Since 1982, Hezbollah has embodied Iran’s grand strategy to create a network of proxy forces across the Middle East, both to expand Tehran’s sphere of influence and promote its security interests and Islamic ideology. The Shiite movement took root after Israel’s 1982 invasion and amid the chaos of the Lebanese civil war, which had raged since 1975. Iran fostered and facilitated the embryo of Hezbollah after dispatching some 1,500 Revolutionary Guard trainers and advisers to Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley. The Iranians didn’t fight Israeli forces, but they mobilized, trained, funded and equipped a new underground militia in Lebanon that evolved into Hezbollah. The early cells attracted Shiites in southern Lebanon as well as the poor southern suburbs, known as the Dahiyeh, in Beirut.
After the PLO was forced to pull out of Beirut in August 1982, Hezbollah gradually assumed the mantle of chief resistance force against Israel. Under Iran’s tutelage, Hezbollah launched a guerrilla campaign, including suicide bombings, against Israeli forces in the south, that lasted until 2000. Lebanon became the most dangerous frontline for Israel.
With growing Iranian support, Hezbollah also evolved from an underground militia into a political party willing to compete in democratic elections. It ran for office in 1992, the first parliamentary elections since the civil war broke out. It won eight seats in the 128-seat parliament, in turn widening Tehran’s political influence in Lebanon.
Throughout the 1990s, Hezbollah continued to engage in low-intensity warfare with the Israeli Defense Forces in southern Lebanon. It was blamed for the deaths of more than 900 Israeli soldiers. For Israel, the Lebanon war became increasingly costly and controversial at home, where it was compared to the long U.S. war in Vietnam. In May 2000, Israel voluntarily withdrew from southern Lebanon. It was the first time Israel unilaterally withdrew from Arab territory without concessions or a peace treaty, which effectively gave Hezbollah – and indirectly Iran –more influence and control of territory.
The goals of both Hezbollah and Iran only grew after Israel’s withdrawal. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Israel in 2000 as a “cancerous tumor” that “must be uprooted from the region.” Over the next five years, with Iran’s aid, Hezbollah increased its arsenal of rockets and missiles, provided by Iran and Syria, and dug tunnels to facilitate the underground movement of men and arms in southern Lebanon. Clashes between Hezbollah and Israel broke out occasionally along the border.
In 2006, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers at the border to demand the release of three Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in Israel. Israel responded with a massive air and ground assault. The ensuing 34-day war was Israel’s longest conflict with any adversary. It was costly in life and destruction on both sides; hundreds of thousands were displaced on both sides. Nearly 1,200 Lebanese died; more than 170 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed.
Iran was covertly involved in the 2006 war. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC commander of the Qods Force, revealed years later that he was in Lebanon for all but one day of the conflict to provide strategic advice. Tehran commended Hezbollah’s performance in the conflict. “You imposed your military superiority over the Zionist regime, consolidated your spiritual dominance in regional and international extent, derided the Zionist army's phony invincibility and splendor and portrayed the usurper regime's fragility,” Khamenei wrote Nasrallah. In a U.N.-brokered exchange, Israel released five prisoners (including the men that Hezbollah had sought to free), while Hezbollah returned the bodies of two Israelis two years after the war.
Iran was pivotal as Hezbollah rearmed and reconstructed its strongholds after the war. Hezbollah has often boasted about the scope of aid from the Islamic republic. “Hezbollah’s budget, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, comes from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said in 2016. But Iran has also exacted a price from its Lebanese ally. In 2011, Iran pushed Hezbollah to get involved in the civil war in neighboring Syria, which was Iran’s closest ally and the land route to sustain support for the Lebanese militia. For more than a decade, thousands of Hezbollah fighters rotated in and out of the Syria war to help President Bashar Assad regain control of the country.
Hezbollah has often aligned politically with the Iranian regime. Nasrallah praised the election of President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, in 2021. “Your victory has renewed the hopes of the Iranian people and the people of the region who see you as a shield and a strong supporter… for the resistance against aggressors,” the Lebanese cleric said on June 20, 2021.
June 6, 1982: Israel invaded Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee. Within weeks, Iran deployed 1,500 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley to recruit, train and a new Shiite militia that evolved into Hezbollah.
April 18, 1983: Members of the nascent Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Embassy in West Beirut, killing 63.
Oct. 23, 1983: Members of nascent Hezbollah bombed U.S. and French peacekeepers in Beirut, killing 241 Americans and 58 French.
Sept. 20, 1984: Hezbollah bombed the second U.S. Embassy Annex in East Beirut, killing 23.
June 14-30, 1985: Hezbollah hijacked TWA Flight 847 flying from Greece to Rome. It demanded that Israel release of 700 Shiite Muslims. The hijackers killed a U.S. Navy diver and threatened to kill Jewish passengers. Iran provided logistical support to the hijackers, according to the National Counterterrorism Center.
March 17, 1992: Islamic Jihad, an organization linked to Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina that killed 20 and injured 252. An Israeli investigation in 2003 concluded that “the highest levels of the Iranian regime… had in fact authorized Hezbollah to carry it out.”
July 18, 1994: Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for an explosion outside the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires that killed 95 killed and wounded 200. Argentine intelligence concluded in 2004 that a 21-year Hezbollah operative carried out the attack with Iranian logistical support. The bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack conducted in Argentina. In 2006, Argentine authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, head of Iranian intelligence, for orchestrating the operation. In 2007, INTERPOL placed Ali Fallahian, four other Iranian officials, and one Hezbollah member on its most wanted list for their alleged involvement in the bombing.
