Contrary to popular belief, Terrorism has been a globalized reality long before the events of September 11. Indeed, only after the occurrence of the September 11 attacks did people, and to some extent countries, around the world consider terrorism as a threat to international peace and security. The destruction of the World Trade Center in New York became a lasting impression to Heads of State/Government around the world: an impression that can only be equaled to that of the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Wright, 2006) Unlike the fall of the wall, however (which signaled the victory of Democracy over Communism and the end of the Cold War), the events of September 11 made the International Community realize how important it is to consider non-state actors as part of their national agendas and their preservation of their national security. Terrorism, as various academics and politicians alike have declared, has been around for centuries. Depending on how present institutions and people within societies perceive, define and understand terrorism, terrorist acts have been roughly estimated to first occur way back during the time of the Romans.
For others however, the first sources of terrorist acts began during the French Revolution. Still, others indicate that the idea of terrorism first developed during the Munich Olympics in 1972. (Jamail, 2006) Such differences in both idea and origin only perpetuate the ambiguity of the true nature of terrorism is one reason why the International Community has not yet come up with a universal definition for the term. Every country in the International Community perceives terrorism in a different way.
As one famous notion has put it, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. (Westcott, 2002) Indeed, some governments and institutions actually believe that some terrorist groups are freedom fighters that actually operate for their benefit. One such example of a terrorist group that is viewed as a freedom fighter is the Lebanese-based group Hezbollah. Description Hezbollah (Arabic that literally translates as “Party of God”) designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997.
Formed as an Islamic Movement that was founded in 1982 during the time of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The group’s initial objectives at that time were the absolute ejection of the Israeli Army and the liberation of the occupied territories of Israel in southern Lebanon. (CFR, 2006) Throughout its history, it has gone under the title of Islamic Jihad, the Revolutionary Justice Organization and the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth.
The group has also undergone several changes with regards to their objectives – moving from the removal of Israeli Forces out of southern Lebanon to a more radically idealistic goal which is, just like most Islamic Militants, the establishment of an Independent Islamic State. (Westcott, 2002) Hezbollah closely allied with Iran and often acts at its behest, though it also acts independently. Although Hezbollah does not share the Syrian regime’s secular orientation, the group has helped Syria advance its political objectives in the region.
Hezbollah remains the most technically capable terrorist group in the world. It has strong influence in Lebanon’s Shia community. The Lebanese government and the majority of the Arab world still recognize Hezbollah as a legitimate “resistance group” and political party. Hezbollah provides support to several Palestinian terrorist organizations, as well as a number of local Christian and Muslim militias in Lebanon. This support includes the covert provision of weapons, explosives, training, funding, and guidance, as well as overt political support.
Questions over who was the main person(s) who initiated the formation of the group and when it was exactly founded remains in debate. The group’s purpose and ideological inspirations were largely derived from different events such as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Israeli Occupation of southern Lebanon in 1982. (Wright, 2006) Some scholars portend that 1982 was the exact date of the establishment of the group while others argue that though the group was formed in 1982, it did not became an official group until 1985.
This is so because much of the militia men who formed the original group were only just beginning to gain support; hence, an increase in their membership which eventually led to the declaration of the group’s official existence with a stated purpose and objective. (Westcott, 2002) Hezbollah’s is the Lebanese-based radical Shia group that takes its ideological inspiration from the Iranian revolution and the teachings of the late Ayatollah Khomeini – a Shia Muslim cleric and was one of the most important political leaders during the time of the Iranian Revolution.
Despite incorporating Khomeini’s teachings, some sources indicate that Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah is the group’s spiritual leader. At least none of the two spiritual leaders was directly responsible for the formation of the group. (Westcott, 2002) Much of the western developed world, specifically the United States and the United Kingdom, considers Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Still despite its genuine notoriety in the International Community, Hezbollah remains a popular group in Lebanon. Regardless of being marked as a terrorist group by many, the group has lent its hand to several social services to the Lebanese population.
From the establishment of social development programs and educational facilities down to the collection of garbage and infrastructure reconstruction, Hezbollah has gained immense support from both the Lebanese government and other foreign governments in the Middle East. As the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted, “Hezbollah currently operates at least four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools and two agricultural centers 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…” Indeed, the people of Lebanon, and probably much of the Shiite Muslim Population in the entire Middle East, see the group, not only as a militia group, but also as a political movement and a social service provider. In fact, the group is so popular in Lebanon that they were even granted a seat within the Lebanese Government. There is, however, an ironic consequence to all these social programs – one must be either a member of Hezbollah or a proud supporter of the group in order to be a full beneficiary; especially when it comes to free medical care.
According to some experts, the group uses this strategy to entice individuals to join their group and become a fighter for their cause. (Westcott, 2002) By maintaining their popularity within the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese Society, the group is able to take advantage of the protection provided by the latter forces from possible foreign attacks coming from United States and its supporters. Furthermore, as long as the people and the government consider Hezbollah as a legitimate social and resistance group rather than a terrorist group, Lebanese laws will serve as a protection for the group and their activities. Wright, 2006) Hezbollah considered one of the strongest nonstate terrorist organizations in the Middle East. It is also one of the few terrorist groups that the western developed world greatly fears.
Besides having the ideology and purpose of expelling Westerners from Lebanon (United States, Israel and some members of the European Union), Hezbollah also poses as a tough competitor in the balance of power within the region. No intelligence or security agencies have yet to report concerning the ultimate military strength and capabilities of the group. Jamail, 2006) However, it has been estimated by some Middle-Eastern based research centers that the group holds a total of 10,000 to 15,000 members – 1,000 full-time members and the rest as either volunteers or supporters. (Westcott, 2002) As such, fear over the true power of one of the Middle East’s most notorious group is eminent in the developed western world. Fortunately, however, Hassan Nasrallah – the current Secretary-General of the Hezbollah Nationalist party within the Lebanese Government – the group’s targets are not truly Americans.
