(Reuters) – The Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah has worked hand-in-hand with Iran across the Middle East since it was founded in 1982. Here’s what you need to know about one of the most important relationships in the Middle East today:
WHAT IS HEZBOLLA?
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards formed the group in 1982 to export their Islamic Revolution and fight Israeli forces that invaded Lebanon that same year.
Hezbollah shares the Shiite Islamist ideology of Tehran and sees Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as its political and spiritual leader.
Classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and other Western countries, Hezbollah has a powerful military wing that it recognizes as being armed and financed by Iran.
The group also has an impressive intelligence apparatus and monitors its own areas in southern Beirut and southern Lebanon, as well as border areas with Syria.
Hezbollah, one of the two dominant Shiite parties in Lebanon, has members in parliament and ministers in government. Her political clout grew in 2018 when she and allies achieved a parliamentary majority.
Its commercial activities include a retail empire and a construction company. It also runs schools and clinics.
The group, which has become more powerful than the Lebanese state over the past four decades, is largely shaped by the conflict with Israel.
Hezbollah guerrillas forced Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 and fired 4,000 rockets at Israel in a 34-day war in 2006. Since then, Hezbollah has upgraded itself to become an even more powerful force.
The group is accused of bomb attacks far from Lebanon.
Argentina blames Hezbollah and Iran for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people, and for an attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, killing 29 people. Both deny responsibility.
Bulgaria accused Hezbollah of bombing the Black Sea city of Burgas in 2012, killing five Israeli tourists. Hezbollah denied any involvement.
HOW IS HEZBOLLAH HELPING IRAN IN THE REGION?
Hezbollah is helping Iran project power in the region. Its general secretary, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, is a leading figure in the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance,” which aims to oppose Israel, the United States and their Arab allies.
As a charismatic speaker, Nasrallah helps to gather and organize the Arab alliances in Tehran.
Hezbollah’s close ties to Iran were vividly illustrated when it joined Tehran’s side in the war in Syria in 2013 to defend its common ally, President Bashar al-Assad.
In Iraq, Hezbollah has openly admitted that it supported Shiite paramilitary groups supported by Iran.
In Yemen, Hezbollah has also supported the Iranian allied Houthis in their war against a Saudi Arabia-led coalition, according to a Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in the country. Hezbollah denied sending weapons to Yemen in 2017.
Hezbollah has also recognized that it supports the Palestinian group Hamas.
WHERE DOES THE LEBANON FIT?
Hezbollah has made Iran a major player in Lebanon, a country where the United States, Russia, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and many others, have been competing for influence for years.
Shadowy groups, which Lebanese security officials and Western intelligence agencies say are linked to Hezbollah, carried out attacks in the early 1980s that forced US forces to withdraw from Lebanon, including suicide attacks on Western embassies. Hezbollah has never confirmed or denied responsibility.
After the assassination of the former Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, Hezbollah became more visible in Lebanese politics.
A UN-backed court last year convicted a Hezbollah member of conspiracy to murder Hariri, who was viewed as a threat to Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, despite finding no evidence of direct involvement by the Hezbollah leadership.
Hezbollah denies any role in Hariri’s assassination and accuses the tribunal of being an instrument for its enemies in the United States and Israel.
As Hezbollah’s home base, Lebanon is vital to both the group and Iran. Hezbollah has used its political, and sometimes military, clout to counter threats from Lebanese rivals who say its vast arsenal has undermined the state.
In 2008, Hezbollah militants took over Beirut during a power struggle with the then-backed Saudi-Arabian government.
Most recently, she called for the dismissal of the lead investigator of the Beirut port explosion, Judge Tarek Bitar, for persecuting some of Hezbollah’s closest allies on suspicion of negligence and saying his investigation was politicized and biased.
(Writing by Samia Nakhoul; Editing by Tom Perry, William Maclean)