Hezbollah as a case study of the battle for hearts and minds

Hezbollah as a case study of the battle for hearts and minds

Dr. Reuven Erlich and Dr. Yoram Kahati 1


1. Hezbollah, �the party of Allah,� is a Lebanese Muslim terrorist organization, established with Syrian support in 1982 during the first Lebanon war (Operation Peace for the Galilee ). Hezbollah’s ideology is radical Shi’ite Islam, and the organization serves as a tool to promote the goals of Iran and Syria , while at the same time it is an integral part of the Lebanon ‘s political and social fabric.

2. During the 25 years of its existence Hezbollah, with massive support from Iran , established an extensive military infrastructure in Lebanon . Equipped with advanced weapons, it was activated against Israel in the second Lebanon war. In addition to its military infrastructure, Hezbollah also established a civilian framework which supports Lebanese Shi’ites in the fields of education, health care, religion and provides various social services. Operated together, the two systems turned Hezbollah from a local Lebanese terrorist organization, with limited guerilla and terrorist capabilities, into an organization with military and civilian capabilities which go far beyond those of the other terrorist organizations both in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

3. Hezbollah, like other terrorist organizations, is fully aware of the importance of the battle for hearts and minds, whose objective is to influence the insights and perceptions of various target audiences in Lebanon and abroad. The battle is waged in many different ways, from information and propaganda to �education� and indoctrination. Alongside its vast network of educational and cultural institutions, the organization, with massive financing from Iran , built a media empire and learned (as did the other terrorist organizations) how to exploit the possibilities presented by the communications and information revolution.

4. The flagship of Hezbollah’s media empire is its TV satellite channel, Al-Manar , which was set up in 1991 with aid from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The channel’s broadcasts are slanted toward propaganda and reflect Hezbollah’s Iranian-inspired ideology and political agenda. From the very beginning Hezbollah specialized in mixing propaganda with factual information, including visual material from the battlefield . To that end, it established a body called � battle information, � which embedded professional photographers in the squads attacking the IDF and the South Lebanese Army. Al-Manar is professional and effective, and it is extremely popular not only in Lebanon but throughout the entire Arab-Muslim world, the Middle East (including the Palestinian Authority) and abroad.

5. In addition to Al-Manar, Hezbollah owns a radio station (Radio Nur), newspapers, Internet sites in several languages (including English, French, Spanish and even Hebrew) and publishing houses (the most notable of which is Dar al-Hadi, named for Hassan Nasrallah’s son Hadi, killed in south Lebanon). All of the above, in addition to the organization’s extensive network of religious, �educational� and cultural institutions, and its internal indoctrination system, have a uniform strategic propaganda base determined by Hassan Nasrallah, with neither internal criticism nor leaks to the media.

6. Hezbollah’s battle for hearts and minds employs terminology expressing Iran ‘s extremist Shi’ite Islamic worldview. Special emphasis is put on fostering the values of jihad (holy war) and shahadah (death as a martyr for the sake of Allah) to justify the campaign of terrorism and guerilla warfare waged by Hezbollah (and the Palestinian terrorist organizations) against Israel. At the same time, Hezbollah does not hesitate to use Western terminology unrelated to Islam, such as muqawamah , a modern secular Arabic term meaning �active resistance,� or to adopt anti-Semitic European Christian motifs to encourage hatred for Israel and the Jewish people.

7. The principal messages sent by Hezbollah to its target audiences at home, in the Arab-Muslim world and the Western world are the following: the organization is Lebanese-nationalist in character and non-sectarian; it plays a role as Lebanon’s �defender,� which legitimizes its military infrastructure; hatred for Israel and denying its right to exist, which justify the terrorist campaign waged by Hezbollah and the Palestinians against it, and it uses its communications empire to encourage anti-Semitism and hatred for the Jewish people; hatred for the United States, by representing it as the source of evil and terrorism; Hezbollah’s image of might, its �glorious successes� against Israel and Hassan Nasrallah as a role model; radical Shi’ite Islamic ideology and Iranian �leader Ali Khamenei� as a role model.

8. However, all of the above messages are rife with internal contradictions and weaknesses . Hezbollah’s complete dependence on Iran (and Syria) and its regarding Khamenei as the source of authority contradict the image of �Lebanese nationalism� the organization tries to create; its clearly Shi’ite identity contradicts its non-ethnic stance; the radical Islamic Iranian ideology it represents contradicts the basic pragmatism which is characteristic of most of the Lebanese population, regardless of ethnic affiliation; its militant jihadist character contradicts Lebanon’s national interests and even the interests of the Shi’ites themselves, who bear the burden of the results of Hezbollah’s terrorism and guerilla tactics against Israel.

