The Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group, which operates in Syria, has been tasked with carrying out the delivery of the surface-to-air SA-22 missile system, the people said.
It is not clear whether it has already been delivered or how close it is to delivery. The system was originally provided by Russia for use by the Syrian government, the sources added.
One of the sources said the US has been monitoring recent movement of the system, which is also known as a Pantsir. The other source added the US assessment was based partly on intelligence obtained about discussions among Assad, Wagner, and Hezbollah about the delivery of the system.
The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Wagner may provide the system to Hezbollah. Assad’s role has not been previously reported.
Wagner and Hezbollah fighters have both operated in Syria for years, where they have been working alongside Russian and Syrian armed forces against terror groups.
A third source familiar with Western intelligence claimed there was evidence of increasing collaboration between Hezbollah and Wagner in Syria.
The possibility that Hezbollah could soon have a new air defense system comes amid concerns that the fighters are considering opening a new front in Israel’s war against Hamas, on northern border with Lebanon.
Amid the conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israeli troops and Hamas, tension has flared along the border between the Israeli-occupied territories and Lebanon, with exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.
Hezbollah and the Israeli regime have been exchanging sporadic fire since October 8, a day after the Zionist regime started bringing the Palestinian territory of the Gaza Strip under a relentless and indiscriminate war.
The Lebanese resistance movement has announced the group’s “guns and rockets” were with Palestinian fighters, and stressed that it will intensify its attacks against Israel if necessary.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has recently told senior Israeli officials that Hezbollah is “ten times stronger than Hamas”, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster has reported.
Biden and his aides have advised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to launch pre-emptive strikes against Hezbollah in Lebanon, The New York Times daily newspaper has reported.
Hezbollah has already fought off two Israeli wars against Lebanon in 2000 and 2006, forcing a humiliating retreat upon the Tel Aviv regime’s military in both cases.
The resistance movement has vowed to resolutely defend Lebanon in case of any Israeli-imposed war.