Founded in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has managed to grow exponentially and consolidate power. It now controls large swaths of territory in Lebanon and has become the largest and most powerful military force in Lebanon, even eclipsing the regular Lebanese Army. Since its inception, Hezbollah has become a multifaceted organization, simultaneously functioning as a political party, a social welfare movement, an international terror group, and an international criminal enterprise.
Although it portrays itself as a political party, a charitable organization, and a legitimate representation of the Lebanese Shiite community, Hezbollah is responsible for many deadly terrorist attacks, laundering billions of dollars, and the smuggling of drugs and illegal arms all over the world. Hezbollah’s allegiances are to Iran, where most of its funding comes from.
Consequently, Hezbollah is more of an Iranian proxy than a Lebanese organization, having involved itself deeply in the Syrian civil war and occasionally launching attacks against Israel, Iran’s nemesis.
While it relies on terrorism as well as other illegal activities, Hezbollah works hard to portray itself as a legitimate political party within the sovereign state of Lebanon. In some cases, it has succeeded. Hezbollah successfully fabricated the myth of separate “wings” in the organization, leading many countries to designate only Hezbollah’s military “wing” as a terror group, while excluding the political “wing.”
Interestingly enough, Hezbollah itself denies this myth quite often, as ranking officials in the terrorist group have said repeatedly that this distinction is a Western invention.
The consequences of this failure to truly understand how Hezbollah operates are grave and enormous. Hezbollah is heavily involved in the global drug trade, diamond smuggling, money laundering and human trafficking across Europe, Africa, and South America. Allowing Hezbollah’s members that are not affiliated with the military “wing” of the organization to roam freely across the world increases the terror group’s global footprint and allows it to maintain and increase its sources of funding with near impunity.
Furthermore, Hezbollah smuggles drugs and weapons into all countries it operates in, causing an uptick in local crime and drug abuse. Governments that insist on upholding the fabricated perception that Hezbollah has two separate “wings” ultimately fail to protect their citizens.
Hezbollah is an Iranian protégé, acting under the auspices of the Islamic Republic and its supreme leader and government, and has close ties to Syria’s Assad regime. Iran continues to provide Hezbollah with training, weapons, and other military hardware, as well as political, diplomatic, monetary, and organizational aid.
Hezbollah also receives funding from private donations, mainly from Lebanese Shiite communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.
Hezbollah has the capabilities of an army: With 45,000 fighters, Hezbollah is one of the most heavily armed non-state actors in the world. It has a large and varied arsenal of missiles estimated at around 150,000. The missile arsenal is technologically advanced and includes missiles that can hit anywhere in Israel’s territory. Hezbollah also possesses surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank weapons and a modern drone program.
Hezbollah is under the leadership of its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. The organization's executive council is chaired by Hashem Safi Al Din, Hezbollah’s second-in-command, who is charged with organizing the organization's political and operational.
There are three main Hezbollah branches that are involved in global terrorism:
1. The External Security Organization (ESO)
The External Security Organization (ESO), also called unit 910, led by Talal Hamia. The ESO is responsible for conducting all Hezbollah terrorist activities outside of Lebanon. It was directed by Imad Mughniyeh until he was killed in 2008.
In order to facilitate its activities worldwide, the ESO establishes ties with personnel who support Hezbollah and are permanent residents abroad, leveraging these connections for logistic and operational purposes. ESO operatives carry out various assignments, including collecting operational intelligence, preparing contingency plans to be used at a moment’s notice, procuring foreign identity and travel documents, renting safe houses, and providing supplies. The operations executed by this unit are extensive and are indicative of the callous disregard for anything that stands in its way, as evidenced by the enormous quantities of explosives it has used in its attacks.
2.The business Affairs Component (BAC)
The Business Affairs Component (BAC), under the leadership of Abdullah Safi Al-Din, is responsible for financing Hezbollah, including many of its operations in Syria, and secures funding primarily through drug money.
The BAC fronts this money using inconspicuous companies such as grocery stores, banks, hotels, and shipping companies. The BAC’s operations also includes physically smuggling cocaine from South America, and not just the money laundering that comes with the drugs, which are then sold in Europe, endangering its citizens.
3.The Foreign Relations Department (FRD)
Hezbollah's Foreign Relations Department (FRD) maintains the organization's public presence around the world. The branch is led by senior Hezbollah member Ali Damush, who was labeled a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US State Department in 2017.
The FRD is also involved in covert operations around the world, including recruiting new member, funding and intelligence activities, further raising the likelihood for domestic terrorism and increased local criminal activity.
All of the units mentioned above work in coordination with the Executive Council under Hashem Safi Al Din, and ultimately under Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is an extremely efficient, well-funded organization with connections across the globe through Lebanese expatriates. Leveraging these connections, Hezbollah can essentially operate anywhere in the world.