The Radwan unit insignia (right) and on the shirt of an operative on the unit (left)
On December 18, 2022, Lebanese social media accounts reported that Hezbollah operative Muhammad Mehdi Hassan Manaa, nicknamed “Mehdi Haider,” had been killed. His funeral was held on December 23 in Burj al-Shamali, east of Tyre, south Lebanon. According to the reports, the operative was killed in “a car accident in the a-Naqoura area where he was taken to a UNIFIL hospital, from there he was transferred to Jabal Amal Hospital in Tyre dying of his wounds.”
After additional data was accumulated regarding the operative, it appears that he was an operative in the Radwan unit, Hezbollah’s special unit, whose main mission is to infiltrate into Israeli territory, conquer Israeli territories and settlements in the Galilee.
Over the past few months, in the final stages of the Israeli-Lebanese negotiations on the maritime agreement, the Radwan unit made headlines, as its operatives had been put on alert and were deployed openly and exceptionally in static positions along the border with Israel under cover of the “Green Without Borders” organization. Operatives from the Radwan unit were also positioned together with Hezbollah’s additional geographic units, “Nasser” and “Aziz,” who are permanently stationed adjacent to the border with Israel.
The unit’s name: Until the elimination of Imad Mughniyeh, commander of Hezbollah’s military-terrorist wing (“Hezbollah’s chief of staff”), in April 2008, the special unit was called the “Rapid Intervention Force” or the “Intervention Unit.” After the assassination of Mughniyeh, it was decided to name the unit after Mughniyeh’s operational name – “Hajj Radwan.”
Several indications connect the number “125” to the Radwan unit. Hezbollah is known to number its military units. Very little information emerges when searching for data regarding “unit 125”. In some of the indications, “unit 125” was explicitly mentioned as another name for the Radwan unit, while in other indications, its name came up separately, emphasizing that it was a special unit. “Unit 125” has been known in some Lebanese sources as a “military-security unit” (in Arabic: الوحدة 125 العسكرية الامنية), which may indicate that, like familiar models of other elite units, it includes an overt (military) operational aspect and another more covert (security) operational aspect, which includes “transparent”/”civilian” activity (see, for example, documentation of the unit’s operatives on the border fence above, as well as additional documentation we possess). It is possible that the internal number of the Radwan unit, at least until 2016, was “unit 125”, or alternatively, that “unit 125” is a sub-unit within the Radwan unit. The idea that “unit 125” is tied to the Raduan unit is reinforced because of a published nickname of one of its senior operatives who was killed in Syria in 2016 (see below).
The intervention unit (later named the Radwan unit) was responsible for the abduction in July 2006 that led to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. The preparations for the abduction and the operation itself were carried out under Mughniyeh’s direct command.
View a video of the abduction training
The Radwan unit, which was established with the assistance of the Iranian Quds Force, was, in fact, integrated into the above-mentioned “intervention unit,” which served as a support force for Hezbollah forces, having extra special forces merged into it. The “intervention unit” was a veteran organic unit that was part of Hezbollah’s fighting formation. It served as a special offensive force that assisted Hezbollah’s field units. The “intervention unit” was commanded by Haytham Ali Tabataba’i [Abu ‘Ali Al- Tabataba’i])- see about him below). The “intervention unit” formed the organizational basis for the Radwan unit.
The Radwan unit insignia consists of a drawing of the Lebanese cedar tree, a roaring lion, and a sword. The green Lebanese cedar is the Lebanese national tree that symbolizes strength. The roaring lion holds the “Dhu al-Faqar” – the sword of Ali bin Abi Taleb (the son-in-law and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad). According to Shi’ite tradition, the sword was passed down from the Prophet Muhammad to Ali bin Abi Taleb in the Battle of Uhud, the second battle between the forces of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh. The Battle of Uhud took place near Mount Uhud, located about 8 km from the city of Medina in the Arabian Peninsula (according to Sunni tradition, the sword was passed on in the Battle of Badr – the first battle that took place in the Hejaz between the forces of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh). According to Shi’ite tradition, the sword is invincible. The transcription of the inscription at the top of the unit’s insignia is “Bass Shadid,” i.e., “Mighty punishment (from the hand of Allah).”
