What is Hezbollah, the group backing Hamas against Israel?

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 9:20 AM

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah said on Thursday Israel would pay “the price” for killing 10 people including five children in southern Lebanon, the deadliest day for Lebanese civilians in four months of hostilities across the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israeli forces across the frontier since its Palestinian ally Hamas in Gaza and Israel went to war on Oct. 7. The exchanges are the deadliest since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.


The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel has played out in parallel to the Gaza war, fuelling concern about the risk of an all-out confrontation between the heavily armed adversaries.

An Israeli strike killed seven civilians in the city of Nabatieh late on Feb. 14, including three children, sources in Lebanon said. It followed an earlier attack that killed a woman and her two children in the village of al-Sawana at the border.

The Israeli military said it had killed a commander in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan unit, his commander and another operative in a “precise airstrike” in Nabatieh, without mentioning the civilian deaths.

Both Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel have said they do not seek all-out war, and the conflict has largely been contained to areas near the border. A source familiar with Hezbollah thinking said the attack on Nabatieh marked an Israeli escalation but was still within unwritten “rules of engagement”.

Hezbollah has attacked Israeli border targets almost daily since Hamas killed 1,200 people and abducted some 250, according to Israeli tallies, in an Oct. 7 raid on southern Israel.

Hezbollah has said its campaign will stop only when Israel halts its offensive on Gaza, where more than 28,000 people have been killed, according to health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

Israel has vowed to press on with its Gaza offensive.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Feb. 10 that the U.S. had asked Tehran to request Hezbollah not to get fully involved in the Israel-Hamas war.


Iran’s Revolutionary Guards founded Hezbollah in 1982, in the middle of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. It was part of Iran’s effort to exports its 1979 Islamic Revolution around the region and fight Israeli forces after their 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The group has risen from a shadowy faction to a heavily armed force with major sway over the Lebanese state. The U.S., some Western nations and others deem it a terrorist group.


While other groups disarmed after Lebanon’s civil war, Hezbollah kept its weapons to fight Israeli forces that were occupying the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim south of the country. Years of guerrilla warfare led Israel to withdraw in 2000.

Hezbollah demonstrated its military advances in 2006 during a five-week war with Israel, which erupted after it crossed into Israel, kidnapping two soldiers and killing others.

Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the conflict, in which 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 158 Israelis were killed, most of them soldiers.

Hezbollah’s military power grew after it deployed into Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad fight mostly Sunni Muslim rebels. Hezbollah says its forces, which have precision rockets, can hit all parts of Israel.

WHAT’S HEZBOLLAH’S ROLE IN THE ISRAEL-HAMAS CONFLICT SO FAR?Hezbollah has deep ties to Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction backed by Iran.

Since Oct. 7, Hezbollah has engaged in increasingly heavy exchanges of cross-border fire with Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which both have a presence in Lebanon, have mounted attacks on Israel from Lebanon for the first time, including an Oct. 10 cross-border infiltration into Israel by Islamic Jihad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Oct. 22 that, if Hezbollah opened a war front with Israel, it would lead to counter-strikes of “unimaginable” magnitude on Lebanon.


The Gaza conflict has rippled across the Middle East, where Hezbollah has inspired and supported other Iranian-backed groups.

In February Washington staged strikes against Iran-aligned groups in Irag, Syria and Yemen in retaliation for a deadly attack on U.S. troops in Jordan.

Saudi Arabia says Hezbollah has also fought in support of the Iran-allied Houthis in Yemen. Hezbollah denies this.


Hezbollah’s influence is underpinned by its sophisticated arsenal and the support of many Lebanese Shi’ites who say the group defends Lebanon from Israel.

Lebanese parties opposed to Hezbollah say the group has undermined the state and accuse it of unilaterally dragging Lebanon into armed conflicts. Hezbollah has ministers in government and lawmakers in parliament.

It entered Lebanese politics more prominently in 2005 after Syria withdrew forces from Lebanon following the killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who symbolised Saudi influence in the country.

A U.N.-backed court convicted three Hezbollah members in absentia over the assassination. Hezbollah denies any role, describing the court as a tool of its enemies.

In 2008, a power struggle between Hezbollah and its Lebanese political adversaries spiralled into a brief conflict. Hezbollah fighters took over parts of Beirut after the government vowed to take action against the group’s military communications network.

In 2018 Hezbollah and its allies won a parliamentary majority. This majority was lost in 2022, but the group has continued to exercise major political sway.


Lebanese officials and Western intelligence have said groups linked to Hezbollah carried out suicide attacks on Western embassies and targets, and kidnapped Westerners in the 1980s.

The United States holds Hezbollah responsible for a suicide bombing that destroyed the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 servicemen, and a suicide attack the same year on the U.S. embassy. A suicide bombing also hit French barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 58 French paratroopers.

Referring to those attacks and hostage-taking, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a 2022 interview that they were carried out by small groups not linked to Hezbollah.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair, William Maclean)