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Hezbollah, a Global Terrorist Organization

Hearing of the House Committee on International Relations – Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation – September 2006 
Testimony of Dr. Col. (Res.) Eitan Azani


Hezbollah of the year 2006 is a pragmatic terrorist organization that is well-armed, well-trained, and equipped with highly sophisticated weaponry. It is far more dangerous than the revolutionary Hezbollah of the 1980’s due to both the means at its disposal and the double faced policy it employs. In effect, Hezbollah did not abandon its goals; it just changed the pace of their implementation.

Hezbollah simultaneously operates both within the Lebanese political system and outside of it, a fact that allows it greater leeway in both arenas. The organization’s pragmatic façade has fooled, and continues to fool, researchers and actors in the international arena. Indeed, Hezbollah’s entrance into the Lebanese Parliament in 1992 and the Lebanese government in 2005 was perceived by many as an important first step that demonstrated the organization’s moderation and abandonment of its radical ideology. Hezbollah even implemented a series of measures intended to highlight the change it allegedly went through.

Since the beginning of the 1990’s, Hezbollah has been making a tremendous effort to blur its image as a pan-Islamic terrorist group, while at the same time strengthening its image as a legitimate Lebanese resistance movement fighting an occupying army. As part of this effort, Hezbollah has limited the extent of its terrorist activities against Western targets in Lebanon and in the international arena. The organization only carried out “high quality” clandestine attacks, did not take official responsibility for the attacks and denied any connection to the operations. The attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina (1992 and 1994) and the attack against Americans in the Khobar Towers in Saudi-Arabia (1996) are noteworthy examples of attacks with the aforementioned characteristics.

Hezbollah’s operations against Israeli forces in Lebanon, as long as they did not fire at Israeli civilians, were perceived by the Lebanese population and the international public opinion as legitimate guerilla operations. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s meeting with Nasrallah in June of 2000 gave the organization international legitimacy and many actors in the international arena continue to meet with Hezbollah leaders.

Hezbollah was able to convince observers that its activity is focused on the sociopolitical arena in Lebanon and the protection of the country from Israeli aggression by serving as a deterrent. In September of 2004, Nasrallah stated that his organization operates in Southern Lebanon alongside the Lebanese military as part of a joint strategy with the Lebanese state intended to protect Lebanon.[1] However, immediately following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in May of 2006, Hezbollah began systematically taking over Southern Lebanon and creating a “state within a state”. It worked towards deepening its control over the population by taking over the social and welfare arenas and managing the civilian services.

During this period and until the Second Lebanon War in July of 2006, Hezbollah established an operational network in Southern Lebanon that included: an extensive fortification network in open areas and in the villages along the international border, various advanced weaponry, headquarters, communications posts, weapons depots, rocket-launching sites and intelligence-collecting positions. Moreover, Hezbollah positioned advanced tactical and strategic weaponry in the arena, such as medium-range land rockets, thousands of Katyusha rockets, land to sea missiles, and advanced anti-tank missiles. These weapons, provided to Hezbollah by Iran and Syria, enabled the organization to build a substantial military framework that is unparalleled by any other terrorist group in the world. This reality created “mutual deterrence” with Israel, which had a significant portion of its population and vital infrastructure installations within striking distance of Hezbollah’s missiles.

Hezbollah marketed its activity as intended to create deterrence in order to prevent future Israeli aggression against Lebanon and utterly rejected any plan that would disarm the organization by threatening, both blatantly and implicitly, the stability of the Lebanese political system if such a measure would be employed against the organization.

