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Hezbollah: What is it?

Hezbollah militants take an oath as they stand near the coffin of their colleague who was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon

Hezbollah militants take an oath as they stand near the coffin of their colleague who was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon

DPA/Pictures Alliance

In the weeks since Israel responded to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks with airstrikes and a planned ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, a lot of attention has focused on Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group that has threatened to enter the conflict to support Hamas.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Hezbollah? It is a Shiite revolutionary militant and political group based in Lebanon. The name of the organization means “Party of God” in Arabic. It operates extensive social services and media networks, and it enjoys widespread support among Lebanon’s large Shiite population. Its political wing has held seats in Lebanon’s parliament for more than 30 years.

Hezbollah’s militant wing has carried out attacks against US, Jewish, and Israeli targets in the region and globally. Hezbollah enjoys strong backing from Iran as well as from Syria, and it is considered a terrorist group by the US, Israel, and several European countries.

Where did Hezbollah come from? It was formed in the early 1980s during Lebanon’s brutal civil war, as a paramilitary force representing the country’s Shiite community. From the start, Hezbollah received strong support from Iran, a Shiite theocracy, and built a broad network of social services and media assets, particularly in Shiite-majority south Lebanon.

At the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, Hezbollah was the only Lebanese faction permitted to keep its arms. For 10 more years, it waged guerrilla warfare against Israeli forces that had occupied south Lebanon during the civil war. Israel finally withdrew in 2000.

What does it want? Hezbollah seeks to expel Israel and the US from the Middle East and to advance the interests of Lebanon’s large Shiite population within the country’s sectarian political structure.

How heavily armed is it? The group has been called “the world’s most heavily armed non-state actor.” It is believed to have more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, including powerful anti-air, anti-tank, and anti-ship munitions.

Have Hezbollah and Israel ever fought a full-scale war? Yes, a 2006 Hezbollah kidnapping raid into northern Israel provoked a major conflict. The fighting lasted more than a month, drawing in the Lebanese army, and both of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers were killed. Israel pounded Lebanon with airstrikes, killing more than 1,000 Lebanese, but was unable to dislodge Hezbollah.

What does Iran have to do with this again? Iran strongly supports Hezbollah as a proxy group and has transferred billions of dollars of equipment, training, and other support to the group over the years. During the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah fought on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad, who is backed by Iran. This meant Hezbollah clashed against various Sunni jihadist groups, including the Islamic State group, and gained valuable combat and intelligence experience.

What is Hezbollah’s relationship with Hamas? Although Hezbollah is a Shiite group, and Hamas is Sunni, the two groups share the goal of eradicating Israel, and they maintain very close relations.

What is happening right now between Israel and Hezbollah? Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah and Israel have had only limited exchanges of fire, but civilians are being evacuated from near both sides of the border amid fears of a regional escalation. Hezbollah has promised an “earthquake” for Israel if PM Benjamin Netanyahu orders a full-on ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.


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