By Aaron Klein
JERUSALEM — The White House denial of supplying arms to the al-Qaida-saturated Syrian rebels may be somewhat more difficult for some to swallow now that it has been revealed the arms-to-rebels plan had been endorsed by the leaders of the CIA, Pentagon and State departments.
If indeed President Obama rejected the arms plan, as reported earlier by the New York Times, it would mean the White House went against the recommendations of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director David Petraeus.
The plan was said to have been generated by Petraeus and Clintons.
During senate hearings on Benghazi yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Panetta and Dempsey whether they had supported a plan “that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria.”
“We do,” Panetta replied.
“You did support that?” McCain asked again.
“We did,” added Dempsey, who was sitting next to Panetta.
Neither Dempsey nor Panetta elaborated on their positions.
This past weekend, the New York Times reported the White House rebuffed the Clinton-Petraeus plan developed last summer to arm and train Syrian rebels.
The Times, citing unnamed Obama administration officials, reported the White House rejected the Clinton-Petraeus proposal over concerns it could draw the U.S. into the Syrian conflict and the arms could fall into the wrong hands.
The plan reportedly called for vetting rebels and arming a group of fighters with the assistance of Arab countries.
According to informed Middle Eastern security officials speaking to KleinOnline, the U.S. has been coordinating arms shipments for months now to the Syrian rebels. At issue is that the rebels consist in large part of al-Qaida-linked jihadists, according to scores of news reports.
The Middle Eastern security officials further described the U.S. mission in Benghazi and nearby CIA annex attacked last September as an intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to the rebels in the Middle East, particularly those fighting Assad’s regime. The aid, the sources stated, included weapons shipments and was being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Days after the Benghazi attacks, KleinOnline broke the story that late Ambassador Christopher Stevens himself played a central role in recruiting jihadists to fight Assad’s regime in Syria, according to Egyptian and other Middle Eastern security officials.
Stevens served as a key contact with the Saudis to coordinate the recruitment by Saudi Arabia of Islamic fighters from North Africa and Libya. The jihadists were sent to Syria via Turkey to attack Assad’s forces, said the security officials.
The officials said Stevens also worked with the Saudis to send names of potential jihadi recruits to U.S. security organizations for review. Names found to be directly involved in previous attacks against the U.S., including in Iraq and Afghanistan, were ultimately not recruited by the Saudis to fight in Syria, said the officials.
This scheme seems to mirror the Petraeus -Clinton plan as described by the New York Times.
Perhaps tellingly, during the Senate hearing on Benghazi last month, Clinton claimed she did not know whether the U.S. special mission attacked on Sept. 11 was involved in gun-running.
The remarks were perhaps the most important and telling of the entire hearing since they address a possible motive behind the jihadist attacks.
Yet Clinton’s answers were largely unreported by U.S. news media.
The exchange on the subject took place with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Paul asked Clinton: “Is the U. S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?
“To Turkey?” Clinton asked. “I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.”
Continued Paul: “It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that may have weapons, and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons, and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?”
Clinton replied, “Well, senator, you’ll have to direct that question to the agency that ran the annex. I will see what information is available.”
“You’re saying you don’t know?” asked Paul.
“I do not know,” Clinton said. “I don’t have any information on that.”
That section of the exchange with Paul was almost entirely ignored by media, which instead focused on the Republican senator’s earlier statement that if he were president he would have relieved Clinton of her post.
Meanwhile, the alleged weapons transfers to the rebels in Syria would not be the first time the Obama administration reportedly coordinated weapons shipments to Middle Eastern rebels.
In December, the New York Times reported the Obama administration “secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.”
The Times reported the weapons and money from Qatar “strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”