COUNTRY: Lebanon and Iran
SUBJECT: US POLICYMAKERS MUST CONTINUE TO MONITOR HEZBOLLAH
DOI: 1979 to mid-2020
SOURCE: Open source intelligence.
As of mid-2020, the US government was advised to continue monitoring Iran’s relationship with the US designated terrorist group, Hezbollah.
Over the last 40 years, Hezbollah has grown from a weak group of loosely connected terrorist cells to an organization with the armed strength of a medium sized army. Much of Hezbollah’s growth can be attributed to Iran’s support and with tensions in the Middle East continuing to worsen, US policymakers will need to have a firm understanding of how Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah began and how the relationship is continuing to develop.
Hezbollah emerged from the ashes of the Lebanese Revolution of 1979 and the Israeli occupation of Lebanon in the early 1980’s. In Hezbollah’s early years, the terrorist group was small and decentralized, and composed of many individual terrorist cells. Over time, Hezbollah has grown into a complex entity comprised of political and militant organizations capable of carrying out international terrorist strikes. So how did Hezbollah, a non-state actor, become one of the Middle East’s most prominent entities? One key factor in Hezbollah’s growth is the organization’s sponsorship by Iran.
Iran’s ties to Hezbollah date as far back as the organization’s inception. It is widely accepted that Hezbollah’s creation was, in part, due to Iranian support and resources during Iran’s facilitation of the Islamic Amal’s resistance against Israel and Western presence in the Middle East in 1983. By backing the Islamic Amal (which Hezbollah later split from) against Israel and its Western allies, Iran had effectively created its own terrorist proxy.
During the past 40 years, Iranian support for Hezbollah has continued to grow. While estimates vary, most analysts believe that Iran has provided Hezbollah with between $60,000 to $200 million annually. Some estimates, such as the one provided by the US Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Medker in 2018, suggest that Iran’s fiscal support to Hezbollah could be as high as $700 million per year. The importance of this funding has proven paramount for Hezbollah to expand in size and influence. A study conducted in 2012 by researcher Marc R. DeVore concluded, “Iranian money was essential for the recruitment and retention of experienced combatants whose skills improved the military options available to Hezbollah’s political leaders. Thus, Iranian aid indirectly enhanced the quality of Hezbollah’s decision-making process.” Iranian money has played a significant role in Hezbollah’s growth and operations, but it is not the only form of aid provided to Hezbollah by Iran.
While much of Iran’s support to Hezbollah is cash, a great deal of support comes in the form of weaponry and training. It has long been suspected that Iran has provided Hezbollah with weaponry through the use of airdrops into Lebanon and Hezbollah controlled territory. These airdrops provide Hezbollah with the crucial munitions needed to conduct their ongoing terrorist operations in the region. In addition to weapons, US officials and researchers believe that Iran’s elite fighting force, The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, has routinely provided training and intelligence to Hezbollah fighters. The training and weaponry supplied by Iran has helped to establish Hezbollah as a dangerous fighting force in the Middle East.
Since Hezbollah’s creation, Iran has supplied the militant group with both fiscal and material aid. Iran’s support has been crucial in Hezbollah’s continued growth in the region. The US government has been aware of the threat Hezbollah poses and designated the group as an international terrorist organization in 1997. US policymakers have also sanctioned both Iran and Hezbollah over the last 20 years in an attempt to diminish the terrorist group’s influence. Moving forward, Hezbollah’s future likely remains tied to Iran’s continued support and US officials will need to keep a close eye on any developments between the two parties.
This article was written by Everett Stern from our Tactical Rabbit Reviews series.