- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Islamist Inflamer
- Official Title: Hezbollah leader
- Government: Hezbollah leader
- Years Left in Office: Life
- Political Classification: Extreme-right
- Education: Religious studies, non-de-script degree
- Age: 56 (born August 30, 1960)
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah Facts and Information
Among the more demonized and poorly understood Middle East movers-and-shakers is Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the equally demonized and poorly understood group Hizbullah or Hezbollah or Ḥizbu ‘llāh…or whatever the Hez you want to call it. Nasrallah’s political career neatly parallels that of the party of which he is a member of long-standing, so to speak of him is also to address Hizbullah itself, convenient, eh?
Nas’ was born in 1960 and his formative years and education took place in the thick of the Lebanese civil war…. a multifaceted internal conflict lasting from 1975 to 1990 and resulting in an estimated 120,000 fatalities, and left Lebanon in economic and political chaos. His family was part of the poor Shi’ite underclass, which is the majority of Lebanese people by realistic calculations. He spent his youth in lower class eastern Beirut and joined the Shi’ite political militia Amal in the mid-1970s. Amal stemmed out of a Lebanese Shi’ite political and social group, sort of like the local variant of the Muslim Brotherhood which focused on civil society, and was led by Musa Al-Sadr.
Nasrallah was not unlike many young Shi’ite of a religious bent in the late 1970s, because that is exactly when Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran was agitating against the Shah and religious activism was on the rise in many Middle Eastern countries. So Nas’ went to Iraq to undertake his further religious education in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf with Muhammad Baqir Al-Sadr, yes, those same Al-Sadrs. That Al-Sadr family gets around!
Whilst studying in Iraq, Nas’ fell in with some other Lebanese students, most significantly members of al-Da’wa, another Shi’ite political group led by a certain Shaikh Fadlallah. He returned to Lebanon and worked as a politician in the Shi’ite Beqaa’ Valley in eastern Lebanon as a member of Amal. Then in 1982, the Israelis invaded Lebanon and shit started to really hit the fan. This changed the nature of the Lebanese civil war from a local internal affair into a conflict which saw the perennial Middle East bogeyman, Israel, becoming embroiled in Lebanon in various ways. This is where Hizbullah enters the picture, so let’s take a step back and look at who these guys are, exactly.
The civil war in Lebanese was a gigantic clusterfuck of religious and sectarian identities with political jive thrown in for good measure which transcended religion a lot of the time. If you didn’t understand that last sentence, don’t feel bad: no one in Lebanon nor the world really fully understood what the hell was going on in this mess either. Add in a shitload of Palestinian refugees and groups like Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who were hanging out in Lebanon, and it gets even more confusing.
We’ll keep it simple for now: the Shi’ites in Lebanon were among the most socially disenfranchised amongst Lebanon’s disenfranchised, and young activists found the revolutionary zeal floating around in the late 1970s conducive to doing something about their shitty social and political standing. Once 1979 rolls around, the success of zealous Shi’ites in the Iranian Revolution inspired many religious activists and showed them that they too could bring the same kind of success to their country. In Lebanon, this atmosphere was worsened when in 1982, (right in the middle of the Lebanese Civil War) Israel decided to invade….with the ostensible purpose of ousting the PLO from Beirut. Whatever. That’s another story. And a bad one at that. Israel’s actions further inflamed revolutionary sentiments across the country. And, thus, Hizbullah emerged out of this civil war/invasion shit-storm. They wanted change, they wanted Islam in the state, and they wanted vengeance on Israel. Not in that order.
It’s important to keep in mind that the group didn’t really exist as a formal organization until the mid-1980’s, and it was more of a secret society than anything else, a group of Shi’ite revolutionaries which had support from both Syria and Iran (Syria wanted a proxy in the Lebanese war; Iran wanted to export its revolution), but even these ties were tenuous and subject to change depending on how the winds of regional politics were blowing. That said, Lebanese Shi’ite militants perpetrated some serious shit: bombings, hijackings, everything you could think of during this time period. It is certain that dudes involved later in Hizbullah were involved, but it is way less clear that the organization itself was directly responsible. We’ll let the comments field below determine that.
BUT back to our main man Hassan! What did Nasrallah have to do with all of this craziness? Well, at some point he left Amal and joined the Hiz’ in 1982 to fight the Israeli occupation in the southern part of Lebanon. Hassan was noted nor for his great fighting abilities, but for his sharp and fiery sermons and religious convictions. There was a considerable amount of fighting amongst Shi’ite militias as well, with Hizbullah triumphing over groups like Amal, although the latter still exists. Nasrallah spent the late 1980’s in Iran trying to round out his religious education and returned when fighting broke out yet again between the Hiz’ and Amal…yes, you are reading it correctly: two different Shia groups within Lebanon were sporadically fighting each other too. I told you this place was a confusing mess.
