Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the late 1970’s, as threats of an Israeli occupation of Lebanon grew, radical elements dissatisfied with the Shia-based Amal Movement organized a movement devoted to opposition to Israel and increased emphasis on Islam as a governing force in Lebanon.

Summary of Event

Opinions differ concerning the date of the formal founding of Hezbollah (party of God). It is clear that, as tensions between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel mounted in 1982, guerrilla actions were being undertaken in its name. The movement’s formal program, however, would not be officially announced until 1985. In order to understand why this religiously based Shia movement was launched, some basic historical background is necessary. Amal Movement [kw]Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah (Fall, 1982) [kw]Radicals Form Hezbollah, Pro-Iran (Fall, 1982) [kw]Hezbollah, Pro-Iran Radicals Form (Fall, 1982) Hezbollah Amal Movement [g]Middle East;Fall, 1982: Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah[04960] [g]Lebanon;Fall, 1982: Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah[04960] [c]Government and politics;Fall, 1982: Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah[04960] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Fall, 1982: Pro-Iran Radicals Form Hezbollah[04960] Sadr, Musa al- Amin, Ibrahim al- Tufayli, Subhi al-

Seen from the perspective of the Shia minority community of Lebanon, the violence of civil war, which rose and fell almost yearly after 1975 combined with the menace of Israeli invasion from the south underlined the need for an organization to represent their interests. The Amal Movement, originally the armed subgroup of the political movement known as the “Movement of the Deprived,” tried to serve this purpose. Amal (hope) is an acronym for the Arabic name Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyyah (brigades of the Lebanese resistance). The founder of these specifically Shia political groups, Imam Musa al-Sadr, disappeared mysteriously in 1978 while he was visiting Libya. In 1979, leadership passed to Hussein el-Husseini, its first nonclerical chief. Husseini left an unremarkable legacy by comparison to another secular leader, Nabih Berri, Berri, Nabih whose name would become inseparable from Amal’s reputation and who would eventually be opposed by the founders of Hezbollah. Whatever cause it espoused, Amal was unable to satisfy extreme Shia factions that would insist on not only forming an armed movement but also making Islam a major attraction for recruitment.

In 1978, Palestinians based in southern Lebanon attacked northern Israel and brought immediate reprisals. After Israel penetrated southern Lebanon, a major Shia zone, in search of guerrillas, the U.N. Security Council called for the immediate dispatch of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Israel withdrew with the understanding that Lebanon would guarantee the security of its northern border.

Amal’s position following these events seemed to suggest that it had split objectives. On one hand, its position vis-à-vis civil war factions that favored fairly radical, secular reform was uneven, suggesting that perhaps future development of Shia interests need not be necessarily limited by sectarian considerations. Equally ambivalent were its on-again, off-again actions in defense of the Palestinians, which convinced some that it was an ally of the PLO’s cause in Lebanon. With time, the Shia community grew to mistrust Amal concerning its political objectives, particularly following the ascendance of Berri in 1980 as its leader. Berri’s apparent dedication to a secular path toward improvement of the Shia community’s interests in the country would eventually alienate more religiously oriented activists, opening the way for the separate formation of Hezbollah. Indeed, for some time before 1980, a body of Shia religious leaders began forming the basis for a more radical expression of Shia social, religious, and political expectations in Lebanon.

After 1979, Shia clerics who were adherents of Sheik Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah Fadlallah, Mohammad Hussein carried this message forward, largely with encouragement from the newly founded (Shia) Islamic Republic of Iran. Fadlallah was born in southern Lebanon but educated in the Shia holy city of Najaf, Iraq. He settled in Beirut, where he wrote scholarly books on Islamic jurisprudence. Displaced by civil war unrest in 1975-1976, he was followed by a number of disciples, including Sheik Ibrahim al-Amin, the man who is usually recognized as the spiritual leader behind the movement that became Hezbollah.

Hezbollah claimed from the outset that it depended on individual alms, zakat, from believers for funding. The fact that traceable ties have been found between this small nodule of clerics and potential sponsors in Iran, however, suggest that Hezbollah’s first on-the-ground operations (and funding) may have come from diverse sources beyond Lebanon’s borders. In fact, just as a new phase of violence in 1982 between Lebanon and Israel sparked the first military actions associated with Hezbollah, several of its spiritual leaders, including Sheik Subhi al-Tufayli, the first secretary-general of Hezbollah, participated in a “Conference for the Downtrodden” sponsored by Ayatollah Khomeini Khomeini, Ayatollah in Tehran.

