Lebanon’s Hezbollah (“Party of God” in Arabic) is a Shi’a politico-military grouping at the forefront of Iran’s bid for control of the Middle East. The militant group serves to bolster Iranian influence via operations in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. These activities have made the group a sworn enemy of Saudi Arabia, which has tried to isolate and pressure Hezbollah wherever it operates. The Saudi-backed prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, recently resigned from office in protest of Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon and Iranian expansionism in the region. Two days later, Saudi Arabia accused Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) of being directly responsible for a missile attack on Riyadh from Yemeni territory. Furthermore, the United States has also sought to ramp up pressure on Hezbollah by implementing new sanctions against the group, which is already designated by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
While anti-Iranian powers regard Hezbollah as a threat, the group has established itself in Lebanon as an armed political movement with strong support from the Lebanese Shi’a community.
Origins and Ideology
Hezbollah was founded by Iran-backed Shi’a militants during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980s. The breakdown of state authority and the 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon enabled Shi’a Islamists to recruit from Lebanon’s poor and disenfranchised Shi’a community. Seeking to export its Islamic Revolution, the newly established Islamic Republic of Iran deployed IRGC personnel to Lebanon to train and support the Shi’a militias.
Hezbollah’s 1985 manifesto stated its intention to fight Israel and the United States, and declared Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as its supreme leader. Hezbollah regards itself as a resistance movement fighting against American imperialism. The group sees Israel as an extension of American imperialism that occupies Muslim lands; its goal was not simply to drive Israeli forces out of Lebanon, but to ultimately destroy the State of Israel and liberate Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque from non-Muslim rule.