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Hezbollah as Perpetrator of Terrorism and Organized Crime
“Hezbollah as Perpetrator of Terrorism and Organized Crime”
Religious and political groups in Arab countries are always intertwined with terrorism and organized crime, because of their activities and anti-West sentiment. Hezbollah is one of the Islamist groups linked to terrorist activities and organized crimes. Emerging as a resistant group, Hezbollah was now regarded by many countries as “dangerous” terrorist group. This paper traces the brief history of Hezbollah and how it became a perpetrator of terrorism and organized crime throughout the ages.
Brief History of Hezbollah
Hezbollah was believed to be established in 1982 after the “Operation Peace for Galilee” was ratified by the government of Israel. This launched operation had 5 national security objectives: 1. eradicate the threat of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the northern border of Israel; 2. annihilate the infrastructures of PLO found in Lebanon; 3. eliminate the presence of Syrian military at Bekaa Valley. Further, to reduce the influence of this Syrian military in Lebanon; 4. Establish a stable government in Lebanon; and 5. Strengthen the position of Israel in West Bank (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 3).
This attempt of the Israel government to bring national security was not favored by all, especially the Shiite heads based in Lebanon. As a matter of fact, some of the leaders “favored and advocated for a militant response and supporting and Iran-like Islamic Republic in Lebanon” (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 3). Thus, they formed Hezbollah and left one of the most relevant Muslim militias, the Amal movement, in Lebanon. It can be implied, therefore, that the attempt of Israel to occupy the southern part of Lebanon led to the establishment of Hezbollah. The ideological foundation of the party was adopted from the Islamic revolution that happened in Iran, spearheaded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 3). It is not astonishing therefore to see that Iran-based guard corps continued to fund the advocacies of Hezbollah. Due to the fact that Syria wanted to maintain their allegiance with Iran, the former also supported Hezbollah.
Hezbollah: From Resistant to Political Group
Hezbollah, translated as “Party of God”, is a “Shiite Islamist militia, political party, social welfare organization, and US State Department-designated terrorist organization” (Addis & Blanchard, 2011, p. 1). Its main component, “the resistance”, served as the armed element of the group. The resistance receives constant help from countries of Syria and Iran and possesses unconventional warfare and significant paramilitary capabilities, which exceed the police and armed forces of the Lebanon government.
Hezbollah was an Iranian-backed militia when it was established in 1980s. After one decade, it evolved to a resistance group or nationalist insurgency before it became a “mainstream political party” we know today (Badran, 2009, p. 52). It was also during the 1990s that Hezbollah earned its “Lebanonization status” – “a process of integrating into the Lebanese parliamentary democracy and political process, by adopting the policy of infitah or openness” (Badran, 2009, p. 52).
Initially, Hezbollah emerged as a secret organization (1982-1985). However, in February 1985, the group organized a press conference in Beirut, where their “Open Letter” was read by Amin al-Sayyid – the group’s spokesman. This was the first public appearance of Hezbollah after three years (Lamloum, 2009, p. 353). Hezbollah embraces two objectives: first is to liberate Jerusalem due to their strong belief that this should be an exclusive land for Palestine. Thus, Israel should be destroyed. The second objective of Hezbollah is to form “an Islamic government in Lebanon using the Iranian regime as its model” (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 4). Hezbollah adopted the slogan used by Iran, “Neither East nor West” to indicate that their theocratic worldview rejects the influence of superpower intervention, including the Soviet Union and United States.
Hezbollah attained its popularity when it became the first ever Arab force able to beat the powerful military of Israel in 2000 (Talbot & Harriman, 2008, p. 29). Israel left the southern Lebanon after 22 years. Fifteen years after Israel’s withdrawal to the country, Hezbollah became Lebanon’s liability. The political organization now affects the internal stability of the country, while it allows the intervention of Iran and Syria in Lebanon. Further, Hezbollah became the reason why Lebanon delays its peace pact with Israel, thus complicating the Israel-Palestine conflict (Talbot & Harriman, 2008, p. 29).
