Midhat Saleh was gunned down on Saturday in Ein el-Tinneh, a village along the Israeli border in the occupied Golan Heights where he headed a government office, the Syrian news agency said.
Israeli media reported that Saleh aided the Iranian military against Israel.
The IDF declined to comment, but if Saleh was indeed killed by Israel, it would be the first time Israeli snipers have been known to have killed someone identified as a target linked to the other’s Iran. side of the border.
Israel has said it will not tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria and has admitted carrying out numerous airstrikes against Iranian arms supplies and suspected military targets in Syria in recent years.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War and then annexed the strategic territory that overlooks northern Israel.
Most of the world does not recognize the annexation, although the administration of former US President Donald Trump has declared the territory part of Israel.
Saleh was born in Majdal Shams, on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan, and was imprisoned several times by Israel, the last time for 12 years until 1997.
He then moved to Syria, was elected to parliament in 1998, and served as a government adviser on the Golan Heights.
The small Druze community living on the Israeli-controlled Golan side generally has good relations with Israel.
But many members still profess their loyalty to Syria, in part because they have relatives on the other side.
Samih Ayoub, a resident of the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, told IDF Radio that Saleh had “no connection” with Iran or with a militia operating in the area.
“He’s just a calm man who works in an office. They killed him next to his house, ”Ayoub said.
Saleh’s brother Yasser Saleh, a doctor in Damascus, said his brother also lived in the Syrian capital but periodically visited the border area, slept there and sometimes spoke with relatives across the border.
He said his younger brother survived an assassination attempt in early 2011 and remained determined to end Israel’s control over the Golan Heights until the end.
He said his brother is survived by a wife and two children, including a son named Golan.
Message to Iran
Although there has been no official comment, Israeli military commentators – who receive high-level briefings with senior military officials – said Saleh was intimately involved in helping the Iranians strengthen their positions. capabilities along the Israeli front.
Iran sent thousands of forces to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s army during the country’s ten-year civil war.
“He responded directly to the Iranians,” wrote Yossi Yehoshua, military correspondent for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s largest paid daily.
Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told military radio that if Israel was killing Saleh, it was to send a message to the Iranians and unrelated to the past.
“I guess it wasn’t an act of revenge,” he said. “We are not talking about a mass murderer. “
Yoel Guzansky, senior researcher and expert on Iran at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv-based think tank, said he was not even sure Israel was involved.
He said Saleh was not a particularly valuable target and also had strained relations with Iranian proxy Hezbollah and opposed the group’s activities in the Golan Heights.
But he said that while Israel had indeed killed Saleh in an unprecedented sniper attack, it sent a powerful message to Iran and Syria about their activities near the Israeli border.
“Having said that, we have many ways and many techniques,” he said. ” We’re Watching You. “