Although Hezbollah was founded roughly a quarter of a century ago, no one is quite sure what, exactly, it is. The "A-team" of Islamist terrorist groups, as one U.S. official put it, or Lebanese Shiite freedom fighters? Cat's-paw of the Islamic Republic of Iran, or a distinctly Lebanese political grouping organized, just like others, along sectarian lines, with ties to specific outside powers? Religio-political movement with uncompromising ideological goals, or a well-organized political party in the welter of Lebanon's political pluralism? There is no better person to address these questions -- and, indeed, to demonstrate the fallacy of such stark either-or options -- than Norton, who has been studying Lebanon, and especially the Lebanese Shiites, for longer than Hezbollah has been in existence. He offers here a brisk and balanced history -- which is to say, he traces an evolution over time -- of Hezbollah while situating the party in the larger Lebanese and regional contexts.
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