Suzan Quitaz
Former Field Producer at Alaraby Television Network

The Rise of Radwan Unit – Hezbollah’s New Firepower

Since the beginning of the New Year, Hezbollah has released a number of videos of the Elite Unit Radwan Force threatening Israel. On January 1, 2023, the group published a 3 minute video featuring Radwan’s fighters infiltrating Israel’s northern border and ambushing an IDF post. The fighters are equipped with night-vision googles and other military gear, and are seen detonating an explosive device and firing their machine guns at a number of targets with one being the Star of David and another being a car. The video ends with the armed operatives standing near to what is believed to be the Sea of Galilee and with a quote from the Quran (Ad-Dukhan Verse 24) in Arabic, Hebrew and English that reads, “And leave the sea in stillness. Indeed, they are an army to be drowned.”

On February 16, another video was released showing Radwan fighters training and simulating invasion of northern Israel, according to a video shared by the Al-Harb Al-Silm Telegram account and unearthed by MEMRI. The video features warfare training demonstrating the fighters’ marksmanship and combat ability. It ends with in audio in Hebrew with the narrator reading a verse from the Book of Jeremiah “O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem and blow the trumpet in Tekoa and set up a sign of fire in Bethhaccerem for evil appeared out of the north, and great destruction”.

Again, early this month, a new video was released featuring Radwan fighters carrying Arsenal MSGL grenade launchers, sniper rifles and Tandem rocket. The video feature a male narrator saying “you will be wiped out, and Palestine will remain Arabic and for its people”.

These videos which are released by Hezbollah’s Information Unit are part of the group’s warfare against Israel, but also are used for public consumption in the Arab world to boots it support and its ‘almighty resistance’ image.

Aside of that, for the past few years, and outside the prying eyes of the media, a lot of reconnaissance activity has taken place on the Lebanon-Israel border, in the southern region and the Beqaa Valley.

The commando fighters appearing in these videos and allegedly infiltrating Israel, ambushing IDF posts and conducting intelligence gathering along the border with Israel, are Hezbollah’s best trained elite fighters who are in charge of executing Hezbollah’s most secretive, dangerous and sensitive missions. Hezbollah call this unit its “strategic and operation plan of conquering the Galilee”, meaning, northern Israel.

Many military experts have claimed that the Elite Unit Radwan Force is Hezbollah’s new firepower. The estimated numbers of fighters in the Radwan Unit is about 2500 highly trained special elite forces. The Islamic Republic of Iran is not only the backer of Hezbollah, but it is the lifeblood of Hezbollah on many levels, ideologically, financially and military. There piling of reports that Radwan fighters have received their training from the Sabeerin Commando Battalion.  Sabeerin is a division within the Quds Force, a branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that specializes in unconventional warfare and military intelligence operations, basically implementing Iran’s foreign policy in the region.  Sabeerin fighters are one of the Quds Force’s highly trained commando units that played a direct role in the siege of Aleppo and were active in command-and-control along various fronts both in Syria and Iraq.

The Radwan Unit’s former name was “The Intervention Unit,” established and funded with the assistance of the Quds Force. The then commander of Intervention Unit was Imad Mughniyeh whose operational name was “Hajj Radwan”.

Mughniyeh rose to prominence during and after the Second Israel-Lebanon War (2006). A war that is believed to have killed between 1,190 and 1,300 people in Lebanon, and 165 Israeli. A war that severely damaged Lebanese civil infrastructure, and displaced about one million Lebanese and approximately 5000, 000 Israeli. Shortly after a ceasefire was announced, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayed Hassan Nasrallah gave a televised speech congratulating the Lebanese on “strategic and divine victory”. Hezbollah’s “divine victory” was masterminded by Mughniyeh, who was at the time the commander of Hezbollah’s military wing and the field commander and strategist of the Intervention Unit.

