Hassan Nasrallah is the secretary-general of the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, and an important figure in Lebanese politics.Guy Raz, “Hassan Nasrallah: Mideast Man of the Minute,” National Public Radio, July 18, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5566717. Although Nasrallah does not hold official office in Lebanon, terrorism expert Walid Phares asserted, “[Nasrallah is] seen as a messianic figure, much higher than any official in Lebanon.”Eben Kaplan, “Profile: Hassan Nasrallah,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 11, 2010, http://www.cfr.org/lebanon/profile-hassan-nasrallah/p11132. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Nasrallah has shaped Hezbollah into the dominant political power in Lebanon and is the “driving force” behind the group’s military operations.Eben Kaplan, “Profile: Hassan Nasrallah,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 11, 2010, http://www.cfr.org/lebanon/profile-hassan-nasrallah/p11132.
Nasrallah assumed leadership of Hezbollah in 1992 after Israel assassinated his predecessor, co-founder of the group Abbas Musawi.Guy Raz, “Hassan Nasrallah: Mideast Man of the Minute,” National Public Radio, July 18, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5566717. Under Nasrallah’s leadership, Hezbollah has assumed many state functions in Lebanon’s Shiite-majority south by providing a social welfare network, schools, housing, and other services. These activities have boosted Hezbollah’s and Nasrallah’s popularity.Guy Raz, “Hassan Nasrallah: Mideast Man of the Minute,” National Public Radio, July 18, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5566717.
Many in the Middle East view Nasrallah as a heroic figure for appearing to successfully stand up to Israel.Ronen Bergman, “The Fall of Hezbollah’s Leader,” Bloomberg Business, June 24, 2013, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-06-24/the-fall-of-hezbollah-s-leader. Hezbollah claimed credit for forcing Israel to end its 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.Marjorie Miller, John Daniszewski, and Tracy Wilkinson, “Israel leaves South Lebanon after 22 years,” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2000, http://articles.latimes.com/2000/may/24/news/mn-33497. According to National Public Radio’s Guy Raz, “Nasrallah is seen as a hero [throughout the Arab world] — a leader capable of inflicting pain on Israel.”Guy Raz, “Hassan Nasrallah: Mideast Man of the Minute,” National Public Radio, July 18, 2006, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5566717. However, Nasrallah’s popularity in Lebanon has suffered since 2012 as a result of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.“Hezbollah Promises Syria ‘Victory,’” BBC News, May 25, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22669230.
Iran and Hezbollah have maintained strong ties under Nasrallah’s leadership, with Iran providing Hezbollah with financial and military support.Anoushiravan Ehteshami, “The Foreign Policy of Iran,” in The Foreign Policies of Middle East States (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 298; Jonathan Masters and Zachary Laub, “Hezbollah (a.k.a. Hizbollah, Hizbu’llah),” Council on Foreign Relations, January 3, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/lebanon/hezbollah-k-hizbollah-hizbullah/p9155. In September 2012, Nasrallah pledged to attack Israel if it or the U.S. attacked Iran’s nuclear facilities.Rana Muhammad Taha, “Nasrallah Threatens US on Behalf of Iran,” Daily News Egypt, September 4, 2012, http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2012/09/04/hezbollah-if-attacked-iran-could-attack-us-bases/. After the January 3, 2020, death of Qasem Soleimani, commander of Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps., Nasrallah called for attacks on U.S. military installations around the Middle East.Liz Sly and Sarah Dadouch, “Hezbollah says retribution for Soleimani’s death must target U.S. military, not civilians,” Washington Post, January 5, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/hezbollah-says-retribution-for-soleimanis-death-must-target-us-military-not-civilians/2020/01/05/50869828-2e62-11ea-bffe-020c88b3f120_story.html.
In May 2018, the U.S. Treasury and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center—which includes the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—sanctioned Nasrallah along with other top Hezbollah officials. According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the sanctions demonstrate a collective rejection of “the false distinction between the so-called ‘Political Wing’ and Hezbollah’s global terrorist plotting.”“U.S. sanctions Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, deputy Qassem,” Reuters, May 16, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-hezbollah-sanctions/u-s-targets-hezbollah-leader-nasrallah-deputy-qassem-with-sanctions-idUSKCN1IH2QA. Previously, the United States designated Nasrallah in January 1995 as a Specially Designated Terrorist under Executive Order 12947 and again in September 2012 under Executive Order 13582 for providing support to the Syrian government.“Treasury Targets Hizballah for Supporting the Assad Regime,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 10, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1676.aspx; “Treasury Designates Hizballah Leadership,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 13, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1709.aspx; “Treasury and the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center Partner Together to Sanction Hizballah’s Senior Leadership” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 16, 2018, https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm0387.
On November 27, 2020, unknown assailants killed senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Iran. U.S. intelligence described Fakhrizadeh as the driving force behind Iran’s nuclear program. Some U.S. officials claimed Israel was behind the assassination.Kylie Atwood, “US official says Israel was behind assassination of Iranian scientist,” CNN, December 2, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/02/politics/iran-scientist-israel-assassination-us/index.html. In response to the killing, Nasrallah reportedly canceled all travel plans and intended to remain in one undisclosed location out of concern Israel might target him.“Hezbollah chief said to hunker down amid fears he could be targeted by Israel,” Times of Israel, November 29, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-chief-said-to-hunker-down-amid-fears-he-could-be-targeted-by-israel/. In early December, Kuwaiti media reported that Nasrallah planned to indefinitely relocate—or had already relocated—to Iran. According to the reports, Lebanese and regional intelligence had recorded increased communications between the IRGC and Hezbollah to plan the move.Tzvi Joffre, “Hezbollah’s Nasrallah to move to Iran amid regional tensions – report,” Jerusalem Post, December 3, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/hezbollahs-nasrallah-to-move-to-iran-amid-regional-tensions-report-650992.