At the time of the first announced activities of Hezbollah in 1982, the movement did not yet have a defined organizational structure or a single consensus on the program it should follow. Shia clerical sponsors wanted to spread a message calling for proper observance of Islam in accordance with the scholarly works that they themselves had mastered. However, those supporting the armed groups that undertook violent actions at this date had different views. When Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, the United Nations’ call for an international presence to resolve the dilemma, the dispatch of foreign forces, particularly from the United States and France, contributed to Hezbollah extremists’ decision to act against any forces attempting to control the destiny of not only Shias in Lebanon but also Islam in general. Thus began a chain of violence that despite Hezbollah’s emergent role as a religiously founded movement to serve various needs of the local community around it earned it an international reputation as a terrorist movement.

Several attacks came from Hezbollah suicide car bombers in Beirut in 1983. The first attack was the bombing of the American embassy, in which more than sixty people were killed. In the summer, the barracks of American and French troops sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational force were bombed, resulting in the deaths of 241 Americans and 58 French. It is hard to know if it was this violence, or apparent assumptions that Lebanon could handle the emergent threat posed by Hezbollah, that led to Paris and Washington’s withdrawal of forces from the country.

A series of additional acts of violence, however, suggested that Hezbollah was not willing at this stage to enter into any negotiations with the Lebanese government. Although progress would eventually be made toward that goal, Hezbollah continued a pattern of violence for several years after 1983. At least thirty foreigners in Lebanon became targets of what were alleged to be Hezbollah-initiated kidnappings between 1983 and 1992. Some victims were killed (notably William F. Buckley Buckley, William F. of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Marine Colonel William Higgins, both kidnapped in 1984), whereas others, including Terry Waite, Waite, Terry envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, spent long periods in captivity before their release.

Significance

An important historical stage in Hezbollah’s profile was reached in 1985, when a manifesto of its aims was published. This declaration had the effect of distancing Shia supporters of Hezbollah from what many considered to be the compromise arrangements of Lebanon’s recently formed government of national unity, which included participation by Berri’s Shia party, Amal. The three main aims in the 1985 manifesto were: total removal of Western imperialism from Lebanon; transformation of Lebanon’s traditional Mithaq (political covenant) from a multiconfessional framework to that of an Islamic republic; and complete destruction of Israel. Because all phases of the Lebanese Civil War in the last quarter of the twentieth century involved insecurity along the Lebanon-Israel border on one hand and calls for major changes in Lebanon’s political system on the other, Hezbollah’s commitment to both issues remained central to its mission. Palestine Liberation Organization Hezbollah

After moderating its views on some issues, as Amal had done before it, Hezbollah would gain the right to participate as a party in Lebanese parliamentary elections. Hezbollah also began another aspect of its operations that promised to gain support for its cause. The movement organized a number of social services, including financial and medical services for needy families and basic, religiously based education. Its apparent desire to earn recognition as part of Lebanon’s multiparty system, however, was seriously jeopardized when its armed units in the south sparked widespread Israeli air attacks and incursion by ground forces into Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Hezbollah Amal Movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bregman, Ahron. Israel’s Wars: A History Since 1947. London: Routledge, 2002. Traces Israel’s confrontations with its Arab neighbors, including shifts from opposition to specifically Palestinian concerns (largely secular) to defense against Islamic militancy reflected by Hamas and Hezbollah.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamzeh, Ahmad Nizar. In the Path of Hizbullah. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2004. One of the most comprehensive scholarly studies of the movement from its earliest stages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jorisch, Avi. Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hizballah’s Al Manar Television. Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2004. Reflects a fairly widespread concern for Hezbollah’s use of popular mass media to draw support for its cause beyond Lebanon’s borders.

Iranian Revolution

Israel Invades Southern Lebanon

Palestinians Are Massacred in West Beirut

Waite Is Kidnapped in Lebanon

Terrorists Attack Israeli Embassy and Jewish Center in Argentina

Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon

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