On February, 12, 2008, Mughniyeh was killed in a 2008 car blast in Damascus, which Hezbollah officials said Israeli agents were behind it to “revenge” for the “divine victory” war in 2006. However, Mughniyeh was in the hit-list of many Western intelligence agencies including the CIA. Mughniyeh was suspected of masterminding the abduction of Western hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s and of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina that killed 29 people. He was also linked to the bombing of the US marine barracks at Beirut airport in 1983, in which 241 American servicemen died, and the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985, in which a US navy diver was killed. And according to American officials Mughniyeh was directly involved in arming and training Shiite Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that were targeting US forces. After his assassination, the Intervention Unit changed its name to the Radwan Unit.

Haytham Ali Tabataba’i, was one of its first commanders and was also known as Abu Ali Reza. His mother is a Shiite from Southern Lebanon and his father is an Iranian. The U.S. Department of State has designated Tabataba’i as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. According to the listing, Tabataba’i’s actions in Syria and Yemen were part of a larger Hezbollah effort to provide training, materiel, and personnel in support of its regional destabilizing activities.

Military experts says that Hezbollah’s fighting in the Syrian War has enormously strengthened their military capabilities

In 2011, the Syrian civil war broke out and, for the first few years of the war, Hezbollah forces stayed out. However, in 2015 and 2016 its troops were fighting alongside the Syrian army and other Iranian-backed armed militias from Iraq.

In fact, according to Alma, a non-profit and an independent research and education center specialised in Israel’s security challenges on its northern border, the participation of Radwan fighters played a major role in Assad’s forces capturing Aleppo. Alma adds that “Radwan operatives also constituted a significant fighting force in the battles against the rebels in al-Qusayr and al-Qalamoun, leading to victory in these places.”

Undoubtedly, Radwan Force’s participation in the Syrian war has given them extensive battlefield experience and a better understanding of conventional armed forces.  They have gained experience in urban ground raids and taking control of a town, as well as in airborne combat and intelligence gathering. Years of fighting alongside the Syrian army with other Iran-backed armed militias and the Russians have enormously strengthened Hezbollah’s military capabilities and “has made them a better fighting force and more adept in conventional military warfare,” According to informed sources who explained that despite Hezbollah losses in Syria, (some 1,600 fighters), Radwan fighters have gained  valuable experience while “learning to fight on a large scale, in platoons and battalions, while using sophisticated weaponry and heavy, accurate armaments that they receive from Iran.

Back in April 2022, the outgoing Brig. General Shlomi Binder, who was the commander of the 91st Galilee Division, told Haaretz, that the IDF needed to keep a constant vigilance at the northern front with Lebanon. He stressed that Hezbollah has expanded its military capabilities thanks to its battlefield experience in Syria fighting alongside regular armies (referring to the Syrian and Russian armed forces). Binder emphasizes that the main change that has occurred in the past few years relates to the deployment of the Radwan Unit to the border. He added, “They have tools they didn’t have in 2006, notably an attack plan and capability in our territory. They have expanded the firepower aimed at our home front and they have improved their defensive capability in the face of an IDF manoeuvre.”

Tal Beeri Lt. Colonel at IDF (Res) and the Head of Alm, agrees that the “Radwan Unit poses a significant challenge for the IDF” and continue adding that “one of the main missions of the Radwan Unit is to infiltrate into Israeli territory and take over geographical areas to create a “victory picture.” In our assessment, another major mission of the unit is to impair, through high-quality commando operations, IDF forces maneuvering inside Lebanese territory and to try to “hunt down” Israeli special forces operating deep inside Lebanese territory”

The big question here, will the IDF sit and wait for the “next round” of war to come along or will it conduct pre-emptive strikes to neutralize Radwan’s operational posts along the border before they become an even bigger threat.  The outcome remains to be seen.

About the Author
Suzan Quitaz, a Kurdish-Swedish journalist and researcher on Middle Eastern affairs. Have undertaken freelance research and writing assignments for several media outlets, including Al Majalla a Saudi current affairs magazine, The New Arab, The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Worked as a freelance producer on a number of documentaries for Al Jazeera Channel and previously worked as a producer & researcher at Alaraby Television Network (2014 to 2020)
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