, Israeli intelligence notes that Hezbollah has stockpiled Shahin-1, Shahin-2, and Nazeat rockets – all with ranges beyond 50 miles.6 Although many of the rockets Hezbollah possesses are inaccurate, thereby lessening their strategic significance, this is little consolation to Israeli civilians who can attest to their psychological impact.
Hezbollah and the West
Hezbollah strives to create both a culture of resistance toward Israel and the United States and an independent Islamic state in Lebanon. These objectives directly challenge U.S. and Israeli interests. Yet, as in South Asia, the situation is further complicated by the connections between inter-state rivalry and the activities of violent armed groups. Currently, the most pressing issue concerns Iranian enrichment facilities. If Iran moves forward on enrichment the U.S. or Israel could take military action, which in turn, could provoke Hezbollah into a retaliatory attack against Israel. These intersections between traditional geopolitics and non-state actors complicate the challenge of imposing or maintaining stability. In the final analysis however, it is clear that Hezbollah is a major player in determining the level of security Israel and the U.S. are likely to enjoy in the next few years.
Exum, Andrew. “Hezbollah at War: A Military Assessment.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Policy Focus 63 (2006) www.washingtoninstitute.org.
Levitt, Matthew A. “Hezbollah: Financing Terror through Criminal Enterprise.” Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. May 25, 2005.
Norton, Augustus R. Hezbollah. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Print.
Norton, Augustus R.