Since February 1992, Hassan Nasrallah has headed Lebanon's Hezbollah (or "Party of God") as Secretary-General of the Iranian-backed terrorist group, reportedly receiving $100-200 million of funding from Iran and other supporters in the Arab world.
Nasrallah is virulently opposed to recognizing the legitimacy of Israel, terming the country a "cancerous entity" of "ultimate evil" whose "annihilation ... is a definite matter." As leader of Hezbollah, he has used its resources to foment violence in the region by inciting, supporting, and funding terrorist attacks on Israel, both by Hezbollah and Hamas.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Nasrallah revealed his early ambition:
Ever since I was 9 years old, I had plans for the day when I would start doing this this .... When I was 10 or 11 [I would say] that I'm a cleric, you need to pray behind me. (July 16, 2006)
Religion seems to have shaped the 46 year old Shiite cleric's life. Nasrallah, who claims to be a descendant of the Muslim prophet Mohammed and whose name means "victory of God," was born in 1960 in Beirut to parents of modest means. The eldest of nine children, Nasrallah was fascinated by the Koran from an early age. When civil war broke out in Beirut in 1975, the 15-year-old and his family were forced to move to south to Bassouriyeh, Lebanon. There he met the the religious leader Moussa Al Sadr and joined his Amal movement, a Shiite militia in south Lebanon. At sixteen, Nasrallah traveled to Najaf, Iraq to continue his study of Islam. He became the protégé of Sheikh Abbas Musawi, a fellow Lebanese who would eventually become the leader of Hezbollah. In 1978, along with hundreds of other radical Lebanese clerics, Nasrallah was expelled from Iraq. He returned to Lebanon to study and teach at a school established by Musawi, and became deeply involved with Amal.
In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, Iran sent Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to train Lebanese groups to attack Israel and to eventually create an Islamic state in Lebanon. Musawi and Nasrallah left Amal to form a new group which would become Hezbollah. Nasrallah maintained close ties with Iran and moved there in 1987 to continue his Islamic studies. After returning two years later, when hostilities intensified between rival factions in Lebanon, Nasrallah quickly rose through the ranks of Hezbollah, becoming leader of the organization after Israel assassinated Musawi in February 1992.
Within a month of Nasrallah's taking over as leader, Hezbollah (with the help of Iranian intelligence) bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 and injuring over 200. The next attack perpetrated by Hezbollah—again with Iranian help—was the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 86 and injuring over 200.
The widening arena of Hezbollah's attacks stemmed from Nasrallah's perception that Jews anywhere are legitimate targets. In fact, Nasarallah has said:
If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide. (Daily Star, Oct. 23, 2002)
Shiite scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb analyzed the anti-Jewish roots of Hezbollah ideology in her book Hezbollah: Politics & Religion. In it, she quotes Hassan Nasrallah describing his antipathy toward Jews:
If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli. (New Yorker, Oct. 14, 2002)
Nasrallah also incoroporates anti-Semitic rhetoric in speeches. For example, he has characterized Jews as the "grandsons of apes and pigs" and "Allah's most cowardly and greedy creatures." (MEMRI: Al- Manar, Feb. 3, 2006)
Despite his anti-Semitic invective, there are few references to this in the mainstream media.
Nasrallah and Israel
Hezbollah's attacks against Israel have escalated under Nasrallah's leadership. In 1993, a year after he became the leader of Hezbollah, 26 Israeli soldiers were killed (twice as many as the year before). The group fired almost 150 Katyushas in 1993, and more than doubled that number in 1996 when it sent nearly 500 rockets into Israel. As a result, Israeli casualties from Hezbollah attacks continued to mount. In 1997, nearly forty Israeli soldiers were killed battling Hezbollah. Suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks by the group took a toll on Israelis, and the group was largely credited with driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, an event regarded as Israel's only defeat by an Arab group. Nasrallah's Lebanon success and the fact that his eldest son, Hadi, fought and died while confronting Israel in 1997 heightened the respect for the Hezbollah leader in the region.
