Hizbollah: pronounced /ˌhɛzbəˈlɑː/; Arabic: حزب الله Ḥizbu ‘llāh, literally “Party of Allah” or “Party of God”
I have always appreciated Hezbollah as a staunch terrorist threat. This statement paraphrases favorably that I have feared them as an enemy organization to my country — though ‘fear’ was never my choice of word to instill confidence during my tenure with Delta. That I appreciated or feared them is solid recognition of the group as a terrorist threat to western powers.
Hizbollah (or Hezbollah or Hizbullah) wasn’t created to combat the West, though it did strongly oppose American and French presence in Lebanon. In fact, it was created in 1985 with the extant goal of harassing Israel. The organization was conceived by Muslim clerics and founded/funded by Iran in an effort to consolidate a smattering of Lebanese Shia Muslim groups into a singular effort to counter Israel in the ongoing Iran-Israel conflict.
Hizbollah is based in Lebanon and headquartered in Beirut from where it serves as a proxy for Iran</a. The figure currently at the organization’s helm is Hassan Nasrallah.
Western allied nations formally recognize Hizbollah as a terrorist organization. A healthy contingent of about 12 Arab states, primarily those states with membership in the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, also consider Hizbollah as a terrorist group. Iran, the obstreperous child that it is, is not in either alliance. In fact, in the case of the Gulf Coop, all the Persian Gulf Arab states except Iran are members.
The Hizbollah founding leaders were loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini who graced the organization with training from his own elite guard forces. As for the particulars of Hizbollah in Lebanon, the organization’s strength, though paramilitary by definition, is known to rival that of the Lebanese national army. Hizbollah holds actual seats in the national government and even boasts its own radio and TV shows. In June of 2018, Hizbollah’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were shut down by the respective site administrators.
During my time with Delta, we were always conscious of the existential threat of Hizbollah, whose name came up in every pre-alert cycle intelligence brain dump. Each cycle Unit intelligence analyst met with the pending alert squadron and, according to their specifically-assigned threat areas of the world, stood up one by one delivering a current Intelligence Summary (INTSUM) for their assigned sector of the world. Hizbollah never failed to make the Middle East threat INTSUM.
The most notably heinous act for which Delta recognized Hizbollah was for its hand in the apprehension, torture and subsequent murder of CIA Station Chief and former Green Beret officer William Francis Buckley. During Buckley’s captivity, several videotapes of his torture were filmed by Hizbollah and delivered to western authorities. One of the Delta officers I went through Selection and Assessment with was privy to (at least) one of the torture tapes. When a group of us boorishly requested the officer to kindly expound on the film content, he dismissed our insisting in the most disturbing and adamant fashion saying that we “just didn’t want to know.”
USALC and CIA Station Chief, William Francis Buckley, 57, was kidnapped from Beirut, Lebanon on March 16, 1984. He was then taken to Iran where he was brutally tortured and killed. He was held captive for 15 months before dying from the torture he had received. In 1991 his body, wrapped in blankets, was dumped on a road near the Beirut airport.
This brings to mind my own experience with an operative from Hizbollah in the post-civil war environment of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Hizbollah sent forces on a voluntary basis to fight for the Muslim faction of the struggle. Sarajevo is by and large a Muslim majority city with isolated Croat and Serb pockets.
I’m reminded of a stretch of road that I used to travel from my safehouse to the city of Tuzla. Around December of that particular year, the houses in one neighborhood along that road appeared decorated in colored lights and such regalia in preparation for the Christian celebration of Christmas, revealing the Croatian dominance of that enclave.
The operative I interfaced with was working in the capacity of personal security for a city politico. He came many times to the Embassy Residence annex from where our Delta contingent ran our Tactical Operations Center (TOC). The man was identified as a member of Hizbollah. I was keen to parlay with him and see what he was made of. Mrko — the Bosnian name that he was going by — was famous for having run through a Serbian mortar barrage with a sack of recently acquired groceries. Though wounded by mortar shrapnel in the back, he continued to run holding the sack. When asked why he didn’t just drop the bag so he could run faster, he replied:
“Parce que j’avais faim — because I was hungry.”
Between the no Arabic from me, the no English from Mrko, and the mutual broken Bosnian language we were not getting far. But the fact that he volunteered excellent French lent credence to the strong probability that he was indeed from Lebanon, and in fact Hizbollah. Our dialogues consisted of much posturing and gaming each other. In spite of the failure from each side to achieve progress as to the other’s origins… we became, how shall I put it, quite chummy.
We did become friends, Mrko and I, the mismatch of our professional goals notwithstanding. We enjoyed running into each other and met at all opportunities. We sucked down local cancer sticks, joked and oggled women on a basis reserved strictly for male bonding. We shared a few family details, the veracity of which I am loath to admit I cannot vet. When we parted for good there was no sadness or love lost — it was just the thing that came next. I hardly ever thought of the brother again, and we made no effort to stay in touch.
By Almighty God and with honor,