Analysis: Could Hezbollah's Radwan commando unit successfully invade Israel?

Robert Swift

i24NEWS correspondent | @SwiftJournalism

5 min read
Lebanese Hezbollah fighters take part in cross-border raids, part of large-scale military exercise, in Aaramta bordering Israel.
ANWAR AMRO / AFPLebanese Hezbollah fighters take part in cross-border raids, part of large-scale military exercise, in Aaramta bordering Israel.

An Israeli think tank says the terror group wants to show its 'military operatives who are capable of defending Lebanon, to fuel its reason for existing'

In a video released to mark the anniversary of the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah showed off its most advanced combat unit: the Radwan Force.

The six-minute video showcased not only the Shi’ite organization’s fighting ability, but its eye for propaganda, with visuals that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood movie or Call of Duty game. 

“What Hezbollah wants to achieve is to send a message not only to Israelis but more to the Lebanese,” the founder of Alma, an Israeli think tank that monitors the country’s northern border, Sarit Zehavi, said. 

The intention is “to establish its image as the protector of Lebanon… with military operatives who are capable of defending Lebanon, to fuel its reason for existing,” she added.

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While Hezbollah’s huge arsenal of rockets and missiles has been its primary threat towards Israel, cross border ground attacks are also a card in its hand. The slick promotional content depicts Radwan fighters attacking a mock Israeli border position. Seizing territory in northern Israel is one of the unit’s strategic objectives. 

In the depicted assault, Hezbollah fighters are shown wielding mortars, anti-tank missiles, kamikaze drones, sniper rifles, and heavy machine guns. As well as more specialized equipment, such as what appears to be a minefield breaching charge, launched by a rocket propelled grenade. 

Lebanese army
Lebanese armyLebanese soldiers holding a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) near the border fence with Israel.

Since the video was released for propaganda purposes, it’s possible that the weaponry shown is prestige items, above what Radwan uses on a daily basis. Whether or not this is the case, it’s likely that their equipment will be superior to that fielded by Hezbollah fighters in more ordinary units. 

Radwan is believed to number around 2,500 fighters, accounting for about five percent of Hezbollah’s total assessed manpower. Janes, an open source intelligence company, said in 2017 that it assessed the Lebanese group as holding around 25,000 full time fighters, with a similar number of reserves. 

Video poster

The specialists in Radwan appear to be far more capable than the average Hezbollah fighter, with training provided by the Sabeerin Commandos, a battalion within Iran’s Al Quds Force, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

While it’s likely that the force does possess the capabilities it depicted in the propaganda video, storming a position is always more difficult when there are people shooting back at you, Zehavi noted. Israel’s Golani Brigade mans the northern border, and would represent a significant challenge for the Radwan Force, she suggested. 

Israeli military intelligence assesses that during wartime, Radwan units would be tasked with cross border raids, aimed at attacking civilian communities and seizing hostages. The 2006 Lebanon War was sparked when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by operatives from an earlier iteration of the Radwan Force.

Video poster

As Lebanon’s economy continues to crumble, Hezbollah appears to be seeking an outside foe to gesture up against to improve its own domestic position. The Radwan Force, and its camera crews, seem to be the latest example of this. 

But this shouldn’t mean that the video was taken as an empty threat. The message is a further escalation on top of Hezbollah’s provocations around Ghajar, and in erecting tents inside Israel, Zehavi said. The next step in the escalation ladder could well be an attack of the kind shown in the video, she suggested. 

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