Israel Advocates Quiet on U.S. Plans To Arm Syria Rebels

Fears Remain That Arms Will Find Way to Islamists

Tough Fight: Syrian rebels are pressing their fight against the Damascus regime. Despite concerns, pro-Israel advocates are staying neutral on the question of whether the U.S. should arm the rebels.
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Tough Fight: Syrian rebels are pressing their fight against the Damascus regime. Despite concerns, pro-Israel advocates are staying neutral on the question of whether the U.S. should arm the rebels.

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 27, 2013, issue of May 31, 2013.
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Israel and its supporters in the United States are so far not challenging proposals to send ammunition and even light artillery to some Syrian opposition groups, despite fears that those arms could end up in the hands of fighters committed to global jihad.

An official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobby, said the group has not taken a position on proposed legislation calling for the arming of certain opposition groups, or on the broader issue of arming the Syrian opposition.

Meanwhile, in Israel, a government official explained that Jerusalem is focused only on arms capable of changing the regional balance — a concern that leads Israel to worry more about the Syrian government’s arms build-up as it battles to put down the opposition.

The weapons that worry Israel include Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft systems that could pose a threat to Israeli air superiority. Russia recently agreed to send these weapons to Syria despite Israeli entreaties.

Israel is also determined to block advanced surface-to-surface missiles from being transferred to Hezbollah from Iran via Syria.

“Bullets and mortars,” the Israeli official said, “are for internal fighting” and therefore are not of great concern to Jerusalem.

Recent events on the ground further highlighted Israel’s focus on Syria’s military, not on potential future threats from armed opposition groups. On May 21, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fired at an Israeli military vehicle patrolling the border in the Golan Heights. Israel responded with gunfire directed at a Syrian army outpost and with a stern warning from its armed forces chief of staff, Benny Gantz, that Assad will “bear the consequences” of any escalation along the border.

Israeli officials, however, have made clear that they will not intervene in the Syrian civil war, including by taking a position regarding American military aid to opposition forces.


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