What is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and Israel have traded barbs, raising tensions in the region and worries of impending war.

A man rides a motorbike past a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, near Sidon, Lebanon
A picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, near Sidon, on July 7, 2020 [Ali Hashisho/Reuters]

The tit-for-tat strikes between Hezbollah and Israel have taken on a sharper edge.

The exchanges have gone on since October 8, the day after Israel launched its brutal war on Gaza.

Israeli officials have said that the army has an approved plan for war with Hezbollah, while Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has fired back, saying Israel should be very worried.

The region is waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next. But what is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah flag
Supporters wave Hezbollah flags as they listen to Hassan Nasrallah’s televised speech. In Bint Jbeil, on 25 May 2012, the 12th anniversary of liberation from Israel [Hassan Bahsoun/EPA]

Here’s everything we know:

What is Hezbollah?

Hezbollah (Party of God in Arabic) is an Iran-backed group that formed in 1982 to fight Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.

The group, which finds most of its support among Shia Muslims, is one of Israel’s biggest foes in the region.

The group says it has precision rockets that can hit all parts of Israel and, as of 2021, its leader Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters.

The United States estimates Iran allocated hundreds of millions of dollars annually to Hezbollah in recent years.

The group, headed by Nasrallah since 1992, is one of the most influential political blocs in Lebanon and is often dubbed “a state within a state” due to its vast political and military network.

What are Hezbollah’s aims?

When it formed, Hezbollah aimed to get Israel out of Lebanon.

Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon in 2000 after nearly 20 years of fighting.

Hezbollah proclaimed itself the first Arab army ever to force Israel to cede control of territory.

Israel still occupies Syria’s Golan Heights and Palestinian territories it took in the 1967 War.

Hezbollah released a manifesto [PDF] after its formation, highlighting objectives that included defeating Israel and expelling Western colonialist entities from the Middle East.

Fighters Hezbollah flags
Members of Hezbollah attend the funeral of ‘Abu Taleb’, a senior field commander who was killed by what security forces say was an Israel strike. In Beirut on June 12, 2024 [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Has Hezbollah clashed with Israel before?

In a cross-border raid in July 2006, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, which it hoped would secure a prisoner swap with Israel.

Israel responded militarily, resulting in a 34-day war also called the July War.

Neither side was able to prevail militarily, but more than 1,100 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were killed.

Nasrallah has often said the 2006 war was a success for Hezbollah, noting it withstood Israel’s much larger forces.

Hezbollah is widely believed by analysts to be the only non-state actor in the region that could take on Israel.

Is Hezbollah different from Hamas?

Hezbollah is a Lebanese organisation, Hamas is a Palestinian group that formed in Gaza in 1987 after the beginning of the first Intifada against Israel’s occupation.

They are separate entities but share the objective of armed resistance against Israel.

Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since being elected in 2006.

After a Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, Hezbollah said it was in close contact with Palestinian resistance leadership and that the attack had been a “decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalisation”, referring to Arab countries rumoured to be about to normalise ties with Israel.

The Israeli first response unit put out flames after rockets were launched from Lebanon into northern Israel, close to the city of Kiryat Shmona, on June 4
Israeli first responders put out flames after rockets were launched from Lebanon into northern Israel, near Kiryat Shmona, on June 4, 2024 [Jalaa Marey/AFP]

Will Israel start a war with Hezbollah?

Given the latest verbal sparring and escalated strikes, there are real fears that that will happen.

And, analysts have long said, Palestinian factions in Lebanon are eager to open a second front if Hezbollah initiates an attack.

As the unspoken rules of engagement the two sides have stuck to so far get shakier, it remains to be seen if there will be a spark.

Is Hezbollah a ‘terrorist’ organisation?

The US and other Western countries consider Hezbollah a “terrorist organisation”. Saudi Arabia also considers it a “terrorist” group.

The European Union classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as a “terrorist group”, but not its political wing.

Lebanon
A Lebanese driver clears a school bus’s smashed windshield. The bus was near a car that was targeted by an Israeli drone strike near Nabatieh on May 23, 2024 [Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP]

What is Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon?

Hezbollah has ministers in government and lawmakers in parliament.

The group became more politically prominent after its close ally Syria withdrew from Lebanon following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Hariri was seen as a symbol of Saudi influence in Lebanese politics.

In 2016, the Hezbollah-endorsed Michel Aoun became president. Two years later, Hezbollah and its allies won a majority in the country’s first general election in nine years.

In 2022, Hezbollah’s bloc lost its majority but the group continues to feature large the country’s politics.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies