Hezbollah: International Terrorist and Paramilitary Organization
International Terror Activities
The first major Hezbollah attack on Americans occurred on April 18, 1983, when a suicide truck loaded with approximately 2,000 pounds of explosives crashed into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, murdering 63. In October 1983, a Hezbollah suicide truck bomb destroyed the U.S. Marine compound in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. service personnel. Continuing to target U.S. personnel, Hezbollah terrorists drove a truck loaded with explosives into a U.S. Embassy annex northeast of Beirut on September 20, 1984, killing over 20 people and injuring dozens more. On June 14, 1985, Hezbollah hijacked TWA Flight 847 in order to gain leverage in their demands for the release of Shia prisoners in Kuwait and elsewhere. During the course of the hijacking episode, Hezbollah operatives murdered passenger Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. navy diver.
Concurrently, in coordination with Iran, Hezbollah kidnapped 25 Americans in Lebanon between 1982 and 1992 in what was known as the “Lebanon Hostage Crisis.” During the crisis, some victims spent years in captivity, while others, including CIA Station Chief William Buckley, were tortured and killed.
Since its inception Hezbollah has been engaged in hostilities against Israel. Hezbollah proclaims, “our struggle will end only when [Israel] is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.” In July 2006, Hezbollah engaged Israel in a 34-day war, during which it fired 3,970 Iranian-supplied rockets into Israel that went as far south as Haifa. Since then, Iran has rearmed Hezbollah with more than 100,000 rockets and missiles in preparation for a future war. In February 2008, Iran backed a foiled Hezbollah attempt to bomb the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan. Hezbollah is also responsible for bombing a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, resulting in five deaths. In November 2015, Hezbollah’s External Security Organization sent operative Hussein Abdallah to use explosives against Israelis in Cyprus and Europe, though law enforcement officials detained him before he could use the 8.5 tons of chemicals in his possession.
Across Europe, Hezbollah has murdered dozens and injured hundreds more. In 1986, the terror organization bombed thirteen shopping centers and public transport areas in France that collectively injured more than 250 and killed 13. Furthermore, Hezbollah is also responsible for detonating a car bomb outside of the Israeli embassy in London on July 26, 1984, which left 14 people injured. Ongoing Hezbollah activities in Europe include recruitment, drug sales, and organizing for future terror activities.
On March 17, 1992, a Hezbollah terrorist drove a bus loaded with 220 pounds of explosives into the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 23 and injuring 242. Hezbollah militants, backed by Iran, subsequently drove a suicide car bomb loaded with around 800 pounds of explosives into the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, leaving another 85 dead and 150 wounded.
In Africa, Hezbollah operatives backed by Iran have been stockpiling arms for use against Western and Israeli targets, particularly in Nigeria. Hezbollah operatives are also using Africa as a base for organizing and gathering finances to support international terror. In May 2013, Nigerian officials uncovered a Hezbollah weapons stash in Kano City, which included “11 anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank mines, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and 21 RPG missiles, 17 AK-47s, two sub-machine guns and 76 grenades.”
Hezbollah international criminal activities are focused on raising funds to support terror and other operational projects. They include money laundering, drug trafficking, and the blood diamond trade.
Latin America has emerged as a nexus for Iranian-supported Hezbollah criminal activities, especially related to the illicit drug trade. In the Tri-Border Area (TBA) – where the borders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet – Hezbollah raises $10 million a year. Because no South American country recognizes Hezbollah as a terror group, it is not illegal to transfer money to them, making it significantly easier for them to fundraise there. In 2008, U.S. and Columbian officials uncovered a Hezbollah cocaine and money-laundering ring. Hezbollah has partnered with Mexican drug cartels, drawing on their illegal trade and smuggling networks. Since the signing of JCPOA, Hezbollah money laundering and drug trafficking have increased, especially in Latin America and Europe.
In Africa, Hezbollah participates in organized crime and the illegal drug and blood diamond trades to fund terrorism abroad. In Sierra Leone and the Congo area, Hezbollah has taken control of illegal diamond trading. Western Africa functions as a storage location for Hezbollah drug traffic between Latin America and Europe. In addition, Hezbollah operatives in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and in the sub-Saharan region are operating front-companies and drug cartels, alongside direct Iranian outreach to the region.
Regional Paramilitary Activities
Within the Middle East, Iran employs Hezbollah as a vehicle to advance its pursuit of regional dominance and Shia empowerment. In service of that end, Hezbollah acts as a proxy to undermine Iran’s Sunni adversaries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Support of Assad Regime in Syria: The Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance
Iran and its Hezbollah proxies continue to support – including financially, technically, and militarily – the brutal Assad regime in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, in which more than 250,000 Syrians have died so far. Iran and Hezbollah view Assad as a critical ally and geographic link. In May 2013, Hezbollah publicly confirmed that it was militarily supporting Assad. Hezbollah militants aim to protect the established geographical link between Tehran, Damascus, and Lebanon, as well as prop up the Assad regime. As of February 2016, at least 865 Hezbollah militants have died fighting for Assad. As many as 10,000 Hezbollah fighters have been involved in supporting Assad’s recapture of Qusayr, and defense of Damascus and Aleppo.
Iran has long used Hezbollah to violently meddle in the affairs of its Arab Sunni rivals in the Persian Gulf. On April 5, 1988, Hezbollah hijacked a Kuwait Airways flight, landing it in Iran, and demanding the release of Shia prisoners. In March 1988, Hezbollah blew up a petrochemical facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, and on January 4, 1989, the terrorist organization murdered a Saudi official in Bangkok, Thailand. Amid growing tensions with Saudi Arabia, Iran reportedly instructed Hezbollah in 2016 to suspend operations against Israel and to instead target Saudi Arabia. The Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia, recognized Hezbollah as a terror organization in May 2016.