However, when one examines Hezbollah’s activity, institutions and behavior in the international and regional arenas in depth, a very different picture from the one Hezbollah tries to portray emerges. The Shura Council, the organization’s executive board, is in command of its military and terrorist operations on the one hand and its social and political activity on the other hand. Imad Mugniyah, who is in charge of the organization’s clandestine terrorist branch in Lebanon and abroad and is wanted by the American government for planning and conducting terrorist attacks, also serves on the Shura Council. Moreover, “slips of tongue” made by the organization’s leaders from time to time reveal the true reality. For example, in January of 2002, Hezbollah parliamentary representative Muhammad Fanish stated that “one cannot separate between Hezbollah’s military branch and its political branch”.[2]

The Second Lebanon War clearly exposed Hezbollah’s true nature as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah deliberately fired Katyusha rockets at Israeli civilians and population centers, and Nasrallah even warned that his organization would expand the firing of rockets at Tel-Aviv.[3] In addition, Nasrallah’s live appearance on the “Al-Mannar” television station in which he updated the viewers regarding the firing of a “land to sea” missile at an Israeli cruise ship in “real time” demonstrated, despite the organization’s attempts at blurring this fact, the extent of involvement and control the organization’s leadership has over the operational activities.[4] Moreover, when a Hezbollah rocket attack killed two Israeli Arabs during the Second Lebanon War, Nasrallah delivered a personal apology and took responsibility for the operation.

Hezbollah is not a state actor and cannot pose a real existential threat to any actor in the international arena. However, its “sting” is still very dangerous and it can wreak a great deal of damage. The organization is well aware of the limitations of its power and it therefore carefully navigates its path between the various actors. Hassan Nasrallah, the organization’s leader since 1992, adopted the policy of “brinkmanship” in his relations with the Lebanese, regional and international systems and he has been able to take advantage all the arenas in which Hezbollah operates.

Hezbollah’s arenas of operation

Hezbollah in the intra-Lebanese arena – Nasrallah operates in the intra-Lebanese political system and works to assuage the Lebanese population’s concerns regarding the implementation of Sharia law in Lebanon, while at the same time working to establish a terrorist and organizational infrastructure in the Lebanese, regional and international arenas. His political activity in the Lebanese arena is an example of the organization’s pragmatic ability to separate between the religious Shiite ideology that is based on “the rule of the jurisprudence” and pan-Islamism, and the daily task of operating within the existing system in order to achieve the organization’s long term goals. Hezbollah simultaneously operates both within the Lebanese political system, thus exploiting the advantages it provides, and outside of the political system, as a “state within a state” that Hezbollah established and runs.

Hezbollah in the regional arena – Hezbollah maintains a close relationship with Iran and Syria, which are both state sponsors of terrorism. This relationship is an important and powerful factor influencing the organization’s capabilities, as Hezbollah enjoys military, political and financial support from both countries. The strategic defense pact signed between Iran and Syria in June of 2006 strengthens Hezbollah’s position and ensures the continued military and financial support even after the Second Lebanon War. Ahmadinejad’s election to the Iranian presidency, which signifies the rise of radical elements in Iran, his self-perception as the promoter of the “second Islamic revolution”, and the mounting crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear program turns Hezbollah into one of the components of the Iranian retaliation. Iran might use Hezbollah in order to promote the goals of the Islamic revolution, further Iranian interests in the Middle-East, and serve as a retaliatory force in case the crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear program deteriorates.

Hezbollah in the Palestinian arena – Hezbollah, as an Iranian proxy, put a lot of effort into promoting terrorist attacks in the Palestinian arena as a central means of disrupting any possible agreements or political initiatives between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Hezbollah maintains ties with senior leaders of Palestinian terrorist organizations, including: Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fattah – Tanzim, Jibril’s Popular Front, etc. It encourages them to carry out attacks, funds their activities, trains Palestinian terrorists in its Lebanese camps, smuggles weapons and passes on knowledge and information to Palestinian terrorists. In certain cases, Hezbollah directly operates cells to carry out attacks by funding and guiding the activists.

