Hezbollah’s Reign of Terror

GMU student Ryan Ghandour discusses Hezbollah, its influence over Lebanese politics, and potential policy options for the United States

As the dust settled, rubble littered the ground as far as the eye could see, and only screams and shouts could be heard. Soon after, the sound of sirens from fire engines and ambulances rushing to the scene filled the air. Dozens were trapped beneath the debris and dozens more had perished. On April 18th, 1983, the American embassy in Beirut was destroyed in a suicide bombing attack that killed dozens of Americans, Lebanese nationals, and other individuals. The Islamic Jihad Organization, a Shi’ite fundamentalist group with links to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terrorist cell operating in Lebanon, claimed responsibility for the attack. On October 23rd of the same year, barracks housing American and French troops of the Multinational Force in Lebanon (MNF) were attacked by two suicide bombers, killing hundreds of soldiers. Hezbollah was once again behind the attacks. Additionally, Malcolm H. Kerr, former president of the American University of Beirut, was murdered in cold blood by two gunmen in 1984. Those individuals were also linked to Hezbollah. Hezbollah attacks have not been isolated to the 1980s. This year, they were also linked to the August 4th explosion in Beirut that killed thousands of innocents and injured thousands more.

Hezbollah, or the “Party of God,” was founded shortly after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 by Lebanese Shi’ite clerics who, with the support of the Iranian regime, served as representatives for the marginalized Shi’ite community in Lebanon. They formed a unified Shi’ite bloc to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. While the occupation ended in 2000, the “resistance” has yet to disband. In 2008, a coalition government was formed with Hezbollah’s political wing, Loyalty to the Resistance, granting it veto powers and effectively establishing its control of the Lebanese government. With the government that should hold them responsible for its crimes against humanity firmly under Hezbollah’s control, an alternative method must be taken. Thus, the United States and the international community must assist in the effort to bring those responsible for the August 4th explosion to justice, and support a counter movement to limit the influence and military power of the organization.

Hezbollah and Loyalty to the Resistance have repeatedly met dissent with brute force, aggression, and hostility. One example is the ongoing riots in Beirut that started on October 19th, 2019. Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon, has implemented a “shoot-to-harm” policy, ultimately leading to security forces recklessly firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and pellets. The armed divisions of the government, which are proxies of Hezbollah, have been silencing dissenters from voicing their grievances against cabinet-level politicians, members of Parliament, and the president, by breaking up these demonstrations through careless, harsh means.

On August 7th, Hassan Nasrallah, the General-Secretary of Hezbollah, appeared on television to deny all accusations that blamed his jihadist cell as the perpetrators of the August 4th explosion in Beirut. He also denied any presence of armaments or other supplies owned by Hezbollah in that area after several reports indicated that the warehouse belonged to the organization. Gebran Bassil, the president’s son-in-law and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, is linked to Hassan Nasrallah through their parties’ alliance in parliament. Through these links, Bassil has knowledge of and connections to Hezbollah and its actions, and the U.S. government has applied economic sanctions to Bassil for his involvement with Hezbollah.

In an effort to encourage fair and democratic governance, the United States and its allies should economically and politically support domestic forces within Lebanon that are willing to push back against the Iranian-backed terror cell and its political wing in Parliament. The current practice of economic warfare against Tehran’s allies in Lebanon by Washington has proven to be effective in weakening Hezbollah’s primary financier and should be utilized further in the fight against the group, and the U.S. should continue to financially pressure Iran. If Hezbollah has no funds to buy weapons, pay its militants, and support terrorist acts, the organization will likely wither and die. However, there is the possibility that Hezbollah could bide its time and rely on domestic support and the political offices it holds to maintain a presence in Lebanon. Therefore, to force Hezbollah out of power, there must be serious sanctions against all Hezbollah sympathizers and loyalists in positions of authority.

Due to the measures already taken by the United States, Hezbollah finds itself in a precarious situation – several of its officials have been sanctioned by Washington, such as Wafiq Safa, Muhammad Hassan Raad, and Amin Sherri. Furthermore, because the Lebanese currency is already tied to the American dollar, the government is susceptible to economic sanctions and the Lebanese economy has taken a massive hit. The U.S. has an opportunity to utilize soft power like American culture and democratic practices in conjunction with these economic sanctions to show the dissenters in Lebanon, and the Middle East more broadly, that there is a preferable alternative to fundamentalism. Hezbollah’s existence has become a part of life for many in Lebanon. For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives that have been lost over the decades at their hands, Hezbollah must become a distant memory.

Ryan Ghandour is an undergraduate student at George Mason University, majoring in Government and International Politics with a minor in History and a concentration in Law, Philosophy, and Governance.

Photo can be found here.