BEIRUT — Syria will supply “game-changing” weapons to Hezbollah, the chief of the Lebanese militia said Thursday, just days after Israeli airstrikes on Damascus targeted what Israel said were shipments of advanced Iranian weapons possibly bound for the group.
Any attempts to ship advanced Iranian missiles across Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon would likely draw a new Israeli response, and Thursday’s warning by Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, if more than rhetoric, could signal a further escalation.
Israel has largely tried to stay out of Syria’s 26-month-old conflict. It never acknowledged the airstrikes, but Israeli officials have signaled Israel’s air force would strike against any shipments of strategic missiles that might be bound for Hezbollah.
Israeli officials said the Lebanese militia has tens of thousands of rockets, but that most of them are unguided. Israeli officials said the shipments targeted twice last week included precision-guided missiles.
Israel and Hezbollah fought repeatedly, including in a month-long war in 2006. During that war, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah and Iran have become increasingly involved in Syria’s civil war, supplying troops and military advisers to help Syrian President Bashar Assad fight armed rebels trying to oust him.
Nasrallah spoke Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hezbollah’s radio station, Al-Nour. His speech was televised to an audience in Beirut, as a security precaution. Nasrallah has rarely appeared in public since the 2006 war, for fear of being targeted by Israel.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah could expect strategic weapons from Syria in the future.
“Syria will give the resistance special weapons it never had before,” Nasrallah said. “We mean game-changing.”
Nasrallah said the shipments of new types of weapons would serve as the Syrian reaction to Israel’s airstrikes.
‘This is the Syrian strategic reaction,” said Nasrallah of future weapons shipments. “This is more important than firing a rocket or carrying out an airstrike in occupied Palestine,” he said. Hezbollah refers to Israel as part of “occupied Palestine.”
The militia chief said the military alliance between Syria and Hezbollah would continue.
“We in the Lebanese resistance declare that we stand by the Syrian popular resistance and give our material and moral support and cooperate and coordinate in order to liberate the Syrian Golan,” he said. Israel captured Syria’s Golan Heights in the 1967 Mideast War and later annexed the strategic plateau.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, asked to comment on Nasrallah, said: “We don’t respond to words. We respond to action.” The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment.
In a related development, Israeli security officials said Thursday they have asked Russia to cancel the imminent sale of an advanced air defense system to Syria.
The officials said Israel shared information with the United States in hopes of persuading Russia to halt the planned deal to provide S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Disclosing the deal, the Israeli officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Earlier Thursday, the Assad regime said it welcomed efforts by the United States and Russia to try to bring the sides in the civil war to the negotiating table before the end of the month.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said the government is willing to consider any proposals for a political solution of the conflict, while it retains the right to fight “terrorists,” the regime’s term for the opposition fighters and their supporters.