Hezbollah Vs. Israel – Hezbollah maintains an ongoing state of conflict and attrition with Israel both directly from the Lebanese border and indirectly, by guiding, funding and training Palestinian terrorists. The objective of this ongoing activity is the destruction of the state of Israel. Following Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May of 2000, Hezbollah continued to carry out direct terrorist attacks against Israel from Lebanese territory, while assuming it could deter Israel with its array of approximately 13,000 Katyusha rockets and various missiles. Nasrallah adhered to his policy of “brinkmanship” in this case as well and conducted cost-benefit analysis for every attack against Israel. However, the Israeli retaliation for the kidnapping of two of its soldiers in July of 2006 disrupted Nassrallah’s plans, as he had hoped to exploit the kidnappings to improve his standing as a regional and Lebanese leader. The Israeli retaliation demonstrated Hezbollah’s failure to deter Israel and Hezbollah admitted it did not foresee Israel going to war over the kidnapping.[5]

The Second Lebanon War created a new situation in Lebanon. It caused substantial damage to Hezbollah’s infrastructure and standing in Lebanon, the Lebanese Military, with the help of international forces, is currently taking control over the territory in which Hezbollah operated freely, and the Lebanese government increased its involvement in Southern Lebanon. It is still too early to evaluate the direction in which this process will develop in the intermediate and long run since the process is still at its beginning. It is absolutely clear that it largely depends on the degree of resolve and determination of the Lebanese government, which will be forced, at one point or another, to confront Hezbollah, set clear guidelines for the organization, and be willing to pay the price for this confrontation.

Hezbollah in the international arena – Over the past two decades, Hezbollah established its international terrorist network infrastructure in over 40 countries and it centrally controls it through the Shura and Jihad Councils headed by Nasrallah and Imad Mugniyah. This international terrorist network, whose cells have attempted and conducted terrorist attacks since the 1990’s, is the most organized terrorist network in the world and is a threat to the interests of Israel, the US and Western states that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah’s international terrorist network is used for gathering intelligence, attacking Jewish, Israeli and Western (mostly American) targets worldwide, purchasing and smuggling weapons, and as a source of funding for the organization’s activities.

Hezbollah and Jihad in Iraq – Hezbollah is one of the leaders of the media campaign against the American involvement in Iraq, but it does not limit itself to that. Hezbollah funds radical Iraqi Shiite elements and established a clandestine network in Iraq with operatives that cooperate with local and Iranian elements. Together they are involved in carrying out attacks against American targets in the country.

The organization’s success, survival and expansion, despite the efforts of its competitors, opponents and adversaries, are based on two central elements:

1. The ability to establish effective operational capabilities that rely on external and internal sources and are comprised of an effective and hierarchical organization of the movement, military capabilities, financial funding and enforcement of organizational authority.

2. The legitimacy element – This element is based on the organizational discourse that included religious justification for the strategic changes made by the organization, the appropriation of Lebanese national responsibility, partial adaptation (if only to keep up appearances), and the willingness to operate within the existing Lebanese political system

Hezbollah – the ideological framework

Shiite ideology and the principles according to which Hezbollah operates were shaped by Ayatollah Khomeini and they constitute the basis for the organization’s activity to this day. The following are key principles that were handed down by Khomeini:[6]

1. Obtaining legitimacy for Shiite activism – Until the time of Khomeini’s rule, the Shiites were passive and oppressed due to their being a minority within the Muslim world (90% of which are Sunni Muslims). Under Khomeini, the Shiites underwent a change and became an active group that strives to achieve political goals, including the use of violent measures. Khomeini called for action by the “oppressed” (Shiites) against the “oppressors”.

2. Delegitimization of corrupt Muslim regimes – Khomeini classified the regimes that do not follow Sharia law as corrupt and illegitimate, thus sanctioning the means to overthrow them.

3. Joining the Jihad against corrupt Arab rulers and the West as a means to promote the idea of the Islamic nation.

4. Defining the enemy – Khomeini coined two phrases that defined the enemies of Islam: the “Great Satan” – the US, and the “Little Satan” – Israel.

5. The principle of sacrifice – Khomeini reformulated the principle of sacrifice. He advocated a transition from the state of sacrifice to the state of self sacrifice through Jihad against the enemies of Islam. In such, Khomeini founded the basis on which the phenomenon of suicide attacks as a strategic means for terrorism to achieve its goals developed. Hezbollah adopted the idea early on and carried out suicide attacks against foreigners in Lebanon between 1983-85. This method of operation was later adopted by other terrorist organizations.

