By Tal Beeri, ALMA REC 29 NOV 2023
Logo of Hezbollah’s specialized force they call “Radwan”
For the past two years, it seems that Hezbollah has been preparing for a confrontation in the north. We have written and published quite a bit about it. In the summer of 2022, in the final stages of negotiations between Israel and Lebanon on the maritime agreement, the name of the Radwan unit made headlines, since its operatives were put on alert and deployed, openly and unusually, in static positions along the border with Israel under the familiar cover of the “Green Without Borders” association. Radwan Unit operatives joined operatives of Hezbollah’s geographic units “Nasser” and “Aziz,” which are permanently stationed adjacent to the border with Israel.
After the attack tunnels were discovered in December 2018 and Israel built a ground-physical barrier, the Radwan unit recalculated its route and continued to train in preparation for its main mission: to infiltrate Israeli territory and take over Israeli territories, bases, and communities in the Galilee.
In our assessment, since the beginning of the summer of 2022, the Radwan unit has reached the operational capability to fulfill its mission to invade Galilee. In light of the accumulation of incidents on the northern border up until October 2023, we assess that Hezbollah was on the verge of deciding to authorize the invasion. The Radwan unit, Hezbollah’s aerial unit, and geographic units in southern Lebanon were awaiting the order.
How did Hezbollah plan to invade the Galilee?
Stage 1 (Nasser/Aziz Geographical Units) – The geographic units in southern Lebanon are responsible for opening fire by means of massive rocket and mortar fire along the entire border, including firing into Israeli territory. In addition, they are responsible for neutralizing surveillance devices along the border by means of sniper fire, exploding UAVs, suicide UAVs (under the responsibility of the air unit), and anti-tank fire.
Stage 2 (Radwan unit) – Simulatively, along with the above attack and the neutralization of the surveillance devices, Radwan Unit operatives are expected to storm the barrier throughout the entire sector, breach the barrier at various points and by various means (powerful IEDs, and possibly even booby-trapped tunnels dug under the barrier).
Stage 3 (Radwan unit) – Radwan operatives will cross on foot and with vehicles (mainly motorcycles and ATVs) above ground into Israeli territory and move towards the communities and military bases near the border. It is possible that some of the operatives, according to advance planning, will try to reach targets deep inside the territory of the State of Israel.
***Note: The working assumption must take into account that there are still attack tunnels that the IDF has not yet exposed, and if so, they will be utilized at this stage.
Stage 4 (Radwan unit) – Gaining control of bases and communities, executing killings, and taking hostages as bargaining chips. In addition, the transfer of abductees to Lebanese territory, with an emphasis on soldiers.
Stage 5 (Radwan unit) – Barricading, deploying and waiting for IDF forces while positioning anti-tank and light anti-aircraft squads and snipers.
The role of Hezbollah’s aerial unit is to accompany the entire operation by using UAVs for intelligence gathering and attacks (suicide UAVs). Operatives from the geographic units (Nasser/Aziz) will serve as reinforcements as needed throughout the above stages.
October 7, 2023 – Hamas attack postponed Hezbollah’s campaign.
In this article, we do not intend to analyze whether the Hamas operation on October 7 was coordinated with the Iranians and Hezbollah, and if it was coordinated, whether only in principle or was it also coordinated specifically in terms of the time of its execution. In practice, on October 7, Hamas effectively copied the invasion plan of the Radwan unit and implemented it, through its Nukhba units (and its naval unit), on the southern border with the Gaza Strip.
In effect, Hamas’ action postponed the timing of Hezbollah’s invasion plan. Hezbollah is not interested in being dragged after the Palestinians. However, it is our assessment that as far as Hezbollah is concerned, it is not a question of if. In light of the circumstances, Hezbollah will have to make a new decision on the timing – when?
Is such a scenario relevant these days on the northern border? Can the Radwan unit implement its attack plan today?
The events of October 7 proved again that any physical or technological obstacle will inevitably be breached. It should be remembered that, unlike the Gaza Strip, along the border with Lebanon there are sections where the barrier has not yet been upgraded, which could make it even easier to penetrate. The mostly mountainous terrain on the Lebanese border is more difficult to maneuver than the flat terrain on the border with the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, it allows for more concealed movement. Hezbollah is well acquainted with the terrain and knows how to take advantage of it.
There is no doubt that the large concentration of Israeli forces along the border with Lebanon and the readiness of the IDF’s operational and intelligence forces since October 7 greatly undermines the element of surprise, which is a very important component of Hezbollah’s plan of action.
Nonetheless, it is our assessment that even today, at any given time, if it so desires, Hezbollah can implement its operational plan to invade Israeli territory with a smaller Radwan unit force and into a more limited area. In light of the existing limitations, we estimate that Hezbollah is able to do so with a smaller force of a few dozen to a few hundred Radwan operatives (100-200), compared to the original plan, which in our assessment, included hundreds to two thousand operatives. A lower signature will make it difficult to monitor intelligence and provide an early warning.
In light of the fact that most of the Israeli population living near the border has been evacuated, in our assessment, Hezbollah can focus on a limited area, with an emphasis on military zones and/or taking over the territory of a small number of communities.
Radwan’s unit’s competence has not been affected.
Even if most of the Radwan operatives have distanced themselves from the border since the beginning of the war, in our assessment this does not neutralize their ability to fulfill their main objective. It is our assessment that the Radwan unit is continuing to collect intelligence near the border and is making adjustments to its operational plans. As of this writing, around 90 Hezbollah operatives have been killed since October 7. It seems that some of those killed were operatives and commanders in the Radwan unit. The number of operatives killed has no bearing on Hezbollah’s overall competence or the Radwan unit in particular.
The capability of the rocket and mortar arrays has not been affected.
According to our assessment, Hezbollah’s short-range rocket and mortar arrays, which are a critical component in carrying out the first stage of the invasion into Israeli territory, are fully capable and ready for operation in the immediate future. In view of the large scale (deployment and arsenal) of these arrays, it is our assessment that the IDF attacks only damaged them in a particular area.
In conclusion, the Radwan unit still poses a significant challenge for the IDF and still poses a clear and present danger. As time passes and the war ends, the scope of IDF forces in the north will probably decrease significantly. The main mission of the Radwan unit was and still remains to penetrate into Israeli territory and take over communities and geographical areas. This threat to Israel has not passed and is relevant at any given time. Hezbollah only needs to decide when.
Israel must act to neutralize the threat posed by the Radwan unit. Even removing Radwan operatives from the border will not neutralize this threat. In our assessment, given Hezbollah’s decision, the Radwan unit will now be able to prepare an infiltration operation into Israeli territory, with a low signature and will be able to carry out this operation in a focused and swift manner. Even more so, when the scope of the IDF deployment is diluted and civilians return to their homes.
In light of this, we believe that the IDF must act and cause direct and extensive damage to the infrastructure of the Radwan unit and its operatives.
Note – we intend to publish an article on the subject: Why the current reality on the Lebanese–Israeli border is unsustainable – Possible scenarios for the day after the war.