Syrian media: Israeli sniper assassinated ex-MP near Golan Heights

Israeli media said Midhat Saleh was involved in assisting Iranian-backed forces in the area

A former MP has been shot dead by an Israeli sniper on Syria's side of the disputed Golan Heights, Syrian state TV said on Sunday.

A resident on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights told AP that Midhat Saleh, a member of the Druze minority who had served as a member of the Syrian Parliament, was near his home in the village of Ain El Tinneh, when he was struck by a bullet.

Saleh had an office in the area and, according to Israeli media, played a key role helping Iran-backed groups and the Syrian Army establish a military zone near the Golan Heights.

The Israeli military – which rarely publicly discusses operations in Syria – has made no comment.

But Saleh also had a tense relationship with local Iran-backed militia Hezbollah, Yoel Guzansky, an analyst at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies think tank, told AP.

He was opposed to the presence of the Shiite militant group, Mr Guzansky said. Hezbollah entered the Syrian conflict in 2013 to support the government of Bashar Al Assad, which was suffering heavy losses in an almost nation-wide revolt.

Some pro-government Syrians, particularly among the Druze minority, believe Iran-backed Islamist militias do not share the political aims of Mr Al Assad's government, which describes itself as secular.

The distance between Ain El Tinneh and a buffer zone between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights, created following a 1974 UN ceasefire, is almost five kilometres.

It is unlikely that the Israeli military could have carried out the operation without entering Syria. Last October, Israeli commandos entered Syria through the Golan Heights and destroyed three Syrian army observation posts.

Saleh was born in Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights, and was jailed several times by Israel – most recently for 12 years until 1997.

He later moved to Syria, was elected to parliament in 1998 and served as an adviser to the government on the Golan Heights issue.

The small Druze community living in the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan generally has good relations with Israel.

But many members still profess loyalty to Syria, in part because they have relatives on the other side of the border.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and later annexed the strategic territory.

Most of the world does not recognise the annexation, though the administration of former USA president Donald Trump declared the territory part of Israel.

Samih Ayoub, a resident on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, said that Saleh had “no connection” to Iran or to any militia.

“He's just a quiet man who works in an office. They killed him next to his house,” he said.

While there was no official comment, Israeli military commentators – who receive high-level anonymous briefings from top armed forces officials – said Saleh was intimately involved in assisting the Iranians build up their capabilities along the Israeli front.

Iran has sent thousands of forces to Syria to back President Bashar Al Assad during the country’s decade-long civil war.

“He answered directly to the Iranians,” said Yossi Yehoshua, a military correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest paid daily newspaper.

Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told the Army Radio station that if Israel killed Saleh, it was meant to send a message to the Iranians.

“I assume this was not an act of revenge,” he said.

Updated: October 17th 2021, 2:44 PM