The existence of Hezbollah or the ‘Party of God’ is a very convoluted one. Their beginnings stem from a place of anti-Israeli sentiment and the yearning for an Islamic theocracy. They are an entity involved in Lebanese government, run hospitals, social programs, command militia and are classified as terrorists by a large number of countries. Unlike Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah is not widely known to the public particularly in the northern hemisphere, but they have an impact on a wide range of people across borders of multiple countries in the Middle East and beyond.
The origins of Hezbollah are in Lebanon where a civil war between Christians, Muslims, and Palestinians was taking place in the 1970s. Hezbollah was created by Shiite Muslim clerics in the 1980s in direct response to Israeli intervention in the conflict due to attacks from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on Israel from Lebanon. This escalation led to an intervention led by the United States under the Reagan administration (via a multi-national coalition) that successfully restored power to the incumbent Lebanese government and kept order. What they did not account for was Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s major ideological goal was the creation of an Islamic theocracy in Lebanon and the transformation of the country into a second Islamic republic in the Middle East after Iran. That vision led to funding and weapons armament from Syria and Iran in order to accomplish this agenda. As a response to U.S forces in Lebanon, Hezbollah planned and carried out U.S Embassy attacks, hostage crises (which resulted in infamous events such as the Iran Contra Affair), bombings of U.S military bases, and airplane hijackings.
What we see almost 40 years later is a Hezbollah that is now deeply rooted beyond its anti-Zionist and purely oppositional origins. It is now involved in Lebanese government as a multi-faceted organization and power broker. As Robert Rabil’s piece in Security Affairs points out “they have the institutional trappings of a state and the capabilities of an army”. They have a sophisticated organizational structure, seats in government, and social programs. Their militia forces were able to push Israel out of a 20-year occupation of southern Lebanon and have demonstrated an ability to strike Israeli and American targets both within the Middle East and as far afield as Bulgaria and Argentina. Their classification depends on which country is asked. The United States, Canada, and other countries (including some in the Middle East) consider the entire organization to be a terrorist organization, while other nations like the U.K only consider their military arm as terrorist affiliated.
Hezbollah is currently involved in several conflicts throughout Lebanon and the Middle East, but the highest profile one in current news cycles is its assistance in propping up President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. It is involved in skirmishes against Sunni resistance forces to protect Lebanese villages on Syrian territory (most notably Qusayr) from the rebels and they have been involved in conflicts with Al-Qaeda which is supporting the Sunni rebels.
The intelligence community and congress have expressed several concerns of an emerging security threat from Hezbollah to Western interests. One example is a report released by a Congressional Subcommittee on oversight, investigations, and management that indicates a relationship between Hezbollah and the Mexican drug cartel as early as 2005 via fundraising and money laundering operations. There is increasing concern that Hezbollah is infiltrating the southern U.S border via drug smuggling routes.
While the viability of an immediate threat to U.S domestic Security is still in question, the immediate next steps for Hezbollah in the Middle East hinge on how Syria will proceed in a transition of power via negotiations with Russia and the United States. A complete removal of Assad could result in an escalation and result in increased violence as he is a major proponent of their power structure, or its organizational ability in that part of the Middle East will start to crumble. Time will tell.