9. During the second Lebanon war Hezbollah waged a shrewd, successful propaganda campaign against Israel by using the media empire it had built over the years. The campaign was aimed primarily at Lebanese and Arab-Muslim audiences, but was also intended to influence Western and Israeli public opinion. Hezbollah strove to delegitimize the IDF’s actions in Lebanon by inculcating the message that Israel was harming innocent Lebanese civilians, while ignoring the fact that it had established its military infrastructure within the midst of Lebanon ‘s dense civilian population and was using them as human shields. At the same time, the organization waged a propaganda campaign and used psychological warfare to attack its Israeli target audience to lower morale, cause panic, increase fear of its rocket fire and strengthen Hezbollah’s image as a strong organization possessing impressive operational capabilities.

10. The battle for hearts and minds in the second Lebanon war was spearheaded by Al-Manar TV, which survived and remained on the air, even after the Israeli air force bombed its building in a southern suburb of Beirut . It regularly broadcast factual information mixed with propaganda about its rocket fire and the successes it achieved in battle, and its broadcasts served as a source for many other media. Hassan Nasrallah was interviewed six times during the war (four times by Al-Manar) and his statements were often quoted, especially in Lebanon , other Middle Eastern countries and around the world. To a great extent, during the war he succeeded in taking over TV screens (even in Israel ), thus achieving an enormous advantage.

11. Hezbollah’s propaganda achievements were also the result of its ability to prevent foreign journalists, Arab and Western alike , from accessing combat zones and to keep information away from them, making it impossible for them to cover topics which were incompatible with the organization’s propaganda strategy. In general, foreign correspondents in Lebanon could not visit military sites (weapons’ depots, bases, facilities) or interview organization operatives in the field. They were channeled into covering Lebanese civilians harmed by Israeli attacks and the damage done to Lebanon ‘s civilian infrastructure. Reports by foreign correspondents show that only a few of them succeeded in evading supervision and the limitations placed on them by Hezbollah, and in operating in ways other than those dictated by the organization.

12. After the war Hezbollah launched another extensive propaganda campaign, whose objective was to inculcate its target audiences with the myth of the �divine victory.� The campaign was based on three main elements:

A. The IDF’s failure to stop or significantly reduce Hezbollah rocket fire throughout the war;

B. The harsh internal criticism expressed for the IDF and the government when the war ended: the many failures and mistakes exposed were used and are still being used by Hezbollah as grist for its propaganda mill.

C. Israel’s achievements and Hezbollah’s failures in the war were not sufficiently emphasized within Israel itself because of internal criticism. Therefore, they were not always picked in Lebanon and the Arab world, with the result that they did not succeed in undermining Hezbollah’s victory myth.

13. However, as the dust settled in the months following the war, and as the Lebanese internalized the destruction wrought upon their country, the myth of the �divine victory� began to crack, and internal criticism increased because of the high price Lebanon was forced to pay for Hezbollah’s military escapade. Therefore the organization was forced to switch to defensive tactics and must now face the accusations of its opponents in Lebanon for having dragged the country into an unnecessary war, and to fend off demands to disarm and implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The fierce dispute between Hezbollah and the opposition camp created an on-going political crisis in Lebanon , which is apparently far from being resolved.





A portrait of Hezbollah


The battle for hearts and minds in Hezbollah strategy


Hezbollah’s terminology


Hezbollah’s target audience


Weaknesses in Hezbollah propaganda messages


Weapons in the battle for hearts and minds






Hezbollah’s media empire



The exploitation of Lebanese, Arab and Western media



Education and indoctrination


The battle for hearts and minds during and after the second Lebanon war



Hezbollah’s main propaganda messages



The use of Al-Manar TV



Blocking information from outside correspondents



The �divine victory� myth campaign



Arguments with internal criticism


Appendix: Selected Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center Bulletins dealing with Hezbollah’s battle for hearts and minds

A portrait of Hezbollah

1. Hezbollah 2 (�the party of Allah,� in modern political terminology) is a Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim terrorist organization. It was established by Iran with Syrian support in the summer of 1982 during the first Lebanon war (Operation Peace for the Galilee ). Hezbollah’s ideology is the radical Islam preached by Iran ‘s Khomeini. The organization is a strategic tool in Iranian and Syrian hands, and at the same time an integral part of Lebanon ‘s political and social fabric . Its radical Islamic identity and complete dependence on Iran and Syria dictate its jihadist militant stance towards Israel, against which it has waged a terrorist campaign and guerilla warfare since its inception (for the difference between terrorism and guerilla warfare, see below).

