Israel and Lebanon, what is Hezbollah: the ‘Party of God’ between weapons and politics

Border tensions between the two countries fuel fears of a wider escalation after the terrible Hamas attack on 7 October

Tensions on the border between Israel and Lebanon with Hezbollah, supported by Iran and an ally of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad who in turn is a close military and political ally of Tehran, fuel fears of a broader escalation after the terrible October 7 Hamas attack in Israel. The increase in tensions on the border between northern Israel and southern Lebanon is considered the worst since the devastating 33-day war in 2006. We are now awaiting the words of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah.

Supported by Iran, “creature” of the Islamic Republic, Hezbollah has close ties with Hamas (Nasrallah recently ‘received’ the number two of Hamas and the secretary general of Islamic Jihad in Lebanon). The ‘Party of God’, today with ministers in the Beirut government and deputies in Parliament, was born in 1982, at the height of the civil war in Lebanon (1975-90).

The movement has transformed from a faction to an armed force with considerable influence on the Lebanese state and is the only group to have retained its weapons since the civil war. Hezbollah militiamen have been deployed in Syria to help Assad against the mostly Sunni rebels. Nasrallah, Sky News highlights, would have 100,000 fighters at his disposal. The BBC describes Hezbollah – with its armed wing on the EU blacklist of US terrorist organizations – as the largest political and military force in Lebanon with a large arsenal of weapons that includes missiles capable of reaching deep into Israeli territory and tens of thousands of well-trained fighters.

Nasrallah, who is the leader of Hezbollah

Hezbollah’s secretary general has remained silent, or at least has never made one of his ‘historic’ public speeches, since the terrible Hamas attack in Israel. It remains a mystery where Nasrallah is, a key man in the “axis of resistance” put together by Iran as a network of alliances in the Middle East, a Shiite leader who managed to get Hezbollah into Parliament and the government, who leads an armed party . His speech – announced at the beginning of the week – will be broadcast on screens set up by Hezbollah in a country of the Cedars in economic collapse.

Born in Lebanon in 1960, Nasrallah’s first conflict was the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). It was precisely in 1975 that Nasrallah joined the Amal movement. He studies in Najaf, an Iraqi city that is a symbol for the Shiite world, and then in Qom, the spiritual heart of Iran. In 1982 Israel intervened militarily in Lebanon and an Amal faction, led by Hussein al Musawi, decided to split and, with Iranian support, laid the foundations for the birth of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah took the helm of Hezbollah in 1992, after the killing of Abbas al Musawi in an Israeli air raid. In 2011 he was among the 100 most influential people in the world reported by Time, the leader of Hezbollah who ‘attacks’ Israel, but is considered by “many of his fellow countrymen as a threat to Lebanon too”. Whether loved or despised, today he remains one of the most influential figures in the Middle East.

Nasrallah, Sky News highlights, is considered by many to be the most powerful man in Lebanon, with 100,000 fighters at his disposal. “With his leadership of the only armed force that enjoys the wide perception of being capable of containing the Israeli enemy, Nasrallah has been able to build a legend around his name,” writes the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient Le Jour , which describes him as a military strategist, political leader and charismatic icon, “likened by some to a modern-day Nasser”.

And the same newspaper highlights how since 2006, since the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel, “the reservoir of sympathy for Nasrallah has been dented by the multiple crises that have gripped Lebanon”. At the time of the so-called Arab Springs it supported the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain, but then called Hezbollah to intervene in support of its ally, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

“No one considers him a purely Lebanese figure anymore,” Hanin Ghaddar, a researcher at the Washington Institute, told L’Orient Le Jour. And “this is Nasrallah’s moment,” Mohanad Hage Ali, a Lebanon expert at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Arab satellite TV al-Jazeera.