Hezbollah was established in 1982 as an Islamic organization shaped according to the ideological model of the Islamic Republic in Iran. In practice, the organization advocated three main principles: loyalty to the principle of the guardianship of the jurist, a commitment to the establishment of an Islamic regime in Lebanon, and a jihadist war against the enemies of Islam—the West and Israel. A few years after it was established, the organization underwent a process of “Lebanonization,” which has intensified since the 1990s. This transformation comes in parallel with the discourse emphasizing the defensive role of the organization. The Lebanonization process does not dilute or moderate the organization’s conception of Israel, which means the conflict with Israel has been and remains a doomsday war. The military empowerment since the IDF’s withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 does not correspond with the discourse of defending Lebanon. It indicates that Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting against the IDF since October 8 does not pay lip service but instead emphasizes an absolute commitment to what is perceived as a deterministic conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah’s military organization currently enjoys unchallenged military superiority, as demonstrated during May 2008 when Hezbollah together with Amal took control of Beirut and attacked Druze villages in Mt. Lebanon. Following these events, the Lebanese government decided to dismantle Hezbollah’s communication network and dismiss the security officer of the Beirut airport, who was considered close to Hezbollah. It was the most serious internal conflict that Lebanon has known since the end of the civil war in Lebanon in 1989. Furthermore, it was the first time that Hezbollah had directed its military forces against other Lebanese communities.

The blitz by Hezbollah was followed by the Doha Agreement, under which the opposition, led by Hezbollah, was given veto power over government decisions. The agreement referred to the election of a new president and the amendment of the election law, but the important clause referred to the formation of the government. According to the agreement, Hezbollah and its allies would receive a little more than one-third of the ministers. Hezbollah and its allies received 11 ministries, the president was given three, while the coalition was given 16 ministries. Accordingly, it was stipulated that all important decisions by the government should be made by a two-thirds majority; that is, Hezbollah and its allies were given the right to veto any decision of the government. Since then, a precedent has been set that Hezbollah and its allies have what is known as “one-third blocking minority.”

Two years earlier, Hezbollah had proved to be an outstanding military force, one that was able to withstand the onslaught of the Israeli military machine and lob missiles well into Northern Israel incessantly for more than five weeks of fighting. In the 1990s, Hezbollah was the only militia that was not disarmed following the end of the second civil war in 1989. Hezbollah used the struggle against Israel’s occupation of part of Southern Lebanon to justify its exceptional violation of the state’s sovereignty. The new circumstances created by the hasty Israeli withdrawal in May 2000 led Hezbollah to modify its mission to include liberating the Sheba Farms and providing Lebanon with deterrent power in the face of the “Israeli aggression.”[1] Furthermore, Hezbollah is not willing to give up its weapons or integrate into the Lebanese army regardless of circumstances and costs. Moreover, Hezbollah has constantly elaborated its political and ideological discourse, to justify the continued possession of weapons outside of the state’s authority. Still, it also constitutes the culmination of the militarization process of the Shiite community.


The Militarization of the Shiite Community in Lebanon

This process has been inherently related to both Lebanon’s entanglement in the Arab–Israeli conflict and Israel’s policy toward Lebanon since the late 1960s. Since that time, the Shiite population in Lebanon has been the most vulnerable group affected by the escalation of the conflict. This is reflected by the names adopted by the Shiite military organizations. “Amal” is an acronym for “Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyya” (Battalions of the Lebanese Resistance), while Hezbollah’s military arm is called “al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya fi Lubnan” (the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon). Although this militarization cannot be divorced from the social-political crisis that engulfed Lebanon before the second civil war (1975–1989), the precursors of this process should be examined.

Both the military persistence of the PLO in Southern Lebanon and the increasing Israeli reprisals exposed the Shiite civilians in this area to greater risk to person and property. Against this background and considering the chronic weakness and inferiority of the Lebanese army, Imam Musa al-Sadr established the Amal militia three months after the outburst of the second civil war. Claiming that the new militia was created to defend the southern Shiites against Israeli attacks, in reality, Amal provided the Shiite community with its own armed force to counter the hegemony of the Palestinians and its leftist rivals in the South.[2]

Although the founding of Amal was an essential step in the militarization of the Shiite community, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 was undoubtedly the most crucial development in this regard. In 1982, many Shiites welcomed the Israeli army, seeing its arrival as signaling an end to PLO domination in the South. However, the unlimited support that the Israelis provided to the Phalangist government (whose militias eradicated the Shiite suburbs in East Beirut) and the prolongation of the military occupation turned the Shiites against the “new liberators.”