Another shocking move that Hezbollah made is their intervention in the country of Syria. This is contrary to the initial statement made by one of the senior officials of Hezbollah in 2012, “We did not, and we will not fight in Syria” (Middle East Report, 2014, p. 1). However, as Bashar Assad assumed his role being the Syrian president, Hezbollah pledged its loyalty to the country by all means. The rising political conflict that happened in 2013-2014 can be accounted to Hezbollah’s involvement in the country of Syria (Sullivan, 2014, p. 4). Syria does not only provide material and financial support but also weapon storage and training camps for Hezbollah.
Linking Terrorism and Organized Crime
Terrorism remains a top problem not only in the United States but also in different parts of the world because of the massive destruction it brings. Sandler (2005) defines terrorism as “premeditated use or threat of use of violence by individuals or subnational groups to obtain a political or social objective through intimidation of a large audience beyond that of the immediate victims” (p.75). There are two types of terrorism – domestic and transnational. Domestic terrorism happens when “a host country affair where its citizens resort to terrorist attacks on other citizens or their property with the intention of furthering a domestic political or social agenda through violence and intimidation.” On the other hand, transnational terrorism involves victims of more than one country. The case of 9/11 attack can be considered as transnational terrorism since the effects include global consequences such as security concerns all over the world and financial impact.
On the other hand, FBI defines organized crime as “any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.” Organized crimes vary in terms of its structures. There are those composed of few members and there are those which are composed of large quantity. Scholars believed that organized crimes’ activities are geared toward generating profits.
There are certain problems that may arise in an attempt to trace the linkage between terrorism and organized crime. First, both terrorism and organized crime, as a concept, have been subjects to different interpretations making it more difficult to establish relationship. Also, the structure of terrorism being a fluid and dynamic group makes it a phenomenon with no clear cut (Terrorism and Crime: Linkages and Law Enforcement Issues, p. 131). One distinct difference between terrorism and organized crime is in line with their objectives and motivation. Apparently, terrorism is primarily driven by politics and ideology while organized crime is money-driven. Although both groups may differ in terms of their goals and objectives, they converged with their means to achieve these goals – and that is through engaging in illegal activities.
Hezbollah as Perpetrator of Terrorism and Organized Crimes
After 9-11 attack, terrorism has been declared as one of the most dangerous “enemy” of the government for causing mass casualties. Some scholars believed that terrorism is a product of civilization conflict between the Muslim and the West. This is because the United States has always been the target of the terrorist groups like the Hezbollah; the latter claiming that terrorism is a manifestation of what they call “jihad” or holy war. Thus, Middle East is perceived to be the nest of all radical terrorist groups.
The 9/11 attack is perceived to be the most destructive and widest attacks by the terrorist group in the United States. This also justifies the United States to continue its foreign policies in the region. Gerges (2005) believed that US had committed a “catastrophic analytic failure” and that the foreign policies it has toward Middle East is a reflection of its failure to address the problem. This only showed that while US continued its effort to fight against terrorism, the more the terrorist groups (like Hezbollah) become more radical. The US presence in the Middle East only justifies the on-going spread of terrorism which causes casualties.
According to Mendoz & Lewin (2013), it is great misnomer to regard that the terroristic activities of Hezbollah are “limited to its war against Israel” (p. 8). As a matter of fact, from 1983 to present, the group was responsible for killing 58 peace-keepers from France. Further, the United States perceived the Hezbollah as the responsible group in series of terrorist attacks and kidnappings in Israel, Europe, and US since1980s (Addis & Blanchard, 2011, p. 1).
In October 1997, the United States regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist group. In March 2001, “the British government adds Hezbollah’s military wing to its list of proscribed terrorist organizations” (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 15). On December 11, 2002, Canada also perceived it as a terrorist group. On June 5, 2003, Australia became the next country that regarded the military wing of Hezbollah as terrorists.
