According to information from two individuals knowledgeable about the matter, the United States possesses intelligence indicating that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has consented to supply the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah with a Russian-manufactured missile defense system.
The Russian private military company, Wagner Group, known to operate in Syria, has been assigned the responsibility of delivering the SA-22 surface-to-air missile system, as per the information provided by these sources. It remains unclear whether the delivery has already taken place or how imminent it may be. The missile system in question was originally supplied by Russia for the Syrian government’s use.
One of the informants mentioned that the United States has been keeping a close watch on recent movements of the system, which is alternatively referred to as a Pantsir. The other source noted that the U.S. assessment was partially founded on intelligence related to discussions involving Assad, Wagner, and Hezbollah regarding the delivery of this system.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that there were indications Wagner might supply the system to Hezbollah, but Assad’s involvement in this matter had not been reported before.
Both Wagner and Hezbollah fighters have been active in Syria for an extended period, collaborating with Russian and Syrian armed forces to support the Assad regime against the Syrian opposition. Although Hezbollah started withdrawing its fighters in recent years, it continues to receive support from Iran, which is a strong ally of Assad. A third source with knowledge of Western intelligence noted that there is evidence of increased cooperation between Hezbollah and Wagner in Syria.
Concerns have arisen about the possibility of Hezbollah acquiring a new air defense system, particularly in the context of potential militant activities near Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. The U.S. has consistently cautioned Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups to avoid involvement in the conflict and has deployed aircraft carriers and troops in the region to deter potential escalation.
Israel has previously conducted targeted strikes on these missile systems inside Syria, as part of its broader military actions against Iranian military installations in the country.
The extent of Russia’s influence in the decision to supply the system to Hezbollah remains unclear. Since the passing of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in August, the Kremlin has made efforts to integrate Wagner mercenaries and the group’s assets. However, as of late September, the United States had not observed a definitive shift indicating that the Kremlin had assumed complete control over these fighters, as reported by CNN earlier.