The organization known as Hezbollah first appeared in Lebanon in 1982 with the purpose of targeting and attacking Israeli, American, and French military forces. A loose federation of Shi’a and incendiary groups, Hezbollah emerged as a response to foreign military occupation of Lebanon.

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Southern Lebanon in what would become known as the 1982 Lebanon War. With 3,000 tanks and armored vehicles and 78,000 combat soldiers, Israel would go on to occupy the southern Lebanese region. Among Israel’s  intentions was to remove a Syrian influence from Lebanon and to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization from the area. Israel believed that its actions would lead to regional stability; however, Hezbollah was born one month later as a resistance movement.

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak described Hezbollah’s creation in a June 8, 2009 article for Time Magazine entitled “A Brief History Of: Hizballah.” Barak described the effect of Israel’s invasion by saying, “When we entered Lebanon, there was no Hezbollah… It was our presence there that created Hezbollah.”

Initially, Hezbollah had almost no popular support among the Lebanese people. However, the longer Israeli troops occupied Lebanon (a total of 18 years) the more that resentment grew within the population. Specifically, Shi’a resentment led to the forming of several militant organizations.

Hezbollah responded by expanding into an umbrella organization that coordinated the operations of what were otherwise a detached aggregation of preexisting Shi’a tribes and social groups. Israel’s invasion solidified these differing groups by giving them the common purpose of resisting an occupation.

Hezbollah experimented with a stratagem of suicide attacks during the first year of its formation. The first couple of attacks targeted Israeli forces, but the third attack was on U.S. Marines in Beirut. A fourth attack later struck French soldiers the same day as the third attack.

Scholar Robert A. Pape has argued that the vastly different groups involved in Hezbollah’s coordination of early suicide attacks  cooperated, because they saw such attacks as a legitimate means of self-defense. However, Pape contends that not all of the groups involved saw suicide attacks as an act of religious martyrdom. Pape’s research has led him to believe that early suicide bombers acted for the secular reason of advancing their community’s economic and political  power. This secular justification, according to Pape, was offered in hundreds of speeches and interviews by early resistance leaders (Pape 2010).

Hezbollah leadership slowly started a discourse over the nature of suicide attacks and religious martyrdom as the group continued to coordinate and consolidate its power over smaller organizations. This discourse was used to encourage new bombers and to replenish their ranks.

As Hezbollah’s influence grew, it began to receive funding from the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

The Hezbollah movement has been a real problem for Israel. Many Israelis will tell you that Israel has not had a broad strategy for dealing with this group; instead, the country finds itself continually stuck in an ad hoc military campaign. Hezbollah has emerged as a symbol of armed resistance against Israel, and has gained a following among Shi’a, Sunnis, and non-Muslim Arabs over the years.

That pan-Arab support may be dwindling, however.

As I noted in my post yesterday, there are reports of sectarian conflict erupting as a part of Syria’s current civil war. The Syrian regime has been a major supporter of Hezbollah both financially and politically. As denominations and tribes battle one another on Hezbollah’s border, one can only guess at how the current climate may affect Hezbollah’s infrastructure and mission.

Sunni militants are trickling into Syria to battle President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as well as Shi’a militias who are also battling the regime. The Sunni terrorist organization al-Qaeda has used the Syrian civil war as a recruitment tool and fundraiser after years of loses to U.S. and Iraqi forces. The influx of Sunnis has added to the destabilization of the region, and it has galvanized Shi’a militant organizations to combat the incoming Sunnis.

According to Reuters, senior officials in Baghdad believe that seasoned al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq “are crossing the 680 km (422 mile) border into Syria to liaise and conduct attacks on Assad’s government.”

Hezbollah may very well move to counter al-Qaeda’s growing influence in order to retain its own power.

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