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Hezbollah (“the Party of God”) is not only a major political party and provider of social services in Lebanon, it is also a militant organization that fields both a well-armed and well-trained militia in Lebanon and a terrorist wing integrated with elements of Iranian intelligence services operating abroad. Even as the movement has undergone a process of “Lebanonization,” through which it has successfully insinuated itself into the Lebanese parliamentary political system, it remains committed not only to its Lebanese identity but to its revolutionary pan-Shi’a and pro-Iran ones as well.

History & Ideology: 

Founded in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Hezbollah was the product of a Shi’a awakening in Lebanon. On the one hand, Hezbollah was the outgrowth of a complex and bloody civil war, during which the country’s historically marginalized Shi’a Muslims attempted to assert economic and political power for the first time. Hezbollah was also a by-product of Israel’s effort to dismantly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by invading Southern Lebanon in 1982.  That awakening followed the disappearance of Sayyid Musa al-Sadr in 1978 and the Islamic Revolution in Shi’ite Iran the following year. Long neglected by the Lebanese government and underrepresented in the country’s social and political institutions, Lebanese Shi’a leaders organized to empower their disenfranchised community. Already eager to follow in the footsteps of the Iranian revolution, young Lebanese Shi’a were driven to break with established parties and gravitated to Hezbollah as a result of the Israeli invasion and subsequent occupation of southern Lebanon. Iran was more than willing to help, eager as it was to export its Islamic revolution to other Shi’a communities throughout the Middle East. Iranian assistance included financial backing and training at the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and was facilitated by a Syrian regime pleased with the prospect of developing a proxy in Lebanon capable of preventing Israel and its allies in Lebanon from controlling the country. It was the IRGC, however, that shaped Hezbollah’s ideological foundations and informed its operational policies. 

Hezbollah is simultaneously a Lebanese party, a pan-Shi’a movement and an Iranian proxy group. These multiple identities form the foundation and context for the group’s ideology of Shi’a radicalism. The establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon was a central component of Hezbollah’s original political platform, released in 1985, though the organization shifted away from that goal in subsequent years.1  The fight against “Western Imperialism” and the continued conflict with Israel also feature prominently in that document, and those tenets continue to be critical rallying points. Hezbollah is ideologically committed to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary doctrine of Velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), creating tension between its commitment to the decrees of Iranian clerics, its commitment to the Lebanese state, and its commitment to the sectarian Shi’a community in Lebanon and its fellow Shi’ites abroad. As a result, its objectives include the sometimes competing goals of establishing an Islamic republic in Lebanon; promoting the standing of Shi’a communities worldwide; undermining Arab states with Shi’a minorities in an effort to export the Iranian Shi’a revolution; eliminating the State of Israel; challenging “Western imperialism;” and coordinating with the paramilitary wing of Iran’s IRGC, known as the Quds Force. Unable to harmonize all of these wide-ranging ideological drivers, Hezbollah was at times driven to ineffective steps in an effort to fulfill its goals.  Hezbollah brought massive damage to Lebanese infrastructure, but rose in pan-Shi’a popularity,  after it dragged both Israel and Lebanon into a war neither wanted by crossing the UN-demarcated Israel-Lebanon border and killing three Israeli soldiers while kidnapping two others in July 2006.

By 2008, Hezbollah appeared to have overcome the political setbacks incurred by the massive damage cause to Lebanon’s infrastructure in the July 2006 war. Local criticism arose again in May 2008.  With the position of the country’s president vacant since the previous November, an ongoing political crisis presented the backdrop for what would prove to be the most violent intrastate fighting in Lebanon since the country’s fifteen-year civil war ended in 1991. In early May of 2008, the Lebanese government reported that it had discovered a Hezbollah surveillance camera situated at the Beirut airport. The ensuing criticism by Hezbollah’s political opponents, and pro-Hezbollah protests throughout Beirut left nearly 100 dead and 250 wounded.2  While the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) ultimately deployed and stopped the fighting, Hezbollah successfully leveraged its military strength for political advantage over the already-weakened Lebanese government. The result, after five days of Qatari mediation, was the Doha Agreement, under which Hezbollah secured a “blocking third’s” worth of representation in a new national unity government, giving it the potential to obstruct any future government initiative. 

The Doha Agreement left the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons—maintained in blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701—unresolved, allowing it to remain the only militia in Lebanon with a private arsenal of weapons. Preventing serious discussion of this issue at the talks in Doha was a public relations coup for Hezbollah, which was left politically exposed after turning its guns on fellow Lebanese. Despite the insertion of a more robust United Nations presence in southern Lebanon in the wake of the July 2006 war, Hezbollah had successfully restocked its arsenal of missiles. Indeed, Hezbollah was then believed to have more rockets, with longer ranges and larger payloads, than it did prior to the 2006 war.3

These political gains, however, were followed by a significant reversal. In May 2009, the German weekly Der Spiegel revealed that the UN special tribunal investigating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination had implicated Hezbollah.4 In early January 2011, it became evident that the Tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Daniel Bellamere, would submit a draft indictment to the pre-trial judge for review. Hezbollah pre-empted the indictment’s release and withdrew its support for Saad Hariri’s government, forcing its collapse.5 Subsequently, aided by sympathetic leaders of Lebanon’s Christian and Druze communities, Hezbollah was able to raise billionaire Najib Mitaki to the premiership, cementing its control over the Lebanese state.6

However, Hezbollah now finds its position in Lebanon under growing threat, in large part thanks to the role the organization and its chief sponsor, Iran, have played in propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria since the outbreak of the civil war there in March 2011.