6. The principle of “the rule of the jurisprudence”. According to Khomeini’s approach, religious scholars need to run the Islamic state since they are the only ones that can interpret God’s laws. This principle is unique to the radical Shiite thought and is strictly followed by Hezbollah as well.

As a revolutionary Shiite organization with a universal Islamic outlook, Hezbollah has adopted three central objectives that derive from Khomeini’s teachings and principles and has been striving to implement them since its inception:

1. Implementation of Islamic law in Lebanon as part of a universal Islamic revolution – this objective has always been part of Hezbollah’s agenda, though the organization’s leaders attempted to blur this point since the 1990’s in order to promote current objectives in Lebanon. However, this strategy did not escape the eyes of Arab liberals, who are concerned over the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and they made sure to stress that the organization did not abandon its goal of establishing an Islamic republic in Lebanon. This issue became increasingly heightened following Ahmadinejad’s election to the Iranian presidency and the Second Lebanon War.[7]

2. Expulsion of the foreign forces in Lebanon – this was one of Hezbollah’s primary goals and it took much pride in the fact that it was the cause for the expulsion of the multi-national forces from Lebanon in the 1980’s and the expulsion of Israel from Lebanon in 2000. Hezbollah claims its mission is not complete as long as the Shebba farms are in Israeli hands and, therefore, there is a need for the continuation of the “resistance” in its current form. In his speech on Friday, September 22nd, 2006, Nasrallah stressed that the “resistance” is a consequence of the occupation, the prisoners, the theft of water, and the attacks against Lebanese sovereignty. He added that until all the reasons that brought about the establishment of the “resistance” are not removed, the “resistance” will not disarm. Regarding the multinational forces that arrived in Lebanon, Nasrallah issued a veiled threat and a recommendation that they concentrate on their mission of aiding the Lebanese Army and not attempt to spy on Hezbollah or try to collect weapons from its members.[8]

3. The destruction of Israel and the liberation of Jerusalem – One of the pillars of Hezbollah’s ideology is the struggle against the state of Israel (the “Little Satan”) until its destruction and the liberation of Jerusalem. Due to this principle and in order to achieve this objective, Hezbollah feels committed, ideologically and in practice, to strive for an ongoing conflict with Israel with all means possible on all fronts. In light of this, Hezbollah constantly stresses its basic approach to Israel and its goal to destroy it.[9] As a result of Hezbollah’s aforementioned attitude towards Israel, it rejects the possibility of any future accords with Israel, any possibility of recognizing its existence as a national entity in the region or of any co-existence with Israel. Hezbollah is very ardent about expressing its strong objections to any attempt at reconciliation in the region while strongly criticizing those who negotiate with Israel in order to increase the pressure on them in the Arab “street”. In the past few years, special emphasis has been placed on preventing any agreements between Israel and the Palestinians while maintaining the level of violence and terrorism in the territories. Hezbollah’s terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians receive ideological legitimization in the same way Sheikh Yusuf Qardawi, one of the most senior members of the “Muslim Brotherhood”, legitimized the attacks. The legitimization for attacks against civilians is based on Nasrallah’s portrayal of the Israeli population, including women, children and the elderly, as a “military population” that does not have innocent civilians. There is a duty to fight each and every one of its citizens.[10]

Hezbollah’s attitude towards The US – the “Great Satan”

Hezbollah demonstrates deep animosity towards The US. This animosity, which is one of the central facets of the organization’s ideology, is a direct result of the Iranian revolutionary outlook that defined the US as the “Great Satan”. Hezbollah claims that the goal of American policy is to take over the entire region and strip the Arabs of their natural resources, with Israel being one of the tools for this plan. Since the US began its campaign against international terrorism following the attacks of 9/11 and in light of the continuation of the American presence in Iraq, the Iranian nuclear program crisis, and the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah has significantly increased its level of inciting rhetoric and propaganda against the US and its policies. Indeed, the Second Lebanon War is perceived by radical Islam, including Nasrallah, as an additional phase in the American conspiracy intended to take over the Middle East and its resources. It views Israel as an American proxy for attaining its objectives in Lebanon.[11] The chants of “death to America and death to Israel” are often heard during Hezbollah ceremonies and rallies in Lebanon, in Iran, and amongst the organization’s supporters around the world.[12]