In an oft-quoted speech just after Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hassan Nasrallah vividly described his view of the Jewish state as fragile and easily destroyed despite outward appearances of strength:
O people, our beloved and our dear brothers in Palestine, I want to tell you that this Israel, which possesses nuclear weapons and the most powerful air force in the region, by God, it is weaker than a spider web .... (May 26, 2000)
Just a few days later, Nasrallah elaborated on Hezbollah's goals in an interview on Egyptian television:
One of the central reasons for creating Hizbullah was to challenge the Zionist program in the region. Hizbullah still preserves this principle, and when an Egyptian journalist visited me after the liberation and asked me if the destruction of Israel and the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem were Hizbullah's goal, I replied: "That is the principal objective of Hizbullah, and it is no less sacred than our [ultimate] goal. The generation that lived through the creation of this entity is still alive. This generation watches documentaries and reads documents that show that the land conquered was called Palestine, not Israel." We face an entity that conquered the land of another people, drove them out of their land, and committed horrendous massacres. As we see, this is an illegal state; it is a cancerous entity and the root of all the crises and wars and cannot be a factor in bringing about a true and just peace in this region. Therefore, we cannot acknowledge the existence of a state called Israel, not even far in the future, as some people have tried to suggest. Time does not cancel the legitimacy of the Palestinian claim. (Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2002).
Hezbollah's tactics became a model for other terrorist groups confronting a strong enemy. Nasrallah explained to a Washington Post reporter that "The Israeli Air Force could destroy the Lebanese army within hours ... but cannot do this with us ... we exercise guerilla warfare" (July 16, 2006).
Nasrallah sought to inspire the Palestinians with Hezbollah's success against the Israelis. "Palestinians," he said, need to "struggle for their freedom ... and Lebanon is a good example." (Nightline, Oct. 19, 2000) In 2000, he said: "We have liberated the south (Lebanon), next we'll liberate Jerusalem." (Wasington Post, July 16, 2006) He urged Arabs to "put a knife in your shirt, then get close to an Israeli occupier and stab him." (Nightline, Oct. 19, 2000)
Perhaps, not surprisingly, the Palestinians launched their deadliest assault against Israel in September 2000 only a few months after Israeli forces left Lebanon.
Nasrallah, Incitement, and Al-Manar TV
Incitement was always part and parcel of Hezbollah's strategy. In an interview with Al-Safir, Nasrallah described his priorities and methods in the first months of Hezbollah's formation:
The main effort at the time went into mustering and attracting young men and setting up military camps ....
The second effort was spreading the word among the people, first, in a bid to raise their morale, and second to instil in them a sense of animosity towards the enemy, coupled with a spirit of resistence...this required us to use the language of indoctrination rather than realpolitik. People then were not in need of political analysis, they were in need of being incited and goaded. (Hala Jaber, Hezbollah Born With a Vengeance, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp. 49-50)
Nasrallah purveys his message via Hezbollah's own television network, Al-Manar, a primary engine of incitement to violence against Jews, Israelis and Americans. Al Manar's stated mission is to "wage psychological warfare against the Zionist enemy." This is often done by glorifying attacks, particularly suicide missions against Israel. Last year, Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar encouraging "martyrdom" among children, saying:
How can death become joyous? How can death become happiness? When Al-Hussein asked his nephew Al-Qassem, when he had not yet reached puberty: "How do you like the taste of death, son?" He answered that it was sweeter than honey. How can the foul taste of death become sweeter than honey? Only through conviction, ideology, and faith, through belief, and devotion.
We do not want to...leave our homeland to Israel... Therefore, we are not interested in our own personal security. On the contrary, each of us lives his days and nights hoping more than anything to be killed for the sake of Allah. (MEMRI: Al-Manar TV , Feb. 18-19, 2005)
In May, Nasrallah appeared on Al-Manar TV to explain that "our nation's willingness to sacrifice their blood, souls, children, fathers, and families" is an advantage over the Jews "who guard their lives." (MEMRI: Al-Manar TV on May 23, 2006.)