The revolutionary Iranian regime should also be mentioned here as an essential agent in mobilizing the Shiites against Israel, which, ironically, by invading Lebanon, created a breeding ground for the establishment of Hezbollah. Hezbollah could arguably be considered a demonstrative effect of the Islamic revolution. Moreover, new studies show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the revolutionary regime was crucially involved in all developments leading up to the creation of Hezbollah’s organizational structure and in shaping its ideology.[3]

The strengthening of the Shiite military force in Lebanon is due not only to Hezbollah’s military capabilities but also to the growth of the Shiite presence within the Lebanese Army, both in the command and rank-and-file levels. The 15.3 percent of Shiite officers in the Lebanese army before the second civil war almost doubled to 26.8 percent during the first decade following the Taif Agreement in 1989, which ended the civil war. Following the war, the ethnic constitution of the Lebanese Army reflected the social and political changes Lebanon had undergone since 1943.[4] Furthermore, Shiites constitute the largest communal group in the rank-and-file, composing between 35 and 40 percent of the regular force.[5]


The Resistance is Not Only a Slogan!

The struggle against Israel is anchored in Hezbollah’s ideological and intellectual being from its very beginning. It is widely known that the organization was established by the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its establishment might be considered the only successful case of exporting the revolution, an idea that the Islamic revolution in Iran initially maintained. However, many seem to ignore the fact that the establishment of Hezbollah would not have been possible had it not been for Baathist Syria, under Hafez al-Asad, which allowed Iran to operate in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Syria enabled this as part of the “proxies’ strategy” that it adopted after Israel’s Operation “Peace for Galilee” in 1982, with the explicit aim of exhausting the Israeli forces and bringing about their withdrawal from Lebanon. Iranian patronage has always been a pillar of strength for Hezbollah. Nonetheless, the most significant patronage was that of Syria, which extended its protection to the organization and guaranteed its continued existence as a military organization within the framework of the Taif Agreement, and through which the supply of weapons to Hezbollah continued for decades.[6]

Simultaneously Hezbollah has undergone a controlled process of Lebanonization in practice, supported by the well-known Shiite scholar Shaykh Muḥammad Husayn Faḍlallah. The process of Lebanonization was reflected in three main tiers. The first was the demarcation of the armed struggle within Lebanon’s geography, aimed especially against the IDF’s continued presence in Southern Lebanon. The second was the establishment of an extensive civilian arm that focused on providing for the civilian needs of the Shiite community in Lebanon. The third was the process of politicization, reflected by Hezbollah’s establishing of a political branch and even integrating into Lebanon’s parliamentary system.[7] Lebanonization, however, did not cause Hezbollah to forget its dual mission, anchored in its Islamist political and religious worldview: the establishment of an Islamist regime according to the model of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the continuation of the armed struggle against Israel.[8]

Adherence to the Islamist ideology, which in this case is distinctly anti-establishment, means striving to replace the sectarian regime with an Islamist one and the continued possession of weapons and the armed struggle against Israel. Hezbollah made sure to present the IDF’s unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon as a military achievement of the “Islamic resistance in Lebanon” and not as the result of internal considerations by Israeli society. Until the IDF’s withdrawal, Hezbollah’s military existence was in the name of liberating the occupied homeland; afterwards, the organization began to emphasize the doctrine of the defense of the homeland against “Israeli aggression,” with the organization’s military power aiming to create a balance of terror between it and Israel. As a result, Hezbollah emphasized a political-national discourse that placed its military existence at the center of the Lebanese national consensus. Although this discourse could be summed up in three words—people, army, and resistance—it reflected the deepening of Hezbollah’s Lebanonization trend and its genuine attempt to locate itself at the heart of the Lebanese national consensus under the pretense that its weapons were intended solely for defending the Lebanese homeland.

Since May 2000, the doctrine of the defense of the Lebanese homeland has become the main agenda among Hezbollah and its supporters. The adoption of this doctrine has coincided with a political reorganization and increased integration within Lebanon’s political and public space. This trend is reflected in political alliances with Lebanese political parties and movements, especially among the Maronite Christians, and the publication of a second political-constitutive document in 2009, which, for the first time, announced Hezbollah’s renunciation of its mission to establish an Islamist regime in Lebanon.[9]

As both a military organization and a political movement, Hezbollah represents a totalitarian ideological-religious movement. The Lebanonization process that the organization has undergone since the 1980s does not contradict the organization’s two overarching goals: the establishment of an Islamist regime in Lebanon and the continuation of an endless struggle against Israel. Giving up the movement’s overarching goals means erasing its ideology; that is, erasing the existential essence of Hezbollah itself as a totalitarian movement. Therefore, the pragmatism that characterizes the organization, both in renouncing the establishment of an Islamist regime and in defining the mission of the organization’s formidable arsenal of weapons as defensive, is part of a sophisticated, pragmatic move that aims first and foremost to neutralize internal opponents, who fear a theocracy, and to justify the continued possession of weapons outside the state’s authority. This strategy of balances, which has characterized Hezbollah since the end of the second civil war, does indeed express a process of pragmatization. Still, at the same time, it is a powerful statement of the movement’s adherence to its goals. The balance between maintaining the existence of the Lebanese state and continuing to possess weapons is a pragmatic formula that produces chronic crisis but does not express a renunciation of the struggle against Israel. In the same manner, the omission of the demand for the establishment of an Islamist regime in no way expresses a renunciation of the Islamist ideology of Hezbollah since such a move contradicts everything in its soul.