2. Hezbollah was established in the Baalbek region of Lebanon ‘s Beqa’a Valley, from whence it spread to Shi’ite population concentrations in south Lebanon and Beirut ‘s Southern Suburb. Within those areas Hezbollah established an extensive military infrastructure , aided and supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The infrastructure has the military capabilities of a sovereign state, which on the eve of the second Lebanon war included more than 20,000 rockets and advanced anti-tank missiles. Relying on Shi’ites throughout the world, Hezbollah also maintains an operational infrastructure outside Lebanon and has created a real potential for terrorist attacks abroad.

3. The terrorist and guerilla operations undertaken by Hezbollah since its inception have focused on Israel , although occasionally it has acted against the United States and other Western countries, as well as against Israeli and Jewish targets abroad. While conducting its routine, on-going terrorist and guerilla activities, it also built up a military infrastructure, which was upgraded after the IDF left the security zone in south Lebanon in May 2000. The infrastructure’s resources were used against Israel following the abduction of two IDF soldiers near the Lebanese border on July 12, 2006 (the event which led to the second Lebanon war).

4. With massive Iranian aid and support, Hezbollah also established an extensive civilian infrastructure. With facilities and institutions for education, health, religion, social services and propaganda, it helps the traditionally deprived Shi’ite Lebanese community to advance its sectarian interests politically, economically, and socially. Hezbollah’s civilian activities have enabled it to establish a broad power base within the Shi’ite community and to become an influential factor in Lebanon ‘s internal politics.

5. Hezbollah is motivated by radical Iranian Shi’ite Islamic ideology, exported from Iran and inculcated into the local Shi’ite population. The Ayatollah Khomeini, who instigated and led the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, and his heir, Leader Ali Khamenei, are two key personalities, both revered and acclaimed. They were turned by Hezbollah into role models, and in the second Lebanon war their pictures and sayings were found in Hezbollah offices and bases in south Lebanon . It should be noted that Hezbollah did not develop its own unique Islamic ideology, but rather adopted the Iranian ideology in toto .

6. Since its establishment, Hezbollah has succeeded in converting from a local terrorist organization to one with broad military, social and communications capabilities which surpass those known to be possessed by terrorist organizations in the Middle East and even beyond. That was made possible by the massive military and financial support and political backup provided by Iran and Syria , which view Hezbollah as an important strategic tool for waging their campaign against the United States and Israel , for increasing their influence in Lebanon and for advancing their regional interests.

The battle for hearts and minds in Hezbollah strategy

1. �Members of the resistance have come to the conclusion that while a bullet can wound a soldier or two, a picture can wound all of Israeli society, which is the most significant aspect of the conflict� (a senior member of Hezbollah’s battle information department to Al-Diyyar , Lebanon, October 25, 1997).

2. The confrontation between Hezbollah, the Palestinian terrorist organizations 3 and Israel waged during the past decades is fought on three fronts:

A. On the ground , between the organizations initiating terrorism and those who carry it out, and the security forces which try to prevent terrorist attacks;

B. On the political front , as both sides try to rally support from the international community and the Arab-Muslim world;

C. In the battle for hearts and minds , in which both the terrorist organizations and Israel , using a variety of means and methods, try to bring their positions and perceptions to the attention of the relevant target audiences.

Success or failure on one of the fronts can influence, and sometimes determine, the events in the other two.

3. In the battle for hearts and minds rival sides use many methods to try to influence, directly or indirectly, the perceptions and insights of their various target audiences. The methods used include education, indoctrination, information, propaganda and psychological warfare. The battle is waged not only to reinforce the positions of supporters but to win over neutral and hostile target audiences.

4. The terrorist organizations fighting Israel regard the battle for hearts and minds as extremely important. Hezbollah and Hamas, which are radical-Islamic in nature, 4are particularly prominent. Both devote enormous resources to the battle and use it extensively when dealing with their rivals at home, as well as against Israel and the West. The weapons used are virtual: pictures shown on television, the written word, hard-copy media, the Internet, radio broadcasts, the sermons of the preachers in the mosques.

5. However, the harm done by such virtual weapons and their long- and short-term influence on morale are no less than those of real bullets. For better or worse, they influence the motivation, will and determination of both sides to continue the battle, despite the difficulties and the harm done to morale. In the battle for hearts and minds each side tries to create a positive image for itself and a negative image for its enemy and to draw favorable public opinion to its cause.

