Briefing: What are Hezbollah's true colors?
Hezbollah has become an important player in Lebanese politics. While it still advocates the destruction of Israel and has offered to help Palestinians from Lebanon, it says that Palestinians must take the lead in securing their freedom.
What are the origins of Hezbollah?Skip to next paragraph
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In response to Israel's 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon, Hezbollah was founded by a small group of Lebanese Shiite clerics inspired by the teachings of two radical religious scholars, Mohammed Baqr as-Sadr of Iraq and Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
With the assistance of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah's early leadership mobilized Lebanon's Shiite population to resist the Israeli occupation. Beginning in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, hundreds of new recruits were given military training and religious indoctrination. During the 1980s, Hezbollah's influence spread from the Bekaa to Beirut, where it was blamed for the 1983 suicide bombings of the US Embassy and the US Marine barracks in which more than 300 people perished, as well as the kidnappings of foreigners. Hezbollah denies any role.
Lebanon's civil war ended in 1990, and all the militias were obliged to disarm. Only Hezbollah was permitted to keep its weapons so that it could continue resisting Israel's occupation in south Lebanon.
What does Hezbollah want?
Hezbollah seeks the end of the state of Israel, the liberation of Jerusalem, and an Islamic state in Lebanon.
Those ideological pillars remain unchanged since Hezbollah issued a 1985 manifesto of its ideology, although the group today acts more pragmatically than its stated goals would suggest. While it still advocates the destruction of Israel and has offered to help Palestinians from Lebanon, it says that Palestinians must take the lead in securing their freedom. Hezbollah officials also openly admit that Lebanon's many sects make the creation of an Islamic state there impossible in practice.
"Its public manifesto from 1985 simply reflects the times of militancy and uncompromising revolutionary fervor," says Magnus Ranstorp, research director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm. "In fact, Hezbollah has declared the idea of an Islamic state in Lebanon as a utopian ideal that should not be imposed in Lebanon as long as the country is so diverse."
Hezbollah champions the interests of Lebanon's Shiites, the largest but traditionally most underrepresented sect in Lebanese politics. It provides an impressive range of social, health, and educational services in impoverished Shiite rural areas, guaranteeing broad grass-roots support.