'Israel monitors weapons transfers to Syrian rebels'

Rebel weapons could pose security threat if they end up in the wrong hands, Israeli intelligence officials tell US news agency.

February 23, 2013 16:35
2 minute read.
Free Syria Army member with an assault rifle

Free Syria Army member with an assault rifle 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amateur video)


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Israel is closely monitoring the transfer of certain kinds of weapons to Syrian rebel groups, as the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s regime draws closer, Israeli military officials told US-based McClatchy News Agency.

“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,” one official reportedly said.

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Other military officials suggested that Israel has been monitoring the transfer of weapons to prevent them from entering the custody of supposed al-Qaida fighters who have joined the Syrian rebel’s cause to topple Assad.

“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,” this official 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.”

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Israel wants to prevent weapons from entering the hands of some of their northern enemies, such as the Jabhat al-Nusra Front or Hezbollah in Lebanon, the latter directly supporting Assad materially and militarily in combating the rebel groups. In fact, cross-border weapons transfers between Syria and Lebanon have been monitored by Israel since the beginning of 2012, when it was believed that the first non-conventional weapons belonging to Syria were passed over to Hezbollah.

Israel took direct action on January 30, when it allegedly destroyed a convoy in Syria that was suspected of carrying Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missile launchers to Hezbollah in a border area west of Damascus.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would not let advanced weapons systems into the hands of Hezbollah, but has yet to comment on monitoring the transfer of other kinds of weapons between Syria and known enemy groups of Israel.

There seem to be two scenarios, however, that Israel deems unacceptable in Syria. The first is a transfer of chemical weapons and advanced strategic missiles to Hezbollah, and the second involves raids by al-Qaida-affiliated rebel groups, such as the Nusra front, on a Syrian chemical weapons depot.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

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