Israeli campaign could enter a new phase with shooting in Syria

According to Israeli sniper fire and a former Syrian Druse lawmaker, the death could signal a new phase of Israel's war against Iranian influence in Syria.

Israeli campaign could enter a new phase with shooting in Syria

Syria's state-run news agency reported that Midhat Saleh was shot to death Saturday in Ein el-Tinneh. This village is located near the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, where he managed a Syrian government office. Israeli media reported that Saleh was supporting the Iranian military against Israel.

Although the Israeli military refused to comment on the matter, it would be the first time that Israeli snipers have ever killed an Iranian-linked target at the border. Israel has stated that it won't tolerate an Iranian permanent military presence in Syria. It has also acknowledged having carried out numerous airstrikes against alleged Iranian weapons shipments and military targets within Syria in recent years.

In 1967, Israel took the Golan Heights from Syria and annexed it later. This strategic territory overlooks northern Israel. The annexation was not recognized by most of the world, but the Trump administration declared it to be part Israel.

Saleh was born in Majdal Shams in the Israeli-controlled Golan. He was imprisoned multiple times by Israel, the most recent for 12 years. Later, he moved to Syria and was elected to parliament in 1998. He also served as an advisor to the government regarding the Golan question.

The Golan's small Druse community, which is under Israeli control, has generally good relations with Israel. Many members remain loyal to Syria because they have relatives there.

Samih Ayoub is a resident of the Israeli side on the Golan. He said that Saleh told Israel's Army Radio that Saleh had "no connections" to Iran or any militia. He is a quiet man who works at an office. He said that they had killed him near his home.

Yasser Saleh is Saleh's brother and Damascus doctor. He said that Saleh lived in Damascus but also visited the border region periodically. There he slept, talked to relatives, and sometimes ate there. According to him, his younger brother survived an assassination attempt in 2011 and was determined to end Israel's control of the Golan Heights. His brother survived by his wife and two children, one of which was named Golan.

Although there was no official statement, Israeli military commentators who receive high-level background briefings from top army brass said that Saleh was involved in helping the Iranians to build up their capabilities on the Israeli front. During Syria's decade-long civil conflict, Iran sent thousands of troops to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad's army.

Yossi Yehoshua wrote that "He answered directly the Iranians," and was a military correspondent for Yediot Ahronot Israel's largest daily newspaper.

Giora Eiland was a former Israeli national-security adviser. She said that Israel killing Saleh was intended to send a message and not connect to the past. He said, "I presume this wasn't an act of revenge." "We are not talking about a mass killer."

Yoel Guzansky is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and an expert on Iran. This Tel Aviv think-tank said that it wasn't certain that Israel was involved. He stated that Saleh wasn't a valuable target, and also maintained tense relations to Iranian proxy Hezbollah. He also objected the group's activities on the Golan.

He said, however, that Israel could have killed Saleh in an unproven sniper attack and sent a strong message to Iran or Syria about their activities close to the Israeli border.

He said, "It means that we have many methods and many techniques." "We are watching you."