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Israel on top of arms to Syria

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Israel is closely monitoring the kinds of weapons being sent to Syrian rebel groups, and it has consulted with U.S. officials about which weapons they consider too sophisticated to be passed to the groups that are battling to topple President Bashar Assad, according to Israeli officials with knowledge of the situation.

“Israel isn't going to interfere and stop weapons shipments to the rebels at this point, but it wants to make sure it knows what they have,” said an Israeli military official, who agreed to discuss the matter with McClatchy Newspapers only on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Another military official, who also asked not to be identified for the same reason, acknowledged that Israel is concerned that pressure to assist the rebels will result in weapons going to al-Qaida-linked militants — the anti-Assad forces' best fighters.

“On the one hand, there is a great deal of pressure on the Western world to bolster arms to moderate, what we call friendly, rebel groups so that they are on a level playing field with the groups that might be getting support from Islamist movements,” one of the officials told McClatchy. “On the other hand, once you send a weapon somewhere, you can't control where it goes. The fear is that the same gun used to shoot a Syrian soldier will one day be used to shoot an Israeli soldier.”

Israel has been monitoring the Assad regime's internal movements of chemical and other sophisticated weapons out of concern that they might fall into the hands of al-Qaida-linked rebels, such as the Nusra Front, or be passed to avowed enemies such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, which has sent fighters to Syria to fight on Assad's behalf.

On Jan. 30 in Syria, Israel destroyed a convoy, fearing it was carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah.

Until now, Israel has been silent on concerns about what weapons other nations might pass to the rebels. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed that Israel won't allow advanced weapons systems to move from Syria to militant groups in Lebanon, has stopped short of commenting on the flow of weapons into Syria.

The White House raised the possibility two weeks ago that weapons passed to the rebels might pose a threat to Israel. The comment explains why President Obama vetoed a plan, put forward sometime last year, to send military equipment to the rebels.

The plan had the backing of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; then-CIA Director David Petraeus; Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked why Obama rejected a plan that his war Cabinet backed, White House spokesman Jay Carney offered the threat to Israel as one of the reasons.

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