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White House says intelligence shows Wagner Group preparing to arm ‘Hezbollah or Iran’

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the United States has identified an increase in cooperation between Iran and Russia against Israel.

“Our information further indicates that (the) Wagner Group, under the direction of the Russian government, was preparing to provide an air defense capability to either Hezbollah or Iran,” Kirby told reporters during a briefing. Press.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified U.S. officials, said earlier this month that 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.

Wagner, who is financed by the Kremlin, was brought back into line after a failed mutiny in June that posed the biggest threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s two decades of rule.

“We are certainly prepared to use our counterterrorism sanctions authorities against Russian individuals or entities that may be carrying out these destabilizing transfers,” Kirby said.

He added that Iran was “considering providing Russia with ballistic missiles for use in Ukraine immediately in exchange for this support.”

A portrait of the late Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is installed at an informal street memorial for Wagner Group members killed in a plane crash, near the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, August 29, 2023. (AP Photo /Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Washington has warned of a deepening military relationship between Moscow and Tehran – a burgeoning relationship that Kirby described as “definitely damaging to Ukraine, certainly damaging to Iran’s neighbors, and frankly damaging to the international community.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made an official visit to Iran in September, which was described as an “important step” for military cooperation between the allies. Both countries are subject to international trade sanctions and have forged close ties across several sectors.

Kirby also said the United States was considering redesignating the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a terrorist organization, following the group’s hijacking of an Israel-linked ship in the Red Sea and series of attacks. missile attacks it has launched against Israel since the outbreak began. of the war in Gaza.

US President Joe Biden removed the Houthis’ terrorist designation shortly after entering the White House, under pressure from rights groups who said it hampered efforts to provide aid to civilians in Yemen .

Of the Houthis, Kirby told reporters Tuesday that “in light of … the piracy of a vessel in international waters, we have begun to review potential terrorist designations and we will also consider other options with our allies and partners.

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader, November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The Bahamas-flagged, British-owned Galaxy Leader is operated by a Japanese company but has ties to Israeli businessman Abraham “Rami” Ungar.

Kirby called on the rebels to “release this ship immediately – and the crew – and unconditionally.”

The Houthis have declared themselves part of the “axis of resistance” of Iran’s allies and proxies, including Hezbollah and Hamas, and have also launched a series of drones and missiles towards Israel.

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