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.
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Is Hezbollah a Lebanese political party or a proxy of Iran?Skip to next paragraph
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It is a bit of both. Since overturning its objection to Lebanon's political system at the end of the civil war, it has become an important player in Lebanese politics. Its future depends greatly on its ability to retain support among Lebanon's Shiite community, irrespective of Iran's backing.
At the same time, Hezbollah answers to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – the group's ultimate source of religious authority and guidance.
"[Hezbollah] fluctuates between both being an indigenous Lebanese party and, when needed, a proxy militia of Iran," says Mr. Ranstorp.
Iran has played an instrumental role in building up the group's military capabilities over the years, which enabled Hezbollah's impressive military wing to oust Israel from south Lebanon in 2000 (see map; shaded area is now occupied by UN). It also fought the Israeli army to a standstill in the summer of 2006 – a war sparked by Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers.
For Iran, Hezbollah's military strength serves as an important deterrent to any potential US or Israeli plan to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. If they strike Iran, the thinking goes, Iran could turn to Hezbollah to attack northern Israel. On Nov. 10, Israel's army chief told lawmakers that Hezbollah had tens of thousands of rockets, some of which could reach Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Who leads Hezbollah?
Since being appointed as Hezbollah's chief in 1992, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has emerged as one of the most venerated and credible figures in the Arab world. Soft-spoken in private, Mr. Nasrallah saves passionate outbursts for his public performances. A brilliant orator, he whips up sentiment among Hezbollah and its supporters with powerful speeches that balance fiery rhetoric with humor.
How popular is Hezbollah?
Hezbollah's popularity lies chiefly with Lebanon's Shiites, although it also has the support of its political allies in parliament. It leads an alliance that includes mainly Shiites and Christians, with a few Sunnis and Druze. The alliance has a broad appeal to Muslims and Arabs in general for its anti-Israel activities
Hezbollah's popularity peaked in the late 1990s when its stubborn and successful armed resistance against Israel's occupation of south Lebanon earned it wide admiration and sympathy. However, Hezbollah's determination to keep its weapons following Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 has created unease among the party's opponents, who insist that only the Lebanese Army should have the right to bear arms and only the government should decide matters of war and peace.
In May 2008, Hezbollah and its allies briefly overran the western half of Beirut in a crushing display of force against its political opponents, an event that triggered the worst internal clashes since the civil war and left more than 100 people dead. In June 2009 elections, it narrowly lost to the ruling Western-backed March 14 coalition, and had to settle for two seats in the 30-person cabinet agreed on Nov. 9.