International Relations Hezbollah
Mona Harb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0108


Established in 1985 in Lebanon, Hezbollah (alternative spellings: Hizballah or Hizbullah) is a political party run by Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, which leads an armed resistance against Israel, and manages a large network of organizations providing an array of social services to Shiʿite groups. Closely affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and with strong ties to Syria, Hezbollah joined the Lebanese parliament in 1992, and became part of the Lebanese government in 2005. Despite being globally defamed as a terrorist organization, and perhaps losing its clout in parts of the Arab world, Hezbollah’s military, political, and social roles are still significant. A wide literature tackles Hezbollah. The party’s cadres and sympathizers publish about it (often in Arabic), reproducing its discourse. International think tanks regularly publish reports about Hezbollah’s actions and their impacts. Two main strands dominate scholarly works. One depicts it as terrorist organization, focusing on its fundamentalist ideology, propagandist media, and military actions. This strand often lacks context and simplifies the actual situation. The other strand, more critical, analyzes Hezbollah as a political party and a social movement, unpacking its organizational structure and its religious ideals, showing their complexity and contradictions. This strand places Hezbollah in the historical context of the Shiʿite social and political struggle, and includes analysis examining Hezbollah’s relation to Iran, Syria, Israel, and the West. Some of it also situates the party’s actions in relation to political Islam and post-Islamism and relates to the failure of the welfare state, as well as the increasingly pragmatic role of Islamist groups in the Middle East. Moreover, works have examined Hezbollah’s relations to the Lebanese political system, arguing how it is “a state within a state,” (or a “nonstate”), but also how it has become “Lebanonized.” A number of studies shed light on the party’s organizational structure and its network of institutions, shedding light on the multiple dimensions of its social welfare and on its urban governance policies. Some analysts have also worked on Hezbollah’s multiple tactics during wars and conflicts, and on the construction of its image in diverse media. Others have investigated the party’s constituency, either underscoring its domination by Hezbollah or how issues of gender, class, age, morality, and urban geography variably affect its practices of piety, and its belonging to the Islamic milieu.

General Overviews

Overviews of Hezbollah will widely differ depending on the author. Norton 2014 is one of the most comprehensive and objective books that one must begin with, as it debunks the dominant narrative about Hezbollah being a terrorist organization that should be eradicated, and reveals how it is embedded in the social, political, and economic fabric and supported by large numbers of people who are not to be dismissed as fanatic and brainwashed. It can be complemented with Azani 2011 to get an idea about the terrorist argument and the stereotypes that dominate studies on Hezbollah. The rest of the list provides essential references that highlight different dimensions that make up the party. Saad-Ghorayeb 2002 investigates Hezbollah’s religious and political ideology and the concept of velayat-e faqih (the government of the jurisprudent), as well as Hezbollah’s changing relations to Iran and Syria. Harik 2004 offers one of the first insider’s views into the party’s organizations, revealing how it evolved over time to deploy an array of strategies to integrate and adapt with a changing geopolitical system. Hamzeh 2004 unpacks Hezbollah’s ideology and showcases qualitatively and quantitatively its ability to maneuver the Lebanese political system. Alagha 2006 is a key reference analyzing the shifting political and religious ideology of Hezbollah. For those who read French, Harb 2010 will provide a useful meta-analysis of the party’s social and urban service provision network, as well as the governance features that explain the durability and effectiveness of its collective action and social mobilization. Also for the French readers, Mervin 2008 is a precious and very accessible edited volume published after the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon; it synthesizes the numerous dimensions of Hezbollah’s political and social action, and provides useful definitions and references of the key concepts related to Shiʿism. In addition, readers may find a lot of background material that provides information about the party’s organizations, narratives, official statements and speeches, and so on, of which a short selection is presented here.

  • Alagha, Joseph. The Shifts in Hizballah Ideology: Religious Ideology, Political Ideolgy and Political Program. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789053569108

    Relying on unpublished sources, and firsthand encounters with Hezbollah’s cadres, this book examines the transformation of Hezbollah into a pragmatic political party. Useful appendices, including Hezbollah’s statements, parliamentary elections programs, and 2004 municipal elections program.

  • Azani, Eitan. Hezbollah: The Story of the Party of God; From Revolution to Institutionalization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230116290

    An account of Hezbollah by an Israeli policy analyst who argues that, despite its pragmatic transformation, the party still maintains its revolutionary goals associated with Iran. A good example of the terrorist perception of the party.

  • Hamzeh, Ahmad N. In the Path of Hizbullah. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004.

    Presents one of the first analysis of the organizational structure and functions of the party, based on firsthand accounts with party members, and thorough accounts of Islamic theology, history, and the group’s ideologues’ writings. Also includes valuable tables and figures, providing quantitative and qualitative data on the participation of Hezbollah in Lebanese local and national politics.

  • Harb, Mona. Le Hezbollah à Beyrouth (1985–2005). De la banlieue à la ville. Paris: Karthala, 2010.

    Provides a rare meta-analysis of the organizational networks, urban politics, and governance of Hezbollah, focusing on its provision of social and urban services in Dahiya (south Beirut). Argues that the success and durability of Hezbollah is associated with its embeddedness in the social and territorial fabric of the city. Parts of the author’s findings have been translated into English in AlSayyad and Massoumi’s The Fundamentalist City (2010).

  • Harik, Judith Palmer. Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism. London: I. B. Tauris, 2004.

    Examines the transformation of Hezbollah from an underground, radical militia to a mainstream political party, unraveling the multiple tactics used to integrate it with Lebanese plural society, from political networking with Christian groups to employment and service provision for Shiʿi groups. Provides also a fascinating analysis of the military strategies of the party before and after the “security zone,” particularly its guerrilla warfare in the age of multimedia communication.

  • Mervin, Sabrina, ed. Le Hezbollah: État des Lieux. Paris: Sindbad, 2008.

    This edited interdisciplinary volume by an eminent historian of Shiʿism compiles entries by key authors on Hezbollah (including several she authored) that showcase the complex diversity of the political party in the aftermath of the 2006 war. The book also includes a useful chronology of events, and a valuable glossary of key terms pertaining to Shiʿi religion.

  • Norton, Augustus Richard. Hezbollah: A Short History. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

    Argues against the simplistic reading of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization to be destroyed, and demonstrates how Hezbollah maintains its popularity in the Middle East by providing a thorough historical, political, and social analysis of the party. A concise, rigorous, and essential read.

  • Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto, 2002.

    Elucidates the concept of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurisprudent, sometimes given as wilayat al-faqih)—the cornerstone of Hezbollah’s political and religious ideology. Using direct interviews with party members, the author also examines the party’s evolving place within the Lebanese political system, as well as its position vis-à-vis anti-Westernism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Judaism, providing detailed original findings.

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