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    Yossi Cohen, director of Mossad, Israel's state intelligence agency (File)

    Middle East Intelligence Official: Mossad Behind Syrian Rocket Chief Car Bomb

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    It's been reported a senior Middle East intelligence agency official has blamed Israel's controversial intelligence agency Mossad for the assassination of a top Syrian rocket scientist.

    Aziz Azbar and his driver were killed when his car exploded in the northern city of Masyaf late August 4 — the unnamed official told The New York Times Israel was behind the attack and said his own intelligence agency — again undisclosed — had been informed of the operation in advance.

    Long-Term Objective

    Mossad apparently targeted Azbar as it was suspected he headed a classified weapons development program — Sector 4 — at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center. The Center in Masyaf has repeatedly been the target of Israeli airstrikes — one attack in April killed a number of staff stationed there.

    The official alleged Israel had been tracking Azbar for years, wanting to assassinate him over his prominent role in Syria's weapons program prior to the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011. It's allegedly the fourth time in three years Mossad has assassinated a weapons engineer in a foreign country. For instance, a Hamas rocket scientist was shot dead in Malaysia in April, and a drone engineer was killed in Tunisia in December 2016.

    A rebel fighter walks near damaged vehicles after a car bomb explosion in Jub al Barazi east of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria January 15, 2017
    © REUTERS / Khalil Ashawi
    A rebel fighter walks near damaged vehicles after a car bomb explosion in Jub al Barazi east of the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, Syria January 15, 2017
    Mossad has consistently denied responsibility for such killings, and the slaying of Azbar is no exception — on the morning of August 7, Gilad Erdan head of Israel's Public Security and Strategic Affairs Ministry, declined to discuss Israel's involvement in the Syrian scientist's killing, but welcomed the news.

    "We obviously do not comment on these kinds of reports but we can talk about the man himself, who was responsible for putting high quality weapons in the hands of some bad people, and so we can say that the fact he is no longer with us is a good thing," he told Israel Radio.

    Shoot First

    Whether Mossad is responsible for Azbar's executions or not, it's unquestionable the Israeli state is responsible for killing more people than the agents of any other state since World War II.

    As Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman has documented, the number of deaths attributable to Tel Aviv will never be known for certain, but undoubtedly run to thousands — after all, Israeli operatives have carried out around 800 assassinations in the past decade alone. He argues the Talmudic direction "if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first" has been the spying agency's guiding principle since the state of Israel's establishment in 1948.

    Ghassan Jarrar (background), the husband of Khalida Jarrar (portrait-L), a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), sits behind a family picture on April 2, 2015 at their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where she was arrested the day before
    © AFP 2018 / ABBAS MOMANI
    Ghassan Jarrar (background), the husband of Khalida Jarrar (portrait-L), a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), sits behind a family picture on April 2, 2015 at their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where she was arrested the day before
    Often, these slayings are luridly elaborate, using resources evoking the improbable lethal gadgetry of James Bond novels and films. For instance, in January 1978, after six years subject a Mossad 'kill order', Wadie Haddad — founder of the far-Left Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — was killed via poisoned toothpaste. A Mossad agent — known as 'Sadness' infiltrated Haddad's inner circle, and switched his toothpaste for an identical tube laced with a deadly toxin, developed in a secret Israeli laboratory.

    Every time the man brushed his teeth, a tiny quantity of the toxin worked its way through his gums into his bloodstream, and slowly but surely, he started dying. He was eventually flown to hospital in East Berlin, but he died in agony ten days later, bleeding from every orifice.

    These state-backed hits haven't always been successful, however. In another fantastical operation in 1968, directly inspired by conspiracy thriller film The Manchurian Candidate, Mossad hired a Swedish-born psychologist to brainwash a Palestinian prisoner into murdering Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

    Palestinian refugees stand next to graffiti bearing a portrait of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at the Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, on March 16, 2015
    © AFP 2018 / JOSEPH EID
    Palestinian refugees stand next to graffiti bearing a portrait of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at the Ain Al-Helweh refugee camp, near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon, on March 16, 2015
    The psychologist spent three months hypnotising the subject, with the simple message — "Arafat bad. He must be removed". The prisoner, known as Fatkhi, was also trained to shoot pictures of the popular Palestinian leader, hidden in a specially prepared room

    In December that year, Mossad smuggled him across the River Jordan, from where he was supposed to infiltrate Arafat's headquarters. Five hours later, they received some bad news — Fatkhi had gone to a police station and accused Israeli agents of trying to brainwash him.

    Mistaken Identity

    Similarly, in 1973, as part of 'Operation Wrath of God' Mossad agents hunted Ali Hassan Salameh, chief of operations for Black September, the group that murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. An undercover opeative serendipitously spotted the individual working in a cafe in Lillehammer, Norway. On July 21, as the man and his pregnant wife got off a bus, Mossad assassins opened fire, shooting him 13 times.

    However, the intelligence agency had fouled up — the individual was not Salameh, but Ahmed Bouchikhi, an innocent Moroccan waiter. Norwegian police arrested six Israeli agents in the aftermath, and five served time in Norway — all were eventually released under a secret deal. The quintet were hailed as heroes upon their return to Israel.

    Arafat
    © Photo : Rex Features
    Yasser Arafat delivering a press conference in 1970 during Black September. Arafat lead the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the civil war fought to determine control of Jordan

    Nonetheless, several of the captured agents disclosed vital information to authorities, critically damaging Mossad's secret infrastructure in Europe. Investigators found a key on one of the suspects, which the individual identified as a key for a Mossad safe house in Paris. It was handed over to French police, who raided the flat and discovered keys to other Mossad safe houses in the city. Information on Mossad safe houses, phone numbers, and agents gathered was shared widely with European security services, leading to the recall of many agents, abandonment of safe houses and wholesale dumping of crucial operational methods.

    Mossad would finally get their man January 1979, in a car bomb attack. Eight innocent bystanders were also killed, including a German nun and British student.

    Other killing operations, both old and new, have been considerably less artful — but considerably more efficient. For instance, in January 2010, a team of several dozen Mossad agents flew to Dubai using forged passports, wigs and false moustaches, to kill Hamas chief Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh at the luxurious Al-Bustan Hotel.

    In this 2011 photo, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs Meir Dagan, the then-director of Israel spy agency Mossad.
    © AP Photo / Ronen Zvulun, Pool
    In this 2011 photo, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hugs Meir Dagan, the then-director of Israel spy agency Mossad.
    When al-Mabhouh entered his room, agents seized him and used high-tech ultrasound equipment to inject poison into his neck without breaking skin. He died within moments, and most of the agents fled the country within hours.

    The killing sparked international outrcry and diplomatic crises between Israel and several allies, as the agents involved used counterfeit passports from at least five countries. Response from implicated nations was in some cases significant. For instance, in March 2010, then-UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband expelled an Israeli diplomat, and Australia abstained on a United Nations motion to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes committed during the Gaza War, a motion Canberra had previously opposed, as well as expelling a Mossad agent who'd worked in the Israeli embassy.

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    Tags:
    political assassinations, spying, assassination plot, execution, assassination, Syrian crisis, Mossad, UAE, Australia, Israel, Syria, Norway, France
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