Israeli attack destroys Russian missiles headed from Syria to Hezbollah, US officials say

A supporter of Lebanon's Hezbollah waves a Syrian flag depicting Syria's President Bashar Assad during a 2011 rally in southern Lebanon. Ali Hashisho / Reuters file

Israeli military forces destroyed a cache of Russian missiles that the Syrian government was reportedly prepared to deliver to the militant group Hezbollah, U.S. officials confirmed Thursday.

The officials stressed that the surface-to-surface Russian-made missiles were under Syrian military control in the country's western port of Latakia, near a Russian naval base there.

The officials said this attack is expected to follow the usual pattern of several other Israeli strikes against Syrian missiles that were apparently on their way to Hezbollah – neither the Israelis, Syrians nor Hezbollah are likely to acknowledge the missiles ever existed or the strike ever occurred.

Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Lebanon, much of the weapons coming through Syria. Hezbollah has controlled the Lebanese government for years and this spring joined the effort to defeat rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hezbollah's presence in Syria is said to have been a key to turning back rebel advances in a two-year war that has left more than 100,000 people dead.

The Israeli Defense Ministry refused comment on the reports of the new attack, Reuters said, but Lebanon’s military reported that six Israeli jets flew over Lebanese territory on Wednesday.

Israel has repeatedly struck at targets in Syria this year, including strikes in January, May and July believed to be aimed at missile stockpiles or shipments destined for Hezbollah. It has been unclear what kinds of missiles have been targeted in those attacks.

After an airstrike in May, Israel said it was determined to prevent the transfer of “game-changing weaponry” from the Syrian regime to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has also accused Iran of arming Assad's government and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, three Palestinians were killed early Friday when Israeli planes targeted a tunnel in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said in a statement that the tunnel was used carry out attacks on Israelis and accused Hamas of breaching a ceasefire reached a year ago after an eight-day cross-border war. 

Jim Miklaszewski is NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent. Courtney Kube is an NBC News Pentagon producer.