Hezbollah fighters launching rockets toward Israel…
I’ve already shown you the Mleeta Resistance Landmark… And if you are a reader of this web site, you are almost certainly already familiar with Hezbollah anyway. Therefore, I shall not go into a detailed history here.
I’ll sprinkle in some interesting facts and observations I made on our visit to Lebanon into the content below. But, if you would like a refresher or do not feel entirely up to date on your Hezbollah history, I would strongly suggest the objective description that can be found here courtesy of Melani Cammett’s testimony before the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 7, 2011.
The BBC also provides a good breakdown of Hezbollah’s background here.
Lastly, the Council on Foreign Relations provides a good profile here.
Of course, you can also hear about Hezbollah straight from the horse’s mouth via Hezbollah’s English-language website here.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), perhaps not surprisingly, offer a contrary perspective here.
One won’t see the scene in the opening picture every day, but Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon is nevertheless quite visible…
By this, I am referring to the various monuments to Hezbollah, propaganda posters, billboards plastered with pictures of martyred Hezbollah fighters (see below) and more.
The man to the right on the billboard featured below is Hassan Nasrallah… Born ninth of 10 children to a greengrocer in an East Beirut suburb in 1960, Hassan Nasrallah is the acting Secretary-General of Hezbollah.
Nasrallah’s rise to prominence began in 1975, when he joined the Shiite militia Amal movement during the civil war. After a brief period of religious study in Iraq, he joined Hezbollah following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and soon became popular for his brand of fiery rhetoric, interspersing his activities in Lebanon with stretches of religious study and periods representing the organization in Iran. In 1992 he replaced Abbas al-Musawi as secretary-general, after the former leader was killed by an Israeli helicopter attack. Nasrallah’s own eldest son, Muhammad Haadi, was killed in 1997, aged 18, in combat with Israeli forces:
Hezbollah has also established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and elsewhere, but they are primarily focused on Lebanon. The group’s training bases are mostly in the Bekaa Valley and its headquarters and offices are in southern Beirut and in Baalbek.
Large sections of Hezbollah’s stronghold in the south of Lebanon are sealed off by roadblocks and military checkpoints. Making use of our GPS and a very detailed map, we were able to bypass many of the checkpoints and explore deep into Hezbollah’s territory. Nevertheless, there were some areas that we were just simply not able to reach despite much effort and serious attempts to charm the soldiers manning the roadblocks. The poster below is an example of what can be seen in the more accessible areas. This does lead one to wonder what sort of images might be discovered in the areas that are really off limits:
A village deep in the region controlled by Hezbollah:
This series of posters displaying martyrs to the cause of Hezbollah ran for an extraordinary distance through this village and into the surrounding countryside:
Still part of the series of posters I mentioned above, but a mile or two down the road:
It is tough to gauge how big Hezbollah really is given the wide disparity in numbers out there. As with most things of this nature, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle… The U.S. State Department lists Hezbollah’s “strength” at several thousand. Hezbollah sources assert that the organization has about 5,000-10,000 fighters. Other sources report that Hezbollah’s militia consists of a core of about 300-400 fighters, which can be expanded to up to 3,000 within several hours if a battle with Israel develops. These reserves presumably are called in from Hezbollah strongholds including the Bekaa Valley and Beirut’s southern suburbs. Hezbollah also has many activists and moral supporters.
Hezbollah forces are sometimes shown on television conducting military parades in Beirut, which often include tanks and armored personnel carriers that may have been captured from the Lebanese army or purchased from Palestinian guerrillas or other sources.
An arch dedicated to Hezbollah:
Aside from direct combat with Israel, Hezbollah and its affiliates have been linked to a lengthy series of terrorist attacks against the United States, Israel, and other Western targets. These attacks include:
– a series of kidnappings of Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s;
– the suicide truck bombings that killed more than two hundred U.S.
Marines at their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983;
– the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which featured the famous
footage of the plane’s pilot leaning out of the cockpit with a gun
to his head;
– two major 1990s attacks on Jewish targets in Argentina–the 1992
bombing of the Israeli Embassy (killing twenty-nine) and the 1994
bombing of a Jewish community center (killing ninety-five).
Driving through Hezbollah country south of the Bekaa Valley:
This picture below is of an area we were very strongly discouraged from visiting… I was able to make my way adjacent to the mountain by crossing the valley you see in the foreground and following a 4WD track down to this point. The intense discouragement sure made me curious as to what was up there:
According to the IDF, since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah has built as many as 550 new bunkers in the southern Lebanon region, holding various weapons. In addition, they claim the organization has built 300 underground facilities and 100 storage units for munitions including rockets, missiles and other weapons.
