US intelligence thinks Wagner plans to send air defense system to Hezbollah, WSJ reports
PHOTO CAPTION: Representational photo of a Russian Pantsir-S1 air defense system, Russia, Sept. 6, 2016 (Reuters)
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States has intelligence that Russia's Wagner mercenary group plans to provide Hezbollah, the Iranian backed Lebanese militia, an air defence system, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials.
The Journal said Wagner plans to supply the Pantsir-S1 system, known by NATO as the SA-22, which uses anti-aircraft missiles and air-defence guns to intercept aircraft.
Wagner Group, which was funded by the Russian state and has been brought firmly under Kremlin control since an aborted mutiny by its former leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in June, did not reply to a request for comment from Reuters.
One unidentified U.S. official quoted by the Journal said that Washington had not confirmed that the system had been sent. But U.S. officials are monitoring discussions involving Wagner and Hezbollah, the Journal said.
The Journal said that the Pantsir system would be provided to Hezbollah via Syria, where Russia propped up President Bashar al-Assad by entering the civil war there in 2015.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards founded Hezbollah in 1982, in the middle of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. It was part of Iran's effort to export its 1979 Islamic Revolution around the region and fight Israeli forces after their 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Lebanon's Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces across the border since its Palestinian ally Hamas in Gaza and Israel went to war on Oct. 7.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Christina Fincher)