‘‘But if you are really concerned about diversion (of weapons into the wrong hands), none of them alone is sufficient,’’ Schroeder said. He suggested that some savvy terrorists could outsmart the smart controls.
Anthony Cordesman, a national security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says governments would likely be quiet about any technological tinkering that could help keep MANPADs from falling into criminal hands.
‘‘As far as I know, the actual production of such systems has certainly not taken place in the U.S.,’’ he said by phone from Washington. ‘‘But this is an area where if it is done, the activity, the production and the design would be kept classified ... You don’t want to give the slightest indication to anyone in advance of what technology you use, because there are always countermeasures.’’
Syria is awash with weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles that have already reached rebel fighters — though it is not clear if they know how to use the weapons, or even if they work.
The idea behind the controls that France is studying would be to monitor who receives the weapons, track when and how they are used, and disable them if they are acquired by terrorists.
Some MANPADs are believed to have made their way out of the arsenal of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi into the open market, and the CIA has sought to keep the weapons away from al-Qaida sympathizers throughout the region, including the Al-Nusra Front in Syria — the most potent force fighting Assad’s troops.
French authorities have already ‘‘tested’’ a number of networks through which France has funneled non-lethal equipment — medical gear, protective equipment, and means of encrypted communications — to the rebels, ‘‘requiring the recipients of our help to account for the use of what we give,’’ said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday defended the push to lift the EU arms embargo. ‘‘There are clear safeguards to ensure that any such equipment would only be supplied for the protection of civilians, and in accordance with international law,’’ he said.
The Western-backed umbrella group of rebel brigades known as the Free Syrian Army says it needs anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to better challenge Assad’s firepower. The rebels, and many Syrian civilians, have faced a pounding from Assad’s air power.
One concern would be if extremists use anti-aircraft missiles against commercial planes, a potentially vulnerable target in a chaotic Middle East. Al-Qaida-linked terrorists are believed to have fired two SA-7 missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2002. Schroeder, of FAS, said some SA-7s are known to be in Syria.
The fresh memory of Libya’s war in 2011 also weighs on European diplomats. Some weapons delivered to resistance fighters battling Gadhafi’s regime two years ago later ended up ‘‘in the hands of terrorist groups fought by French troops in northern Mali’’ after France’s intervention this year against al-Qaida-linked militants in that West African country, Lalliot said.
Associated Press Writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Cassandra Vinograd in London contributed to this report.