Global Reach: 

Before its recent foray into the Syrian war, Hezbollah was already well known for several international terrorist attacks, most notably the 1992 and 1994 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish community center (AMIA), respectively, in Argentina, the 1995 Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia.   More recently, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the 2012 bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria.7

Hezbollah's global footprint, however, is broader still, with support networks in regions as far afield as Africa, Southeast Asia, North and South America and Europe. Hezbollah receives significant financial backing from the contributions of supporters living abroad, particularly from Lebanese nationals living in Africa, South America and other places with large Lebanese Shi’a expatriate communities. Over time, these communities developed into a global support network available not only to raise funds, but also to provide logistical and operational support for Hezbollah operations. Such support networks, sometimes comprising a few individuals and in other cases larger, more organized cells, have developed in Latin America, North America, Europe, Africa and in Middle Eastern countries with minority Shi’a populations such as Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah has leveraged its support networks in Europe to help operatives use the Continent as a launching pad for entering Israel to conduct attacks or collect intelligence there since the 1990s. Hezbollah’s most successful European operation to date came on July 18, 2012. In Burgas, Bulgaria, Hezbollah bombed a tour bus carrying Israelis, killing the Bulgarian bus driver and five Israelis, and wounding some thirty more.8

After months of often acrimonious deliberations, senior European officials gathered in Brussels in July 2013 to announce that all 28 EU member states agreed to add Hezbollah's military wing – not the organization itself – to the EU's list of banned terrorist groups. At the time, European officials pointed to the blacklisting as a shot across the bow. "This is a signal to terrorist organizations," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned. "If you attack one of our European countries, you get an answer from all of them." Regardless, evidence reveals that Hezbollah's military wing is still plotting attacks across Europe, and that the EU’s words have not dissuaded the organization whatsoever.

Throughout the 1990s, Hezbollah maintained an active support network in Southeast Asia as well. Hezbollah infiltrated at least one Malaysian operative, Zinal Bin-Talib, into Israel to collect intelligence.9 Hezbollah has conducted significant fundraising in Southeast Asia, nearly succeeded in bombing the Israeli embassy in Bangkok in 1994,10 and collected intelligence on synagogues in Manila and Singapore.11 Hezbollah members are known to have procured and cached weapons in Thailand and the Philippines.12 They collected intelligence on El-Al’s Bangkok office and on U.S. Navy and Israeli commercial ships in the Singapore Straits.13 The network additionally recruited local Sunni Muslims and sent several to Lebanon for training.14 In January 2012, Thai police arrested Hussein Atris, a Lebanese national carrying a Swedish passport, at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.15 After questioning Atris led authorities to a three-story building on the outskirts of Bangkok containing a stockpile of 8,800 pounds of already distilled chemicals used to make explosives.16 Some of the explosives, disguised as cat litter, were intended to be shipped abroad. Bangkok had already been described as “a center for a [Hezbollah] cocaine and money-laundering network,” but it was now clear that the city also served as a hub for explosives in addition to logistics and transportation.17

In Africa, Hezbollah operatives have long helped finance the group's activities by dealing in conflict diamonds in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to David Crane, the prosecutor for the Special Court in Sierra Leone, "Diamonds fuel the war on terrorism. Charles Taylor is harboring terrorists from the Middle East, including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, and has been for years."18 Hezbollah also raises funds in Africa from the local Shi'a expatriate community. In some cases, Shi'a donors are unwittingly conned into funding Hezbollah, while in others they are knowing and willing participants in Hezbollah's financing efforts.19 In 2002, Ugandan officials disrupted a cell of Shi'a students who were recruited by Iranian intelligence agents and sent on scholarships to study at the Rizavi University in Mashhad, Iran. Upon their return, one student recruit, Shafri Ibrahim, was caught, while another, Sharif Wadulu, is believed to have escaped to one of the Gulf States. The two were trained by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, together with new Lebanese Hezbollah recruits, and sent home with fictitious covers to establish an operational infrastructure in Uganda.20

Hezbollah activity in South America has been well documented, including its frenetic activity in the Tri-Border region. The group's activities received special attention in the wake of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center there. What is less well known, however, is that Hezbollah is also active in Chile, Venezuela, Cuba, Panama and Ecuador. Of particular concern to law enforcement officials throughout South America is Hezbollah's increased activity in free trade zones, especially under the cover of import-export companies.21

