Since it helped create the terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s, Iran has provided Hezbollah with financial and material support. This support has led to Hezbollah fighting alongside Iranian forces on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s civil war.
- Type of Organization: Militia, political party, social-service provider, terrorist, transnational, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations: Iranian-sponsored, Islamist, jihadist, Khomeinist, Shiite
- Place of Origin: Lebanon
- Year of Origin: 1982
- Places of Operation: Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil
Hezbollah and Iran: Weaving a Web of Terror
The Shiite group Hezbollah (“the Party of God”) is an Iranian-sponsored, internationally sanctioned terrorist group with an anti-Israel and anti-U.S. agenda. Hezbollah is primarily based in Lebanon, but it has carried out terrorist and criminal operations around the world. Hezbollah is credited with attacks against Israeli soldiers during Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon; the 1983 attack on U.S. military barracks in Lebanon; and the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847, as well as other attacks. In 2012, U.S. State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin said, “Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future,” and could launch attacks “with little or no warning.”
Iran helped create the terrorist group in Lebanon in the early 1980s. Despite Hezbollah’s rhetorical goal of freeing Lebanon from foreign occupation, it has made no secret of its allegiance to or support from Iran. For example, in August 2014, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah promised that Hezbollah would respond against any American or Israeli attack on Iran. On several occasions, Nasrallah has declared the United States to be Hezbollah’s enemy. He has also labeled the United States “the mother of terrorism.”
Iran has transferred mass quantities of weapons, fighters, and other supplies to Hezbollah through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), using Syria as a transfer point. Hezbollah has launched thousands of Iranian rockets against Israel, notably in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Hezbollah’s loyalty to Iran and Syria has translated into Hezbollah’s involvement on behalf of the embattled Syrian regime in that country’s civil war. Hezbollah has fought alongside Iranian forces on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hezbollah is also suspected of aiding Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Complicating Hezbollah’s status, the terror group has woven itself into Lebanon’s social fabric, setting up charities and providing services in the southern part of the country where government authority is weaker. These social services have boosted Hezbollah’s popularity enough to allow it to become part of the Lebanese political structure. Since 1992, Hezbollah has had a presence in the elected government. The terror group received veto power in the Lebanese government after armed conflict broke out between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army in 2008.
Hezbollah claims that it is in confrontation with Israel, “the Zionist entity,” which it maintains is built on land aggressively “wrested from” its rightful owners while Israel trampled “the rights of the Muslim people.” Hezbollah refuses to accept any ceasefires, treaties, or peace agreements, and sees only one end to its “struggle” against Israel, namely “when this entity is obliterated.”
Hezbollah has been linked to the 2012 bus bombing in Bulgaria, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina. Argentine investigators suspect the Iranian government of ordering and orchestrating the 1994 attack. Hezbollah is also suspected of participation in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut. Hezbollah plots have also been uncovered in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Thailand, as well as throughout South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and various countries in the Middle East. The group has also been tied to international smuggling and drug rings.
The United States has designated Hezbollah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997. The United States has also sanctioned Hezbollah for its ties to the IRGC and participation in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Iran. At least nine other countries, as well as the European Union, have designated either Hezbollah’s military wing or Hezbollah as a whole as a terrorist organization. Though the EU and other countries distinguished between Hezbollah’s political and armed wings, the terror group considers itself a singular organization, and its leadership has continued to pursue a terrorist agenda with Iranian aid. The Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in March 2016 because of its ties to Iran.
Hezbollah’s Khomeinist Doctrine
Hezbollah is first and foremost an instrument of the Iranian regime. It has pledged allegiance to the ideals put forward by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Iranian revolution and Iran’s first supreme leader. The group explicitly states in its manifesto, “We are the sons of the umma (Muslim community)—the party of God (Hizb Allah) the vanguard of which was made victorious by God in Iran.” Hezbollah is explicit in its submission to the Iranian supreme leader’s decrees, avowing its compliance to the dictates of “one leader, wise and just, that of our tutor and faqih (jurist) who fulfills all the necessary conditions: [Ayatollah] Ruhollah Musawi Khomeini.” Hezbollah leaders insist that the group’s resistance is of a higher quality than other jihadist groups due to its ingrained faith in Islam, readiness for martyrdom, and integrity of leadership.
Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon in 1982 following Israel’s invasion in response to guerilla attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hezbollah’s stated goal was to fight “for the liberation of the occupied territories and the ejection of the aggressive Israeli forces.” Hezbollah modeled its ideology on Khomeini’s 1979 Iranian revolution. As counterterrorism expert Matt Levitt notes, within the setting of the Lebanese civil war, “the 1982 Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon created the space in which Iranian diplomats and agents could help fashion the unified entity Hezbollah from a motley crew of Shi’a militias and groups.” Iran thus viewed the rise of Hezbollah as an opportunity to extend its influence, cultivating Hezbollah as a proxy force by providing funding, training, and weaponry.
In the early 1980s, Iran reportedly sent 1,000 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers who “provided military training for the existing Shiite militia and helped from Hezbollah, a new, more radical Islamic faction.” In February 1985, the organization formally emerged and issued its manifesto. Hezbollah pledged loyalty to Khomeini; demanded the expulsion of foreign forces (i.e., Israel, France, and the United States) from Lebanon; called for Israel’s destruction; and called for the creation of an Islamic state in Lebanon.
As an Iranian proxy, Hezbollah’s perceived threat environment is almost identical to Iran’s—Tehran’s enemies are Hezbollah’s enemies. Like Iran, Hezbollah considers the United States and Israel to be its chief foes. The group’s manifesto describes the United States as the root of abomination and declares that “All attempts made to drive us into marginal actions will fail, especially as our determination to fight the U.S. is solid.” Among Hezbollah’s earliest major attack on U.S. and Western interests was the 1983 truck bombing at a U.S. Marine compound in Beirut, which killed 241 U.S. service members. The group also carried out a simultaneous truck bombing on French forces in Beirut, killing 58 soldiers.
Hezbollah has pledged to defend Iran against an international attack, particularly from the United States or Israel.
Iran’s Material and Financial Support to Hezbollah
Hezbollah has received extensive financial support from the Iranian government since the group’s emergence. Iran helped develop the organization to boost its own “ability to deploy armed revolutionaries among the [Shiite] strongholds” in Lebanon. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iran viewed Hezbollah as its opportunity to gain access to the wider Arab world. The IRGC Quds Force has provided Hezbollah with key financial and military support and training.
For example, during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, the IRGC transferred sufficient cash and rockets to Hezbollah to make the terror group a threat to millions of Israeli civilians. The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated in a 2006 report that Iran had transferred 10,000 short-range Katyusha-type rockets, with launchers, capable of reaching 7 to 12 miles inside Israel. In addition, Iran provided an unknown number of longer-range rockets capable of hitting targets almost 50 miles inside Israel, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. In 2004, Mohammed Raad, then leader of Hezbollah's “Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc” in the Lebanese parliament, acknowledged that Hezbollah also received funding from Iran for “health care, education and support of war widows.”
The U.S. Department of Defense estimated in 2010 that Iran provides Hezbollah with $100 million to $200 million annually. Iran allegedly provided up to $600 million to Hezbollah for its political campaigns, and Israeli intelligence estimates that Iran had directly provided Hezbollah with more than $1 billion from the end of the 2006 war to 2009. However, in 2009—due to the devastating effects on the Iranian economy resulting from international sanctions because of its nuclear program—Iran reportedly cut Hezbollah’s budget by as much as 40 percent.
In June 2016, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah excoriated recently passed U.S. financial sanctions against Lebanese institutions that dealt with Hezbollah. All of Hezbollah’s funding and weaponry come from Iran, according to Nasrallah. “As long as Iran has money, we have money... Just as we receive the rockets that we use to threaten Israel, we are receiving our money. No law will prevent us from receiving it.”