Hezbollah 101: Who is the militant group, and what does it want?

The Shiite militant group and political party is a player not just in Lebanon, where it is based, but across the broader Middle East. It remains a staunch opponent of Israel, which it fought to a standstill in 2006, and a close ally of Iran and Syria – despite both regimes' crackdowns on citizens Hezbollah purports to champion. 

What are the origins of Hezbollah?

Mohamed Zatari/AP/File
Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, wrapping themselves with explosives, parade in a show of force in the southern Lebanese market town of Nabatiyeh on May 27, 1996 on the holiday of Ashura. In The background is Hezbollah's flag.

Hezbollah was founded by a small group of Lebanese Shiite clerics as a response to Israel's 1982 invasion of southern Lebanon. They were 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.

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