Finally, Hezbollah maintains a sizeable presence of supporters and operatives in North America. The U.S. Treasury Department has designated Hezbollah charities in the Detroit area, while individuals and cells have been prosecuted across the U.S. and Canada for raising funds and procuring weapons and dual use technologies like night vision goggles. The most prominent case to date occurred in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Hezbollah operatives engaged in a cigarette smuggling enterprise raised significant sums for Hezbollah while maintaining direct contact with Sheikh Abbas Haraki, a senior Hezbollah military commander in South Beirut.22 Members of the Charlotte cell received receipts back from Hezbollah for their donations, including receipts from the office of then-Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Mohammad Fadlallah. The Charlotte cell was closely tied to a sister network in Canada that was primarily engaged in procuring dual-use technologies such as night vision goggles and laser range finders for Hezbollah operational squads. The Canadian network was under the direct command of Hajj Hassan Hilu Lakis, Hezbollah's chief military procurement officer, who is also known to procure material for Iran. 23

Recent Activity: 

Today’s Hezbollah faces existential challenges over its active participation in the war in Syria. By siding with the Assad regime, the regime’s Alawite supporters, and Iran, and taking up arms against Sunni rebels, Hezbollah has placed itself at the epicenter of a sectarian conflict that has nothing to do with the group’s purported raison d’être: “resistance” to Israeli occupation. 

Speaking in late May 2014, Hezbollah Secretary General Nasrallah declared that the battle in Syria was Hezbollah’s fight: “We will continue along the road, bear the responsibilities and the sacrifices. This battle is ours, and I promise you victory.” To that end, Hezbollah went “all-in” fighting alongside Assad regime loyalists and Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen against Syrian rebels. The impact of Hezbollah’s involvement cannot be overstated, as was seen most clearly in the battle for Qusayr, where Hezbollah gunmen reportedly fought house to house, took significant losses, and played the decisive role in turning the tide against the rebels who ultimately lost the battle. That battle also laid bare the myth that Hezbollah was not fighting in Syria. Although Hezbollah had already admitted it was fighting in Syria, it insisted that it was only either fighting along the border to protect ethnic Lebanese living on the Syrian side of the border, or protecting Shi’a shrines, specifically the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine in Damascus. These narratives used by Hezbollah and its allies in Iran and Iraq have pervaded their propaganda in the past two years.

Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in Syria date almost to the beginning of the country’s uprising in 2011. Within weeks of the uprising, Nasrallah himself called on all Syrians to stand by the regime. As reports emerged in May 2011 that Iran’s Qods Force was helping the Syrian regime crack down on anti-government demonstrators, Hezbollah denied playing “any military role in Arab countries.” But by the following month, Syrian protesters were heard chanting not only for Assad’s downfall, but also against Iran and Hezbollah. Video footage showed protesters burning posters of Nasrallah. According to a senior Syrian defense official who defected from the regime, Syrian security services were unable to handle the uprising on their own. “They didn’t have decent snipers or equipment,” he explained. “They needed qualified snipers from Hezbollah and Iran.” Over time, Hezbollah increasingly struggled to conceal its on-the-ground support of the Assad regime. In August 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Hezbollah, already on the Department’s terrorism list, this time for providing support to the Assad regime. Since the beginning of the rebellion, Treasury explained, Hezbollah had been providing “training, advice, and extensive logistical support to the Government of Syria’s increasingly ruthless efforts” against the opposition. Hezbollah’s “resistance” rhetoric notwithstanding, U.S. officials informed the UN Security Council in October 2012, “the truth is plain to see: Nasrallah’s fighters are now part of Assad’s killing machine.” Two months later, a UN report confirmed Hezbollah members were in Syria fighting on behalf of the Assad government.

In the Spring of 2013, Hezbollah took on a more public presence in the fight against the Syrian rebels when martyrdom notices for fallen Hezbollah fighters began to appear on the group’s official and unofficial websites, forums, and Facebook pages. Based on Hezbollah’s organization structure and disciplined messaging, it is likely these notices were sanctioned by the leadership in the organization despite the fact that they did not publicly admit to being involved in Syria until late May. Determining the number of fighters Hezbollah has sent to Syria is difficult to ascertain, but according to French intelligence sources its believed that 3,000-4,000 individuals have made the trip to assist the Assad regime. The numbers may be slightly higher according to other sources, in the range of 4,000-5,000 fighters on the ground in Syria at a time and rotating in and out of the country on thirty day deployments. Hezbollah has proven to be an invaluable fighting force for Iran and the Assad regime. Yet the losses have been heavy – Hezbollah has lost at least one thousand fighters in Syria, along with senior Hezbollah leader Mustafa Badreddine, reportedly killed in an explosion in Damascus in May 2016. Given Badreddine's role as head of the group's External Security Organization and its forces in Syria, his death represents Hezbollah's biggest loss since the 2008 assassination of former "chief of staff" Imad Mughniyah.

The impact of the Syrian war on Hezbollah has been nothing short of dramatic, shifting the group’s focus from battling Israel and contesting the political space within Lebanon to engaging in regional conflicts beyond the country’s borders. Hezbollah deployed a unit to Iraq to train Shi`a militants during the Iraq war, where it worked in close cooperation with Iran, but its deep commitment on the ground in the war in Syria underscores the group’s new, regional, pan-Shi`a focus. With the notable exception of Syria, Hezbollah’s regional reorientation is most obvious in its increased operational tempo in the Gulf.

