|Hezbollah Militants (Source: Google Images)|
Hizbullah is a militant group founded by Lebanese Shiite clerics, inspired by the teachings of Mohammed Baqr as-Sadr (Iraq) and Ayatollah Khomeini (Iran). The organisation is based in Southern Lebanon, with a strong influence in the Beka'a Valley; and its stated goals are the destruction of the State of Israel, the elimination of Western influence in the Middle East and the establishment of a theocracy in Lebanon (based on Ruholla Khomeini's Shia Ideology "We are required [by Islamic law] to struggle for establishing the Islamic state..."
According to the GTD, since its inception, little over 50% (189 attacks) of Hizbullah's total strikes generated zero fatalities and around 41% (157 attacks) resulted in 1 to 10 fatalities. These numbers comfortably refute terrorism myth, discussed by Gary LaFree, that "most terror attacks are incredibly lethal".
Hizbullah's most lethal attacks (4%) coincided with the First Lebanon War (when suicide bombings were used as a tactical weapon), periods of assertion of power (which increased the group's awareness and political grievance while demonstrating the level of its effectiveness plus willingness to sacrifice for its cause) and the Second Lebanon War. However, the GTD reveals those attacks (minimum 11, maximum 101 fatalities) were small in number (16); thus supporting the idea that, sponsored by Iran, Hizbullah was given the resources to kill while kept under control to avoid alienating its support base and "getting into too much trouble" (Victor Asal).
Attacks, Weapons & Targets of choice
The GTD also indicates that, since its foundation (in 1982) to 2012, Hizbullah has perpetrated 376 attacks and, it has been operating mainly in the MENA Region (361 attacks) and in Western Europe (11 attacks). Over time, there has been four distinct periods in Hizbullah's activities:
1- The 1982-1990 period: the group's terrorist activities began, upon its creation, which coincided with the First Lebanon War period (1975-1990) and when it fought against American, French and Israeli targets.
2- The 1990-2001 period: when Hizbullah carried out the biggest number of attacks in one single year (over 35 attacks, in 1994; and nearly 28 incidents in 1999). This period coincides with the South Lebanon War and with the moment the group made the decision to evolve from a Terrorist Group into a Hybrid Terrorist Organisation (i.e. an entity that is divided into two branches: the military/paramilitary branch [engaging in terrorism] and the political branch [participating in legitimate and democratic processes]) and therefore with a clear need to start asserting its power.
3- The 2001-2008 period: coinciding with a stage when terrorist attacks were used against the opposition, with the Second Lebanon War (2006) and with the 2008 unrest.
4- The 2012 period: Hizbullah carried out terror attacks outside Lebanon (6 in Bahrain and 1 in Bulgaria). The incidents in the Gulf Nations are part of the group's involvement in the Syrian Civil War; the attack in Burgas is part of Hizbullah's ongoing fight against Israel.
Ever since it began operating, Hizbullah hits its targets (which are primarily the military [128 attacks], terrorists [87 attacks], Private Citizens [52 attacks] and Government/Diplomatic targets [33 attacks]) with Explosives/Bombs/Dynamite, 78% of the times; and with firearms, 19% of the times it committed acts of terrorism.
The reasons to join Hizbullah have evolved over time: :
In a first stage, individuals joined the group because they felt that the Ummah could not tolerate "aggression, injustice and humiliation"; and to reach that goal, they had to resist the Israeli occupation, in the south of Lebanon; uproot the American presence in the country and fight the Christians (involved in the first Civil War).
In a second stage, individuals fought in Hizbullah's ranks because they could not accept living with Israel next to them, as most of them grew up in an environment hostile towards the Jewish State. This sentiment was best described by Sheikh Khodr Noureddine (Hizbullah's political chief) "Our Islamic beliefs make these young men refuse to accept injustice. They will do anything to resist Israel. I know the West does not understand, but our youth cannot live with Israel."
In the present stage, young men join Hizbullah to help the Shiites defeat the Sunnis, which is intimately related to the proxy war, in Syria, fought between Iran and the Gulf Nations.
In sum, although Hizbullah's targets have slightly changed over time; it is easy to see that the original afflictions remained (it would be worthwhile asking whether that persistence is caused by the organisation's keeping them alive to legitimise their actions) representing, thus, the driving force behind their joining the ranks of the Party of God.
Hizbullah, at first, highlighted the Lebanese grievances - feelings of aggression, injustice and humiliation caused by foreign occupation - and then expanded them to the whole Ummah. The local Shiia community was willing to be influenced by (i.e. it displayed, what Bill Braniff called, a cognitive opening to) Hizbullah's ideology that basically stated that their problems could only be solved through action "We have no alternative but to confront aggression by sacrifice" (in Hizbullah's Open Letter, Our Fight; in a clear push to mobilise to violence).
The foreign occupation and the anti-Israel sentiment served as basis of acceptance to act violently as a form of curing the Lebanese, and therefore the Ummah's, social ailments. By joining Hizbullah and abiding by the group's ideology, individuals would either regain a social significance (the community lost) or acquire a personal significance (they didn't have before); how? As Professor Arie Kruglanski said, by "fighting the enemy through terror, through violence, through inflicting harm and injury upon" those who usurped their significance and respect.
Hizbullah's goals are:
a) The annihilation of the influence of "imperialist" powers ("World Imperialism which is hostile to Islam.")
b) The establishment of an Islamic regime ("[...] 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.")
c) The destruction of the State of Israel ("Our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated").