Nasrallah and the Palestinian-Israeli dispute
Nasrallah has inflamed tensions between Israel and the Palestinians by using Hezbollah's resources to assist Palestinians attack on Israelis. He told AP that Hezbollah supplied Palestinian terrorists with weapons until 2001 when Israel intercepted a boat with supplies bound for the West Bank. Hezbollah, he acknowledged, continued to provide other forms of support for Palestinian terrorists including "financial, political and media support." (AP, April 26, 2006)
Nasrallah has denounced every peace agreement made between Israel and the Palestinians, instead encouraging them to be violently rejected. He believes that "lands can [only] be returned through Holy War, martyrdom, blood, sacrifices and bullets."(Chicago Tribune, Nov. 27, 2000)
For example, when the Palestinians were considering modifying their charter by taking out references to Israel's illegitimacy, the Hezbollah leader responded:
The Palestinian National Charter will live on as long as there is a knife in a Palestinian woman's hand with which she stabs an Israeli soldier or settler ... as long as there are suicide bombers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv ... and as long as there is a child who throws a stone in the face of an Israeli soldier. (AP, Dec. 12, 1998)
Nasrallah and the Palestinians in Lebanon
While Nasrallah urges Palestinians to die fighting for their "rights" and "freedom" against Israel, he rejects giving citizenship rights to Palestinians who live in Lebanon:
The Lebanese refuse to give the Palestinians residing in Lebanon Lebanese citizenship, and we refuse their resettlement in Lebanon. There is Lebanese consensus on this...we thank God that we all agree on one clear and definite result; namely, that we reject the resettlement of the Palestinians in Lebanon. (BBC Monitoring: Al-Manar TV, Nov. 5, 2003)
While Israel is the main focus of Hezbollahh's enmity, Nasrallah's anti-American sentiments are continuously on display. He fuels anti-American attitudes in the Middle East with charges such as his statement that Americans "have outdone Hitler." (AP, Oct. 2, 2001) During one TV broadcast, Narallah accused the US of many "sponsored plans for extermination, eradication and genocide" against the people in the Middle East. (BBC Monitoring: Al-Manar, Feb. 8, 2002)
A 2002 appearance on Al-Manar illustrates his deep hostility toward the United States:
Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan [America] is absolute ...
I conclude my speech with the slogan that will continue to reverberate on all occasions so that nobody will think that we have weakened. Regardless of how the world has changed after 11 September, Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan: Death to America. (BBC Monitoring: Al-Manar, Sep. 27, 2002)
Nasrallah boasts about Hezbollah's designation as a terrorist group by America:
It is our pride that the Great Satan (U.S.) and the head of despotism, corruption and arrogance in modern times considers us as an enemy that should be listed in the terrorism list...I say to every member of Hezbollah (should) be happy and proud that your party has been placed on the list of terrorist organizations as the U.S. view it. (United Press International, Nov. 4, 2001)
At a rally in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Nasrallah encouraged worldwide suicide bombing against the West:
Martyrdom operations - suicide bombings - should be exported outside Palestine. I encourage Palestinians to take suicide bombings worldwide. Don't be shy about it. (Washington Times, Dec. 6, 2002)
The group is reported to have worldwide influence and reach. According to Magnus Ranstorp, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland:
It [Hezbollah] has served as a role model for terror groups around the world ... Al Qaeda learned the value of choreographed violence from Hezbollah ....
According to both American and Israeli intelligence officials, the group maintains floating "day camps" for terrorist training throughout the Bekaa Valley. ... In some of them, the instructors are supplied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence. In the past twenty years, terrorists from such disparate organizations as the Basque separatist group ETA, the Red Brigades, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the Irish Republican Army have been trained in these camps" (New Yorker, Oct. 14, 2002)
Nasrallah and his well-funded terrorist organization have promoted violence worldwide and have helped thwart peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.