In Yemen, a small number of Hezbollah operatives have been training Houthi rebels for some time, but in early 2016 the Gulf-backed Yemeni government claimed to have physical evidence of "Hezbollah training the Houthi rebels and fighting alongside them in attacks on Saudi Arabia's border."24 Three years earlier, the U.S. government revealed that Khalil Harb, a former special operations commander and a close adviser to Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, was overseeing Hezbollah's activities in Yemen. He has also traveled to Tehran to coordinate Hezbollah’s operations in Yemen with Iran.25 Former Hezbollah specials operations commander in southern Lebanon Abu Ali Tabtabai, who also spent time fighting in Syria, is likewise reported to have been sent to Yemen.26 Hezbollah has never been open about these deployments, but Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem did warn in April 2015 that Saudi Arabia would "incur very serious losses" and "pay a heavy price" as a result of its Yemen campaign.27

Beyond Yemen, Hezbollah’s support for terrorist groups in the Gulf region also continues unabated. In January, authorities in Bahrain arrested six members of a terrorist cell tied to Hezbollah and blamed for a July 2015 explosion outside of a girls’ school in Sitra.28 In August 2015, Kuwaiti authorities raided a terrorist cell of 26 Shi’a Kuwaitis. The cell was accused of amassing “a large amount of weapons, ammunition, and explosives.”29 After media outlets reported alleged links between the cell, Iran, and Hezbollah, the public prosecutor issued a media gag order on the investigation.30 In January 2016, a Kuwaiti court sentenced a Kuwaiti and an Iranian national to death for spying on behalf of Iran and Hezbollah.31 In June, a court in Abu Dhabi found the wife of a “prominent Emirati” guilty of spying for Hezbollah.32 The following month, a Kuwait court sentenced a Shi`a member of parliament in absentia for issuing statements deemed insulting to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and for calling on people to join Hezbollah.33

In 2013, a Hezbollah sleeper cell was discovered in the United Arab Emirates. According to court proceedings in April 2016, “the terrorist cell used sex and alcohol” to recruit a group of agents that provided “information about government, security, military and economic institutions as well as UAE’s arms deals with various countries to the Hezbollah agents.” The prosecution claimed that “two Emiratis, four Lebanese, and a Canadian-Egyptian woman” were blackmailed into participating in the spying scheme. The court case came shortly after the UAE convicted three Lebanese men with setting up a Hezbollah cell.34

Set against this aggressive activity in the Gulf, it was little surprise that in March 2016 the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group. Since then, the Gulf States have cracked down on Hezbollah supporters and financiers within their borders.35 The GCC designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization over the “hostile actions of the militia who recruit the young people (of the Gulf) for terrorist acts.”36 The Arab League and the OIC followed suit within weeks.37 This seemingly rapid series of condemnations was three years in the making, however. In June 2013, GCC countries came to the unanimous conclusion that Hezbollah was a terrorist group, and several member states began taking discrete actions against the group's supporters in their countries.38 In May 2014, Saudi authorities withdrew the business license of a Lebanese national linked to Hezbollah,39 and a GCC offer to engage Iran in dialogue if Tehran changed its policy on Syria fell on deaf ears.40 In January 2016, the Saudi government released a report on Iranian-sponsored terrorism that focused heavily on Hezbollah, spanning the group’s militant activities from the 1980s to the present.41

Hezbollah’s intensified involvement in the Gulf is a function of the sustained geopolitical and sectarian tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These tensions spiked in January when Saudi Arabia executed Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on charges of sedition and taking up arms against Saudi security forces. The sheikh’s death sparked outrage across the Shi’a world, and, in Iran, two Saudi diplomatic compounds were stormed in protest. Saudi Arabia sought condemnation of the attacks from the Arab League and the OIC, and both organizations responded accordingly. Lebanon, however, offered only “solidarity.” This perceived slight spurred Saudi Arabia to cut off monetary support to Lebanon and pull funds from Lebanese banks.42 Bahrain and the UAE fell in line with the Saudis, issuing travel warnings and travel bans, respectively, for Lebanon.43 A month after the execution and protests, Saudi Arabia blacklisted four companies and three Lebanese businessmen, citing their relationships to Hezbollah.44 The United States had designated these companies and individuals a year earlier, but the Saudi actions indicated a heightened focus on Hezbollah by the kingdom.45

Nasrallah has tried to justify Hezbollah’s overreach into proxy wars around the region by presenting the issue as one of Lebanese national security. In July 2016, Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, the deputy head of Hezbollah's Executive Council, derided Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism in Lebanon and throughout the region. The terrorists “who staged bombings in Beirut, Hermel and the Bekaa, and who abducted and slaughtered the (Lebanese) servicemen are al-Qaida's branch in Lebanon and Syria (Abdullah Azzam Brigades) and al-Nusra Front, and al-Nusra Front is today fighting with Saudi weapons,” Qaouq charged. Qaouq accused the Saudis of continuing to arm Jabhat al-Nusra “although it has murdered us, executed our servicemen and continued to occupy our land in the Bekaa,” noting that Saudi sponsorship of terrorism “poses a real threat to Lebanese national security.”46

In August 2015, Ahmed al-Mughassil, the military chief of Saudi Hezbollah, was apprehended in Beirut and deported to Saudi Arabia. Mughassil had allegedly lived in Lebanon for years under the protection of Hezbollah.47 The Farsi-speaking Mughassil may provide insight into the clandestine operations of Iran and its proxies around the region. In the current sectarian environment in the region, the circumstances of the arrest are themselves a source of intrigue. Just as Hezbollah-Saudi tensions are mounting, a Hezbollah operative who evaded capture for years was suddenly caught and deported to Saudi Arabia. 

