Israel's Islamist Enemies

Two avowedly Islamist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, are warring with Israel. Who are they, and what are their goals?

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Hezbollah, or the “party of God,” based in Lebanon, is an umbrella organization of radical Shiite groups. It was founded by Muslim clerics in 1982 after Israel invaded southern Lebanon. Its spiritual leader is Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, and its senior political leader is Hassan Nazrallah, who has held the title of secretary general since 1992. Its military arm is known as Islamic Resistance.

Hezbollah gained popular support by providing social services such as hospitals and schools for Lebanese Shiites. Like Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah was able to step into the power breach created by Lebanon’s weak government. Also like Hamas, Hezbollah has pursued a political and religious agenda that centers on the destruction of Israel and opposition to the United States and has been carried out through terrorism against Israeli and Western targets.

Hezbollah is credited with the kidnapping of Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s. And the group repeatedly has used suicide bombings as well as missiles and other weaponry against Israel. In 1983, Islamist militants who later became part of Hezbollah attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines.

U.S. and Israeli officials say that Hezbollah gets financial, political, and material support in the form of weapons and training, from Islamist Iran and secular Syria. Syria admits supporting Hezbollah, but denies arming the group.

What are Hezbollah’s beliefs and goals?

Hezbollah’s original rallying cry was to drive the Israeli military out of southern Lebanon. Thus, it was as much defined by what it opposes—Zionism and Israel—as by what it believes. Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in 2000, but Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel have continued.

Like Hamas, Hezbollah’s official rhetoric calls for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamist Palestinian government.

In Lebanon, the organization’s religious goals are less clear. Initially, the group sought to replace Lebanon’s secular government with an Iranian-style Islamic government. But Hezbollah spokesmen now deny this is an objective.

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