Born out of the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War during the 1980s, Hezbollah has spent the past thirty odd years becoming one of the world’s most effective and feared terrorist groups. With the ostensible objective of removing Israel’s presence from Lebanon; Hezbollah has also struck at American interests and military installations in the Middle East, collaborated with Central American criminal gangs in smuggling drugs into the USA and conducting surveillance against Jewish communities in South East Asia. They are also remarkably shadowy, with little being publically known about its leadership and modus operandi, hence why Matthew Levitt’s new book on them is so appreciated.
An expert in Islamic terrorism in the Levant (Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan), Mr. Levitt has served as an intelligence analyst at the FBI, Deputy Assistant Secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, a State Department counterterrorism advisor to the special envoy for Middle East regional security so is excellently placed to write about the Lebanon-based terror group.
Opening with a chapter focussing on Hezbollah’s birth and evolution into a fully-fledged terrorist organisation, Levitt primarily dedicates the rest of the book to the group’s international activities as opposed to those within Lebanon itself. Moving from its early activities in the Levant that then spreading out to the Gulf states, Europe, Africa and eventually the Americans and Asia he masterfully tracks its evolution from a small, local militia to globally feared terrorist network.
Levitt’s book reads more like a thriller than an academic work with its detailing of espionage, reconnaissance, terrorism and the shadowy war Iran is waging against the West. While some of the chapters do verge on the long side, they are broken up into more easily readable internal sections which make the book as a whole more manageable to the general reader. Having said that though, Levitt meticulously researched including an average of 171 references to the sources he used at the end of each chapter. It is also replete with fascinating titbits of information significantly adding to the reader’s growing impression of Hezbollah’s global reach: think an ever-rising number of prisoners serving time in America’s jails for narcotics-related offences sporting tattoos in Farsi. A result of Hezbollah’s strong links to the regime in Tehran and growing cooperation with drug-smuggling gangs, or mere coincidence?
Equally accessible to both the layman and scholar, Levitt’s work on Hezbollah could have only benefited from the inclusion of photographs and maps of key individuals and events, and some discussion of the group’s non-terrorist activities within Lebanon itself (i.e. a political party and cabinet member, and provider of welfare and social services.
The book can be purchased here, through its publisher’s website.