Haytham Ali Tabataba’i / “Abu ‘Ali Al- Tabataba’i” – commander of the Intervention unit. Tabatabai Also referred to as “Abu Ali Reda” (أبو علي رضا), was born in 1968, the son of a South Lebanese mother and an Iranian father. He was born in Beirut and raised in south Lebanon. Tabataba’i joined Hezbollah in his youth. After the assassination of Imad Mughniyeh and the merger of the intervention unit into the unified Radwan unit, Tabataba’i was transferred to a more junior position of platoon commander in the Radwan unit. However, he still retained the aura and status of a senior official in the unit.
During the civil war in Syria, when Hezbollah joined forces with the Assad regime to fight against ISIS forces, the al-Nusra Front, and the other rebel forces, Tabataba’i assumed a new and special authority in Syria. As part of this authority, Tabataba’i was in charge of helping build Hezbollah’s military infrastructure in southern Syria, in proximity to the border with Israel.
On January 18, 2015, Tabataba’i apparently survived an attack attributed to Israel in the Quneitra province, southern Syria, near the village of Khader. In this attack, Jihad Mughniyeh, one of the first commanders of the Golan File unit in its early stages, was killed. Jihad was the son of Imad Mughniyeh, who had been assassinated 7 years earlier (see report on the deployment and activity of the Golan File and Southern command units).
Hezbollah’s act of revenge was not long in coming. On January 28, 2015, Kornet anti-tank guided missiles were fired at a convoy of IDF vehicles moving through Israeli territory near the village of Ghajar on the western slopes of Mount Dov (Shebaa Farms). Two IDF soldiers were killed, and seven were wounded. Apparently, operatives of Hezbollah’s anti-tank unit, in collaboration with the Radwan unit, were the ones who fired the missiles.
Tabataba’i may have served in recent years as the acting commander of the Radwan unit and as the one who received from Nasrallah the “Invasion of the Galilee File,” which is one of the unit’s main tasks (and, thus, achieving a “victory picture” over Israel).
The “invasion of the Galilee” was planned to be achieved via the attack tunnels built by Hezbollah over numerous years along the length of the border with Israel. However, in December 2018, the IDF exposed these tunnels, forcing Hezbollah and the Radwan unit to “recalculate their route.” Nevertheless, Hezbollah has not abandoned its plans to infiltrate Israeli territory. On the contrary, this is one of the main tasks of the Radwan unit.
To address the threat of ground penetration, Israel is laboring, among other things, to build a physical ground barrier on the Lebanese border, consisting of a combination of high concrete walls, earthworks to create high cliffs, and technological means that will make it difficult to cross and execute a ground infiltration into Israeli territory.
On January 1, 2023, as part of the information warfare against Israel, Hezbollah’s combat information unit released an allegedly fabricated video showing Radwan unit combatants infiltrating Israeli territory by blowing up part of the concrete wall. After their infiltration, they conduct a gun battle to take control of the area they infiltrated.
Tabataba’i operated not only in Lebanon and Syria. He was also involved in Hezbollah’s support of the Houthis in Yemen. Tabataba’i was involved in the professional training of Houthi militia operatives and coordinated this matter with the Quds Force. In 2016, Tabataba’i was placed on the OFAC – Specially Designated Global Terrorist sanctions list – and in 2018, a monetary reward of $ 5 million was offered to anyone who brought information regarding him.
According to certain indications in our possession, which may not be accurate (see below), in 2014, the Radwan unit was commanded by a man named Muhammad Ali Hamadi. Hamadi is a Lebanese Hezbollah operative born in 1964 who was convicted in 1985 of involvement in the hijacking of a TWA plane to Beirut, attacking passengers, and murdering an American citizen. Hamadi served time in a German prison for his terrorist activities, from which he was released in 2005 under unclear circumstances. After his release, according to several sources, he re-enlisted into Hezbollah ranks. He has been on the FBI’s wanted list since 2006. In 2010, rumors spread that he had been killed in Pakistan, but according to official American sources, he currently lives in Lebanon.
