This fact sheet is current as of April 2020.
Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim political party, militia, transnational terrorist and organised crime group. It has been designated, as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as Israel for committing regional and global terrorist attacks.
Australia only designates Hezbollah’s “External Security Organisation (ESO)” as a terrorist organisation, despite its closest allies agreeing that Hezbollah in its entirety poses a danger.
Hezbollah was established in the 1970s and the organisation grew following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Hezbollah was one of several linked organisations across the region around that time period – including in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Gulf States – supported by the clerical revolutionaries that would overthrow the Shah of Iran in 1979 and establish the first Islamic Republic.
During the Lebanese Civil war, Hezbollah evolved and expanded rapidly from what seemed like an umbrella group for multiple Shi’ite organisations, into a powerful, cohesive entity thanks to the leadership, support and funding received from Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
With its innovation of suicide bombings, Hezbollah helped to drive Israel, the United States and their allies out of Lebanon. Among Hezbollah’s most heinous crimes was a 1994 attack on a Jewish centre in Argentina that killed 85 people.
Thanks to the alliance between Iran and Syria – which helped control Lebanon directly from the official end of the civil war in 1989 until 2005, when it teamed up with Hezbollah to assassinate Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – Hezbollah came to attract significant support in Lebanon. Hezbollah entered the Lebanese Parliament and its militia is stronger than the Lebanese national armed forces.
Today, the Lebanese government is composed of Hezbollah and its allies, and while Lebanon is not an Islamic republic, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei holds sway over a significant group of Lebanese politicians.
Hezbollah also operates a vast social network in Lebanon, including schools, hospitals, mosques, and even its own youth wing, the Imam al-Mahdi scouts. These social activities have garnered it substantial support and legitimacy domestically and internationally since the 1980s.
Hezbollah operates as a civil, political and military organisation in Lebanon. Many analysts make a false distinction between Hezbollah’s military and political operations or “wings”, arguing that its social and political activities are separate from its militia.
Among other activities, Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to support the Syrian regime. Hezbollah also has an estimated 150,000 missiles pointed towards its sworn enemy Israel.
Several countries, including New Zealand and, until January 2020, the UK, only designated the military organisation or “wing” as a terrorist entity. Senior Hezbollah officials have mocked this distinction on multiple occasions for more than a decade.
In 2013, Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary delegation, declared that “The Hezbollah military wing is a lie invented by the Europeans because they feel a need to communicate with us and they want to make a delusional separation between the so-called military and political wings.”
In 2012, Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
Australia and Hezbollah
Australia designates as a proscribed terrorist organisation an entity it calls the Hezbollah External Security Organisation (ESO). This is a smaller entity than even the “military wing” that others, such as New Zealand, consider to be a terrorist actor.
At the moment, under Australia’s Criminal Code, it is illegal to support the Hezbollah External Security Organisation (ESO). According to the Australian Government, the ESO is a discrete wing of Hezbollah that sits within its military apparatus and organises terrorist attacks outside of Lebanon. The rest of Hezbollah can be legally supported by Australians, including sending money, or recruiting people to join the organisation. This stands in stark contrast to the approach to Sunni Muslim terrorist groups, like ISIS and Al–Qaeda, which are rightly outlawed in Australia.
In 2018, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security recommended that Australia upgrade its ban to the military wing of Hezbollah, which would at least bring Australia in line with New Zealand.
In February 2020, Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton responded to calls for Australia to list the entirety of Hezbollah on its terrorist list, saying that “there are other equities that we need to look at in the consideration of many of these matters.” Minister Dutton said he would take advice from security agencies as to Australia’s best interests and would review Australia’s approach.
Over the past 10 years, there has been evidence of Hezbollah’s activity in Australia. According to a 2010 report, Hezbollah operatives were active in both Sydney and Melbourne. The Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) also worries about Hezbollah in Australia undermining sanctions on Iran by shipping forbidden materials to it.
In 2019, there was an expose on the activities of the Al-Mabarrat Benevolent Society, one of many Hezbollah-linked charities in Australia.
Australians have allegedly been involved in Hezbollah terrorist attacks abroad. One of the suspected Hezbollah handlers for a 2012 Hezbollah attack in Bulgaria was Maliad Farah, an Australian passport holder.
Hezbollah and Israel
In Lebanon, Hezbollah has developed a massive stockpile of rockets and missiles, supported and provided by Iran, in order to threaten Israel. Hezbollah’s stockpile of increasingly sophisticated missiles is of major concern to Israel’s defence establishment.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been stationed on the border between Lebanon and Israel since March 1978, and its mandate has been renewed in multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions since then.
Following the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, which Hezbollah started by kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers along the border, the United Nations passed Resolution 1701 to enforce a ceasefire. The resolution envisioned the “establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL” and “full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that…there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State.”
UNIFIL was meant to work with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to enforce these provisions but has failed to fulfill this mandate.
Hezbollah not only retains a parallel military far more powerful than the Lebanese military, but now has a missile arsenal orders of magnitude larger and more deadly than it did in 2006, when UNIFIL was meant to help the LAF enforce disarmament.
Furthermore, Hezbollah controls the border and even conducts tours of the areas it was supposed to vacate, fully armed, accompanied or watched by the LAF and UNIFIL. There is evidence that Hezbollah often attacks and harrasses UNIFIL patrols.
Going even further, then-Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserted in October 2017, “The Lebanese army has turned into an integral part of Hezbollah’s command structure. The Lebanese army has lost its independence and become an inseparable part of the Hezbollah apparatus.”
Hezbollah also spent years digging multiple tunnels into Israel right under UNIFIL’s feet, directly from its designated area of control. In December 2018, Israel launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy all the tunnels.
Hezbollah’s global activities
Hezbollah has engaged in a series of devastating terrorist attacks across the world since the 1980s, and while it seems to have abandoned suicide bombing, it continues to plan large attacks worldwide.
Hezbollah is also considered among the most, if not the most, sophisticated transnational crime syndicates in the world, engaging in every possible type and level of criminal activity to raise funds and network with other cartels and narco-terrorists. The phenomenon became so alarming that the US Drug Enforcement Administration launched ‘Operation Cassandra’ in 2008 to track and combat its criminal activities, and in 2018 the US Justice Department established the Hezbollah Finance and Narcoterrorism Team.