6. The terrorist campaign and accompanying battle for hearts and minds are waged on the backdrop of the communications revolution, especially exploiting satellite television channels and the enormous vistas opened by the Internet. The terrorist organizations, aware of the critical importance of the battle for hearts and minds, have chalked up impressive successes by using the media to transmit their messages, create public interest in their doings, generate support and sympathy for their causes and increase the influence of terrorism. 5

7. Among the radical Islamic terrorist organizations which learned how to exploit the possibilities presented by the communications and information revolution, most prominent are Hezbollah, Hamas and Al-Qaeda. All three completely reject the messages spread by Western television and the Internet and at the same time use both media to spread their own messages and support for their terrorist campaigns. In a recent article about the second Lebanon war, American journalist Marvin Kalb related to the issue by quoting an Austrian expert and noting that �’If Bin Laden didn’t have access to global media, satellite communications and the Internet, he’d just be a cranky guy in a cave.’ Maybe, but in fact Bin Laden does understand the enormous power of modern communications.� 6

8. The Iranian regime invests great efforts to export its Khomeini-inspired radical Islamic ideology . Hezbollah, inspired by Iran , established a broad network of educational, cultural (including publishing houses) and religious institutions, all intended to shape the Shi’ite mindset to the ideology of the Iranian Islamic revolution. Hezbollah also acts as the vanguard in exploiting the potential of mass communications in the battle for hearts and minds. Hezbollah is exceptional in that it is the only terrorist organization to possess a satellite television channel, a radio station and a vast Internet presence, all of which reach the organization’s various target audiences. They are based on a uniform propaganda strategy, with no internal criticism and no leaks to the media. Thus Hezbollah has become a model for the Palestinian terrorist organizations, especially Hamas, in the battle for hearts and minds as well as in terrorism.

Hezbollah’s terminology

1. Hezbollah, having adopted the Islamic radical Shi’ite Iranian ideology, often employs specific terminology to express it. Hatred is fostered for Israel by calling it �the Zionist entity,� and for the United States by calling it �the enemy of Islam� and �the source of world evil.� The tenets of jihad and shahadah are also glorified and used to justify terrorist campaign waged by the organization against Israel . 7 At the same time, Hezbollah does not hesitate to employ Western terminology completely unrelated to Islam. For example, it makes extensive use of the term � resistance � (see below), nor does it hesitate to exploit Christian European anti-Semitic motifs for its own purposes.

Jihad according to Leader Khamenei

�Jihad [is] one of the gates to paradise opened by Allah to his chosen faithful.� That is, Allah determined jihad as a recommended path for the chosen Muslim faithful to reach paradise (from the introduction to a jihad booklet which quotes an Islamic oral tradition [hadith] attributed to Caliph Ali, the founder of Shi’a).

During the second Lebanon war four copies of a book called Al-Jihad were taken from Hezbollah operatives in Maroun al-Ras. It was published in 2004 by the Imam Khomeini Cultural Center in Beirut , and analyzes the significance of jihad according to the worldview of Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei.


2. The terminology used by Hezbollah, like that of the Palestinian terrorist organizations, represents terrorist attacks as legitimate actions which cannot be surpassed. It glorifies the various types of terrorism, making no distinction between suicide bombing attacks and rockets fired into civilian populations, and turns the suicide bombers into role models for the younger generation . At the same time, the terminology negates the right of the State of Israel to exist. It makes free use of anti-Semitic slogans, sometimes with no distinction between Israel , the Zionist movement and the Jewish people. Two examples follow, one of Hezbollah’s use of terminology borrowed from the West, and the other of Islamic terminology :

A. First, Hezbollah often uses the term muqawamah (� active resistance �), which is in effect a modern secular Arabic term. Hezbollah and its operatives are often called �the Islamic resistance in Lebanon .� 8 The term was borrowed from the French r�sistance and was intended to imbue terrorism with the cachet of self defense against a foreign occupier. However, the French Resistance in the Second World War did not operate against civilians but rather against soldiers and military facilities with the objective of driving the Nazis out of France (and is therefore considered a guerilla movement). In addition, muqawamah , which is the translation of r�sistance , also expresses general resistance to an enemy arising from disgust related to non-military aspects, such as culture, economy and society, and not just narrow terrorist-operational activities.

Adherence to �resistance�

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: �This is the year of adherence to resistance, the preservation of resistance and the insistence on resistance, and that is our choice, our faith and our path, and our national, pan-Arabic and Islamic deed�� (Al-Manar TV, February 9, 2005).

