Bulgaria's interior minister announced on Feb. 5 the result of his country's investigation into the July 2012 bombing of a bus filled with Israeli tourists in the city of Burgas, which killed five Israelis and the vehicle's Bulgarian driver. Two of the individuals who carried out the terrorist attack, he said, "belonged to the military formation of Hezbollah."
It was not by chance that his statement fingered only the military wing of Hezbollah, not the group as a whole. Within the European Union, the findings of the Bulgarian investigation have kicked off a firestorm over whether to add the Lebanese militant organization -- in whole, or perhaps just its military or terrorist wings -- to the EU's list of banned terrorist groups. But are there in fact distinct wings within the self-styled "Party of God"?
Hezbollah is many things. It is one of the dominant political parties in Lebanon, as well as a social and religious movement catering first and foremost -- though not exclusively -- to Lebanon's Shiite community. Hezbollah is also Lebanon's largest militia, the only one to keep its weapons and rebrand its armed elements as an "Islamic resistance" in response to the terms of the 1989 Taif Accord, which ended the Lebanese Civil War.
While the group's various elements are intended to complement one another, the reality is often messier. In part, that has to do with compartmentalization of Hezbollah's covert activities. It is also, however, a result of the group's multiple identities -- Lebanese, pan-Shiite, pro-Iranian -- and the group's multiple and sometimes competing goals tied to these different identities.
Hezbollah's ideological commitment to Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolutionary doctrine of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist), which holds that a Shiite Islamic cleric should serve as the supreme head of government, is a key source of conflict. The group is thus simultaneously committed to the decrees of Iranian clerics, the Lebanese state, its sectarian Shiite community within Lebanon, and fellow Shiites abroad.
The consequences of these competing ideological drivers was clear in July 2006, when Hezbollah dragged Israel and Lebanon into a war neither state wanted by crossing the U.N.-demarcated border between the two countries, killing three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapping two more in an ambush. They came to the fore again two years later, when Hezbollah took over West Beirut by force of arms, turning its weapons of "resistance" against fellow Lebanese citizens. When the chips are down, Hezbollah's commitment to Iran trumps its identity as a Lebanese political movement.
The ties that bind Hezbollah's political leadership with its international illicit activities are also unmistakable. According to a CIA document, even before Hassan Nasrallah rose to the position of secretary-general in 1992, he was "directly involved in many Hizballah terrorist operations, including hostage taking, airline hijackings, and attacks against Lebanese rivals."
Time and again, Hezbollah's political personalities have been tied to the group's terrorist and criminal activities. Consider a major case in the United States: In 2008, while Hezbollah operative Ali Karaki was planning a Hezbollah attack in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, his brother, Hasan Antar Karaki, was helping lead a broad criminal conspiracy to sell counterfeit and stolen currency in Philadelphia. Luckily, Hasan Antar Karaki sold his wares to an undercover FBI informant posing as a member of the Philadelphia criminal underworld. Hasan Antar Karaki proved to be a major figure in Hezbollah's forgery operations, and he provided an FBI source with fraudulent British and Canadian passports.