Hezbollah’s messages of hate and propaganda are distributed through the Al-Mannar television station, the Nur radio station, and internet websites operated by the organization. Other Arab television stations assist in disseminating the messages of hate by providing a media platform for Hassan Nasrallah, who enjoys a large degree of popularity in the Arab world, and by quoting Al-Mannar and other Hezbollah media. 

Structure and command – Hezbollah’s decision-making “Shura Council”

During its more than twenty years of operation, Hezbollah went through a very significant process of organizational development. It was transformed from one of many local Lebanese terrorist organizations operating in the Lebanese arena into a political movement with international reach in the fields of terrorism, military infrastructure and strategic capabilities, including ground-to-ground rockets. This complex organizational framework, which includes civilian, military and social functions, is headed by the decision-making “Shura Council”. The Council has been headed since 1992 by Sayd Hassan Nasrallah – the leading formulator of the organization’s policy.

Hezbollah operates through the use of two “arms”: the “sociopolitical arm” and the “military arm”. Both “arms” are interlocked, support each other, and are subject to Hezbollah’s “Shura Council”. On January 18th, 2002, Hezbollah parliamentary representative Muhammad Fanish clarified the nature of the relationship between the two arms when he stated: “Hezbollah is being seduced in order to stop it. The goal is not to harm the political arm, but rather the military arm. However, I can state that there is no separating between Hezbollah’s military and political arms”.[13]

In the period since Hezbollah’s inception, an organizational and hierarchical system began developing based on the institutions and group leaders that founded the organization. This organizational system maintained complete secrecy during its first years, until 1986 when the organization revealed the existence of its leadership council – the Shura Council.

The Shura Council

Hezbollah’s Shura Council is comprised of nine members – seven Lebanese members and two Iranian members representing Iran’s interests within Hezbollah. It is currently headed by Hassan Nasrallah, who has been heading the organization since February 1992. The Shura Council is elected once every several years and lately elections are held every 2-3 years. Abbas Musawi was elected as secretary general in May of 1991. Following Musawi’s assassination in February of 1992, Hassan Nasrallah was elected as Hezbollah’s secretary general. During the elections for the sixth Shura Council, Hezbollah changed the organization’s regulations and decided that the secretary general’s term would be three years without limitation on the number of terms he could serve. Hezbollah is directed by five Shura Councils whose heads sit in the Decision-making “Shura Council”. The five councils are:[14]

1. The Jihad Council – The council is headed by Imad Mugniyah and is responsible for Hezbollah’s terrorist operations in Lebanon and worldwide

2. The Executive Council – The council is headed by Hashem Safi Al-Din and is responsible for the organization’s social activity, manpower and education. This council has territorial responsibility and, as a result, is also connected to the organization’s operational and terrorist activities. One of the prominent members of the council is Sheikh Nabil Kauk, who is responsible for the southern region and as such is also involved in the organization’s terrorist attacks launched from that region throughout the 1990’s and until today.

3. The Political Council – The council is headed by Sheikh Ibrahim Amin Al-Sid. It includes the Parliament members and is responsible for the activity in the Lebanese political arena and the implementation of the chairman’s policies in the Parliament.

4. The Political Advisor – Hajj Hussein Halil. Responsible for promoting the organization’s policies and political interests vis-à-vis organizations, parties, and political entities inside and outside of Lebanon.

5. The Judiciary Council – Sheikh Muhammad Yazbek. The Council is responsible for the judicial system in the Hezbollah-controlled areas, especially the Shiite villages.