B. Secondly, Hezbollah uses the term istishhad , cognate with shaheed (a martyr for the sake of Allah). It means �dying the death of Muslim martyr for the sake of Allah through self-sacrifice on the battlefield against an enemy,� and has been attached principally to suicide bombing attacks. That is done to justify suicide bombing terrorism, since suicide is forbidden by Islam if its motive is personal, in which case it is called intihar . Hezbollah (and the Palestinian terrorist organizations) use the term freely and the message is that death as a martyr through self-sacrifice (i.e., a suicide bombing attack) is a transcendent, heroic action done first and foremost for the sake of Allah, and also for the sake of all Muslims. Its objective is to advance the Islamic terrorist organizations’ political agenda, but also to provide the suicide bomber and his or her family with bonuses both in this world and the next, which �ordinary� Muslims usually do not receive. Thus the suicide bomber is glorified, and it is no surprise that suicide bombing terrorism has spread from Lebanon throughout the entire Arab-Muslim world , fomented especially by propaganda in the media and mosques.

Hezbollah fosters the shaheeds

From the page of Islamic Resistance shaheed pictures appearing on the Hezbollah Website of the village of Houleh in south Lebanon: two Hezbollah shaheeds under an inscription reading �the martyrs, in the eye of their Lord� shall have their Reward and their Light.� 9The objective is to turn the shaheeds into role models. Hezbollah has a Website called �Jihad and Shahadah� devoted to the operatives of the organization who were killed in confrontations with the IDF.

Hezbollah encourages Palestinian suicide bombing terrorism

Hezbollah encourages Palestinian terrorism and turning suicide bombers into role models. From an Al-Manar TV movie praising the suicide bombing attack carried out by Muhammad Mahmoud Bakker Nasr, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative who blew himself up in the Wall Street caf� in Kiryat Motzkin near Haifa on August 12, 2001 , injuring 16 people. Under the suicide bomber’s picture appear the Arabic words �blessed martyrdom.� The ultra-Orthodox Jew (middle row, right hand picture) personifies all Israelis, who represent �heresy� and �treachery� (Al-Manar TV, August 18, 2001 ).

Hezbollah’s target audiences

1. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that specializes, among other things, in the battle for hearts and minds, supported and inspired by Iran . That component of the organization’s strategy enables it to upgrade its terrorist-operational and political activities. Hezbollah’s battle for hearts and minds is directed at many target audiences, each of which is ranked differently in importance, and each receives unique and specially suited messages, some of them sometimes contradictory.

2. The classic propaganda is aimed at three types of audiences: the home audience, the neutral audience and the audience identified with the enemy. Hezbollah, although it is a Lebanese Shi’ite organization, is not satisfied with the home audience and makes a great effort to spread its propaganda to the other two. The various target audiences in Lebanon , the Middle East and the West are the following:

A. The Lebanese , whom Hezbollah regards as of supreme importance: Its power base is among the Lebanese Shi’ites and they are Hezbollah’s first priority. The organization places special emphasis on children, adolescents and university students, whom it views as its future. In addition to the Shi’ites, there are various other sectarian groups, parties and organizations that Hezbollah regards as important, even if they are not necessarily among its supporters. Hezbollah works to increase their support and to be more effective with its opponents.

B. Arabs and Muslims : Hezbollah also regards the support of neutral target audiences in the Arab-Muslim world as important. It tries to gloss over the rivalry and contradictions between Shi’ites and Sunni Muslims and to stress what it views as common denominators, especially political and cultural factors, such as hostility toward Israel and the West, particularly the United States , support for the Palestinians, rejection of modern Western values and the preservation of the values of traditional Islam. Sometimes if does so by appealing directly to the Arab street, bypassing the heads of the pro-Western Arab regimes hostile to Hezbollah and the Iranian-Syrian axis (i.e., Egypt , Saudi Arabia and Jordan ). 10 Hezbollah also regards the Palestinian target audience as particularly important and pays it a great deal of attention to encourage the Palestinian terrorist organizations to escalate their campaign against Israel (see below).

C. Western countries , and concentrations of Lebanese and Muslim Arabs in Western countries: When dealing with the West, Hezbollah tries to play down its image as a terrorist organization in order to win justification for its military-terrorist attacks against Israel , to vilify Israel and its policies, and to make it difficult for the IDF to operate in Lebanon . Aware of the difficulties it faces in the West (as a terrorist organization operated by Iran), Hezbollah uses terminology specially adapted to Western ears, sometimes even glossing over or even hiding the radical rhetoric it usually employs when dealing with Israel, the Jewish people and the West. 11

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