Russia’s Wagner group prepares to send Hezbollah weapons amid clashes with Israel, US says
Russia’s mercenary group is preparing to deliver an advanced air defense missile system to Hezbollah as the Lebanese militia group clashes with Israel, according to US intelligence.
American officials are currently monitoring discussions between the Wagner mercenary group and Lebanon’s Hamas-supporting militia over the possible delivery of the SA-22, a system that uses anti-aircraft missiles and guns to combat airstrikes, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The SA-22 system, also known as Pantsir-S1, is a truck-mounted surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapons system made in Russia.
The weapon has seen action in the Russian-Ukraine War and could be deployed in the Middle East as a defense for the Iran-backed militia group against Israel’s airstrikes.
Clashes between Israel and Hezbollah have increased along the Lebanese border as the war with Hamas rages in Gaza.
American officials say the SA-22 has yet to be delivered to Lebanon, but noted that some Hezbollah and Wagner personnel are currently stationed in Syria.
Hezbollah fighters are allegedly in contact with Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to receive an anti-aircraft weapon. AP The SA-22, developed in Russia, uses missiles and gunfire to take out aircrafts.Imagebroker/Shutterstock
It remains unclear if the weapon could be transported from Lebanon to Gaza as a means to help Hamas combat Israel’s bombardments of the Palestinian enclave.
Russian officials have yet to comment on the alleged discussions between Wagner and Hezbollah.
The US has made its presence known in the area by stationing an aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean as a deterrent for Hezbollah to join Hamas in attacking Israel.
After Israel declared war on Hamas on Oct. 7, President Biden warned outside parties from staging an assault on Israel’s borders.
The Wagner Group lost its autonomy following the mercenaries’ coup attempt over the summer. AP
Despite the warning, the heads of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad met last week to announce their united war against the Jewish State.
The trio of terrorist leaders — dubbed the “axis of resistance” — met to set a goal for achieving “a real victory for the resistance in Gaza and Palestine” and halt Israel’s “treacherous and brutal aggression against our oppressed and steadfast people in Gaza and the West Bank,” according to a brief statement released afterward.
The meeting came after Israel vowed to launch a full-scale military assault against Iran if Hezbollah joined the ongoing war.
“The plan of Iran is to attack Israel on all fronts. If we find they intend to target Israel, we will not just retaliate to those fronts, but we will go to the head of the snake, which is Iran,” Nir Barkat, Israel’s Minister of Economy, told the Daily Mail.
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Contributor: James Cary
The Iran Update provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. It also covers events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates regularly based on regional events. For more on developments and in Iran and the region, see our interactive map of Iran and the Middle East.
Wagner elements in Syria will reportedly transfer Russian Pantsir-S1 air defense systems that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to provide to Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah.
(NOTE: This text also appeared in the Institute for the Study of War’s November 3 Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment) CNN reported on November 3 that two people familiar with US intelligence stated that Assad agreed to provide the Russian air defense systems to Hezbollah and tasked Wagner with their delivery during joint conversations between the three actors.[lxii] The Wall Street Journal reported on November 2 that US intelligence indicated that Wagner itself would give the Russian air defense systems to Hezbollah.[lxiii] Israel frequently conducts airstrikes on Iranian weapons shipments into and through Syria, and Assad may have asked Wagner to deliver the air defense systems to Hezbollah to act as a deterrent to potential Israeli interdiction efforts.[lxiv] CTP-ISW has previously assessed that Russia may be able to facilitate weapons shipments in Syria without risking Israeli airstrikes, and the Kremlin may believe that this Israeli reticence will extend to Wagner.[lxv] Russia and Israel have a complex relationship in Syria, as Israel has historically relied on Russia to curb Iranian activities in Syria.[lxvi]
Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian held separate phone calls with Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on November 3.[lxvii] Abdollahian emphasized the readiness of Axis of Resistance members to act against Israel during his meeting with Mekdad.[lxviii] These phone calls follow Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Special Representative for Syrian Affairs Alexander Lavrentiev in Tehran on November 2.[lxix] Iranian media additionally recirculated on November 3 Western reporting that Israel is not giving Russian forces advanced warning of its strikes into Syria.[lxx]
Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al Sudani removed two professional, experienced military commanders on November 1, possibly due to pressure from the Iranian-backed Shia Coordination Framework. Sudani removed Counter-Terrorism Service commander LTG Abdul Wahhab al Saadi and Baghdad Operations Commander LTG Ahmed Salim Bahjat, replacing them with experienced CTS LTG Karim Abboud Mohammed and former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki-linked MG Walid Khalifa al Tamimi respectively.[lxxi] An Iraqi political analyst said that the sackings were due to “political influences,“ adding that the Shia Coordination Framework fears the CTS after it conducted raids targeting Iranian-backed factions under former Prime Minister Mustafa al Kadhimi.[lxxii] The analyst added that the Framework is attempting to ”control” the CTS and that ”those in power” are fearful of a CTS-led coup.[lxxiii]
The Secretary General of the Iraqi Defense Ministry issued instructions to the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff on October 28 to ensure troop and materiel readiness on account of the rapidly changing security situation.[lxxiv] The leaked letter instructed forces to protect weapons and ammunition depots, to repair all military equipment and weapons, and secure barracks and bases, and advised additional intelligence collection against future threats.
Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian is continuing to coordinate politically with senior Hamas leadership. Abdollahian held a phone call with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh on November 2, marking the fourth time Abdollahian and Haniyeh have discussed the Israel-Hamas war since October 7.[lxxv] Iranian media did not provide details of what Abdollahian and Haniyeh discussed. Their phone call notably comes amid IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari’s November 2 announcement that Haniyeh is slated to travel to Tehran.[lxxvi] Iranian diaspora and anti-regime media recirculated Hagari’s announcement, although state-controlled outlets have not responded to or denied the announcement.[lxxvii]