The above information should be “taken with a grain of salt.” This is especially correct because of the great similarity between the name of Ali Hamadi mentioned above and another individual identified with the Radwan unit – Hatem Adib Hamadah (or Hamadi), who was also referred to as “Hajj Alaa 125” (hereinafter; “Hajj Alaa”). Hajj ‘Alaa was born in 1971 in the village of Qmatiyeh. He is considered one of the second generations of Hezbollah’s founders. He is a veteran of the Second Lebanon War and is defined as one of the cornerstones of Hezbollah’s fighting force. He was identified by various indications as deputy commander of the Radwan unit (or commander of the unit) until he was killed in one of the unit’s battles against Syrian opposition elements in Aleppo in 2016. Based on his nickname (“Hajj Alaa 125”), it can be assumed that the number “125” is related to the Radwan unit.
The Radwan unit “came to light.” Until the Ashura ceremonies in 2014, the Radwan unit was clandestine. During the Ashura ceremonies in the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, members of a special unit that was part of the detachment securing the ceremonies were exposed for the first time. They wore black uniforms, helmets, balaclavas, and dark goggles concealing their features and were armed with assault rifles typical of commando units.
At first, Hezbollah tried to explain that it was a “new” and special unit called “Ninja Force,”; A skilled and professional unit deployed at the ceremonies due to the fear that the ceremonies would be the target of an attack from Israel. However, the real name of the unit was soon revealed and quickly published – the Radwan Unit.
The Radwan unit’s structure and the essence of its emergency operations. Under the Radwan unit, there are several sub-units (the Arabic terminology: شُعبة [Shu’aba] – brigade) and a few thousand operatives (some sources estimate their number at about 2,500). According to various sources, updated to 2014, these are several units, most of which are anointed by serial numbers: Unit 501, Unit 502, Unit 801, and Unit 802 (It is possible that these are the brigade numbers in the unit and/or in designated forces – see below).
From an organizational point of view, the various subdivisions of the Radwan unit are divided into a large number of sub-units or squads, amounting to between 7-10 activists according to geographical regions. The Shiite villages in the various geographical areas, with an emphasis on south Lebanon, are, in fact, the logistical anchor of these squads. These squads are established on warehouses in villages and military areas adjacent to them, where ammunition and self-supplies are stored for emergencies. In this way, the squads of the Radwan force can operate independently, without successive instructions or external logistical assistance. The commanders of the squads are given great autonomy in making quick tactical decisions on the ground.
According to several indications, the Radwan unit is deployed into brigades that control a village or a cluster of villages in south Lebanon. This can be deduced, for example, from the announcement of the death of one of the unit’s operatives in Palmyra, Syria, Ahmed Hussein Sabra (أحمد حسين صبرا), on 14 July 2017. According to the Hezbollah announcement, the operative was part of the Radwan unit brigade deployed in the vicinity of the village of Toul in the Nabatieh region.
Training Radwan unit operatives. The combatants are admitted into the unit after a careful sorting procedure. After the screening, arduous training begins, which includes, among other things, snipers training, firing anti-tank weapons, hand-to-hand combat, explosives training, operational driving ( motorcycles / ATVs), and special training, such as a “captivity workshop” (the purpose of the course is to teach how to behave if you fall into enemy captivity) and the operation of intelligence collecting drones. The unit’s training also emphasizes physical fitness, long-distance running, mountainous crawling, and tactical terrorist warfare. The unit’s operatives receive training directly from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards “Sabeerin” commando unit.
