Updated June 22, 2018
Hezbollah (“Party of God”) is an Iran-backed Lebanese
Shi’a militia and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist
Organization (FTO). Formed in 1982, in the wake of the
Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, the group has
described itself as the leader of Islamic resistance to Israel
and has conducted numerous attacks against Israeli and
Western targets. Hezbollah currently operates regionally as
a militia force, while also playing a powerful role as a
Lebanese political party and provider of social services.
Hezbollah member was indicted in 2013). Other anti-Syrian
politicians, journalists, and security personnel were killed in
the years following the Hariri assassination, including four
members of parliament; analysts have claimed that
Hezbollah and/or Syria are likely culprits.
Figure 1. Lebanon
Hassan Nasrallah has served as Secretary-General of
Hezbollah since the assassination of his predecessor by the
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1992. The group’s
leadership structure includes an advisory body known as the
Shura Council, comprising the heads of the Executive,
Political, and Judiciary Councils, as well as two permanent
Iranian representatives. According to the U.S. government,
the External Security Organization (ESO), the military arm
of Hezbollah responsible for the planning, coordination,
and execution of terrorist attacks, is headed by Talal
Hamiyah. He reportedly took over in 2008, after his
predecessor, Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a car bombing.
For nearly two decades, Hezbollah’s stated objective was to
drive IDF forces from southern Lebanon, through a range of
attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets. Since the
Israeli withdrawal in May 2000, Hezbollah has used the
remaining Israeli presence in the Sheb’a Farms and other
disputed areas in the Lebanon-Syria-Israel tri-border region
to justify its ongoing conflict with Israel—and its
persistence as an armed militia alongside the Lebanese
Armed Forces (LAF). Hezbollah promotes Iranian interests
in the region, through efforts to ensure the survival of the
Asad government in Syria and counter the influence of
Iran’s regional rivals. In recent years, the group has
portrayed itself as a protector of Lebanon’s domestic
security, conducting operations against Sunni extremist
groups that have crossed into the country from Syria.
Areas of Operation
Hezbollah is based in Lebanon and primarily operates in the
Middle East, though it has conducted attacks elsewhere.
According to U.S. government assessments, Hezbollah
controls access to parts of Lebanon and operates inside the
country with relative impunity. The group was implicated
in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime
Minister Rafik Hariri in a car bombing in downtown Beirut
that also killed 21 others. In 2011, the United Nationsbacked Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) indicted four
Hezbollah members in connection with the Hariri
assassination and is conducting trials in absentia (a fifth
Source: Created by CRS using ESRI, Google Maps, and Good
Shepherd Engineering and Computing.
Hezbollah vies for the loyalties of its constituents by
operating a vast network of schools, clinics, youth
programs, private businesses, and local security. Hezbollah
has participated in elections since 1992. The group entered
the Cabinet for the first time in 2005, and has held one or
two seats in each of the six Lebanese governments formed
since then. Hezbollah has at times sought to block cabinet
decisions, twice prompting the collapse of the government
by withdrawing from the cabinet alongside its political
allies. The group is part of the March 8 political coalition,
which includes Lebanese President Michel Aoun of the
Free Patriotic Movement. Hezbollah did not gain any
additional seats in Lebanon’s May 2018 legislative
elections (it continues to hold 13), but parties allied with the
March 8 coalition increased their share of seats.
Hezbollah has a longstanding relationship with the Asad
government in Syria, which facilitates the transit of
weapons through its territory from Iran to Hezbollah. In
2013, Nasrallah acknowledged that Hezbollah fighters were
operating inside Syria and pledged that the group would
“do everything in [its] power” to ensure the Asad
government’s survival. Formerly limited to advisory and
support roles, Hezbollah fighters increasingly undertook
combat missions, coordinating with Syrian military and
paramilitary forces to recapture Syrian towns along the
Lebanese border. Since 2013, Hezbollah has expanded its
geographical scope of operations in Syria. While most
deployments aim to bolster regime forces, Hezbollah
fighters have taken a lead role in some operations, including
the regime’s recapture of Aleppo in December 2016.
According to the 2016 Country Reports on Terrorism
(published in July 2017), Hezbollah maintains about 7,000
fighters in Syria. Some observers have highlighted the
potential for future Hezbollah deployments to assist the
Asad regime in recapturing eastern Syria, which could
facilitate the shipment of arms and other supplies across
Iraq from Iran.
Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has cost
the group an estimated 2,500 fighters killed and 7,000
injured and has reportedly resulted in some erosion of its
popular support, including within Lebanon’s Shi’a
community. At the same time, the group has gained combat
experience and expanded its operational capabilities,
leading some analysts to assess that the group has adopted
some aspects of a conventional force.
Attacks Against U.S. Interests
Starting in the early 1980s, Hezbollah carried out a series of
terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities,
including the high-profile truck bombings of the U.S.
Embassy and Multinational Force barracks in Beirut in
1983, and the Embassy annex in 1984. Hezbollah also
hijacked TWA Flight 847 and took roughly 100 foreign
hostages between 1982 and 1992, including the CIA chief
of station in Beirut, who later died in their custody.
Since 1986, the U.S. government has not directly
implicated Hezbollah in any attacks on American personnel
or facilities. Nevertheless, U.S. officials have alleged that
Hezbollah leaders were active in arming and training Shi’a
militias that carried out attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq during
Operation Iraqi Freedom. In June 2017, the Department of
Justice announced that it had arrested two naturalized U.S.
citizens on charges of providing material support to, and
receiving military-type training from, Hezbollah. The men
allegedly surveilled potential targets for attack in the United
States and Panama.
Attacks on Israeli and Jewish Targets
Over the past two decades, Hezbollah has periodically fired
rockets into northern Israel. Hezbollah rocket attacks
reached a peak during the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War,
when, over the course of a 34-day period in July and
August, more than 4,000 rockets fell across northern Israel,
killing 55 Israelis. Hezbollah also conducted cross-border
raids on Israeli villages and military installations. All told,
the 2006 conflict killed an estimated 163 Israelis and more
than 1,000 Lebanese.
Since the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel War, Hezbollah has
reportedly continued to expand its rocket arsenal—from
approximately 13,000 short- and medium-range rockets
when the War began to, by some accounts, ten times that
number today, including Russian- and Iranian-built systems
with longer ranges and improved accuracy.
Size and Financing
The U.S. government has not issued an unclassified
assessment of the total number of Hezbollah fighters across
all areas of operation. The International Institute for
Strategic Studies’ 2017 Military Balance estimates that
Hezbollah’s active forces number between 7,000–10,000
with an additional 20,000 reserves.
According to Nasrallah, Hezbollah receives all of its
funding from Iran. In a 2016 speech, Nasrallah stated that
“Hezbollah’s budget, ... everything it eats and drinks, its
weapons and rockets, come from the Islamic Republic of
Iran.” In June 2018, Treasury Under Secretary for
Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker
estimated that Iran provides Hezbollah with more than $700
million per year, significantly more than previously
released U.S. government estimates.
However, Hezbollah also operates a global criminalfinancial network, with reported hubs in Europe, West
Africa, and Latin America. A 2016 Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) investigation implicated Hezbollah
in a multimillion-dollar scheme involving the alleged transit
of Latin American cocaine to the United States and Europe
and the laundering of drug proceeds through exchanges in
the Middle East and West Africa.
Relationship with Iran
Iranian support for Hezbollah, including providing
thousands of rockets and short-range missiles, helps Iran
acquire leverage against key regional adversaries such as
Israel and Saudi Arabia. It also facilitates Iran’s
intervention on behalf of the Asad regime in Syria.
According to the 2016 Country Reports on Terrorism, Iran
trains “thousands” of Hezbollah fighters.
Designations and Recent Legislation
Hezbollah, as an entity, is listed as a Specially Designated
Terrorist (1995); a Foreign Terrorist Organization (1997);
and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (2001). Several
affiliated individuals and entities have also been designated
as SDGTs, including Secretary-General Nasrallah.
In December 2015, the 114th Congress passed the Hizballah
International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA, P.L. 114102) imposing sanctions on foreign financial institutions
that facilitate transactions or money laundering on behalf of
Hezbollah or affiliated persons or entities. The Hizballah
International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of
2017 (S. 1595 and H.R. 3329), introduced in July 2017,
would amend HIFPA to impose additional sanctions on
Hezbollah’s financial facilitators. In October 2017, H.R.
3329 was passed by the House as amended and S. 1595 was
passed by the Senate as amended. For additional
information on Lebanese Hezbollah, see CRS Report
R44759, Lebanon, by Carla E. Humud.
Carla E. Humud, Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs
Over the years, Hezbollah has also been implicated in
several attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets outside Israel,
including two attacks in Argentina in the early 1990s and a
1994 car bombing at the Israeli Embassy in London.
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