Treverton, et.al. (2009) believed that organized crime can be compared with the business enterprises except that the former’s goods and products as well as means of selling these were all illegal. What makes a crime “organized crime” is the involvement of networks, coalitions, alliances and the inevitable confluence with technology. This is evidently seen in Hezbollah. One of the most remarkable tools that Hezbollah used to make themselves visible to the public is the use of “terrestrial and satellite television channels, radio, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, production companies, internet sites, not to mention theatre companies, musical ensembles and representational iconography” (Lamloum, 2009, p. 353).
Fund of Hezbollah: Where does it All Come from?
Hezbollah is funded by different organizations, supporters, and even criminal enterprises (Mendoz & Lewin, 2013, p. 5). Perhaps, the reason why the group is often linked with organized crimes. Syria gives $200 million yearly while Syria provides military assistance to the group. Hezbollah engaged itself to different money-making activities, such as counterfeiting. With the advent of technology, counterfeiting becomes easier and more accessible to criminals. Counterfeiting includes the activities of “duplicating of labels, packaging, documentation, authentication of devices and or symbols, marks and logos with such speed, accuracy and relative anonymity” (Treverton, 2009, p. 3). This clearly explains why most criminals, including Hezbollah, resort to this kind of crime; it is a victimless crime, so to speak. One established reason why counterfeiting crime has been linked to terrorism is that this has been perceived as a way for terrorist groups to fund its activities. In an instance, research claimed that the terrorist attack in the World Trade Center in the 1990s was said to be a financed by crime involving counterfeit t-shirts (Treverton, 2009, p. 5). Counterfeiting is one of the most common ways to fund an activity, doubtless this is widely visible.
In Northern Ireland, for instance, the piracy was strategic in the sense that groups on both sides that had engaged in terrorism used piracy to fund their activities and ultimately became, in effect, criminal organizations. In the tri-border area of South America, where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet, criminal sympathizers of Hezbollah were intricately involved in funneling the proceeds of counterfeiting to Hezbollah to fund its activities (Treverton, 2009, pp. 23-24).
Another source of income of Hezbollah is drug-trafficking. Drug trafficking is said to be the most important source of income for both organized crimes and terrorism. There is also an account which shows terrorist group engaging into crimes
Hezbollah emerged as a resistant group before it assumed its role as political party hitherto. Aside from this, Hezbollah was linked to terrorism and organized crime because it engaged in series of illegal activities. Terrorism by its very definition and nature is always intertwined with organized crime groups. Aside from the fact that both concepts entail “criminal activities” or illegal activities, it was proven that blurring the line between terrorist groups and organized crime groups (OCGs) is almost impossible. Hezbollah contacts OCGs, and vice versa simply because they have one common enemy – and that is the law. Inarguably, terrorism and OCGs are seen as political crimes. Thus, it is not astonishing to observe that more and more countries regard Hezbollah as a terrorist group responsible for killing, bombing, drug trafficking, and counterfeiting.
When one talks about terrorism, it is no longer limited to political-related but also crime-related activities. Lastly, one can also see the linkage between terrorism and organized crime groups through their method of operating “outside the law.” This shows that terrorism works also as a technique. Organized crime groups and terrorist groups like Hezbollah are always perceived to be enemies of the government. They deemed that in order to successfully carry out their activities they must to operate outside the law of the government.
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Badran, T. (2009). Hezbollah’s Agenda in Lebanon. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 8: 52-67.
Gerges, F. (2005). The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global?. NY: Cambridge University Press.
Mendoz, A. & Lewin, D. (2013). Timeline of Terror: A Concise History of Hezbollah Atrocities. The Henry Jackson Society.
Middle East Report (2014). Lebanon’s Hizbollah Turns Eastward to Syria. Belgium: International Crisis Group.
Lamloum, O. (2009). Hezbollah’s Media: Political History in Outline. Global Media and Communication 5 (3): 353-367.
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Treverton, G. et.al. (2009). Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism. RAND Corporation.
_______. Terrorism and Crime: Linkages and Law Enforcement Issues.
_______. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Organized Crim

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