Thousands attend funeral of Wissam Tawil, Hezbollah's elite Radwan force commander

Leading figure in Hezbollah's secretive special operations unit is group's most senior official to be killed since October 7

Who was the Hezbollah commander killed in Israeli air strike in Lebanon?

Who was the Hezbollah commander killed in Israeli air strike in Lebanon?
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Thousands of people on Tuesday attended the funeral of senior Hezbollah commander Wissam Tawil, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the southern Lebanese town of Khirbet Salam the previous day.

Mr Tawil is the highest-ranking Hezbollah commander to be killed since the eruption of the cross-border conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon on October 8, and the second high-profile assassination to take place in Lebanon in two weeks.

Moments before his funeral was set to begin, an Israeli drone targeted a vehicle near the cemetery, killing at least one person.

The strike on Mr Tawil's hometown was a prescient reminder of how far an increasingly penned-in Israel is willing to intensify the cross-border conflict.

Wissam Tawil, commonly known as Hajj Jawad, was assassinated on Monday in a targeted strike on his car while he was driving through his home village in southern Lebanon.

The strike on Khirbet Salam came after Hezbollah's declared reprisal for Mr Tawil's killing, in which it targeted the headquarters of Israel’s northern command with a wave of rockets and drones. The barrage was in retaliation for Mr Tawil's death and the assassination of Hamas deputy Saleh Al Arouri in Beirut last week.

The Israeli military said Hezbollah had hit the base in Safad – about 15 kilometres south of the Lebanese border, Hezbollah's deepest strike into Israel yet – with combat drones but added there had been no damage or casualties.

Hezbollah's number two, Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem, warned in a speech Tuesday that Israel's wave of targeted killings "cannot lead to a phase of retreat but rather to a push forward for the resistance".

Mr Tawil was a commander in the Radwan force, Hezbollah's secretive special operations unit. The force has been on the front line of daily cross-border clashes with Israeli forces.

Mr Tawil was thought to be one of the group's leading commanders.

Israel has demanded the removal of the Radwan force, believed to number about 2,500 fighters, to north of the Litani river, which Hezbollah has rejected.

In a statement, Hezbollah said he was born in 1975 and joined the group in 1989 as the Shiite movement was trying to push Israel out of southern Lebanon.

A Hezbollah source said he was an adviser to the group on matters of “military strategy” in southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah said he played a significant role in developing the group's training infrastructure and was heavily active in operations in the 1990s in efforts to liberate southern Lebanon. This goal was achieved in 2000 when Israel left the region and its ally the South Lebanon Army militia fled south across the border.

He was also an integral part of Hezbollah operations since, including during the month-long war with Israel in 2006.

After his death, Hezbollah published photos of Mr Tawil with senior commanders in the Iran-led so-called Axis of Resistance, the informal coalition of countries and armed groups in the region opposed to the presence of Israel.

Among those images was one of him driving a car, with former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. He also appears in a video sitting next to Mustafa Badreddine, Hezbollah's former military commander, who was killed in 2016.

Mr Badreddine had taken over the position from Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in 2008 in a joint Israeli-US operation. Mr Mughniyeh had gone by the name Hajj Radwan, hence the name of Hezbollah's special operations group.

According to Hezbollah, Mr Tawil was heavily involved in operations in Syria, where the group was and is active in supporting the forces of President Bashar Al Assad in the more than 12-year civil war there.

Since October 7, Hezbollah said he had also played an important role in targeting Israeli positions on the border with Lebanon. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah recently said the group's actions were part of efforts “to halt [Israel's] aggression against Gaza” and “to alleviate the military pressure on Gaza”.

It has carried out about 700 operations at the frontier since October 7, when Hamas broke out of Gaza and launched an unprecedented attack on southern Israel.

Israel's reprisal has been brutal, bombarding the Gaza Strip and killing more than 23,000 people.

Clashes on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border were continuing on Tuesday. In the morning, three Hezbollah fighters died in a strike on their vehicle in the town of Ghandouriyeh in the south of Lebanon.

Updated: January 09, 2024, 4:11 PM