Last week, Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war against it because of aggression by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Here’s what you should know about the terrorist group that acts as a “state within a state” in Lebanon:

1. Hezbollah (sometimes spelled as Hizballah) is a militant Shia Islamist organization that wields considerable political, military, and social influence in Lebanon. The name of the group means “Party of Allah” (Hizb Allah).

2. In 1982, Israel launched an invasion of Lebanon in an attempt to counter attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Hezbollah arose in response to the invasion. The radical Shiite movement was sponsored by the Iranian government and mentored by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which was stationed at the time in Lebanon. The group officially announced its existence as an organization in 1985.

3. Hezbollah is officially considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Japan, and the Arab League. Hezbollah’s military wing is considered a terrorist organization by Australia, the European Union, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

4. The ideology of Hezbollah was first developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although the original goal was to transform Lebanon into a fundamentalist Shiite state, the group moderated its goals to gain political power and influence. In 1992, it successfully participated in national elections for the first time. By 2009, they had attained enough seats in parliament to be part of the unity government.

5. Hezbollah has been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which killed 63 people; the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 241 U.S. Marines, 58 French paratroopers, and 6 civilians; the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847; and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 U.S. military personnel.

6. Shia terrorist groups like Hezbollah differ from other Islamic radicals, says U.S. Army Col. Thomas F. Lynch III, in five ways: 1) Shia groups have by and large featured discrete terror campaigns tethered to state and organizational objectives; (2) Shia terrorists enjoy direct state support and for that reason are far more likely to originate from Iranian embassies, consulates, and state‐run businesses; (3) Shia terrorist groups have shown a much greater propensity to kidnap innocents to barter rather than kill; (4) Shia terror groups exhibit a much higher incidence of targeted assassinations for specific political gain, rather than the high-casualty killings featured in Sunni terrorism; (5) Shia terrorists, while not averse to normal media publicity and amplification, by and large take a much lower‐key approach.

7. On February 16, 1985, Hezbollah released the first document that specified the party’s positions. The letter, which is often referred to as the Hezbollah program, outlines three objectives:

  • (a) to expel the Americans, the French, and their allies definitely from Lebanon, putting an end to any colonialist entity on our land;
  • (b) to submit the Phalanges [a Christian Democratic political party in Lebanon] to a just power and bring them all to justice for the crimes they have perpetrated against Muslims and Christians;
  • (c) to permit all the sons of our people to determine their future and to choose in all the liberty the form of government they desire. We call upon all of them to pick the option of Islamic government which, alone, is capable of guaranteeing justice and liberty for all. Only an Islamic regime can stop any further tentative attempts of imperialistic infiltration into our country.

8. In their original letter, Hezbollah also makes it clear that the destruction of Israel is a non-negotiable objective:

Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore, our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.

9. In 2006, Hezbollah attempted to pressure the Israeli government into releasing three Lebanese jailed in Israeli prisons, by launching a military operation into northern Israel, killing several Israeli soldiers and abducting two as prisoners of war. This action led Israel to launch a major military offensive against Hezbollah. The 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Lebanese and the displacement of some 1,000,000.

10. Last Monday, Saudi Arabia accused Lebanon of declaring war against the kingdom because of aggression by Hezbollah. The previous Saturday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, abruptly resigned, blaming Iran and Hezbollah for meddling in regional affairs and holding Lebanon hostage. Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi national, currently remains in Saudi Arabia.

Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.

Photo Credit: Beirut youth posing with a Hezbollah flag on the ruins of the former South Lebanon Army (SLA) prison in Khiam. January 2, 2007. By Paul Keller, via Flickr.