Hezbollah, the “Party of Allah/God” is a Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that is fighting in Syria on the side of the Russian and Iranian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad against rebels seeking his demise. The ‘group’ was formed in 1982 as a response to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. and derives much of its ideological inspiration from Iran, which aided in its emergence during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980s. Despite Iran’s substantial influence, Hezbollah’s roots stretch back to the Shia Islamic revival in Lebanon in the 1960s and ’70s; which was a reversal of the common Arab and Asian governments “Westernization” approach earlier in the 20th century. Superseding the quadrupling of oil prices in the mid-1970s, and the 1979 Iranian Revolution which undermined the assumption that Westernization strengthened Muslim countries and was the irreversible trend of the future.
Both the United States and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This appellation is far from controversial due to the party itself announcing its intentions. In 1985, Hezbollah officially declared the US and the Soviet Union as Islam’s principal enemies and called for the “obliteration” of Israel, which it said was occupying Muslim lands.
The most significant progress that has been made towards achieving that goal was to force Israel’s military to end its 22-year occupation in May 2000. After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah resisted pressure to disarm and continued to bolster its military strength. This decision worked well in their favor, and by 2006 some of its capabilities now exceed those of the Lebanese army, which was demonstrated with the considerable firepower Hezbollah used against Israel in the 2006 war.
Israel has not allowed their acts to go without consequence and retaliation. Later in 2006, Hezbollah militants launched a cross-border attack in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped, triggering a massive Israeli response. Israel also fought a monthlong war against Hezbollah known as the ‘2006 Lebanon War’ which was the second ‘Lebanon War’ between these two opposing forces. To much surprise, it is widely accepted that Hezbollah emerged victorious. Israel still views Hezbollah as a formidable enemy on its border and watches the group carefully. Over the past few years, Israel and Hezbollah have both worked to improve their capabilities for the kind of war they expect to fight.
Hezbollah is widely recognized as the most formidable military force in Lebanon, which the United States has tried to balance with support for Lebanon’s armed forces. While the two forces have historically remained separate, the escalation of the war in Syria has led to cooperation between them to secure Lebanon’s borders.
Hezbollah’s strategic situation has also changed following its commitment of significant forces to Syria, with an estimated 5,000 personnel serving there at any one time. They are believed to have made other improvements in their capabilities, including air defense and coastal defense, with systems acquired through Syria. According to Israeli officials, Hezbollah has about 8,000 fighters in Syria and has has lost about 1,700 fighters in Syria and thousands more have been injured.
As of today, Hezbollah is more powerful than the existing sovereign Lebanese state. The party has a paramilitary wing which essentially subscribes to a military resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. This has forced Lebanon into an existential crisis, because the state itself, the Lebanese state, must have a monopoly on the use of force.