Hezbollah (Arabic for "Party of God") is an umbrella organization of various radical Islamic Shi'ite groups and organizations which receives substantial financial and philosophical support from Iran.
The name Hezbollah comes from a Koranic verse promising triumph to those who join the Party of God. Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley by Shia clergyman educated in Iran, and it subsumed a number of Lebanese Islamic groups. Hezbollah's formation was a direct response to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon designed to eliminate the Palestinian Liberation Organization's base of operations. The group quickly became an effective fighting force thanks to training, weaponry, and funding from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operating in Lebanon. Hezbollah soon began running training camps in the Bekaa Valley and other parts of Lebanon that instructed members of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations how to conduct assassinations, kidnappings, suicide bombings, and guerilla warfare.
In the early 1980s, Hezbollah popularized suicide bombings as an effective terrorist tactic. In April 1983, Hezbollah allegedly blew up a van filled with explosives in front of the U.S. embassy in Beirut killing 58 Americans and Lebanese. Then in October 1983, Hezbollah is believed to be responsible for a truck bomb that detonated in the U.S. Marine barracks killing 241 American peacekeepers, and a simultaneous truck bombing at the French barracks that killed 58 French soldiers. These attacks contributed to the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Lebanon the following year. Hezbollah also carried out a number of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon during the mid 1980s, in which they executed the hostages or traded them for money or weapons.
In addition to Lebanon, Hezbollah's security apparatus operates in Europe, North and South America, East Asia, and other parts of the Middle East, and it is believed to be responsible for a number of other high profile terrorist attacks. In 1985 Hezbollah members hijacked TWA flight 847 and held the 39 Americans on board hostage for weeks. In addition, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural centre in Buenos Aires are attributed to Hezbollah. Furthermore, in June 1996, Hezbollah allegedly attacked the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S servicemen and wounding hundreds of others.
In May 2000, Israel elected to unilaterally withdraw from southern Lebanon because the costs of continued military occupation were deemed unacceptable. Hezbollah immediately declared victory and took advantage of their increased freedom of movement to establish themselves as a virtual state within a state in southern Lebanon. During these years, Hezbollah continued its transformation from a terrorist organization capable of executing the periodic spectacular attack to a well-disciplined professional fighting force. Core Hezbollah operatives likely currently number around 1,000, with reservist strength ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 fighters. Hezbollah also received a massive influx of funding from its primary state sponsor, Iran, at a clip of approximately 100 million annually. Iran provided thousands of Katyusha rockets and other advanced military hardware to the group as well.
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah members crossed the Israeli border and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and killed 8 others. In response, Israel began a massive bombing campaign and limited ground incursion designed to destroy Hezbollah infrastructure and eliminate Hezbollah fighters and weaponry. Through out the 34 days of intense fighting, Hezbollah fired 100s of rockets into northern Israel on a daily basis. On August 11, 2006; Israel, Hezbollah, and the Lebanese government agreed to a cease fire. While the fighting has slowed considerably since, debate continues about the rules of engagement for the United Nations' peacekeeping force in Lebanon and whether Hezbollah will be disarmed.
Hezbollah's stated objectives include the establishment of a Shiite theocracy in Lebanon, the destruction of Israel, and the elimination of Western influences from the Middle East. Over the last 20 plus years, Hezbollah has not only professionalized its military capabilities but also joined Lebanon's political process and enmeshed itself into the social fabric of Lebanese society.
After the end of Lebanon's 15 year civil war in the early 1990s, Hezbollah joined the country's nascent democratic multi-confessional political process and the group currently enjoys widespread support among Lebanon's Shia population. As of August 2006, Hezbollah is a minority partner in the Lebanese Cabinet, with two serving ministers and a third endorsed by the group, and it holds 14 seats in Parliament. In November 2007, the group delayed Lebanese Parliament's selection of Lebanon's new president by boycotting the elections. Hezbollah has said it will only consider candidates who support the group's fight against Israel.
Hezbollah's political wing also runs a variety of social programs in southern Lebanon and south Beirut that provide schooling, medical care, and welfare to Lebanese Shia. In addition, the group possesses its own radio station and satellite television station, al-Manar. Al-Manar serves as the primary propaganda engine for Hezbollah and broadcasts anti-Israel and anti-America propaganda to the Islamic world in multiple languages.
Due to its involvement in Lebanese politics and vast network of social services, there is considerable debate among the international community concerning whether Hezbollah should be classified as a terrorist organization. The U.S., Canada, Israel, and others classify Hezbollah strictly as a terrorist organization, which limits the group's ability to raise funds and travel internationally. However, countries like Australia and the United Kingdom distinguish between Hezbollah's security and political wings, and other countries like Russia do not consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.