Alex Witt   |  May 05, 2013

Examining the risks of arming Syrian rebels

Democratic Congressman Peter Welch and General Barry McCaffrey talk with Richard Lui about American involvement with Syria.  General McCaffrey calls attention to the extremely limited military options that the United States has in Syria. Rep. Welch discusses the risk of arming rebels given the diverse demographics of the rebel forces. McCaffrey also discusses the threat that missiles in the hands of Hezbollah would pose to Israel.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> violence in syria and today israeli warplanes launching strikes inside the country targeting a shipment of weapons in lebanon . the ap reporting syria is calling the attack as flagrant violation of international law . joining me is peter walsh and general barry mccaffrey . thank you both. congressman, starting with you, do you support these air strikes ?

>> i do. israel has a legitimate self defense claim. so the decisions they have to make for their own self-defense are unique to israel and i do support their effort.

>> general, i want to play sound from senator john mccain . take a listen.

>> we need to have a game changing action and that is no american boots on the ground , establish a safe zone and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people in syria .

>> that's really been the dominant question as we continue to watch syria over the recent months here. what is the right option?

>> well, there is enormous anxiety about the security of israeli and i think that's the dominant national security interests we have. israeli right now surrounded by increasing danger from both egypt, syria , lebanon and hezbollah. iranians are pumping lots of arms through syria . so that's really the concern. our military options are extremely limited. establishing a safe zone in syria means, what, going after the syrian air force , syrian anti-aircraft capacity. where do we do it from, from jordan, israel , cyprus. so our military options are extremely bad and we should be reluctant to get directly involved except to have the cia provide lethal support in my view to selected parts of the rebel opposition.

>> congressman, react to that statement by the general. and that is the assistance to the rebel groups , it's on which said there are hundreds if not over 1,000 rebel groups that exist in syria . what's the best approach when thinking about assisting further? rebels have been asking for increased equipment support.

>> well, first of all, i'd like to say that i think the politicians should listen more to some of the experienced military folks like general m mccalfry when it comes to us pontifica pontificating. practicalities are extremely difficult. options are to potentially provide arms with our allies. but even in doing that, it would be a mistake for us to think that that would create a stable situation. what you have right now is chaos. the sooner that can be brought to order, this is a big effort, the better. but the reality is that there is she sunni, and they're ready to fight each other.reality is that the biggest challenge is chaos in the region. there is not a simple way to deal with it. consensus seems to be if we can give arms to pro western pro democratic rebel, then we can do that, bitbut but the notion that there is a simple solution i think is very risky.

>> general, i want to talk about the red line that has been discussed. what is the red line , have they already crossed it, what will the president do based on his definition of what that red line might be. and israel 's red line being different than the president's and how they put those two together. can you discuss pow horimportant the red line is?

>> the president made that comment to try to keep assad -- remember 80,000 now murdered in this struggle between the dominant minority and sunni majority. i think he was just trying to stop the violence from spinning further out of control. but the practical matter is right now chemical weapons which assad is probably used at least twice already have in mortar, artillery delivered scud missiles . if you want to go after the delivery systems and stockpile, you'd have to take down the sa-17 anti-aircraft defense. items not a realistic military option. so i think now we're trying to find ways to back off that challenge.

>> general, what do you make of the reports of the 110 missiles?

>> the number i'm using unclassified is israel is facing as many as 100,000 missiles from lebanon , from hamas and gaza strip , from the iranians shahab 3 missiles that can reach israel . it's a huge problem for them. that 2006 war scared the death out of the israelis. 1200 people got killed and it was an inconclusive outcome. so seeing further missiles is a huge threat to israelis.

>> and some saying hezbollah better equipped today than they were back in 2006 .

>> absolutely.

>> thank you both very much.