Even more significant is what happened next door in Syria eight months later. Hezbollah was dealt a heavy blow in May with the loss of its most prominent military figure, Mustafa Badreddine. The assassination of Badreddine shocked Hezbollah; the group lost an especially qualified commander with a unique pedigree as the brother-in-law of Mughniyah and a confidante of Nasrallah. Yet most confounding to Hezbollah was that Israel, Hezbollah’s arch enemy, was not the assassin. Though Hezbollah outlets quickly pinned blame for the attack on Israel, Nasrallah soon took to the airwaves to personally announce that there was "no sign or proof leading us to the Israelis." Nasrallah quickly added that Hezbollah is "not afraid to blame Israel when necessary," but in this case, "our investigations led us to the [Sunni] terrorist groups."48

For some within Hezbollah, the Saudis will come up as likely players behind the scenes, possibly supporting the Sunni rebels Nasrallah says were behind the attack. Indeed, there would be historical precedent for this. The Saudis reportedly supported the Lebanese militants who targeted Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah in a failed assassination attempt in 1985.49 In fact, the United States has been fairly open about that fact that it has partnered with GCC countries and others to counter Hezbollah’s activities.50

Hezbollah’s pivot toward the Gulf should not be seen as a pivot away from Israel, however. To the contrary, Hezbollah sees a pernicious, budding alliance between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that is directly benefiting the Sunni takfiri militants it is fighting in Syria and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the region. And while Hezbollah is taking active measures to prepare for the next, eventual war with Israel, it is eager to avoid such a conflict at the present time given its significant investment of personnel and resources in the Syrian war next door and its desire not to give Israel a pretext to either enter that war on the side of the Sunni rebels or take advantage of Hezbollah’s deployment there to target the group’s military presence and rocket arsenal in south Lebanon. Moreover, Hezbollah has been trying to extend its reach into the Palestinian Territories. In August 2016, Israeli authorities detained several Hezbollah cells in the West Bank. The members, some of whom had been ordered to commit an imminent attack against IDF forces in the area, had been recruited online by Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.51

Yet Hezbollah’s international operations are not limited to its home region. In June 2015, the latest Hezbollah plot in Europe was thwarted in Cyprus, where Hussein Bassam Abdallah, a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, was found to have stockpiled 8.2 tons of ammonium nitrate, a popular chemical explosive. Abdallah was convicted by a Cyprus court for his participation in a terrorist group (Hezbollah), possessing explosives, and conspiracy to commit a crime. It was the second time in three years that a Cypriot court has sentenced a Hezbollah operative to prison for plotting an attack within the country. 52

According to Israeli investigators, Hezbollah was using Cyprus as a "point of export" from which to funnel explosives elsewhere for a series of attacks in Europe.53 Indeed, the plot was already in motion: investigators believe the explosives used in the 2012 Burgas bus bombing may have come from the batch of chemicals stored in Cyprus.

Not only did Hezbollah actively maintain an explosives stockpile in Cyprus, the group retained the operatives, infrastructure and reach to engage in operations across Europe. Over the course of time Abdallah maintained this explosives stockpile, Hezbollah remained active across Europe, from a 2012 bombing thwarted in Greece to the arrest and deportation of a Hezbollah operative in Denmark in 2013 who arrived on a commercial ship for purposes still unknown. Four months after the EU ban, in late 2013, two Lebanese passengers were caught at a Brussels airport with nearly 770,000 euros in their possession. At least some of this cash was suspected to be intended for Hezbollah's coffers, Europol reported. A few months later, Germany raided the offices of the Orphan Children Project Lebanon in Essen, accusing the group of serving as a Hezbollah fundraising front organization. Germany's domestic intelligence agency recently reported that Hezbollah maintains some 950 active operatives in the country.

Hezbollah weapons and technology procurement operations continue in Europe as well. In July 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted a Lebanese consumer electronics business, Stars Group Holding, along with its owners, subsidiaries, and "certain managers and individuals who support their illicit activities." Together, they functioned as a "key Hezbollah procurement network" that purchased technology around the world -- including in Europe -- to develop the drones Hezbollah deploys over Israel and Syria.54

After months of often acrimonious deliberations, senior European officials gathered in Brussels in July 2013 to announce that all 28 EU member states agreed to add Hezbollah's military wing – not the organization itself – to the EU's list of banned terrorist groups. At the time, European officials pointed to the blacklisting as a shot across the bow. "This is a signal to terrorist organizations," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned. "If you attack one of our European countries, you get an answer from all of them." Regardless, evidence reveals that Hezbollah's military wing is still plotting attacks across Europe, and that the EU’s words have not dissuaded the organization whatsoever.