The current Shura Council was elected in August of 2004 and the previous elections took place in July of 2001. The majority of the members on the “Shura Council” have been serving on the Council alongside Nasrallah since the early 1990’s. All of its members, except the head of the Jihad Council Imad Mugniyah, are religious scholars.

The Shura Council’s fields of responsibility

The Council is responsible for running all of the organizations components – military, political and social – and it is involved in all of the organization’s activities in the Middle Eastern and international arenas. The council makes strategic decisions regarding the organization’s terrorist activities locally, regionally and abroad and all decisions concerning sociopolitical policy in the Lebanese, regional and international systems. The council’s decisions are constantly implemented in the field.

All of the heads of the secondary councils participate in the Shura Council and through them the Council controls the organization. Therefore, in effect, the Hezbollah is an organization that is directed by a unified leadership that controls all the components of the organization, including its military-terrorist activity.

The organization’s senior members have clarified more than once that Hezbollah and all of its branches are a single organic unit whose policy and activity are decided by its leadership. For example, when asked “who makes the decisions regarding operations – the activists in the field or the political leadership?” Nasrallah answered “the Hezbollah leadership…the organization’s leadership is the resistance’s leadership and it is the one to consider all the information, the resistance’s interest and its operational policy. The brothers in the field are the ones who carry out the policy”.[15]

Sheikh Naim Qassem, Nasrallah’s deputy, made a similar statement: “We are a political party that prioritizes the resistance, since fighting against Israel and the policy of confronting the occupation are actions of a political party. We believe that the political activity merges with the resistance activities, which is an inseparable part of political activity.”[16]

“If there was a military arm separate from the political arm, there would be consequences and implications in the political arena, but there is only one leadership in Hezbollah and its name is the “Shura Council”. It directs the political, military, cultural and social activity in the organization. Hezbollah’s secretary general is the head of the “Shura Council” and also head of the Jihad council, which means we have one leadership and one administration.”[17]

Hezbollah exploited the Lebanese political system to promote the organization’s goals and was able to simultaneously operate within the political system and outside of it. Its entrance into the Lebanese political system and local municipalities in the 1990’s and into the government in 2005 was used in order to expand its activity vis-à-vis the Lebanese population, thwart decisions that could have harmed the organization and promote the organization’s interests and activities. In October of 1994, Nasrallah stated that “the Al-Wafa party [the Hezbollah party in the Lebanese Parliament] became the voice of the resistance in the Parliament, in Lebanon and abroad.”[18]

Hezbollah – Iranian relations

The rise to power of radical elements in Iran, of which Ahmadinejad is a good example, and the Second Lebanon War rekindled the question regarding the extent of cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah. It is interesting that while Nasrallah makes sure to emphasize that Hezbollah is primarily an independent Lebanese movement with a only a religious affiliation to the supreme leader Khamenei, senior Iranians and the Arab network see Hezbollah as an Iranian forward unit in Lebanon and the ultimate product of the export of the Islamic revolution. In an interview he gave to the Iranian newspaper “Al-Sharq”, Ali Akbar Mohtashemi [one of Khomeini’s loyalists, one of the founders of Hezbollah, former Iranian ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, and former Iranian Minister of Interior] addressed the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. He stated that “Hezbollah is part of the Iranian rulership; Hezbollah is a central component of the Iranian military and security establishment; the ties between Iran and Hezbollah are far greater than that those between a revolutionary regime with a revolutionary party or organization outside its borders”.[19]

A similar description was published in “Al-Sharq Al-Awsat” in May 2006. The newspaper quoted an Iranian figure who told a group of Western statesmen in London that Iran attributes great importance to Hezbollah and that the organization “is one of the elements of our strategic security. It serves as an Iranian front line of defense against Israel. We do not agree that it needs to be disarmed…”[20]

Iran provides Hezbollah with approximately 100 million dollars annually and supplies it with an array of arms, mostly via the Damascus airport. Hezbollah’s operational infrastructure was developed, almost entirely, with extensive Iranian backing. This aid included financial support, transportation of weapons, and training the organization’s