(Haaretz) Mossad Assassinated Syrian Weapons Chief, NYT Reports

(Haaretz) Middle Eastern spy agency claims Dr. Aziz Asber was working closely with Iran’s Quds Force chief on long range missiles capable of reaching Israeli cities

City of Masyaf in northwestern Syria, 2016
Pavel Golovkin / AP

Israel is responsible for the car bombing assassination of a Syrian rocket scientist on Sunday, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The account in the report, given by an official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the highly classified nature of the operation, claims the car bombing near the northwestern Syrian city of Masyaf that killed Dr. Aziz Asber was executed by Israeli Mossad agents.

Dr. Asber ran the northern bureau for research and science in Masyaf, where he was believed to be developing an underground weapons manufacturing facility with the help of the Iranians.

Photo of Asbar distributed on social media

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The official, who said his agency was notified of the operation, alleged that this was the fourth time in the last three years Israel has covertly killed a weapons engineer on foreign soil.

Despite the attack being claimed by a Syrian rebel group, the Abu Amara Brigades, pro-Assad and Hezbollah-affiliated media outlets were quick to point the finger at Israel as responsible for the assassination.

According to the official, the Mossad had been keeping tabs on Asber for some time and believed him to be working closely with Iran’s Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani on future plans to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Syria by modifying Syrian SM6000 Tishereen rockets.

Israel had targeted Asber as key player of the Syrian missile program long before the civil war had begun, according to a representative of the Syrian-Iranian alliance who spoke on terms of anonymity, as he was not allowed to talk to Western journalists. He was close with both Syrian and Iranian top brass, and coordinated with Iranian and Hezbollah forces working in Syria, said the intelligence official.

In recent months, in his role as chief of a classified weapons development program known as Sector 4, Asber was focused on modifying the Syrian artillery array’s range and accuracy – which the official posits made his termination more imperative for Israel, as it works to limit and suppress Iran and Hezbollah’s presence and involvement in Syria.

Several strikes on Masyaf, the city where the Scientific Studies and Research Center is located, have been attributed to Israel in recent years. The last one was on July 22. The factory Asber was said to be building with Iranian aid is set to replace the one allegedly destroyed by Israel last September.

The Israeli government has not officially commented on the report, or the allegations. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking to Israel’s News Company, dismissed the claims and said “Every time, they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”