The phrase “east meets west” is a worn cliché, but it is entirely appropriate for Lebanon, which is situated at the western end of the trade routes from Asia and the eastern end of the sea routes to Europe through the Mediterranean. It has thus bred seafarers and traders, and even today there is a widespread diaspora of Lebanese merchants.
As one of the most diverse nations in the Middle East, Lebanon has at times enjoyed a strong reputation for its cultural history (with Beirut often being compared to Paris), but it has also experienced destructive conflicts sown by social, political and religious divides, both within itself and among its neighbors. All of these factors would ultimately contribute to the formation of Hezbollah (“The Party of God”), the Shi’ite militia that is now widely considered one of the most powerful non-state groups in the world.
Though their name is instantly recognizable across much of the globe, the history of Hezbollah is extremely complex. Various interests in Lebanon led to the eruption of civil war in the country in 1975, which included the participation of Syria, and the fighting was compounded when Israel invaded and occupied the southern part of Lebanon to combat members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and other Palestinians who had taken refuge in camps there. The result was a witch’s brew of inter-connected alliances between forces in Lebanon, which consisted of Shiite militias, Sunni militias, Christian militias, Druze militias, Syria, and Israel. In the early 1980s, Hezbollah formed with the goal of ending Israeli occupation of Lebanon, which would not fully occur until 1999, when Israel began a unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah filled in the vacuum in southern Lebanon and took credit for forcing Israel out, thus bolstering their standing in Lebanon, especially among the Shiite community.
Far from being a local militia, however, Hezbollah has spent the past decade expanding its geopolitical influence across the Middle East. In addition to playing an important role in Lebanese politics (and recently becoming part of the government), Hezbollah cultivated ties with Syria, Iran, and Hamas in opposition to Israel, which fought a controversial and deadly summer war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006 but failed in their mission to destroy or severely damage them. And with the Arab Spring having consequences across the region and particularly in Syria, the ties between the different state and non-state actors are constantly evolving.
A Timeline History of Hezbollah chronicles this complex state of affairs, charting the rise of the organization to power, the influential leaders behind it, the group’s fighting against Israel, and what the future might hold. This history will bring listeners up to speed on one of the world’s most important groups today.