The Treasury Department is moving more frequently to designate terrorists and targeting key individuals and companies facilitating Hezbollah's international misdeeds, with a focus on those with ties to the Islamic Jihad Organization, Hezbollah's terrorist arm.55 President Barack Obama signed legislation in December 2015 that aims to "thwart" the group's "network at every turn" by imposing sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Hezbollah or its al Manar television station.

The Treasury designations – which freeze assets and impose sanctions – kicked into high gear in June 2016, when the U.S. targeted a high-level operative, Adham Tabaja and his company, al-Inmaa Group. Treasury had already targeted Hezbollah's military procurement front organizations and some of the businesses that run them, such as Stars Group Holdings in Lebanon and foreign subsidiaries that supplied components for the unmanned aerial vehicles Hezbollah deploys over Syria and Israel. Treasury also targeted associates of Mr. Tabaja—one of whom, Husayn Ali Faour, is a member of Hezbollah's Islamic Jihad, whose company supplied vehicles—and other Hezbollah procurement agents and financiers.

October 2016 brought arrests of a lawyer in Paris and a businesswoman in Atlanta who, according to the criminal complaint, conspired to launder narcotics proceeds and engage in international arms trafficking. The businesswoman told an undercover agent that she had associates in Hezbollah who were seeking to purchase cocaine, weapons, and ammunition, the U.S. government has charged.56 The lawyer suggested that he could use his connections with Hezbollah to provide security to narcotics shipments.

Hezbollah’s dependence on money laundering and drug trafficking has continued and even expanded as its monetary situation has deteriorated, strained by tightened U.S. sanctions and the costly Syrian war effort. In February 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) implicated Hezbollah in a multi-million-dollar drug trafficking and money laundering network that spanned four continents.57 According to the DEA report, Hezbollah had relationships with South American drug cartels in a cocaine-smuggling network to Europe and the U.S. The proceeds funded a money-laundering scheme known as the Black Market Peso Exchange and provided Hezbollah with "a revenue and weapons stream." 58

Tensions over the AMIA bombing and the indictment of senior Iranian officials for their roles in the attack resulted in poor diplomatic relations between Argentina and Iran for many years. Then, in 2007, Argentine representatives suddenly ceased their years-long policy of walking out of UN meetings whenever an Iranian official spoke. Despite the standing Argentinean indictments of Iranian officials, Argentina and Iran agreed in 2011 to form a “truth commission” to jointly investigate the 1994 bombing. The merits of this “partnership” were questionable from the outset, but doubts were exacerbated with the mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015. Nisman, who presided over the ongoing AMIA investigation, had filed charges that the Argentine government, specifically then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, planned a cover-up of Iran and Hezbollah’s role in the AMIA bombing in exchange for a political deal between the government of Iran and Argentina.59 The day before he was due to present his case to the Argentine parliament, Nisman was found dead in his apartment. Despite his tragic and untimely demise, the work Nisman and his team had already conducted exposed not only the circumstances behind the AMIA attack, but Iran’s ongoing intelligence operations in South America.  

In May 2015, the man described by Argentinean authorities as the driving force behind the AMIA bombing, Mohsen Rabbani, told Argentinean TV that Nisman’s investigation was based on nothing more than “the inventions of newspapers without any proof against Iran.”60 In fact, however, the most powerful proof against Iran was evidence of Rabbani’s own role in the plot, from running a network of intelligence agents in Buenos Aires to purchasing the van used as the car bomb in the attack. Rabbani, moreover, remains active: according to Nisman’s more recent investigations, Iranian agents in Argentina acting at Rabbani’s behest and reporting directly back to him were conspiring to concoct fake ‘new evidence’ to supplant the real evidence collected in the case.61 A small victory came in December 2016, when an Argentine court reopened the case on former President Fernandez and her role in concealing Iranian responsibility in 1994.62 

One of the group’s most recently foiled plots was in Peru and involved a Hezbollah operative married to a U.S. citizen. Peruvian counterterrorism police arrested the Hezbollah operative in Lima in November 2014, the result of a surveillance operation that began several months earlier. In that case, Mohammed Hamdar, a Lebanese citizen, arrived in Peru in November 2013 and married a dual Peruvian-American citizen two weeks later. When he was arrested in October, police raided his home and found traces of TNT, detonators, and other inflammable substances. A search of the garbage outside his home found chemicals used to manufacture explosives.63

In the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Brazilian authorities arrested former Hezbollah member Fadi Hassan Nabha. According to police, Nabha served in Hezbollah's special services and had weapons and explosives training.64 September 2016 saw two more arrests of key Hezbollah operatives in the region: Khalil Mohamed El Sayed and Mohammed Jalil. El Sayed, a Lebanese naturalized Paraguayan, was arrested while trying to enter Argentina using counterfeit documents. The U.S. has investigated El Sayed for six years for his involvement in Hezbollah, and Brazil has accused El Sayed for involvement in drug and arm trafficking for over eight years. Jalil, also a Lebanese-Paraguayan attempting to enter Argentina on false papers, was arrested on similar charges, including affiliation with Hezbollah, drug and arms trafficking, along with credit card fraud. Jalil is wanted in the U.S., Brazil, and Paraguay.

