Syria's Assad Sends Russian Missile System to Hezbollah with Wagner Group's Help, say US Intel
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reportedly agreed to provide Hezbollah with a Russian-made missile defense system, according to US intelligence. The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group has been tasked with the delivery of the system. There are concerns that this could lead to a new front in Israel's war on Hamas.
The United States has received intelligence indicating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to supply the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with a Russian-made missile defense system, according to two informed sources. The delivery of the surface-to-air SA-22 missile system, also known as Pantsir, is reportedly being carried out by the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group, which operates in Syria. It is unclear whether the system has already been delivered or how close it is to being delivered. The sources revealed that the system was originally provided by Russia for use by the Syrian government.
The US has been closely monitoring the movement of the missile defense system, with one source stating that the assessment is based on intelligence gathered about discussions between Assad, Wagner, and Hezbollah regarding the delivery. While Wagner and Hezbollah fighters have been present in Syria for years, working alongside Russian and Syrian armed forces to support the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition, Assad's role in providing the missile defense system to Hezbollah has not been previously reported. The Wall Street Journal had previously suggested that Wagner might supply the system to Hezbollah.
There is evidence of increasing collaboration between Hezbollah and Wagner in Syria, according to a third source familiar with Western intelligence. This collaboration raises concerns that Hezbollah may be considering opening a new front in Israel's conflict with Hamas, particularly along Israel's northern border with Lebanon. The US has repeatedly warned Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups to refrain from involvement in the conflict and has deployed aircraft carriers and troops to the region as a deterrent against escalation.
Israel has previously targeted missile systems inside Syria as part of broader attacks on Iranian military sites in the country. It remains uncertain how much influence Russia had over the decision to provide the missile defense system to Hezbollah. Although the Kremlin has attempted to absorb Wagner mercenaries and the group's assets since the death of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, there has been no definitive shift in terms of the Kremlin taking full ownership of the fighters, according to previous CNN reports.
In a separate development, Russia hosted Hamas leaders in Moscow earlier this month, which drew criticism from the Israeli government. The US intelligence community currently believes that Iran and its proxies are carefully calculating their response to Israel's military intervention in Gaza to avoid direct conflict with Israel or the US, while still inflicting costs on their adversaries. However, officials express concerns that Hezbollah, as an ally of Hamas, may escalate tensions due to its internal politics.
Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is scheduled to deliver a significant speech on Friday, which intelligence officials will closely analyze for indications of the group's intentions.