ShareThis Page

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.