Hizbullah's strategy is essentially one of Attrition; as per Hassan Nasrallah's words "Our motto is a war of attrition and incurring as much (sic) losses as possible on the enemy"; however, during the Second Lebanon War, it also strategically used Provocation to cause the IDF to target certain locations where they'd be operating from (often civilian objects), so that when high civilian casualties occurred Hizbullah could use it against Israel in the media - as a way of decreasing the legitimacy of the Israeli government, while increasing the legitimacy of Hizbullah's plight before the international public opinion.
Hizbullah's tactic of juxtaposing attrition and provocation supports Andrew Jydd's and Barbara Walter's idea that the mentioned strategies are intimately related.
Hizbullah (an organisation with over 25 years old) seems to contradict Prof Viktor Asal's idea that older and more experienced terror organisations are more lethal (since they have more knowledge, more time to develop experience and learn from past mistakes), because (as previously mentioned) 91% of the group's attacks were not that lethal; but it could also be said that this is so due to Prof Asal's notion that State Sponsors (in Hizbullah's case: Iran) ensure that terror groups "kill less people" in order to avoid drawing the unwanted attention of certain governments.
Benefits & Costs
Hizbullah's involvement in the Second Lebanon War stimulated the organisation's ability to recruit (given its perceived legitimacy), to raise funds and support.
On the other hand, Hizbullah's involvement in the Syrian civil war has backlashed, as it was seen - by many Lebanese - as crossing the threshold of violence; having effected a loss of support (especially among the Sunni population).
Overall speaking, the Party of God's strategy has reaped more benefits than costs: it rallied the Muslim community to depose the Christian government; it resulted in the 2000 withdrawal of Israeli forces from the South of Lebanon; and it set the Lebanese political agenda.
Tactics & Recruitment
Hizbullah specialised itself in the information war. During the 2006 conflict, the organisation "conducted a skillful propaganda campaign designed to demoralize Israel, evoke sympathy for Hizballah, and increase international pressure for a ceasefire."[Read] and for that end the Media played a crucial role.
Hizbullah owns and operates Al-Manar (a satellite TV channel), Al-Nour (a radio station), a printing house, a computer lab and websites in seven different languages[Read] with the objective of disseminating its propaganda through, and promoting itself to, its audience:
- The Lebanese population (conveying the message that Hizbullah is strong, independent, nationalistic and non-sectarian).
- The Arab World (reaching out to other extremist groups by stressing their common denominators: hatred of Israel, Jews and the West/US)
- The Western Audience (whose emotions are manipulated "by using horrific photographs, sometimes faked, to position itself as the victim and foster anger towards the supposed invader, Israel."[Read])
Media resources bestowed upon Hizbullah the ability to brand itself as a high quality and prominent terror group, who delivers.
Since 1985 - through successful violent acts (resulting in the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon) and "social-religious awakening" (i.e. education and propaganda) - Hizbullah has been able to expand its recruitment efforts. By sustaining the "Islamic Resistance" ideology, the organisation utilises past "successes as a tool to recruit its ranks, to enhance the fighting spirit of its activists, and to strengthen the aspect of sacrifice and determination."[Read]. The organisation's recruits stem from all social classes, within the Shiite community: from the lower income households (with little education) to the middle and upper classes (with high education and professional degrees). Initially the group focused mainly on educating and training young men from the lower strata; but as its political circumstances changed it began focusing on the wealthier, since recruits from such tiers provided Hizbullah with specific skills: medical, computer, engineering and educational (increasing, thus, the group's offensive, tactical, defensive and sustainment capabilities). These skilled operatives ensured the organisation's major successes (i.e. increased lethality) in the battlefield and beyond; they also helped rallying the Shiite base, in Lebanon and abroad.
In sum, via its media outlets (a vehicle for notoriety) and by mobilising recruits from all social echelons, Hizbullah was able to boost its performance and guarantee its survival. Its organisational strategy resulted in the formation of an entity that became a major force against Israel and the International political body (albeit in different arenas).
Hizbullah is a very complex organisation and due to its hybrid status it has been increasingly difficult to counter their terrorist activities, especially when some nations refuse to designate the whole organisation as a terror entity - creating thus a space for the group's continued spread of ideology, recruitment efforts, safe havens (e.g. Sudan and Somalia), the creation of alliances (e.g. Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, FARC), communications and funding nodes. Nevertheless, when designing a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy I think it is vital to focus on its funding operations since they are the basis for all the other functions - by interrupting the Party of God's financial stream, CT forces will be able to limit the group's success and narrow the scope of its activities around the world.
For example, as Carl Wege put it, Hizbullah's activities in Africa have been widely overlooked despite the group being very active there. Hizbullah operatives, associates and sympathisers engage in activities that help sustain the organisation back in Lebanon. Some examples of those activities are: illegal diamond trade (e.g. in Congo); legitimate business enterprises (mainly in West Africa, to launder money and disguise finances); direct participation in organised crime (that included shakedowns of Lebanese business men and narco-trafficking) and contributions to Hizbullah's several social institutions (collected in cash and then moved to the Middle East by courier).
Having said this, CT measures like those being undertaken - for instance - by AFRICOM (aimed at deterring the threats of extremist organizations, denying them safe haven, and disrupting their destabilising operations) and by the Treasury Department that (along with US allies, like the EU for instance) has formulated programmes such as the TFTP (Terrorist Finance Tracking Program) that has allowed the US and allies to follow the money in order to "identify and locate operatives and their financiers, chart terrorist networks, and help keep money out of their hands."; are important to begin disrupting the several edges that feed Hizbullah's nodes; thus keeping them alive.