Anyway, Nasrallah then became part of the military echelons of the group. He also got embroiled in the inner factionalism of Hizbullah and was “exiled” to Iran in order to keep him from getting involved in an internal conflict between moderate and radical wings of the group. With Syria’s support, Nas’ returned to Lebanon just in time: in 1992 the Israelis assassinated Hizbullah’s then leader, Abbas al-Musawi, head of the moderate faction…thus paving the way for Nasrallah, backed by Syria and apparently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran as well, to become the new leader of the organization.
Nasrallah’s religious rep gave him street-cred amongst the political religious sections of the Lebanese government and he began asserting Hizbullah as an independent organization while using its ties with Iran and Syria to procure more advanced weapons for the continuing struggle against the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. It was Hizbullah-under-Nasrallah’s continuing military pressure on Israel in the South that led directly to the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, further enhancing his Lebanese street cred since this was seen to be a phenomenal victory for Lebanon. Another political coup for Nasrallah was his successful negotiation of a prisoner exchange with Israel in 2004.
All throughout this period, Nasrallah guided Hizbullah to becoming much more directly and actively engaged in Lebanese politics, moving away from its roots as a military organization and gradually morphing into a full-fledged political party. In the mid-2000s, Hizbullah joined the March 8th movement and Nasrallah forged a political alliance with Maronite politicians Michael Aoun which dramatically changed the nature of Lebanese politics, throwing together disparate sectarian groups against a commonly held political enemy: the March 14 faction which came together to oust the Syrian armed forces from Lebanon and re-orient Lebanon more towards the West.
In the summer of 2006, another Israeli smiting of Lebanon was instigated when Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers, sparking an intense conflict which saw the Israeli air force devastate civilian areas of the country. Nasrallah later said that if he knew this would be the result, he never would have allowed the Israeli soldiers to be captured. The resulting war was devastating for Lebanon (as usual), but further enhanced the view of Nasrallah and Hizbullah, who both fought directly against Israeli troops and, in the aftermath of the ceasefire, instituted immense rebuilding projects.
In the wake of all this, Nasrallah has become deeply involved in Lebanese politics, even acting as a middle-man during tense times. His Hizbullah has rejected their previous notion of turning Lebanon into an Islamic state and the group now accepts democratic, parliamentary politics though, like other groups in Lebanon, supports a massive revision of the Lebanese confessional system which is based on sectarian demographics.
So this dude Nasrallah is the leader of Hezbollah, and his story is inseparable from the story of the organization itself. They were labeled as a terrorist group early on by Israel, the US, and many other western allies; they are considered a honorable rebel/political/social organization by most Arabs, and Iran and Syria support them overtly, and covertly, in numerous financial, military, and political ways. They are perhaps the most powerful single group within Lebanese politics, and they certainly are a major player in Middle Eastern affairs, especially in their hard core stance opposing Israel at every turn. And Hassan is the man that commands this significant playa in all things Lebanese, and now you know a bit more about the man himself. Hated by ‘the West’, beloved by Iran and Syria, and major power broker in the region; that is the Naz in Nasrallah!
Given the situation in the Syrian Civil War, now in year two of slaughter, Hassan Nasrallah‘s situation in Lebanon is becoming ever more important. Since the al-Assad regime of Syria is a major supporter of Hezbollah, their slow and precipitous demise spells big trouble for the future support structure that Nasrallah has come to rely on for decades. Simply put: Iran supplies weapons and cash to Hezbollah, and those goods are transported to Lebanon via Syria, the conduit. Once the al-Assad regime falls (and it will fall, it is simply a matter of time now), this will immediately have negative reprecussions for the Hiz’.
To do his part, Nasrallah and crew have to tacitly support the al-Assad regime…even while it likely disgusts them that the regime is slaughtering thousands of fellow Arabs. It now appears that the Syrian Civil War may re-ignite flames within Lebanon itself, as anti-Hezbollah groups may exploit those negative linkages between the Hiz’ and the now notorious and vilified Syrian regime. And lotsof folks in Lebanon have hated Syria for decades anyway, as Syria pretty much outright controlled Lebanon as a puppet state for years, and has even been blamed for the assassination of Lebanese politicians. Nasty, nasty stuff. Terrorist attacks are on the rise in Lebanon, as are cross-border movements of some Hezbollah boys running across the border to help out ol al-Assad.
This is a mess, that is likely going to get messier…and the outcome of the Syrian situation directly affects the house of Hassan!
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