The IDF further states that one of the organization’s main civilian centers for storing munitions is the village of Al Khiyam in southern Lebanon, where hundreds of rockets and mortar shells with varying ranges are stored. More than 100 Hezbollah militants are said to operate in the village, including special forces ready for combat with IDF soldiers.
And the Washington Post recently alleged that the Hezbollah organization is spread out between as many as 1,000 facilities in southern Lebanon, located in 270 civilian villages.
Below is another town in Hezbollah’s southern stronghold… Much like Northern Ireland, most of these towns are drab and depressing, leading one (as in Northern Ireland) to wonder at times why they are worth fighting and dying over:
A more aggressive Hezbollah arch:
It’s interesting because these scenes are found amidst such bucolic countryside settings:
We were told by locals that weapons for Hezbollah are smuggled in from Syria by truck along back roads such as this one:
The Times of London published an article in 2010 describing the process:
Military hardware is either of Syrian origin or sent from Iran by sea, via Mediterranean ports, or by air, via Damascus airport. The arms are stored at a Hezbollah weapons depot in Syria and then trucked into Lebanon.
The Times has been shown satellite images of one of the sites, a compound near the town of Adra, northeast of Damascus, where militants have their own living quarters, an arms storage site and a fleet of lorries reportedly used to ferry weapons into Lebanon.
“Hezbollah is allowed to operate this site freely,” said a security source. “They often move the arms in bad weather when Israeli satellites are unable to track them.”
Arming Hezbollah was banned under the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the 2006 war. Since then, however, Hezbollah has managed to replenish its military stocks and the group is thought to have amassed more than 40,000 rockets and missiles, ranging from short-range Katyushas to medium-range M600 missiles and the Soviet-era Scud ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting most big population centres in Israel.
The Times has learnt that US and Israeli intelligence agencies suspect that two Scud missiles could be hidden in underground arms depots in the northern Bekaa Valley.
As one gets deeper into the south of Lebanon, the area becomes more densely populated, but there is no decrease in support for Hezbollah:
Banners celebrating Hezbollah:
It is important to understand that support for Hezbollah does not just stem from their position on Israel… A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted:
Hezbollah not only has armed and political wings – it also boasts an extensive social development program. Hezbollah currently operates at least four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools and two agricultural centres that provide farmers with technical assistance and training. It also has an environmental department and an extensive social assistance program. Medical care is also cheaper than in most of the country’s private hospitals and free for Hezbollah members.
Banners and flags of Hezbollah stretching through one of the cities in the south of Lebanon:
Periodic conflict between Hezbollah and Israel erupted into full-scale war during the summer of 2006…
A UN-brokered cease-fire was formalized on August 14, 2006, ending the five-week conflict, but not before more than one thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee.
A building bombed by Israel during the 2006 July war:
Below, this graphic of sites bombed by Israel within Lebanon during the 2006 war, demonstrates that the above was not exactly a rarity. Click on the graphic twice to bring it up to full resolution:
Hezbollah welcoming us to Tyre – Lebanon’s largest city in the south:
Mutual deterrence has so far prevented another war between Hezbollah and Israel, but there is no shortage of flashpoints that could reignite the conflict. A huge looming dispute concerns the maritime border separating Israel from Lebanon — with the discovery of two large natural gas fields off the countries’ coasts, the placement of the border could have dramatic economic consequences. Hezbollah’s leaders have warned Israel not to develop the gas fields and have vowed that the resistance would restore the sovereignty of Lebanon’s waters in the face of what it alleges is Israeli theft.
The continued uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime also presents scenarios which could lead to “game on” between Israel and Hezbollah. If the Assad regime believes that it faces imminent collapse, it could ignite a limited conflict with Israel in the Golan Heights as part of a diversionary war. Such a conflict, however, could quickly escalate and broaden to include Hezbollah, even against the party’s will. Alternatively, if Assad’s regime falls and the new leadership in Damascus decides to abandon its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah (not an inevitable scenario), Israel may attempt to seize on Hezbollah’s weakened position by launching an attack intended to permanently neutralize the party.
As long as the underlying political issues between Lebanon, Syria, and Israel are not addressed, as long as Iran continues to enrich uranium and build an extensive military infrastructure in Lebanon, and as long as Hezbollah and Israel aggressively prepare for another war, the chances of another more deadly and destructive conflict breaking out remains quite high.