He portends that though the group’s initial objectives were the complete removal of Western Troops in Lebanon, the group condemns the murder of American Civilians (an act that clearly showcases terrorism). Though, several times, Hezbollah has been largely blamed for conducting several attacks against Civilians (Western), Nasrallah retains that the group has absolutely nothing to do with it. Nasrallah even went further as to glorify the innocence of the group by condemning the al-Qaeda and several other terrorist groups worldwide for their acts of terrorism against civilians.
Still, despite their declaration of innocence, the group still remains a threat to Western National Security as a terrorist organization. Activities Ironically, the words of Nasrallah are contradictory in itself. Hezbollah’s terrorist attacks have included the suicide truck bombings of the U. S. Embassy and U. S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the U. S. Embassy annex in Beirut in 1984; and the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, during which a U. S. Navy diver was murdered. Elements of the group were responsible for the kidnapping, detention, and murder of Americans and other Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s.
Hezbollah also was implicated in the attacks on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 and on the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires in 1994. In 2000, Hezbollah operatives captured three Israeli soldiers in the Sheba’a Farms area and kidnapped an Israeli non-combatant. Several more attacks against US Citizens (bombings, kidnappings, etc) the following years have also been attributed to Hezbollah; though the group have never claimed responsibility for any of it (Country Reports on Terrorism)..
Since at least 2004, Hezbollah has provided training to select Iraqi Shia militants, including the construction and use of shaped charge improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that can penetrate heavily armored vehicles. A senior Hezbollah operative, Ali Mussa Daqduq, was captured in Iraq in 2007 while facilitating Hezbollah training of Iraqi Shia militants. In July 2006, Hezbollah attacked an Israeli Army patrol, kidnapping two soldiers and killing three, starting a conflict with Israel that lasted into August.
Since the February 2008 killing in Damascus of Imad Mughniyah, the Hezbollah terrorist and military chief suspected of involvement in many attacks, senior Hezbollah officials have repeatedly made public statements blaming Israel for the killing and vowing retaliation. In a two-week period in May 2008, Hezbollah’s armed takeover of West Beirut resulted in more than 60 deaths. In November 2009, the Israeli navy seized a ship carrying an estimated 400-500 tons of weapons originating in Iran and bound for Hezbollah, via Syria (Country Reports on Terrorism).
External Aid Hezbollah also receives funding from private donations and profits from legal and illegal businesses. Additionally, the Iranian and Syrian government provided diplomatic, political, organizational aid and material support to Hezbollah in Lebanon. These countries also provide a safe-haven for organizations such as Hezbollah giving them the freedom to pan and conduct their activities. Iran also provides Hezbollah with training, explosives, and weapons.
Weapons flow from Iran through Syria, and directly from Syria, to Hezbollah despite UN Security Council resolution 1701 of 2006, which imposes an arms embargo on Lebanon except with the consent of the Lebanese government. Indeed, Hezbollah claims to have a larger arsenal today than it did in 2006. Underscoring links between the Syrian government and Hezbollah, Israeli naval commandos intercepted a large cache of arms on November 3, 2009. The shipments of arms were on its way from Iran to Hezbollah by way of the Syrian port of Latakia (Country Reports on Terrorism).
The arms shipment, which was found amidst civilian cargo on the Antiguan-flagged ship MV Francop, weighed over 500 tons. While the Syrian government denied involvement in the shipment, Israeli officials stressed that the incident illustrates Syria’s continued efforts to fight a proxy war with Israel through terrorist groups like Hezbollah. The last attack across the internationally recognized Israeli line of withdrawal (a. k. a. the Blue Line) occurred in 2006. In the same year, Syrian security forces defeated a terrorist attack on the U.
S. Embassy in Damascus (Country Reports on Terrorism). Conclusion Combating terrorism is not an easy task. For one thing, exercising military might over these organizations may only perpetuate the violence and hatred that are inherently harbored by these groups in the first place. Another thing is that some of these groups, as exampled by the Hezbollah, help the local populace through several social programs – making it hard for foreign countries to militarily deal with the group since that would be a violation of the UN Charter. CFR, 2006) There are no known measures or frameworks with which to concretely base a military’s activities against a terrorist group; much less against the Hezbollah. For one thing, Hezbollah is considered as a legitimate resistance movement in Lebanon. To literally attack the country of Lebanon in the hopes of suppressing the group would undoubtedly bring the attacking country down on its knees against public opinion and international scrutiny and criticism.
Furthermore, many consider Hezbollah as a freedom-fighting group aimed at removing foreign control and/or influence within their country. For the country who harbors them, that would seem like a credible group. For the victims, however, that would seem like an act of terrorism. As a result, the situation remains in deadlock – the victims cannot retaliate while the perpetrators cannot proclaim innocence. At present, no country has yet to propose a plausible framework with which to be followed pertaining to combating terrorism.
Terrorists are non-state actors that follow no laws and respect no sovereignties. In other words, the enemy is close to being invisible; so much, so that there seems to be no credible target for retaliation. Truly, the only way to suppress terrorism as of the moment is by the intensification of defensive measures. Until terrorism can be fully defined and until new frameworks and paradigms are adopted with regards to the new threat, all the victims of terrorist acts can only remain on the defensive.