In August 2016, Nasrallah expressed Hezbollah’s international ambitions in no uncertain terms. "If Hezbollah emerged from the 2006 war a regional force,” Nasrallah declared, “it will emerge from Syria crisis an international force."65 In light of both the scope and pace of its contemporary international operations, this confidence is not entirely unfounded.


[1] Rafid Fadhil Ali, “New Hezbollah Manifesto Emphasizes Political Role in a United Lebanon,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 7, iss. 38, December 15, 2009,[tt_news]=35830&tx_ttnews[backPid]=13&cHash=42a34967d2
[2] Nadim Ladki, “Lebanese Forces Pledge Crackdown; Force To Be Used to Quell Fighting That Has Killed 81,” Montreal Gazette, May 13, 2008.
[3] Israel Defense Forces, Strategic Division, Military-Strategic Information Section, “The Second Lebanon War: Three Years Later,” July 12, 2009,
[4] “Report: Mughniyeh’s brother-in-law suspect in Hariri killing,” Yediot Ahronot (Tel Aviv), July 7, 2010,,7340,L-3927186,00.html
[5] Laila Bassam, “Hezbollah and Allies Resign, Toppling Lebanon Government,” Reuters, January 12, 2011,
[6] “Hezbollah-Backed Najib Mikati Appointed Lebanese PM,” BBC, January 25, 2011,
[7] “Israelis Killed in Bulgaria Bus Terror Attack, Minister Says,” CNN, July 18, 2012,  
[8] “Israelis Killed in Bulgaria Bus Terror Attack, Minister Says,” CNN, July 18, 2012,
[9]Zachary Abuza, “Bad Neighbours: Hezbollah in Southeast Asia,” Australia/Israel Review, November 2006,
[10] Ely Karmon, “Fight on All Fronts: Hizballah, the War on Terror, and the War in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy Research Memorandum no. 45, December 2003,
[11] Abuza, “Bad Neighbours.”
[12] John T. Hanley, Kongdan Oh Hassig, and Caroline F. Ziemke, “Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Dynamics and Structures of Terrorist Threats in Southeast Asia, Held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,” Institute for Defense Analyses, September 2005.
[13] Ibid.; “Hizbollah Recruited Singaporeans: The Muslims Were Recruited Through religious Classes in Singapore to Aid a Plot to Blow Up US and Israeli Ships,” Straits Times (Singapore), June 9, 2002; “Indonesian Government Expect Escalation in Terrorist Bombings; Hizballah Ops Out of Singapore Also Noted,” Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily 20, no. 104 (2002).
[14] Maria A. Ressa, Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of Al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia (New York: Free Press, 2003); Hanley, Hassig and Ziemke, “Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Dynamics and Structures of Terrorist Threats in Southeast Asia, Held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.”
[15] Dudi Cohen, “Bangkok Threat: Terrorist’s Swedish Connection,” Yediot Ahronot (Tel Aviv), January 15, 2012,,7340,L-4175513,00.html; “Second Terror Suspect Sought, Court Issues Warrant for Atris’s Housemate,” Bangkok Post, January 20, 2012,
[16] James Hookway, “Thai Police Seize Materials, Charge Terror-Plot Suspect,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012,; Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria Bombing, Tracks of a Resurgent Iran-Hezbollah Threat,” Foreign Policy, July 30, 2012,
[17] Thomas Fuller, “In Twisting Terror Case, Thai Police Seize Chemicals,” New York Times, January 16, 2012,
[18] “U.N. Prosecutor Accuses Taylor of Al Qaeda Links; More,” United Nations Foundation UN Wire, May 15, 2003,
[19] Douglas Farah, “Hezbollah’s External Support Network in West Africa and Latin America,” International Assessment and Strategy Center, April 15, 2009,
[20] Matthew Levitt, “Hizbullah’s African Activities Remain Undisrupted,” RUSI/Jane’s Homeland Security and Resilience Monitor, March 1, 2004.
[21] Matthew Levitt, “Hezbollah Finances: Funding the Party of God,” in Jeanne K. Giraldo and Harold A. Trinkunas, eds.,Terrorism Financing and State Responses: a Comparative Perspective (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007).
[22] United States v. Mohamad Youssef Hammoud, et al., United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District; U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Twin Treasury Actions Take Aim at Hizballah’s Support Network,” July 24, 2007,
[23] Ibid.
[24] Angus McDowall, “Yemen government says Hezbollah fighting alongside Houthis,” Reuters, February 24, 2016,
[25] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Press Release: Treasury Sanctions Hizballah Leadership.”
[26] Itamar Sharon, “‘Six Iranians, including a general, killed in Israeli strike,’” Times of Israel, January 19, 2015, 
[27] Zeina Karam, “Hezbollah accuses Saudi Arabia of ‘genocide’ in Yemen,” Times of Israel, April 13, 2015,
