Hezbollah: Government Within a Gang

Hezbollah is a Shiite Islamic group, beginning as a loose connection of terrorists, and has now become a dynamic organization which is intertwined with the structure of Lebanese society. When Lebanon gained its independence in 1943, the Shiite population was economically and politically excluded. A man named Musa al-Sadr began mobilizing segments of the Shiite community in the early 60s. This led to the emergence of a new Shiite organization in 1975, called Amal. This is the group from which Hezbollah was created.

Hezbollah is now an internationally recognized terrorist group and has been operating out of Lebanon since the early 1980s. Despite its claim of unified control, there are two parts, one being its military wing and the other its political. This is tricky because some countries recognize the entire organization as a terrorist group, whereas others only consider its military wing terrorist. Hezbollah appears to be an Islamic-nationalist group utilizing its political power in Lebanon in order to keep its military wing powerful and functioning.

An important question to ask about Hezbollah; What are its motives? Ideologically, the group has always sought to promote a strict Islamic way of life. In its earlier days the group’s leaders implemented harsh codes of Islamic behavior on various towns and villages. Despite this strict focus on Islam, the group insists that they do not intend to force Lebanese to be a part of an Islamic-only society. Hezbollah officially published it’s manifesto in 1985. It included key goals for the group, such as: destroying Israel, expelling Western influences from Lebanon and the wider Middle East, and combatting their enemies within Lebanon, particularly the Phalanges Party. Along with these goals, the manifesto also identified the USA and the Soviet Union as Islam’s main enemies. It also claimed that the international system and 1985 Lebanese government were subject to imperial influences and thereby hostile to Islam. However, more recently in the 2009 Lebanese elections Hezbollah won ten parliamentary seats. Months after this, the group’s leader. Hassan Nasrallah, gave an updated manifesto for the group, essentially shifting the group from it’s Khomeinist roots towards an Islamist nationalist approach.

Hezbollah’s rise in the government hasn’t been a cakewalk, in fact it has had to use military force in order to not get squashed by the Lebanese government. In 1989 Lebanon’s civil war ended, and an accord called for all militias to disarm. Hezbollah, however, re-branded itself to be an “Islamic Resistance” force focused on ending Israeli occupation, allowing it to stay armed. After this, the group became more active with Lebanese politics, participating in it’s nation elections in 1992. When Israeli forces withdrew in 2000, the group was credited for this success, but once again received pressure to disarm. However, again they resisted and held their military presence near Israeli occupied areas in the south. In 2008 Lebanon’s government attempted to shut down Hezbollah’s private telecommunications and specifically remove an airport security chief as a result of believed ties to the group. Hezbollah retaliated to these actions and seized a large part of the capital and began fighting other opposing Sunni groups. This retaliation led to 81 deaths and almost caused a new civil war in the country. To end this conflict, the government conceded some of its power by agreeing on a power-sharing agreement. This is how the group’s veto power came to be.

Despite these military means, Hezbollah has demonstrated its professionalism and effectiveness in times of crises and in general for the Shiite Lebanese. The group provides crucial social services, including the management of schools, hospitals, and news and agricultural services. After the country’s civil war ended, the group rebuilt homes and businesses of Christian families returning to southern Beirut. Also, after a 1996 Israeli bombing campaign, Hezbollah led the rebuilding effort. The group rebuilt 5,000 homes, helped repair roads and infrastructure, and provided compensation to over 2,000 farmers in the area.

Despite the good that this group has been able to do through its political power, almost all of it has been specifically for Shiite Lebanese. Although some countries only recognize its military wing as a terrorist group, due to the many notable terrorist attacks carried out by Hezbollah, its use of military force to maintain political power, and events such as the country’s anti-Hezbollah Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigning and fleeing Lebanon due to supposed assassination attempts, Hezbollah appears to be an Islamic nationalist terrorist group effectively feigning its political aptitude to stay active and dangerous.

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