What is Hezbollah: history, its bases and its arsenal

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By John

Hezbollahliterally the Party of God, is a pro-Iranian Lebanese armed party born in the 1980s as Islamic resistance to the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (1978-2000). It has been an integral part of Lebanese central and local institutions for two decades, with ministers in the Beirut government, dozens of mayors and city councilors in the country, thousands of employees in the public sector.

Hezbollah, which has its roots in the 1982 Lebanese conflict with Israel, began as a paramilitary militia, becoming a significant point of reference for Lebanese Shiite militants, inspired and organized with the help of Iran and Ayatollah Khomeini. The organization, known for its attacks during the 1980s, has as its main political agenda the resistance to external influences in Lebanon, the fight against Christian Phalangist forces and the promotion of an Islamic government in the country.

Despite having given up on his original goal of converting Lebanon into an Islamic republic, Hezbollah has been able to consolidate its influence in various areas of Lebanon, offering essential services such as taxation and security in the absence of the state, and forming almost a “state within a state”. Internationally, it has been accused of calling for the destruction of Israel and has played crucial roles in both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah has progressively intensified its participation in Lebanese domestic politics, moving from participating in parliamentary elections in 1992 to becoming a significant political force, significantly representing the Lebanese Shiite community and operating its own military wing. Ideologically, despite having its basis in political Shiism and the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini, the organization has also been able to show pragmatism and ability to adapt in the Lebanese political context.

Although it is committed to providing essential services to the Lebanese, Hezbollah’s views are polarized internationally. While some countries and organizations see it as a legitimate resistance force, others classify it as a terrorist entity. Its flag, featuring a Koranic verse and combative symbols, visually represents its mission of struggle and religious faith.

THE BASES IN LEBANON AND SYRIA

Hezbollah’s headquarters is on the southern outskirts of Beirut, almost completely rebuilt after the destruction caused by intense Israeli air bombing during the last war in 2006. Hezbollah’s main strength is the support of a large part of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim community, around a million people present mostly in the south of the country – on the first and second lines of the front with Israel – and in the eastern Bekaa valley, which constitutes the logistical base of the Party of God on the border with Syria. On the ground, Hezbollah claims it can count on 100,000 fighters active in Lebanon. The Party of God has also been present in war-torn Syria for more than a decade alongside the Iranian Pasdaran and pro-Tehran Iraqi Shiite jihadists. In the Syrian Golan Heights, Hezbollah can count on a force of thousands of fighters and auxiliary forces.

THE ARSENAL

This large deployment has an arsenal estimated to be three times greater than that of Hamas in Gaza. According to analysts, around 9 million Israelis are threatened by the short, medium and long-range missiles of Lebanese Shiite jihadists. These missiles can hit as far as Israel’s borders with the Egyptian Sinai. In particular, Hezbollah has 150,000 artillery shells and short-range rockets (Falaq 1 and 2, Shahin, Katiyuscia, Fajr 3), capable of reaching the Upper Galilee and hitting up to 40 km in Israeli territorial depth starting from southern Lebanon; 65 thousand medium-range missiles (Fajr 5, Khaibar 1, M303, Zilzal 1) which can reach Lake Tiberias and the West Bank (75 km), Tel Aviv (120 km), Ashdod (165 km) and Gaza (215 km) ; 5 thousand long-range missiles (Fateh 110 and SCUD C), with a range between 260 and 500 km, capable of reaching the Sinai border; 2 thousand drones and hundreds of long-range (200-300 km) anti-ship missiles (C802, Yakhont) and mini-submarines; thousands of anti-aircraft SAM surface-to-air missiles; thousands of remotely guided anti-tank rockets.