Members of the Free Syrian Army-linked Suheda-ul Islam clash with Hezbollah  forces. Damascus, Syria, March 25, 2015. (Macd el Ahmed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Members of the Free Syrian Army-linked Suheda-ul Islam clash with Hezbollah forces. Damascus, Syria, March 25, 2015. (Macd el Ahmed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Hezbollah in 2015 is in a peculiar situation as both a state- and non-state actor. It is balancing non-state activities such as providing armed forces, social services, and private telecommunications to its Shia community with its role as a dominant part of the Lebanese government. Its armed forces are also heavily involved in the Syrian war, while Lebanon’s formal policy is dissociation with the same conflict. This poses the question: how are such incongruous responsibilities affecting Hezbollah as a political movement?

In answering, it is best to start with some historical reminders: Hezbollah’s rise in the 1980s was precipitated by the heavy involvement of Amal—Lebanon’s dominant Shia political faction at the time—in the Lebanese civil war, which left a gap open for leading the country’s resistance against Israel. Hezbollah emerged as a political movement when a group of South Lebanese Shia clerics traveled to Iran for support during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The group was formally established in 1985 but most observers believe key founding figures cut their teeth in the deadly twin attacks on the American and French military barracks in Beirut in 1983. Although denying any involvement, Iran was likely the driving force for those attacks. Read more