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Israel has long considered Hezbollah, with thousands of trained fighters and a vast arsenal of rockets and other weapons, to be the most formidable enemy on its borders. And Israeli officials say Hezbollah’s elite Radwan force, in particular, poses a major threat.

An attack on Monday in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, killed a Radwan force commander, Wissam Hassan al-Tawil, the latest salvo in cross-border back-and-forth attacks that have deepened fears of that the war between Israel and Hamas could extend into a regional conflict.

The attack has been widely attributed to Israel, which neither confirmed nor denied responsibility. Israeli officials have maintained that the Radwan unit is focused on attacking northern Israel and is a legitimate target.

Why does Israel consider the Radwan unit a threat?

Radwan has taken the lead in Hezbollah’s long-running conflict with Israel and in cross-border attacks that have intensified in the three months that Israel and Hamas have been at war. Israeli military analysts say Radwan has adopted a mission to conquer the Galilee region of northern Israel.

Hezbollah and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip along southern Israel, share a pattern in Iran. If Iran and its allies made a serious effort to expand the war, the Israel-Lebanon border would be the most likely place to do so. And since Hamas launched its bloody October 7 attack on Israel, there have been fears that Hezbollah could attempt something similar.

An undated photograph released by Hezbollah’s press office showing Wissam Hassan al-Tawil at an undisclosed location.Credit…Hezbollah military media office, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“The Radwan force is dedicated to duplicating in the north what happened on October 7 in southern Israel,” Tamir Hayman, a retired general who headed Israeli military intelligence until 2021, said in an interview. “For that very reason, “It is unacceptable that Israel allows its fighters to remain in the border area.”

Last spring, the Radwan force participated in a rare example of Hezbollah’s public military exercises, deploying an extensive military arsenal and simulating an infiltration into Israeli territory. Slick propaganda videos produced by Hezbollah have shown the group’s small unit tactics and live-fire exercises, interspersed with threats to Israel.

Why are we hearing more about the Radwan unit now?

The October 7 attacks by Hamas also led to an escalation of attacks and retaliation between Hezbollah and Israel, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people on either side of the border.

In northern Israel, officials and residents have put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protect them from Hezbollah and ensure their safe return home.

“We need some type of assurance that there is no danger to our citizens in the north,” General Hayman said.

What Israel had treated as a manageable threat it now describes as something more serious, and Israeli leaders have repeatedly cited the Radwan unit by name. In December, Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, told Israeli media that the country “can no longer accept the Radwan force sitting on the border.”

On Sunday, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said a “focus” of its actions in Lebanon was moving the Radwan force away from the border.

Israeli leaders have increasingly stated in recent weeks that there are only two options to restore calm to the conflict: a diplomatic solution that would move Radwan’s forces away from the border, north of the Litani River, or a major military offensive. Israeli aimed at achieving the same objective.

U.S.-led efforts to reach a diplomatic solution have so far been unsuccessful.

Where did Radwan strength come from?

The unit’s origins and composition are unclear.

The group took its name from the nom de guerre of its former leader, Imad Mughniyeh, killed in Syria in 2008. Under his command, the unit played a pivotal role in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in 2006 that led to the outbreak of the Second World War. Lebanon.

The unit, along with other elements of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups, later participated in the battle against the Islamic State in Syria. But the fighting of the past three months has marked the Radwan force’s most active period against Israel since 2006.

Johnatan Reiss contributed reports.