The U.S. Biden administration says it has intelligence to confirm Russia’s Wagner Group is preparing to assist Iran in defending itself against Israel.
“Our information further indicates that [the] Wagner [Group], at the direction of the Russian government, was preparing to provide an air defense capability to either Hezbollah or Iran,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, said the Wagner Group was preparing to supply the Pantsir-S1, a Russian self-propelled anti-aircraft gun and missile system known as SA-22 by NATO.
Kirby said the United States was closely monitoring the situation and prepared to use sanctions against such weapons transfers.
“We will closely monitor for whether Wagner provides military equipment to Hezbollah or Iran,” he said. “We are prepared to use our counterterrorism sanctions authorities against Russian individuals or entities making these destabilizing transfers.”
Russia's Wagner mercenary group first appeared in 2014 and has operated in Africa, Syria and eastern Ukraine, serving Putin’s political interests abroad. Its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, led a short-lived rebellion against Putin in June and died in a plane crash in August, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Moscow.
Russia and Iran have been deepening their relationship since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, with Iran supplying Russian President Vladimir Putin with Iranian drones to use in the battle.
During the press briefing, Kirby noted that Iran was “considering providing Russia with ballistic missiles now for use in Ukraine in return for that support.”
The U.S. spokesman described the ongoing growing military relations between Russia and Iran as “obviously harmful to Ukraine, certainly harmful to Iran’s neighbors, quite frankly harmful to the international community.”
In September, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu paid an official visit to Iran, whereas the Iranian-backed leaders of Hamas visited Moscow in October, ostensibly to discuss the Israeli hostages being held by the terror group in Gaza.
At the time, Israel protested the visit by Hamas, telling Russia’s ambassador to Israel there was a serious lack of "unequivocal and clear condemnation" of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 on the part of Russia. Hosting Hamas leaders conveyed a message of legitimacy for terrorism against the Jewish state, Israel stated.
During the press briefing, Kirby mentioned that the U.S. is considering re-designating the Houthi terrorist movement in Yemen as a terrorist organization, following their seizure of a cargo ship in the Red Sea.
The Houthis, an Iranian proxy, have also launched a series of long-range missiles and drones at Israel since the beginning of the ongoing war.
“In light of… the piracy of a ship in international waters, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations and we’ll be considering other options together with our allies and partners as well,” Kirby told reporters while calling on the terrorists to “release that ship immediately – as well as the crew – and unconditionally.”
Kirby also called the hijacking of the "Galaxy Leader" a “flagrant violation of international law” in which “Iran is complicit.”
The Islamic ayatollah regime has denied any involvement in the seizure of the cargo ship, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani saying on Monday that the Houthis had acted “spontaneously.”
“We have said multiple times that resistance groups in the region act independently and spontaneously based on their interests and that of their people,” Kanaani said.
U.S. President Joe Biden, as one of his first foreign policy decisions after taking office in January 2021, removed the Houthis from the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist lists just one month later.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.