BEIRUT — Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday that Syria will supply his Lebanese militia with “game-changing weapons,” describing the move as Syria’s response to airstrikes earlier in the week.
Nasrallah spoke less than a week after unnamed Israeli officials said Israeli aircraft twice struck shipments of advanced weapons in Syria believed to be bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel did not officially confirm responsibility for the early Friday and Sunday strikes around Damascus.
“Syria’s response to Israel’s air strikes is to tell Israel that if your goal was to prevent boosting the resistance’s capabilities then take note … [Syria] will give the resistance arms,” Nasrallah said, according to a translation posted on the website of the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper.
“And it will provide the resistance with sophisticated weapons that the resistance has never obtained before,” he said during the televised address.
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 Fateh-110 missiles.
Syria has been the main conduit for Iranian weapons to Hezbollah.
Nasrallah also said Syria had opened up the Golan Heights for “resistance groups” to fight against Israel.
“Whoever wanted a war on Syria, the response was to open the Golan front for any popular resistance groups,” he said.
He added that Hezbollah would aid any group attacking Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan.
“This is more important than firing a rocket or carrying out an airstrike in occupied Palestine,” he said.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad warned Thursday that Damascus would not hesitate to strike back in reaction to any future Israeli military assault on its territory.
“We will respond immediately and harshly to any additional attack by Israel,” Mekdad said during an interview with AFP.
He further cautioned that the Syrian army was instructed to return fire at any instance of an Israeli offensive, without awaiting orders from the political leadership.
“An order was given to immediately respond to any new Israeli aggression,” he said.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel would continue to defend its “red lines,” a reference to keeping advanced weapons from falling into Hezbollah’s hands.
Speaking after mortar shells fell on the Israeli side of the Golan, apparently inadvertent misguided fire from clashes between Syrian government forces and rebels fighters, Ya’alon also said Israeli troops had been instructed to hit back at Syria if fired on from across the border, without receiving permission from Jerusalem.
Nasrallah’s speech came against the backdrop of reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad is in the process of acquiring an advanced Russian air defense system.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli officials had asked the US to stop Russia from selling S-300 missiles to Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the transfer of the advanced missile defense systems to Syria would be a “destabilizing” factor. Kerry said the US has expressed concerns about what such defensive systems in Syria would mean for Israel’s security. He wouldn’t address what the missiles might mean for Syria’s civil war.
Such weapons, which can shoot down planes or missiles, would enhance the Syrian government’s defensive ability and make it even harder for the US and other governments to consider even the possibility of trying to enforce a no-fly zone in the country or otherwise intervening militarily.
Russia rarely comments publicly on arms sales or transfers, and there has been no official word on the deal in Moscow.
On Friday, Israeli planes reportedly hit a transfer of Fateh-110 missiles from Iran to Hezbollah at Damascus’s airport. Two days later, jets struck a number of sites around Damascus, which officials said was aimed at other parts of the Iranian missile shipment.
Israel never formally acknowledged the airstrikes, but Israeli officials have said Israel would keep striking any shipments of advanced weapons meant for Hezbollah.
Assad said Tuesday that Syria was capable of facing Israel, but stopped short of threatening retaliation for the strikes.
On Thursday, Lebanese news outlet Al-Ahkbar quoted Assad saying that he would give everything to Hezbollah in return for support.