Weapons. We estimate that the unit uses all the weapons relevant to its activity that are in Hezbollah’s possession. We estimate that Hezbollah is capable of equipping the unit with every weapon relevant to infantry and commando warfare that exists on the arms market today. It cannot be determined with certainty that the types of weapons seen in the propaganda videos made on the Radwan unit are indeed used by the unit on a regular basis. It is possible that at least some the weapons are indeed used by the unit. In these videos We noticed, for example, an advanced Kalashnikov ak 74m, ak 12 equipped with a 30 mm GP-25 grenade launcher or a standard silencer, advanced versions of the pkm (commando) machine gun, western pistols and Keller submachine guns and the Austrian Koch are all equipped with picket rails and optical sights, an American pvs 14 night vision device and a rpg 29 with a tandem combat head. The unit also possesses American-made rifles such as the M16 and Austrian and Iranian-made sniper rifles (identification of the weapons in the videos courtesy of Yair Ansbacher).
Radwan unit’s involvement in the Syrian civil war. The Radwan unit began to assimilate into the Syrian civil war in 2015-2016 as an auxiliary force in favor of the Assad regime and was based mainly in the Aleppo area. 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. Today, it is our assessment that the unit operates mainly in this area in tandem with Iraqi Shiite militias, including the al-Nujaba and Fatemiyoun militias, with Radwan operatives being, in fact, the leading force. Radwan operatives are also deployed in Saraqib and Idlib. Their estimated number in Aleppo and Idlib as of April 2021 numbered about 800 fighters.
It should be noted that following the alert declared by Hezbollah vis-à-vis Israel regarding the maritime negotiations and the beginning of drilling in the “Karish” gas reservoir, Hezbollah operatives stationed on the Lebanese border with Israel were reinforced with Radwan operatives who, in our assessment, came from Syria.
In addition to northern Syria, Radwan operatives were also deployed in the south. According to indications from January 2021, Radwan operatives and Shiite militia were sent from Damascus and deployed in southern Syria in the Quneitra province. The deployment of Radwan operatives was integrated into the Syrian Army, with an emphasis on the 1st Corps forces stationed in southern Syria and the 4th Division under the command of Maher al-Assad (the president’s brother), which is affiliated with the radical Shiite axis led by Iran. We are aware of the presence of Radwan unit operatives in southern Syria in the Deraa district in the combat areas against the rebels, emphasizing the city of Deraa.
According to various sources, on October 27, 2021, the commander of the Iranian Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, met with Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut. The purpose of the meeting was a briefing on Tehran’s strategic priorities, primarily the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
Days earlier, on October 20, under the direction of Mohamad Reza Falah Zadeh – the Chief of Staff of the Revolutionary Guards commander, Hussein Salami, sent several drones to attack the American base, al-Tanf, in southeastern Syria. To increase the pressure on the American army to leave, the Revolutionary Guards were not content with simply reinforcing the presence of the Shia militias in Syria and carrying out attacks on the American forces; they also relied on the Radwan unit.
Who are the “Al-Abbas Brigades” units, and are they connected to the Radwan unit? In July 2019, against the backdrop of the 14th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, Hassan Nasrallah revealed the existence of another, relatively new, special unit equivalent to the Radwan unit, called the Al-Abbas Brigades (Arabic: أفواج العباس | Afwaaj Al-Abbas). The nature of the activity of this unit is similar to that of the Radwan unit, but it operates separately from it.
The Al-Abbas Brigades unit, similar to the Radwan unit, is built on the model of an elite infantry unit. Its operatives are recognized as skilled combatants armed with high-quality weapons. It appears that the foundation of the Al-Abbas Brigades unit is the result of Hezbollah’s lessons learned in the Syrian civil war in Syria, enabling it to utilize a high-quality force for special missions.
In conclusion, the Radwan unit poses a significant challenge for the IDF. The significant involvement of the Radwan unit in combat on Syrian soil during the civil war has increased the quality and skill of the unit’s functioning in general as an offensive force and the quality and skill of its operatives as combatants in particular. Despite the exposure of the attack tunnels by Israel in December 2018, in the next confrontation with Israel as well, 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.
We estimate that in light of the threat posed by the Radwan unit in the next conflict with Israel, the IDF will act in the first stages of the conflict to neutralize this threat by directly attacking the unit’s infrastructure and its operatives.