Hassan Nasrallah was born in Beirut, Lebanon in August 1960. After the start of the 1975 Lebanese civil war, he moved with his family to the village of Bassouriyeh, where he joined Amal, a Lebanese Shi’a militia group.
While attending religious services in the city of Tyre, the young Nasrallah came to the attention of an influential cleric who encouraged him to pursue a theological education. The following year Nasrallah went to Najaf, Iraq to study in a seminary. While there, he was mentored by Abbas al-Musawi, a Lebanese cleric who was profoundly influenced by the teachings of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1978 Nasrallah and al-Musawi, along with hundreds of other radical Lebanese students and clerics, were expelled from Iraq and returned to Lebanon.
Back in his homeland, Nasrallah attended a Shi’a seminary in the Beqaa Valley, where he studied the teachings of Iraqi-born Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, founder of the Dawa movement, a militant political party that opposes the secularization of Islam.
Following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Iran dispatched hundreds of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers to the Beqaa Valley to wage jihad against Israeli forces and to establish an Islamic republic in Lebanon. Abbas al-Musawi, for his part, organized militant pro-Iranian clerics and their followers to carry out a number of high-profile suicide bombings against Israeli troops over the ensuing two years. Nasrallah was one of those drafted by al-Musawi’s militia; the young man proved himself to be both a skilled guerrilla commander and an able orator who could inspire others with his fiery sermons.
In 1985 this militia became known officially as Hezbollah.
In 1987 Nasrallah led a contingent of Hezbollah forces in driving Amal forces out of Beirut’s southwestern suburbs. He then traveled to Iran to resume his theological studies at the seminary of Qom.
In 1989 Hezbollah and Amal clashed once more, prompting Nasrallah to again interrupt his religious studies and return to his homeland, where he led Hezbollah forces to victory over Amal in south Lebanon’s Iqlim al-Toufah region.
By the beginning of 1990, Nasrallah had emerged as the head of Hezbollah’s Central Military Command and a member of its politburo.
After Hezbollah Secretary General al-Musawi was killed in a February 1992 attack on his motorcade by Israeli helicopters, Nasrallah replaced him as the organization’s highest-ranking leader.
Nasrallah’s first order of business in his new position was to avenge al-Musawi’s death. Toward that end, he ordered a March 17, 1992 car bomb attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people.
In the ensuing years, Nasrallah and Hezbollah honed their increasingly sophisticated capacity to attack not only Israeli defense forces, but also civilian settlements and non-military targets. By 1999, Hezbollah’s use of terrorism had become so successful that Israel unilaterally withdrew its forces from Lebanon.
Nasrallah has been influential in transforming Hezbollah from a clandestine radical group into an influential political force. Viewing faith and politics as inseparably intertwined, he has said:
“Islam is not a simple religion including only praises and prayers, rather it is a divine message that was designed for humanity, and it can answer any question man might ask concerning his general and private life. Islam is a religion designed for a society that can revolt and build a state.”
Time and again, in speeches and interviews, Nasrallah has expressed his deep-rooted hatred of Israelis and Jews:
“Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan is absolute. … I conclude my speech with the slogan that will continue to reverberate on all occasions so that nobody will think that we have weakened. Regardless of how the world has changed after 11 September, Death to America will remain our reverberating and powerful slogan: Death to America.”
With regard to the war in Iraq, Nasrallah hopes to see America retreat “like what happened in the final days in Vietnam.” “We consider the resistance in Iraq,” he elaborates, “… to be legitimate resistance … and we support and endorse this resistance.”
During the summer 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, Nasrallah publicly declared his intention to strike Tel Aviv in reprisal for Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon’s capital city. “If you hit Beirut, the Islamic resistance will hit Tel Aviv and is able to do that with God’s help.” In that same address, Nasrallah boasted that his forces were inflicting “maximum casualties” on Israeli ground troops. When a cease-fire was declared on August 11, 2006, Nasrallah claimed victory.
In July 2007 Nasrallah stated in an interview (aired by Al-Jazeera and Al-Manar Television) that the war of 2006 had not in any way depleted Hezbollah’s stock of weaponry; rather, he bragged, the organization’s remaining arsenal consisted of at least 33,000 rockets capable of reaching “any corner and any point in occupied Palestine” (i.e., Israel), including Tel Aviv.
On October 15, 2008, the Iraqi press agency Almalaf reported that Nasrallah had been poisoned, and that he had been saved from death only by the intervention of Iranian doctors who had traveled to Lebanon to treat him. But in an interview with Hezbollah’s own Al-Manar Television ten days later, Nasrallah said that the reported assassination attempt had been fabricated by Israelis and Americans as part of a “psychological war against the resistance.”
In August 2010, Nasrallah, making his first public appearance in more than a year, told hundreds of cheering supporters at a rally that Israel was “a cancerous growth,” and that “[t]he only solution is to destroy it without giving it the opportunity to surrender.” “The elimination of Israel is not only a Palestinian interest,” he added. “It is the interest of the entire Muslim world and the entire Arab world…. We say to America, Israel, Great Britain and their regional tools, we say to every enemy and friend … we in Hezbollah will not abandon Palestine and the people of Palestine. Call us terrorists, criminals, try to kill us, we Shi’ites will never abandon Palestine.”