A day after Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, 2023, Hezbollah joined the war. Hezbollah’s joining the war, even at a local scale, without any provocation on Israel’s part, puts the doctrine of homeland defense into question. More importantly, it has been precisely the limited participation in fighting against Israel that indicated that Hezbollah remained faithful to its worldview and the indoctrination that has accompanied it for four decades, suggesting that the amending a founding document or taking a political-pragmatic discourse does not necessarily reflect moderation or a fundamental change. Indeed, Hezbollah’s joining the fighting now shows its adherence to the ideology of the struggle against Israel. On November 3, 2023, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Hasan Nasrallah, in his first speech after the Black Sabbath said that the time was not ripe for an all-out confrontation, but he is convinced that it will come. It is highly doubtful that the arsenal of weapons the organization built up in the last two decades is intended solely for defensive purposes. Adapting the discourse to the needs of the time and circumstances should not make the observer lose sight of the centrality of Hezbollah’s ideological totalitarianism, or more precisely, a formal amendment does not necessarily reflect an inherent change.[10]

The discourse of the “spider crucible” is not a pattern of psychological warfare but instead reflects an internal conviction among Hezbollah regarding its ability to deliver a crushing blow to Israel. Following the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the images of Afghan citizens being crushed under the wheels of evacuating airplanes, Nasrallah assured the audience of his supporters that these scenes would be repeated at Ben Gurion Airport. In a speech following the assassination of Hamas leader, Salih al-Aruri, Nasrallah repeated the same promise that “the day will come when you will see the Israelis carrying their suitcases, while they are praying for their lives and leaving through airports, ports and borders crossing points.”[11] Hezbollah is preparing for the Doomsday battle, which will come.[12] The limited involvement now only proves how much Nasrallah sticks to fulfilling his messianic mission to inflict a decisive defeat on Israel. Lebanonization should not pretend a false screen of moderation that does not exist at all. Instead of seeking illusive interpretations of Lebanonization, Israel should focus on Hezbollah’s total obsession with military power.[13]



The political developments in Lebanon since 2008 evince both the Shiite community’s status as the center of Lebanese political gravity and Hezbollah’s political hegemony. Every post-2008 Lebanese government has been subject to the dictates of Hezbollah—whose power has been fed by the Shiite influence that has dominated the country since the 1960s, and whose first official manifestation was the Doha Agreement.

Hezbollah is not in a hurry to take over the Lebanese state, but this does not mean that Hezbollah as an Islamist movement does not want to gain power. The avoidance at this stage of the movement’s takeover of the Lebanese state stems from three pragmatic and utilitarian considerations. First, the takeover of the country by force could violate the fabric of communal life and the foundations of a consociational democracy, on which the Lebanese political system is founded, and even cause Lebanon to descend into another civil war, the last development that Hezbollah wishes for. Second, the takeover of the country would force Hezbollah to face the challenge of managing an economically and functionally failed country, which does not align with the movement’s scale of priorities. Thirdly, a takeover by Hezbollah, which is defined as a terrorist organization in the West, would expose Lebanon to international sanctions and deepen the prevailing crisis in Lebanon. In light of this, Hezbollah is satisfied at this stage with the strategy of “controlling access to political power.” Still, Hezbollah has not abandoned its ideology of Islamization and resistance against Israel.


[1] For an in-depth discussion of the historical roots of the dispute over the Sheba Farms, see Asher Kaufman, “Who Owns the Shebaa Farms? Chronicle of a Territorial Dispute,” Middle East Journal 56, no. 4 (Autumn 2002): 576–595.

[2] Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), 168–169; Augustus Richard Norton, Amal and the Shi‘a: Struggle for the Soul of Lebanon (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), 47–48.

[3] Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 19, 24–26; H.E. Chehabi, “Iran and Lebanon in the Revolutionary Decade,” in Distant Relations: Iran and Lebanon in the Last 500 Years, ed. By H.E. Chebahi (New York: IB Tauris, 2007), 209–220. Chehabi analyzes these circumstances at length using primary sources for the first time.

[4] Ibid., 91.

[5] Dani Berkovich, “The Main Change Agent Facing Hezbollah: The Role of the LAF,” Strategic Assessment 9, no. 3 (2006): 29 (Hebrew).

[6] Fayez Qazzi, From Hassan Nasrallah to Michel Aoun: A Political Reading of Hezbollah (Beirut: Riad El-Rayyes Books, 2009), 58–59 (Arabic).

[7] Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 95–112.

[8] Hamzeh, In the Path of Hizbullah, 27–43.

[9] Abed Kanaaneh, Hezbollah in Lebanon (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2021), 146–151 (Hebrew).

[10] See the full speech of Hasan Nasrallah given on November 3, 2023:


[11] See the full speech by Nasrallah, on January 3th, 2024: https://bit.ly/3HgxYLQ.

[12] Bashir Saade, “Ḥasan Naṣrallāh’s ‘Āsūrā’ Speeches: The Thin Line between Ethics and Identity,” Die Welt Des Islam 59, no. 3/4 (2019): 404.

[13]See Nasrallah’s speech three years ago on al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day: