Terrorist to Tyrant

Thomas Myers

ABSTRACT: Successful terrorist groups can evolve to gain national power. This article consists of three case studies: the overthrow of the Russian Czar, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and Hezbollah’s rise to power in Lebanon. The three are compared in order to identify common stages in terrorist evolution. These stages are identified as Ideological Development, Small Group Terror, Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution, Revolutionary Victory and Consolidation of Power and finally, Tyranny. Both the Russian and Iranian Revolutions followed the six stages to Tyranny while Hezbollah has not (yet) completed the fifth stage to power.

Myers, Thomas. “Terrorist to Tyrant.” Homeland Security Affairs 7, Article 6 (February 2011). https://www.hsaj.org/articles/57

“No ruling class has ever voluntarily and peacefully abdicated. In questions of life and death, arguments based on reason have never replaced the arguments of force.”

Leon Trotsky 1


In a July 2010 lecture, former FBI Deputy Director for the National Security Branch Philip Mudd spoke about counterterrorism strategy and al Qaeda Ideology. 2 He addressed al Qaeda Prime, the core group of modern Islamic terrorists, and how it has influenced affiliates and likeminded groups. Their goal is the revolutionary overthrow of the Western-dominated world order and terrorism is their tactic. We are dealing with a revolution rather than simply a terror group. This article describes not terrorist organizations but revolutionary movements and their use of terror.

Revolutionary movements are a product of social protest movements. Social protest movements are usually organized and act outside of the political system to either promote or prevent change in the existing social order. 3 A revolutionary movement “uses confidential, violent terroristic activity” in order to achieve its ends. 4 The objective of the revolutionary movement is the destruction of the existing social or political order so that it can be replaced with one conforming to its own ideology. For the purpose of this article, terrorism is defined as the calculated use of violence, outside of internationally accepted bounds of civil law and conventional military conduct, in the pursuit of political or social objectives. 5 Internationally accepted bounds are those laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva and Hague Conventions. 6

Acts of terror alone do not overthrow governments and when used indiscriminately terror alienates the society it wishes to coerce. Without popular support, the ire of the state may be brought to bear on the isolated terror group; it is forced to flee or be destroyed. Those who use terror must first justify its use. Without justification the group remains an illegitimate criminal organization in the eyes of the population and international community; the population sides with the state, perceived as the legitimate upholders of society. The terror-using group endeavors to turn the support of the populace away from the state and towards itself by undermining the legitimacy of the state.

Repressive measures intended to control terrorism can alienate the public, shifting their support towards the revolutionary movement. The more popular support of the revolutionary movement grows, the more the legitimacy the state is brought into question. 7 Terror groups may evolve in capability – from terrorists to insurgents to revolutionaries – as they meet with success, ultimately replacing the existing power structure.

This article examines three revolutionary movements that used terror as a means to achieve their objectives: the overthrow of the Czar by the Russian Socialist Revolution, the overthrow of the Shah by Iranian Islamic Revolution and Hezbollah’s rise to power in Lebanon. The three are compared in order to analyze whether these are separate and unique occurrences or whether these might be indicative of the successful application of terrorism.

The Russian Revolution is perhaps the quintessential revolutionary movement and one that has had a particularly large impact on the United States. In studying the Russian Revolution, I identified six developmental stages, which can be organized as a Revolutionary Terrorism Value Chain (RTVC). 8 The six stages of the RTVC are: Ideological Development, Small Group Terror, Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution, Revolutionary Victory and Consolidation of Power, Tyranny, and Export of Terror and Expansion. A successful terrorist group can evolve through these stages to gain national power.

Next, I researched the Iranian Islamic revolution, which likewise has had great impact on the U.S. Its parallels to the Russian Revolution helped refine and validate the RTVC. Finally, I applied the RTVC to Hezbollah because of its contemporary interest and because of its links to the Iranian Revolution. At this writing Hezbollah is in the fourth stage, providing the opportunity to observe whether it continues to evolve or if its development may be arrested or diverted.

The RTVC illustrates how social revolutionary movements utilize violence through six stages of development. I refer to this use of violence as “revolutionary terror” in general through all six stages. Because different applications of violence are necessary in each stage, there are distinct types of terror within the general category of revolutionary terror. In all stages however, the violence is illegitimate and therefore characterized as terror. Identifying and analyzing the stages of a revolutionary movement may determine how terror will be used. This analysis enables the identification of collection requirements and indicators of terrorist operations and conversely allows tracking of the progression of a revolutionary movement. Because there are basic stages necessary to conducting a successful revolution, a common value chain can be applied to most revolutionary social movements.


The Revolutionary Terrorism Value Chain consists of the following six stages.

Stage One: Ideological Development

A revolutionary social movement begins as an idea. The idea must present the case against the existing social or political order and the need for fundamental change. Once the existing order is deemed illegitimate the ideology justifies the use of violence as a means of achieving change. It is when the ideology rationalizes unlawful violence – that is to say terror – that the revolutionary terrorism value chain begins.

Stage Two: Small Group Terror

A core group acts upon the ideas developed in Stage One. Ideological propaganda in this stage appeals mainly to fringe elements easily branded as extremists. The existing power structure reacts with violent repression. Terror in this stage is used to manipulate an audience, either to gain sympathy for its cause or to create dissatisfaction with the existing social or political order. The existing social/political entity reacts with repressive measures intended to crush the terrorist. Overly repressive measures, however, prove counterproductive, creating widespread dissatisfaction leading to the next stage.

Stage Three: Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution

The ideology gains mass appeal enabling the core group to create a political organization that eventually gains legitimacy. Ideological propaganda becomes more sophisticated and more widely accepted. Small group terror continues, however; the core group maintains a separation between the action cells, responsible for acts of sabotage, assassination and kidnappings, and the larger political party formed out of the disaffected population. Legitimate means of civil protest – including protest marches, general strikes and sit-ins – are employed by the overt political party. A second type of terror tactic emerges in the form of riots and lynching of opposition figures. These acts are made to appear spontaneous but are in fact centrally coordinated culminating in a popular armed revolution.

Stage Four: Revolutionary Victory and Consolidation of Power

The revolution overthrows the former government and the core group consolidates power. Consolidation of power is defined as the ability of the core group to impose its will over the entire country and exercise effective control of instruments of national power. In this stage terror becomes a mechanism to eliminate political rivals. Successful revolutions are often the result of the united effort of several parties that may have differing objectives. Some of these parties will not use illegitimate violence and fall victim to those who do. The most ruthless of these parties will apply terror in the forms of intimidation, assassination, and – when it has gained enough power – through the arrest and imprisonment or execution of its rivals.

Stage Five: Tyranny

Tyranny is defined as centralized rule over a nation, benefiting the ruler rather than the ruled, and uses violence in a manner considered unlawful by modern international norms of behavior. With rival parties eliminated, a power struggle within the core group ensues. The most ruthless faction wins and imposes autocratic rule. Terror becomes an integral function of the regime applied through a state security apparatus. These secret police are used to repress opposition and indoctrinate the population. National power is strengthened through forced conscription and the diversion of economic assets to the defense industry.

Stage Six: Export of Terror and Expansion

The regime seeks to expand its sphere of influence. Terror or the threat of terror is used as a tool in foreign policy to threaten hostile states. Foreign small-group terrorists are provided training, financial support, and weapons with the twin objectives of spreading the revolutionary ideology and intimidating foreign enemies.

There is a danger of forcing events to fit into this framework. It is important to remember that these stages are meant to be broad and general. Overlap and concurrence particularly in the latter stages do not invalidate the overall idea that terror campaigns evolve and, if successful, can become national governments. The first example in the twentieth century of the successful application of terrorism in the achievement of political and social change is the Socialist Revolution in Russia.


Ideological Development

The Russian revolution really began in the late nineteenth century. Although Czar Alexander II (who ruled from 1855 to 1881) was attempting modernization using the Western model, much of the country remained in a state of feudal peasantry. 9 The Russian intelligentsia was also taking ideas from the West.

In Russia, Mikhail Bakunin and Sergey Nechayev were two early Russian proponents of terror as a political weapon used to incite rebellion. 10 Both went into exile in Western Europe and met other revolutionary ideologues such as Karl Marx, developing ideas similar to the Italian thinker Carlo Pisacane who wrote, “Ideas result from deeds.” 11 Pisacane thought violence was necessary to grab attention and rally the population behind a revolution.

Small Group Terror

The Narodnaya Volya, or People’s Will, founded in the late 1870s, put the ideas of the intellectuals into practice. In an attempt to win over the peasants, Narodnaya Volya committed acts of terror to attract attention to the cause. 12 The Narodnaya Volya targeted government officials and members of the ruling class for their symbolic value as members of the czarist regime. 13 The Narodnaya Volya hoped terror would undermine the people’s confidence in the government and win support for regime change.

Narodnaya Volya succeeded in assassinating the czar himself, but it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory. 14 One of the assassins was captured and provided the information needed to track down the terror organization. By 1883 Narodnaya Volya ceased to exist. 15 Remnants of the group helped form the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries in the early twentieth century. 16

Civil Unrest 1905

The Socialist Revolutionaries continued the terror campaign. Russian terrorism was evolving. The Socialist Revolutionaries advocated “terrorism, not in place of work among the masses, but precisely for and simultaneously with that work”. 17 The political revolutionary organization replaced the terror group as the prime vehicle for the revolution. Vladimir Lenin, an exiled leader of the revolutionaries, differentiated between “individual” terror – which he saw as a substitute for popular active support of the masses – and the kind of terrorism by the masses associated with the uprising of 1905. 18

The revolutionaries did not renounce terror; the tactics of bombings and assassinations continued to be used. Now, however, the “combat organization” (responsible for “individual” terrorism) operated separately from the party so as not to jeopardize its political actions. 19 If the state took down a terrorist cell, the political arm of the revolution could disavow them and continue their activities.

When a group of unemployed workers began demonstrations in St. Petersburg, Georgi Gapon, an Orthodox priest, decided to make a personal appeal to Nicholas II on their behalf. He drew up a petition outlining the workers’ demands and on January 22, 1905, led a large procession of workers to the Winter Palace in order to present the petition. Police and Cossacks attacked the procession and more than 100 workers were killed. The incident, known as Bloody Sunday, signaled the start of the 1905 Revolution. The Czar violently crushed the massive demonstrations and strikes that spread throughout the empire. 20 The ruthless manner in which the revolt was put down destroyed public trust in the government, further legitimizing violent opposition to the state. 21

Revolutionary Victory February 1917

In 1917 Russia was at war and losing to the Germans. In February, a general strike in St. Petersburg exploded into a second revolution. Unlike 1905, the Russian Army joined the workers, forcing Nicholas II to abdicate his throne, and a new Russian government was formed. A group known as the Mensheviks led the new Provisional Government.

Unable to solve many of the problems faced by the Czar, including the continued war with Germany, the provisional government faced its own difficulties with social unrest. The flames of unrest were fanned by radicals released from the Czar’s prisons and others returning from exile. One of the key people returning from exile was Vladimir Lenin. His Bolsheviks had organized workers, peasants, and soldiers into a powerful political force.

The Bolsheviks felt that Russia should make peace with Germany, ending the war immediately. 22 Continuing the mistakes of the Czarist regime, the Mensheviks began arresting radicals, which alienated the working class. When the situation became desperate, the leader of the provisional government sought the help of the Bolsheviks, who played a key role in defending the provisional government, enabling them to gain even deeper support from the Russian people. When elections took place, the Bolsheviks won a majority of the seats in the soviets in Petrograd, Moscow, and other cities. 23

Consolidation of Power October 1917

On October 24-25, 1917, pro-Bolshevik soldiers, sailors, and Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace and arrested members of the provisional government. This “bloodless coup” put the Bolsheviks in power. 24 Russia soon found itself in a civil war between the “Whites” (White Guard Volunteer Army) led by General Kornilov, and the “Reds” led by the Bolsheviks. 25 The Bolsheviks, who became known as the Communists, were besieged by not only the Whites, but also the Allies (Great Britain, France, and the United States), who feared international communism would spread to their own countries. 26 Eventually the Allied Forces withdrew and the Whites were defeated.

Once in power the Communist use of terrorism transformed into a means of controlling internal enemies and coping with international strife. Political opponents were rounded up and executed or imprisoned. Meanwhile, threatening the export of terrorism held off hostile nations, primarily Western Europe and the United States. 27

Stalin and Tyranny

With the death of Lenin a brief power struggle ensued within the Communist Party. Stalin’s ruthless application of terrorism removed his rivals and cowed his doubters as he took power. His use of violence to eliminate real and perceived opponents did not conform to international norms of acceptable use of national power. His archrival Leon Trotsky, himself a practitioner of terrorism, fled to exile in Mexico where he was eventually assassinated by Stalin’s henchmen.

Stalin institutionalized terrorism in the Soviet Union. The Communist Party and the state’s police, military, and security apparatuses became instruments of his personal will. A biographer described Stalin’s political purges and imprisonments, and forcible impressments and deportations, as a “conspiracy to seize total power by terrorist action,” resulting in the death of millions. 28

After Stalin, the USSR continued to rule through fear. In the West, Siberia has become synonymous with political exile. Terrorism continued to be exported through support given to international terrorist organizations such as the German Bader-Mienhof group and the Italian Red Army Brigade. For many, communism and terrorism were and remain inextricably linked.


I have identified six stages of terror in the Russian Revolution. The first stage is the development of an ideology; in Russia this began as early as the 1850s. Mikhail Bakunin and Sergey Nechayev were two early Russian proponents of terror as a political weapon used to incite rebellion. 29 It is important to note that terror is not the ideology; rather, the ideology legitimizes the use of terror as a means to an end. In Russia the ideology eventually developed into communism. The early ideologues spent much time in exile, expounding their radical views, and little time actually committing terror in Russia.

Stage two is the application of small group terror. If stage one is that of word, stage two is that of deed. Bakunin and Nechayev’s words inspired others to act upon their ideology. Small groups or cells of violent radicals with little mass appeal characterize this stage; Narodnaya Volya was such a group. These terrorists came largely from the intellectual class and hoped to incite rebellion among the lower classes through their violent acts. When they failed to gain support through their deeds, they hoped to cause increased repression by the state, which they hoped would finally turn the people against the government. With little popular support, the terrorists were crushed by the government crackdown.

This led to the third stage: mass civil unrest used by the terrorist/intellectuals to form a revolutionary movement. The increased repression of the czarist government was one of several causes of social upheaval. The successors to the Narodnaya Volya, the Socialist Revolutionaries, formed the now discontented people into political organizations and paramilitary fighting groups. The Socialist Revolutionaries orchestrated strikes, demonstrations, riots and other forms of mob violence as a sort of mass terror campaign against the state. Small group terror continued but now in a supporting role.

Stage four: the victory of the revolution and consolidation of power. The revolutionary movement was not homogenous in Russia. Competing ideological groups cooperated towards the common goal of transforming Russian society. With the fall of the Czar, the victorious coalition fought with each other for supremacy. The Bolsheviks used political terror to eliminate their competitors while at same time using propaganda and providing bread and services to ensure the support of the people.

Stage five: tyranny. Lenin and the Communists successfully consolidated power through a reign of terror and by winning the civil war. Resistance was not tolerated, a police state was instituted, and the population was systematically indoctrinated in communist ideology. The revolutionary intellectuals now held total power as the new ruling class, dictating what was “best” for the lower class.

The sixth and final stage: the export of terrorism. In the weakness of its early years, the Russian Soviet state threatened hostile nations with the export of terrorism as a defensive strategy. This became an institutionalized part of Soviet foreign policy throughout the life of the USSR, as evidenced by its support of international terrorist organizations.

The next section tests the validity of the six stages of the Revolutionary Terrorist Value Chain by applying them to the Iranian Islamic Revolution.


The Islamic revolution in Iran provides striking parallels with the Russian revolution. In each case there was a monarch attempting to modernize the country. In both countries there was a large poor agrarian lower class. A feared secret police apparatus ruthlessly repressed dissent. A revolutionary leader in exile in Western Europe returned after civil unrest toppled the monarchy. A totalitarian regime replaced the monarchy and engaged in a war with a fascist dictator on their western border. And both successful revolutions used terror to gain maintain and extend their power.

Ideological Development

In 1941 Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi succeeded his father to become the shah of Iran. In the post war years the shah sided with the western powers, but in 1951 Muhammad Mossadegh, a militant nationalist, became prime minister. Mossadegh attempted to nationalize the oil industry, which was controlled by western companies. The United States feared he would allow the Soviet Union to gain control of Iranian oil resources.

Bowing to U.S. pressure, the shah dismissed the prime minister in 1953. Mossadegh, however, had popular support and instead induced the shah to flee to Rome. Riots ensued and the shah won back control, returning to Iran and sending Mossadegh to prison. The shah pursued agricultural and economic modernization but, despite growing prosperity, opposition to the Shah grew as well. Chief among the opposition were Shiite Muslim clerics who called for the recognition of Islamic law. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in exile first in Iraq and later in France, became the acknowledged leader of the clerics.

The shah hoped liberal reforms would gain popular support. When Khomeini issued a fatwa against his reforms, the government responded with ridicule in an attempt to undermine the cleric’s influence. This tactic backfired, winning new support for Khomeini from the religious community.

Small Group Terror

The shah came to be seen as a puppet of the United States and the CIA was commonly thought to have orchestrated Mossadegh’s removal. An underground group of pious Muslims formed a terror organization known as the Fedaiyan-e Islam. This organization attempted to assassinate some of the shah’s officials. The government responded with a crack down on the Fedaiyan-e Islam, capturing and executing its members. 30

Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution

The shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, and the army cracked down on dissent. As government repression grew disturbances spread across the country. From Iraq, Khomeini ordered strikes and demonstrations. Religious students led protests, turning into riots, against the shah’s reforms. 31 By 1978, Iran was in chaos and the regime declared martial law.

When protest broke out in the capital of Tehran, the army used deadly force (instigating what became known as Black Friday) and hundreds – perhaps thousands – were killed. The killing became too much for the soldiers, many of whom refused to fire on their countrymen and changed sides. Like the Russian czar, the shah could not retain power without the army; he accepted the formation of a new government and went into exile. 32

Revolutionary Victory and Consolidation of Power

Shahpour Bakhtiar, the head of one of the largest opposition groups, the National Front, led the new government. 33 Attempts at reform were opposed by Khomeini, who declared Baktiar’s appointment as prime minister by the shah as illegitimate. Khomeini renewed his calls for dissent, this time against the new government. Bakhtiar represented secular intellectuals and Islamic moderates, who felt they could control Khomeini, and so he was allowed to return from exile. Khomeini, however, was not content to allow a secular democratic government to remain in power.

Khomeini returned to Iran to popular acclaim. His followers continued to demonstrate and Khomeini demanded Bakhtiar’s resignation. The ayatollah’s supporters seized government buildings and forcibly took power in a second revolution reminiscent of Russia’s October Revolution in which Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power from the provisional Russian government. State terror followed the ayatollah’s power grab. Those who had supported the shah were executed or went into exile. Political opponents were imprisoned or executed and buried in mass graves.

When the United States allowed the shah admittance for medical care, massive protests erupted in Tehran, culminating in the storming and seizure of the U.S. embassy. The embassy staff were held hostage, which led President Jimmy Carter to authorize a military rescue operation. The operation ended in disaster when several aircraft were accidentally destroyed in the Iranian desert. The hostage crisis has commonly been cited as a major contributing factor in Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 U.S. presidential elections.

In an attempt to capitalize on the chaos, neighboring Iraq seized disputed territory from Iran. The resulting war lasted eight years and resulted in more than two million dead and wounded. It was during this war that Iran developed the suicide bomber tactic to counter Iraq’s technical superiority.


Banks and industry were nationalized, political opposition banned, and wealth confiscated from the rich. Former allies began to turn against Khomeini, but soon found themselves imprisoned, exiled, or dead. Khomeini instituted sharia law and exercised complete control over Iranian society. Moral infractions became punishable by stoning. Foreign films were banned or heavily censored and religious police patrolled the streets enforcing modest dress and behavior.

Export of Terror and Expansion

Just as the success of the communists in Russia inspired socialists in Western Europe, the Islamic revolution in Iran inspired Muslims throughout the Middle East. Khomeini and his followers found they could extend their influence beyond their borders. The Shia clerics found they even gained admirers among Sunni Arabs

Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), was among the first to express admiration. This was the beginning of a long symbiotic relationship between Iran and Palestinian terrorists. The PLO had a stronghold in southern Lebanon. Iran found fertile ground in the Shia community in Lebanon. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard was dispatched to train the Shia militia engaged in the Lebanese civil war and to form the Lebanese Hezbollah. Through the Hezbollah, Iran has been able to conduct a proxy war against Israel and to aid Palestinian terrorists.


The Iranian Islamic Revolution conforms quite closely to the six stages of terror identified in the Russian Revolution. The first stage is the development of an ideology: in Iran this revolved mainly around the Shia clerics, although there were westernized secular intellectuals and Marxists involved as well. In Iran the ideology eventually developed into Islamic fundamentalism, as it is known in the West.

Stage two is the application of small group terror. The Fedaiyan-e Islam was the Narodnaya Volya of Iran. These terrorists were religiously motivated to conduct acts of terror against the government. Like the Narodnaya Volya, the Fedaiyan were crushed by a government crackdown.

This led to the third stage, mass civil unrest, used by the Islamists and intellectuals to form a revolutionary movement. The increased repression by the shah was one of several causes of social upheaval. Strikes, demonstrations, riots, and other forms of mob violence erupted in a mass terror campaign against the state.

Stage four: the victory of the revolution and consolidation of power. Competing ideological groups had cooperated in pursuing the common goal of transforming Iranian society. With the fall of the shah, the victorious coalition fought with each other for supremacy. The Islamists used political terror to eliminate their competitors, while at same time using propaganda and providing bread and services to ensure the support of the people.

Stage five: tyranny. Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamists successfully consolidated power through a reign of terror. Resistance was not tolerated, a police state was instituted and the population was systematically indoctrinated into Islamic ideology.

The sixth and final stage: the export of terrorism. In the weakness of its early years the Iranian Islamic state threatened hostile nations with the export of terrorism as a defensive strategy. This became an institutionalized part of Iranian foreign policy best exemplified by the Iranian proxy in Lebanon – the subject of Case Three, the Hezbollah.


Hezbollah, the “Party of God”, has some 100,000 supporters (about half of whom are party members) and an annual budget in excess of $100 million, much of which comes from Iran, Hezbollah’s major patron. Hezbollah regards Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, as its ultimate leader and maintains close ties to Iran’s leadership, especially to the hard-line clerics who helped organize the party in the early 1980s.

Like the Russian revolutionaries, Hezbollah claims to fight the oppressors of the downtrodden. In its 1985 manifesto Hezbollah listed three main goals: “putting and end to any colonialist entity” in Lebanon; bringing the Phalangists to justice for “the crimes they [had] perpetrated,” and the establishment of an Islamic regime in Lebanon. 34 Hezbollah’s Shia Muslim followers are strongly anti-West and anti-Israeli. 35 In 2000, Hezbollah forced Israel to withdrawal from Lebanon. This victory raised the movement to greater prominence in Lebanon and the greater Muslim world. 36

Ideological Development

Like the communists of Russia, Hezbollah was born of social strife and intellectuals inspired its creation. In the 1970s Lebanon was a nation of warring factions. Christians, Sunnis and Shiite fought for control. 37 Like the peasants of Russia, the Lebanese Shiites were largely poor farmers and laborers with little political power. 38 Religiously motivated intellectuals of the Shia sect – such as Imam Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in Lebanon, who was usually described as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran – developed the ideas that inspired future generations of Muslim activists. In 1975, Fadlallah wrote his book, Islam and the Logic of Force, which explains that military force must serve the aims of Islam in its war against infidels and imperialists. 39 Like the early Russian intellectuals, the Muslim ideologues were more men of words than of deed.

The Shiite militia, Amal, that preceded Hezbollah was formed in 1975 by Imam Musa Sadr. Sadr had been raised in Iran and trained at the same religious schools attended by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. As Amal, the largest Shia militia in Lebanon, struggled to settle sectarian differences peacefully, the more radicalized Shiites aimed for the establishment of an Iranian-style Islamic state. At the conclusion of the Israeli siege, the newly installed Khomeini regime in Iran sent Revolutionary Guards to southern Lebanon. The Revolutionary Guards provided military training for the existing Shiite militia and helped form Hezbollah, a new, more radical Islamic faction. The words of the intellectuals had formed the ideology to motivate terrorists.

Small Group Terror

The PLO was the Narodnaya Volya of Lebanon and Israel played the part of the czarist regime. The PLO, basing itself in South Lebanon, waged a terror campaign against Israel and the West. In June 1982, the Israelis responded by invading Lebanon, routing the PLO, and occupying the southern portion of the country.

In late August 1982, a multinational peacekeeping force arrived in Beirut to evacuate the PLO. This ended the small group terror waged by the PLO. A month later, Christian Phalangists swept into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian civilians. A multinational peacekeeping force of mostly U.S., French, and Italian troops occupied barracks at the Beirut airport.

Civil Unrest

The massacre in the refugee camps, like Bloody Sunday in Russia and Black Friday in Iran, served as a catalyst for the Shiites. A series of suicide truck bombs struck targets associated with the multinational force and the Western powers. The terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad, claimed responsibility. Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad shared the same leaders. 40 Like the Socialist Revolutionaries, it seemed Hezbollah wanted the fighting organization to appear as a separate entity.

Where the PLO was a foreign entity with little backing from the population, the Shiite terrorists enjoyed the support of a large population base. The multinational force was pulled out, but the attacks did not stop. Hezbollah/Islamic Jihad was behind not only the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks but also the 1985 hijacking of a TWA flight in Beirut. They also claimed responsibility for many of the kidnappings and assassinations in Lebanon, including that of Terry Anderson and CIA Station Chief William Buckley. 41

Hezbollah’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, insisted that Hezbollah stood for moderation and restraint: “It is a mass movement that concentrates on facing political problems.” 42 As the Russian communists had done with the working class and peasants, Hezbollah developed support from among the poor Shia peasants and young people in West Beirut’s poor Shia suburbs. Hezbollah spread propaganda through films, ideological seminars, and radio broadcasts to indoctrinate followers and recruit fighters. Additionally, Hezbollah provided public services such as education and health care. By late 1984, Hezbollah had become not only a militant organization but also a powerful political entity. Based in the Bekka Valley and Southern Lebanon, they conducted their own terror campaign against Israel. 43

Once again Israel responded with military force to drive Hezbollah from the southern border of Lebanon. During the onslaught, Israeli forces assassinated Hezbollah leader Sheikh Abbas Mussawi. Mussawi’s successor, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, vowed revenge. Rather than directly attacking the powerful Israeli Army, Hezbollah struck soft targets. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a suicide bomber exploded at the Israeli embassy and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. Other acts of international terrorism followed; a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires was bombed as were Jewish targets in London.

Political Victory

The Lebanese government had been struggling since the end of the civil war in 1991. When Israel invaded in 1992 the government was unable to respond effectively. It was Hezbollah that faced the invasion and won, gaining immense national prestige in the process. Much as the Bolshevik defense of the provisional government in 1917 set them up to seize power in Russia, the repulsion of the Israelis did the same for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In 1993 Iranian sources estimated the number of Hezbollah fighters at 5,000 strong. 44 Hezbollah’s military branch included not only members recruited from the unemployed, but also doctors, engineers, and other professionals; the party’s political cadres and workers were estimated to be 3,000. Within the larger guerrilla organization, Hezbollah has retained small terrorist cells organized on an informal basis.

When Lebanon’s various militias were disbanded, Hezbollah was allowed to keep its fighting capacity intact and it became, in effect, a second national army. The small terror group transitioned into a supporting role. Hezbollah’s political wing became a legitimate political force in the Lebanese Parliament. 45

Consolidation of Power

Hezbollah is currently in the consolidation of power stage. There has been some struggle for leadership of Hezbollah over the years. In the early years of the movement the most significant Shiite leader was Imam Musa Sadr. Sadr wanted the Lebanese Shia community to remain independent of Iran and keep its distance from the Palestinian resistance movement.

Sheikh Muhammud Hussein Fadlallah, a disciple of Ayatollah Khomeini, arrived in Lebanon in 1966. Fadallah did not become prominent in the Lebanese Shia community until Sadr disappeared under suspicious circumstances while on an official visit to Libya. Fadlallah became Hezbollah’s spiritual leader and encouraged support for the Palestinian resistance to Israel. Fadlallah passed away on July 4, 2010. Hezbollah’s Secretary General Nasrallah now appears to be in complete control of the organization.

If control of the party is resolved, control of Lebanon is not. The 2003 assassination of the popular politician Rafik Hariri may have been an attempt to eliminate Hezbollah’s competition for power. If this is true, it backfired when much of the population demonstrated against the attack. Blame was placed on the Syrian Government, which resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. 46

However, Hariri had close ties to Saudi Arabia’s ruling family – Iran’s Sunni rival – making him a rival of Hezbollah as well. 47 Whether or not Hezbollah was involved, Hariri’s death has left it the dominant political force in Lebanon. This stage will culminate when, or if, Hezbollah gains total control of the Lebanese government. That will open the way for the final stage, tyranny.

As did the Soviets, Hezbollah already uses the threat of terrorism as a foreign policy tool and seeks to expand its sphere of influence, particularly through its relationship with Hamas in Gaza. Hezbollah threatens terrorism out of weakness; this continues to be true in its dealings with the West. Its conventional military, however, continues to gain strength. The private intelligence organization, Stratfor (citing Reuters) reported Sheikh Naim Qasim, deputy leader of Hezbollah, as saying military action against Iran by Israel or the United States could result in violence across the Middle East. 48 Although Qasim did not say what actions Hezbollah might take, he asserted that any country involved in an attack on Iran would face reprisals and that Hezbollah is ready for another war with Israel. 49


It may be useful to refer to Hezbollah not as a terrorist organization but rather as a social revolutionary organization that uses terrorism to achieve political goals. Hezbollah has evolved through the first four stages of terrorism. Building on an ideology developed by Imams and Ayatollahs, Hezbollah experienced, almost from the start, parallel development of the fighting organization and the overt political organization. Through small group terrorism and mass appeal, Hezbollah has successfully transformed itself into a powerful political and social force. Having won legitimization it now seeks to consolidate its power and gain complete control of Lebanon. Should Hezbollah’s success continue, it is possible Lebanon will be transformed into an autocratic regime using terror to cow internal opposition and continuing to export terror as it seeks to expand its sphere of influence.

Hezbollah’s legitimate political standing creates the opportunity to turn them away from violence. Hezbollah is already responsible for a large portion of the Lebanese population and will act to retain their support. The U.S. can leverage public opinion in Lebanon through its dealing with Hezbollah, either treating them as criminals or as a legitimate political entity. Hezbollah has brought some stability to the country; should it be destroyed, Lebanon will likely return to the chaos of the 1970s. It may be that Hezbollah has grown too big to fail.


The use of terror is a rational strategy for combating an enemy possessing overwhelmingly greater resources. The terrorist is under no illusion that he can inflict enough damage to defeat his enemy solely through acts of terror. He knows he must win mass support. When the population believes the grievances of terrorists are legitimate, the tide can turn in favor of the terrorists. 50 The population may then be induced to revolt.

Although the parallels between the above cases are not exact, the grand pattern seems to hold. Terror begins in support of an idea. A core group acts upon the idea. The core group gains mass appeal. The support of the masses enables the creation of a political organization that eventually gains legitimacy. Once legitimate, the organization consolidates power, tyranny is imposed, and the movement seeks to expand its sphere of influence.

Once an ideology rationalizes the illegitimate use of violence, terrorism becomes a tactic used throughout the evolution of the movement. Because of this ideological rationalization in the respective movements, terrorism has become, to many in the West, synonymous with first Communism, then Islam. Although terror was and is a hallmark of these movements, terror alone could not accomplish the desired social change.

A coup d’état can replace the existing regime but is possible only if the conspirators are already part of the state power structure. For those who are not in power to effect radical change, the support of the population is necessary. When overly relied upon, terror can alienate the public from whom support is sought. Without the support of the people, terror groups are easily isolated, tracked down, and eliminated.

When the ire of the state is brought to bear on the isolated terror group, members of that group are forced to flee or be destroyed. Acts of terror, however, can be applied in such a way as to compel the state to repress the people as a whole, which in turn pushes the population into, rather than away from, the camp of the terrorists. Once this happens, the terrorist can transform into a revolutionary movement where there is strength in numbers. Acts of terror evolve into mob violence, such as riots, which further enflames the wrath of the state. Reactionary state violence pushes the mob to organize armed resistance; the revolutionary movement can then be described as an insurrection.

Successful insurrection puts the leaders of the revolutionary movement into power. In the minds of the leaders, the success of their movement validates the use of violence. There is no incentive to abandon a successful tactic.


Predicting terrorism is not the goal of counterterrorism intelligence. Preventing terrorism is the goal. If the intelligence community (IC) predicts a terror group will blow up a particular building and that act comes to pass, then the IC has done a great job of predicting terrorism, but the terrorists have scored a victory. Preventing terrorism involves predicting aspects of terrorism.

The Terrorist Value Chain breaks down terror operations into the steps necessary to produce an attack, from planning, to gathering resources, to carrying out the operation. Value Chain Analysis is a good tool for identifying where and how to task information collection and also to identify indicators of impending terror operations.

Predicting terrorism is most effective in tasking collection efforts and determining indicators rather than in identifying a particular attack. The goal is to get “inside” the terrorists’ operational cycle in order to disrupt the operation. Stopping terrorists at the site of the attack is the last chance and least desirable moment to disrupt the operation. Interdicting reconnaissance of targets, denying or confiscating resources and capturing leaders can stop a terror operation before it can be implemented. In order to prevent terror operations at these earlier stages, a comprehensive understanding of terrorist motivation, organization, targeting preferences and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) is necessary.

The six stages of the Revolutionary Terrorist Value Chain enable intelligence analysts to determine how best to counter terrorism. Different stages of terrorism call for different methods of collection and counter actions.

Stage One: Ideological Development. An ideology is developed that rationalizes the illegitimate use of violence. At this stage the struggle is one of words and ideas. The government can censor the terrorist ideologues but this often proves counterproductive. The revolutionaries will challenge such censorship as an attack on human rights. It is better to expose the revolutionaries’ terror-supported philosophy in order to educate the public and turn them away from an ideology that supports the use of violence.

Stage Two: Small Group Terror. A core group acts upon the ideas developed in stage one. The government must take care not to react with such repressive violence as to alienate the populace. The terror groups must be delegitimized in the eyes of the people. Terrorists are criminals and must be treated as such. The government must assure its citizens that the rule of law will not be forsaken.

Stage Three: Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution. The ideology gains mass appeal, enabling the core group to create a political organization that eventually gains legitimacy. Non-violent means to effect acceptable change must be made available to the citizen. Revolutions generally don’t happen in democracies because the citizen is a part of the governing process and feels empowered to correct the perceived problems of society.

Stage Four: Revolutionary Victory and Consolidation of Power. The revolution overthrows the former government and the core group consolidates power. Terror becomes a mechanism to eliminate rival political groups (political rivals). In this stage the indigenous government no longer exists or is in exile. Foreign governments may try exerting international pressure to moderate extremist behavior.

Stage Five: Tyranny. A power struggle within the core group ensues. The most ruthless win and impose an autocratic regime. Terror becomes a standard tool of the state, used to repress opposition and indoctrinate the population. International pressure can be brought against such a regime; sanctions can be put in place to induce the terror regime to behave in an acceptable manner towards its citizens. Opposition groups can be given foreign aid and intelligence operations can be used to expose the abuses of the regime.

Stage Six: Export of Terror and Expansion. The regime seeks to expand its sphere of influence. Terror or the threat of terror is exported as a tool of foreign policy to threaten hostile states. Intelligence must collect information to prove the links between the terror regime and the terrorists it supports outside its borders. Such proof allows international pressure to be brought to bear.


Combating terror is first and foremost an ideological struggle. Those seeking change through violence are inherently antagonistic towards democracy and those who disagree are the enemy. Terrorists dehumanize their targets – for Marxists there were the capitalist pigs and for the Jihadist there are the infidel dogs. Terrorists view every member of society as complicit in the sins of the government; those not with them are against them.

Religion is often cited as the cause of violence. This is rarely the case – religion is used to recruit and incite. It is used to motivate followers in the pursuit of a political or military objective. If this is true, then the current wave of Islamic terrorism is not necessarily a natural outgrowth of Islam. The objectives of Jihadist leaders are the same as that of the Social Revolutionaries at the beginning of the last century. The objective is to replace the existing power structure with one of their own, with themselves in complete and total control in order to implement their ideology.

What, then, can we expect to see in the development of international Islamic revolutionary terrorism? Although it remains a threat, the core group of al Qaeda has been heavily damaged by the U.S. reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Using the Revolutionary Value Chain, this places us in the third stage: Mass Civil Unrest and Revolution. Of greater concern than individual terror attacks is the wider movement inspired and motivated by jihadist ideology. 51 Counterterrorism does not take place in a vacuum but must be linked to a larger strategy with geopolitical objectives. 52 The primary objective of counterterrorism strategy must be the neutralization of the enemy ideology without which he cannot progress through the RTVC.

In order to win the ideological struggle, the ideology of the terrorist must be shown to be illegitimate. Counterterrorism often requires the application of military force. If, however, terrorists are treated as lawful combatants they gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public. In general, terrorists should be treated as criminals in order to deny them legitimacy; military action should be reserved for cases of immediate public endangerment. 53

Terrorists are politically motivated criminals. Law enforcement must be effective enough to track down and kill or capture terrorists and the legal system must be robust enough to try and convict terrorists. In fighting these criminals, the legal system must be protected from abuse or the state risks losing the support of the people. Terrorist claims of injustice from the legal system reinforce their ideology and potentially gain them popular support. 54 The United States must publicly display respect for international law and human rights, which simultaneously increases the legitimacy of our cause while undermining the terrorist cause. 55

The intent of terrorists is to compel some form of policy change, to influence the population or to punish a government for failing to address the terrorist’s demands. 56 Giving in to those demands proves to the terrorist that his tactics work and he is more likely to employ them again. The government must never be seen to acquiesce to the demands of a terrorist organization. Still, it is necessary to address the factors that contribute to the growth of an ideology and provide an alternative to violence for a dissatisfied population. 57

Terrorists use illegitimate means to come to power and then, when in power, usually continue to use illegitimate means to govern, resulting in crimes against humanity such as were perpetrated by Stalin and Khomeini against their own countrymen. The motivation and intent of terrorists must be understood in order to counter them – if western governments understand their grievances, we may be able to address the root problem. Understanding, however, is not to be confused with empathy.

Empathy may cause the terrorists to be viewed as a legitimate opposition group, which gives them an advantage in the intellectual fight. Just as the revolutionary movement is trying to gain mass support, the state must vie for the “hearts and minds” of the population. Regardless of the nature of the complaint made against the existing social order it is unlawful action which renders the terrorist a criminal. That point must be clearly communicated to the public so they understand the illegitimate nature of the terrorist.

If there are legitimate injustices against which the terrorist acts, then remove the injustice and eliminate a motivational factor. It may then be possible to guide or influence the revolutionary terrorist to abandon unlawful violence in favor of democracy. Win the ideological battle and victory in the operational battle will follow.

Master Sergeant Thomas Myers currently serves as an Army ROTC instructor at Florida A&M University. He has served with the 10th Special Forces Group as an Intelligence Sergeant and Operations Sergeant. Myers has deployed to the Balkans and the Middle East. He recently earned a master’s degree in intelligence studies from American Military University. MSG Myers can be reached at thomas.ripley.myers@us.army.mil.

  1. Pete Dickenson, “What About Russia? Does The Fall Of The USSR Prove That Socialism Will InevitablyFail?” The Socialist online (June 2002), http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/russia/index.html.
  2. Philip Mudd, “U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy,” lecture at the George Washington University/ Homeland Security Policy Institute, June 21, 2010, http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/294157-1.
  3. Eitan Azani, Hezbollah: The Story of the Party of God, from Revolution to Institutionalization (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillian, 2009), 1.
  4. Ibid., x.
  5. Mark Burgess, “Terrorism: The Problems of Definition” (Center for Defense Information, August 1, 2003), http://www.cdi.org/program/document.cfm?DocumentID=1564&from_page=../index.cfm.
  6. International Conferences (The Hague), Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 18 October 1907, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4374cae64.html; United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/en/udhr/pages/introduction.aspx.
  7. Azani, Hezbollah 3.
  8. The Revolutionary Terrorism Value Chain (RTVC) is derived from David Rubin, Maya Vidich, David Kletter, and Sharon Russ. “Transforming Intelligence Using Industry Best Practices – The Terrorism Value Chain,” https://analysis.mitre.org/proceedings/Final_Papers_Files/59_Camera_Ready_Paper.pdf.
  9. Richard Brereton, “Czar Alexander II of Russia the Liberator,” Suite 101.com, Russian/Ukrainian/Belarus History, June 20, 2010, http://russian-ukrainian-belarus-history.suite101.com/article.cfm/czar-alexander-ii-of-russia-the-liberator#ixzz0sAQS6EDN.
  10. John Simkin, “Mikhail Bakunin; Biography” (Spartacus Educational, n.d.), http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbakunin.htm.
  11. Mark Burgess, “A Brief History of Terrorism” (Center for Defense Information, July 2, 2003), http://www.cdi.org/friendlyversion/printversion.cfm?documentID=1502.
  12. Z. P. Solovyeva, “Narodnaya Volya,” (The Encyclopedia of Saint Petersburg), http://www.encspb.ru/en/article.php?kod=2804022444.
  13. Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 18; Leon Trotsky, “In Defense of October” (Socialist Party, UK), http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/russia/index.html.
  14. Hoffman, Inside Terrorism; Solovyeva, “Narodnaya Volya.”
  15. Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 19.
  16. Solovyeva, “Narodnaya Volya.”
  17. Gareth Jenkins, “Marxism and Terrorism,” International Socialism Online Journal of Socialist Theory 110 (April 2006), http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=182&issue=110
  18. Strategy for Revolution in 21st Century, “Terrorism, Its Relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century,” http://sfr-21.org/terrorism.html; Jenkins, “Marxism and Terrorism.”
  19. Leon Trotsky, “In Defense of October,” (Socialist Party, UK), http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/russia/index.html.
  20. “George Gapon; Biography” (Spartacus Educational), http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAbakunin.htm; Peter Litwin, “The Russian Revolution,”(University of Washington, EURO 344, 2002), http://depts.washington.edu/baltic/papers/russianrevolution.htm
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid
  24. Ibid
  25. Ibid
  26. Ibid
  27. Pete Dickenson, “What About Russia?”
  28. Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, 25.
  29. John Simkin, “Mikhail Bakunin; Biography.”
  30. Frank Eugene Smitha, “The Iranian Revolution: King Pahlavi (the Shah) Against Dissent,” Macro History and World Report website (n.d.), http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch29ir.html.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Middle East Conflict: Israel, Palestine, conflict & peace online, “Hezbollah History,” Mid East Conflict.NET (n.d.), http://middleeastconflict.net/hezbollah-history/.
  35. Rex A. Hudson, “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes A Terrorist And Why?” (Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, September 1999).
  36. David Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box: a History of Hezbollah”, From “LEBANON, Party of God” (PBS Documentary series, May 2003); http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/lebanon/tl05b.html.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Eli Avidar, “Death of the Iranian ‘fig leaf’ in Lebanon,” The Jerusalem Post, July 7, 2010, http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=181943.
  40. Adam Shatz, “In Search of Hezbollah,” Review of multiple books and articles, by various authors, The New York Review of Books 51, no. 7 (April 29, 2004), http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17060.
  41. Ibid.; David Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box.”
  42. Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box.”
  43. Hudson, “The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism”; Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box.”
  44. Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box.”
  45. David Lewis, “Bullets to Ballot Box.”
  46. Jay Solomon, “U.N. Brings Hezbollah to Hariri Questioning,” Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303338304575156231183106538.html.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Lebanon: War With Iran Will Bring ‘Heavy Price’ For Attackers- Hezbollah,’ Stratfor, March 18, 2010. http://www.stratfor.com/memberships/157346/sitrep/20100318_lebanon_war_iran_will_bring_heavy_price_attackers_hezbollah.
  49. Ibid.
  50. Jenkins, “Marxism and Terrorism.”
  51. Homeland Security Advisory Council, “Report of the Future of Terrorism Task Force,” January 25, 2007, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/hsac-future-terrorism-010107.pdf
  52. Martha Crenshaw, “Terrorism, Strategies and Grand Strategies,” in Aurdrey Cronin and James Ludes, eds., Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press), 90.
  53. Benjamin J. Priester, “Who Is A ’Terrorist’? Drawing the Line between Criminal Defendants and Military Enemies,” FSU College of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 264 (August 24, 2007), http://ssrn.com/abstract=1009845.
  54. James Renwick and Gregory F. Treverton, “The Challenges of Trying Terrorists as Criminals: Proceedings of a RAND/SAIS Colloquium” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008), http://www.rand.org/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF249.
  55. Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Home Department, “Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom’s Strategy” (The United Kingdom, July 2006).
  56. Benjiman Netanyahu, Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic And International Terrorists, 2nd ed. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001). [56] Crenshaw, “Terrorism, Strategies and Grand Strategies,” 91; Prime Minister, “Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom’s Strategy”; Student Task Force on Combating Terrorism, “Combating Terrorism in a Globalized World” (The National War College, May 2002).

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