[28] “Bahrain says it dismantled Iran-linked terror cell,” Agence France-Presse, January 6, 2016,
[29] U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2015,” June 2016, 
[30] Ibid.
[31] Yara Bayoumy, “Kuwait court sentences two to death for spying for Iran, Hezbollah,” Reuters, January 12, 2016,
[32] “UAE Jails Emirati Woman on Charges of Spying for Hezbollah,” Agence France-Presse, June 28, 2016, 
[33] “Kuwait jails Shiite MP for insulting Saudi, Bahrain,” Agence France-Presse, July 27, 2016,
[34] Abdulla Rasheed, “Iran set up Hezbollah cell in UAE, court hears,” Gulf News, April 18, 2016,
[35] “GCC declares Lebanon's Hezbollah a 'terrorist' group,” Al Jazeera (Doha), March 2, 2016, 
[36] Ibid.
[37] “Arab League labels Hezbollah a 'terrorist' group,” Al Jazeera (Doha), March 16, 2016,; “Islamic summit slams Hezbollah for ‘terrorism.’”
[38] Sultan Al-Tamimi, “GCC: Hezbollah terror group,” Arab News, June 3, 2016,
[39] Fahd Al-Zayabi, “Saudi Arabia launches financial sanctions on Hezbollah,” Al Sharq Al-Awsaat (London), May 29, 2014, 
[40] Al-Tamimi, “GCC: Hezbollah terror group.”
[41] Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, “Fact Sheet: Iran’s Record in Supporting Terrorism and Extremism,” January 20, 2016, 
[42] Anne Barnard, “Saudi Arabia Cuts Billions in Aid to Lebanon, Opening Door for Iran,” New York Times, March 2, 2016, 
[43] “Saudi and UAE ban citizens from travelling to Lebanon,” Al Jazeera (Doha), February 23, 2016, 
[44] Rania El Gamal and Sam Wilkins, “Saudi Arabia blacklists four firms, three Lebanese men over Hezbollah ties,” Reuters, February 26, 2016, 
[45] Ibid.
[46] “Concerned over its terror labeling Hezbollah urges Saudis to review decision,” YaLibnan, July 9, 2016,
[47] Matthew Levitt, “Anatomy of a Bombing,” Foreign Affairs, September 1, 2015,
[48] Matthew Levitt and Nadav Pollak, “Hizbullah Under Fire in Syria,” Tony Blair Faith Foundation, June 9, 2016, 
[49] Matthew Levitt, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2013), 27.
[50] At the release of the State Department’s annual terrorist report in June, a senior U.S. official highlighted these efforts. "Confronting Iran's destabilizing activities and its support for terrorism was a key element of our expanded dialogue with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, following the leaders' summit at Camp David in May of [2015]. We've also expanded our cooperation with partners in Europe, South America, and West Africa to develop and implement strategies to counter the activities of Iranian-allied and sponsored groups, such as Hezbollah." U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2015 Special Briefing with Justin Siberell, Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism,” June 2, 2016.
[51] “Hezbollah cells in West Bank busted by Israeli security forces,” Jerusalem Post, August 18, 2016.
[52] Detailed in Matthew Levitt, “Inside Hezbollah’s European Plots”; The Daily Beast, July 20, 2015,
[53] Gili Cohen and Reuters, “Cyprus Police Foil Planned Hezbollah Attacks Against Israeli Targets in Europe,” Haaretz, May 29, 2015,
[54] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Sanctions Procurement Agents Of Hizballah Front Company Based In Lebanon With Subsidiaries In The UAE And China,” July 10, 2014, 
[55] Detailed in Matthew Levitt, “The Crackdown on Hezbollah’s Financing Network,Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2016,
[56] United States Department of Justice, United States Attorney’s Office Eastern District of New York, Two Hezbollah Associates Arrested On Charges Of Conspiring To Launder Narcotics Proceeds And International Arms Trafficking,” October 9, 2015, 
[57] Detailed in Matthew Levitt, “Don’t Forget, or Deny, Hezbollah’s Brutal Crimes,” National Post, July 20, 2016,
[58] United States Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA and European Authorities Uncover Massive Hizballah Drug and Money Laundering Scheme,” February 1, 2016,
[59] Hugh Bronstein and Luc Cohen, “Argentine court revives bombing cover-up case against Fernandez,” Reuters, December 29, 2016,  
[60] Uki Goni, “Iran denies involvement in 1994 Argentinian Jewish centre bombing,” Guardian, May 19, 2015,  
[61] Alberto Nisman, “Nisman report (dictamina) on sleeper cells – Extended Summary,” March 4, 2015,
[62] Hugh Bronstein and Luc Cohen, “Argentine court revives bombing cover-up case against Fernandez,” Reuters, December 29, 2016,  
[63] Mitra Taj, “Lebanese Detainee in Peru Denies Hezbollah Link, Says Police Coerced Confession,” November 14, 2014, 
[64] “Brazil nabs former Hezbollah member wanted for drug trafficking,” Reuters, July 29, 2016,
[65] “S. Nasrallah: Hezbollah Will Emerge from Syria War as an International Force,” al-Manar, August 19, 2016,