On June 29, 2021, Nasrallah met with Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh in Beirut to discuss the fighting between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups led by Hamas, which escalated in May 2021 after Hamas fired rockets into Israel. The two leaders reportedly affirmed the relationship between Hezbollah and Hamas.Aaron Boxerman, “Hamas leader Haniyeh meets Hezbollah chief Nasrallah in Beirut,” Times of Israel, June 29, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-leader-haniyeh-meets-hezbollah-chief-nasrallah-in-beirut/.
Hezbollah remains committed to responding to Israeli airstrikes on open land, with Nasrallah claiming on August 7, 2021 that the group’s actions could escalate in an “appropriate and proportional way” in the future.“Hezbollah chief Nasrallah says group could escalate its response to Israel,” Reuters, August 7, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hezbollah-chief-nasrallah-said-group-could-escalate-response-israel-2021-08-07/. The statement was made following Israel carrying out its first air raids on Lebanese soil in years on August 5th, with Hezbollah launching retaliating attacks the next day.“Hezbollah vows 'suitable and proportionate' response to any Israeli air strikes on Lebanon,” France 24, August 8, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210808-hezbollah-vows-suitable-and-proportionate-response-to-any-israeli-air-strikes-on-lebanon.
Following the Taliban’s August 15, 2021 takeover of the Afghan government, Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he called the takeover “the moral downfall of America.” Given the Taliban’s conquest, Nasrallah criticized U.S. support overseas, particularly in Israel, which he conjectured would face a fate similar to Afghanistan if it continues to rely on U.S. support.Aaron Boxerman, “Hezbollah chief: Israel should learn from Afghanistan that US is unreliable,” Times of Israel, August 18, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-head-israel-should-learn-from-afghanistan-that-us-is-unreliable/.
On August 19, Nasrallah announced that an Iranian fuel tanker would sail toward Lebanon—a violation of U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran—warning Israel and the United States to not intercept the vessel that is expected to set sail that day.“Hezbollah Says Iranian Fuel Tanker to Sail to Lebanon Soon,” Voice of America, August 19, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/hezbollah-says-iranian-fuel-tanker-sail-lebanon-soon; “Iranian fuel tanker heads for crisis-hit Lebanon, says Hezbollah,” France 24, August 19, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20210819-iranian-fuel-tanker-heads-for-crisis-hit-lebanon-says-hezbollah. The fuel would allegedly be used for desperately needed supplies for “hospitals, manufacturers of medicine and food, as well as bakeries and private generators,” in Lebanon. However, some analysts believe the fuel will be sent to Syria and refined there.“Daring Israel and US to act, Hezbollah says Iran fuel tanker to sail to Lebanon,” Times of Israel, August 19, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hezbollah-says-iran-fuel-tanker-to-sail-to-lebanon-dares-israel-and-us-to-act/. Nasrallah announced a few days later on August 22 that a second vessel is set to sail out sometime soon, with the first vessel having allegedly departed from Iran on August 19. According to media sources, the arrival of Iranian fuel—despite the risk of sanctions—will purportedly offset Lebanon’s financial crisis as fuel has run dry and shortages have incited deadly violence throughout the country.“Lebanon's Hezbollah says Iranian fuel vessels setting off soon,” Reuters, August 23, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/lebanons-hezbollah-says-iranian-fuel-vessels-heading-lebanon-2021-08-22/.
As Saudi Arabia has engaged Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group and downgraded their relations with Lebanon. In response, Nasrallah and Hezbollah have stepped up their rhetoric against the Saudi monarchy. In September 2016, Nasrallah declared Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi ideology to be “more evil than Israel.”“Hezbollah chief prefers Israel over Wahhabism,” Ya Libnan, September 27, 2016, http://yalibnan.com/2016/09/27/hezbollah-chief-prefers-israel-over-wahhabism/; “Nasrallah: Wahhabism ‘more evil’ than Israel,” Times of Israel, September 27, 2016, http://www.timesofisrael.com/nasrallah-wahhabism-more-evil-than-israel/. Thousands of Hezbollah supporters at an October 2016 rally reportedly chanted “Death to the Al Saud,” referring to Saudi Arabia’s ruling family.“Hezbollah sees more conflict in Syria and rising regional tension,” Reuters, October 11, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-hezbollah-idUSKCN12B2FG?il=0. During a January 3, 2022, televised address, Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of exporting ISIS’s ideology and providing cars for suicide attacks in Iraq. Nasrallah further accused Saudi Arabia of participating in a wider conspiracy to destroy the Middle East. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s office soon after issued a statement distancing the Lebanese government from Nasrallah’s address.Kareem Chehayeb, “Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah accuses Saudi Arabia of ‘terrorism,’” Al Jazeera, last updated January 4, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/3/hezbollahs-nasrallah-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-terrorism. Mikati called Nasrallah’s comments antagonizing Saudi Arabia “not in Lebanon’s interest.”Timour Azhari, “Hezbollah’s criticism of Saudi not in Lebanon’s interest - PM,” Reuters, January 3, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hezbollahs-criticism-saudi-not-lebanons-interest-pm-2022-01-03/.
The Department of the Treasury designated Hasan Nasrallah a Specially Designated Terrorist under Executive Order 12947 in January 1995. The designation blocked all property and financial transactions in the U.S.“Treasury Targets Hizballah for Supporting the Assad Regime,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 10, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1676.aspx.
The Department of the Treasury designated Hasan Nasrallah on September 13, 2012, under Executive Order 13582 for providing support to the Syrian government. The designation called for the seizure of all assets of anybody in the U.S. doing business with the Syrian government.“Treasury Designates Hizballah Leadership,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, September 13, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1709.aspx.