Hezbollah: A systematic violator of international law

The growing menace of Hezbollah must be tackled, not merely for the sake of Lebanon’s neighbors, including Israel, but for the sake of the Lebanese themselves.

The Hezbollah flag (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Hezbollah flag
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined during his recent presentation to the UN General Assembly, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, one that draws its influence through systemic violations of international law.
In early August, a powerful blast caused by the detonation of an enormous quantity of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port shook the entire Lebanese capital, killing at least 190, injuring thousands and causing devastating damage to property.
While an investigative report into the explosion has yet to be published, many Lebanese protesters have been pointing fingers at Hezbollah as the prime culprit responsible for the explosion. Circumstantial suspicion of Hezbollah’s responsibility for this tragedy is predicated upon the organization’s well-known control of the port, and its pattern of storing ammonium nitrate for terrorist purposes in various locations around the world, including Germany, Cyprus, the UK and Thailand.
This tragic incident reminds the world of Hezbollah’s malign activities and violations of the law in general, and international law in particular, in Lebanon, the Middle East and throughout the world.
HEZBOLLAH WAS established in 1982 as an Iranian-backed terrorist organization. Since then, it has gained growing political power in Lebanon. By the elections of 2018, Hezbollah and its political allies had won the majority of seats in the Lebanese parliament. At the same time, Hezbollah’s military wing has morphed into a fully equipped and well-trained modern army. In many ways, Hezbollah is operating as “a state within a state” in Lebanon.
As was explicitly admitted by the organization’s secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, the lion’s share of Hezbollah’s budget, some $700 million a year (a decrease from past years), comes directly from Iran. An estimated $200 million more comes from illegal international Hezbollah activities, such as the trafficking of narcotics and money laundering.
In recent years, the organization has been struggling to deal with international sanctions that were imposed on its funding, mainly by the US.
Hezbollah in its entirety has been designated as a terrorist organization by a growing number of countries, which recognize that there is no distinction whatsoever between its political and military wings. Prominent countries that have banned Hezbollah in its entirety include the US, the UK, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Israel and several Latin American countries. The Arab League has also declared it a terrorist entity, as has the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Unfortunately, the European Union, which has designated only the military wing of the organization as a terrorist group, has yet to follow suit, creating an obstacle in the effort to disrupt Hezbollah’s overseas activities.
Hezbollah’s footprint in global terrorism has been enormous ever since its inception. While many of its terrorist plots have been foiled, examples of its deadly attacks include the 1983 Marine Corps barracks attack in Beirut, the 2012 Burgas bus bombing, and mass casualty bombings of Jewish and Israeli targets in Argentina in the 1990s. Hezbollah terrorist cells are active around the world.
IN LEBANON itself, Hezbollah is a non-state actor that has gradually come to take control of Lebanese state institutions. After the Hezbollah-led bloc took control of the cabinet and parliament in 2019, and following the organization’s growing penetration of state budgets and ministries, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between Hezbollah and Lebanon.
Lebanon is either unwilling or unable to take control of this rogue organization, and both Lebanon’s and Hezbollah’s systematic violations of UN Security Council resolutions go unchallenged.
Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, called for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. Resolution 1701, passed during the Second Lebanon War (2006), calls for full respect of the Blue Line (the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel, declared by the UN in 2000) and the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. It also stipulates that the area south of the Litani River must be free of armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of UNIFIL (the UN’s observer force in the area) and the Lebanese military. These resolutions have been violated continuously in various ways, both by Lebanon and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah continues to store weapons across southern Lebanon – whether received from Iran and Syria or produced internally. It continues to develop its program to produce precision-guided missiles. In the whole of Lebanon, Hezbollah, replenished by Iran since the 2006 war, has an arsenal estimated to be as high as 170,000 projectiles.
Armed Hezbollah operatives maintain a presence on the Blue Line itself. In April 2017, on a tour that was organized by Hezbollah, foreign and Lebanese media documented armed Hezbollah operatives on the border with Israel. UNIFIL later said it did not see them.
The Green Without Borders organization is a Hezbollah front group that purportedly advances an environmental agenda, but which is linked to the terrorist organization, and maintains at least 16 known posts along the Israeli border that are manned by armed Hezbollah operatives.
Following the September 2019 missile attack on an IDF vehicle near Avivim in northern Israel, a UNIFIL investigation found that the attack was launched from a location next to a Green Without Borders post, an area UNIFIL says it has no access to.
Hezbollah will sometimes organize “protests” by civilians whom it rallies to the border, who occasionally cross into Israeli territory and carry out operational missions. It also uses goat herders for reconnaissance. Moreover, it attacks and harasses UNIFIL observers and prevents them from gaining full access to any point along the Blue Line on a regular basis.
In December 2018, the IDF exposed six Hezbollah cross-border tunnels, which were intended to enable thousands of elite terrorist operatives to cross into Israel and massacre civilians. The tunnels represent another blatant violation of Resolution 1701.
While the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Lebanese government were supposed to disarm Hezbollah according to UN Security Council resolutions, the opposite is happening. Hezbollah is infiltrating the Lebanese Army and increasingly using its assets, as well as those of the Lebanese government. During a 2016 Hezbollah parade in Syria, armored personnel carriers taken from the Lebanese Army were put on display.
The prime minister was correct. The growing menace of Hezbollah must be tackled, not merely for the sake of Lebanon’s neighbors, including Israel, but for the sake of the Lebanese themselves. They have borne the brunt of Hezbollah’s flagrant violation of international law once already this year. Let there be no recurrence of such suffering.
The writer, a retired IDF colonel, is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute and a former deputy military advocate-general of the IDF.