May 17, 1995: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and Shura Council member Mohammad Yazbek to be his religious representatives in Lebanon.
June 25, 1996: The bombers detonated a truck packed with 5,000 pounds of explosions parked near Khobar Towers, a U.S. Air Force housing complex in eastern Saudi Arabia, that killed 19 service members and injured 500. Hezbollah al Hejaz, an Iranian proxy in Saudi Arabia, claimed responsibility. In 2001, a U.S. federal grand jury chose not to indict any Iranians for the attack but alleged that “an Iranian military officer” directed the operation. In December 2006, a U.S. federal judge ruled that Iran was responsible for the bombing and ordered the government to pay $254 million to the families of the Americans who died in the attack.
Aug. 1, 2005: Nasrallah met with Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad in Tehran.
Jan. 20, 2006: Nasrallah visited Damascus, Syria, where he met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
May 2008: Hezbollah operatives plotted a bomb attack against the Israeli embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan but it was foiled by Azerbaijani authorities, who later claimed that the IRGC ordered attacks against U.S., Israeli and other Western embassies. It arrested 22 Azerbaijanis for allegedly training to be Iranian agents.
Feb. 26, 2010: Syrian President Bashar al Assad hosted Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah.
Oct. 13-14, 2010: President Ahmadinejad visited Lebanon. “The whole world knows that the Zionists are going to disappear,” Ahmadinejad told Hezbollah in Bint Jbeil. He also met Nasrallah.
Dec. 16, 2010: Iran reportedly cut funding to Hezbollah by 40 percent due to biting international sanctions on Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.
Feb. 7, 2012: Nasrallah acknowledged that Hezbollah had received “moral, and political and material support in all possible forms” from Iran since 1982. “In the past we used to tell half the story and stay silent on the other half,” he said in a speech. “When they asked us about the material and financial and military support we were silent.” He denied U.S. allegations that Hezbollah laundered money and smuggled drugs, claiming that Iran satisfied the movement’s financial needs.
Feb. 13, 2012: Israeli embassy personnel were reportedly targeted in coordinated bombing attempts in New Delhi, India and Tbilisi, Georgia. In India, a motorcyclist planted a sticky bomb on an Israeli embassy minivan. In Georgia, a bomb was placed on an Israeli car but it failed to detonate. Israeli officials said the operations appeared to be directed by Tehran. “In all these cases, the elements behind the attacks were Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Oct. 11, 2012: Nasrallah confirmed that Hezbollah had flown a drone 25 miles into Israel on October 6. “It penetrated the enemy’s iron procedures and entered occupied southern Palestine,” he said. Israeli forces shot down the aircraft. Nasrallah boasted that the drone’s components were from Iran but that the drone had been assembled in Lebanon.
May 25, 2013: For the first time, Nasrallah confirmed that Hezbollah forces were fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime. “Syria is the backbone of the resistance (in the region) and its main supporter,” he said in a speech. “If the armed groups (rebels) control Syria or specific Syrian provinces, especially those on the Lebanese border, then we consider them a great threat to Lebanon, the unity of the nation and all Lebanese, not just Hezbollah or Shiites in Lebanon.” Hezbollah subsequently deployed thousands of fighters in various parts of Syria. At least 1,300 Hezbollah fighters were killed and another 5,000 fighting rebels, including Islamic State militants, by 2015.
Nov. 22, 2014: Brig. Gen. Sayed Majid Moussavi, an IRGC general, claimed that Iran had provided Hezbollah with Fateh missiles capable of reaching any target in Israel, including the nuclear reactor in southern Dimona. The missiles had a range of 350 kilometers (217 miles) and could carry a 500 kg (1100 pounds). Naim Qassem, the Hezbollah deputy secretary general, said the Israelis “are well aware that Hezbollah is in possession of missiles with pinpoint accuracy, and thanks to the equipment Hezbollah acquired, and with the Islamic Republic’s support and Hezbollah’s readiness for any future war, [the next] war will be much tougher for the Israelis.”
Dec. 22, 2016: Hezbollah fighters reportedly played a key role when Syrian forces defeated rebels, a decisive battle in Syria’s civil war.
Sept. 3, 2019: With Iranian support, Hezbollah was reporting building facility to “convert and manufacture precision-guided missiles” in the Bekaa Valley, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed.
Jan. 5, 2020: Nasrallah pledged to push U.S. forces out of the Middle East to avenge the U.S. murder of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, in Baghdad. “All of us in our region and in our nation should seek just retribution,” he said.
Feb. 9, 2022: Nasrallah said that Iran was “a strong regional state and any war with it will blow up the entire region.” But he denied accusations that Hezbollah automatically took orders from Tehran. “Tell us about a single act that Hezbollah did for the sake of Iran rather than for the sake of Lebanon.” Hezbollah, he said, would not necessarily attack Israel in response to a strike on Iran.
Oct. 23, 2022: Over years, Israel had reportedly destroyed some 90 percent of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria.
Sept. 11, 2023: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant claimed that Iran was building an airport in southern Lebanon – just 12 miles from the Israeli border – that could be used to launch attacks. Iran “is planning to act against the citizens of Israel,” he said.
Oct. 12, 2023: Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met Nasrallah in Beirut to confer on the war between Hamas and Israel. Israel had launched extensive airstrikes on the Gaza strip in response to an unprecedented attack by Hamas and Islamic Jihad that included infiltration into Israeli border communities, murders of civilians and kidnappings. Hezbollah “is in excellent condition and in full readiness to respond to criminal acts by the Zionist entity,” Amir-Abdollahian said after the meeting.