An entry in the NSA’s internal version of Wikipedia described the killing by “Israeli naval commandos” in Tartus as “the first known instance of Israel targeting a legitimate government official”, according to the Intercept. Despite disapproval from Iran, the Syrian regime was engaged in indirect peace talks with Israel at the time of the assassination, which led to strained relations between Tehran and Damascus and seemed to imply Israeli innocence.
As The Intercept notes, Israel’s involvement in the general’s death calls into question whether Israel violated global law in conducting the operation at the time when it did.
Israel was responsible for the 2008 assassination of one of Syria’s top government officials, as reported by an analysis of leaked US National Security Agency documents released Wednesday.
Suleiman was reportedly responsible for the development and security of Syria’s Ali Kibar nuclear facility, a site left defunct by an air strike attributed in the foreign press to Israel.
According to the three former US intelligence officers cited in the report, the classified document is labeled “SI”, which means the information was collected by monitoring communications signals.
Israel has never publicly commented on the assassination, despite speculation that Israeli forces may have been involved in his killing, including a leaked United States embassy 2010 cable, published by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, which said “the most obvious suspects are the Israelis”.
The Israeli assassination of Suleiman came less than six months after a joint Mossad-CIA team assassinated a top Hezbollah operative in the heart of Damascus, as stated by several current and former USA military and intelligence officials.
“The Israelis may have had many good reasons to kill [Suleiman]”, said Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of worldwide law at Notre Dame.
Mr. Suleiman had close ties to Bashar al-Assad going back the 1990s, long before the young Assad rose to power following the death of his father in 2000. “They will take a target of opportunity if it presents itself”.
The documents reveal Suleiman was beind “his Syrian government’s efforts to facilitate Iran’s provision of arms and military training to Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon” writes The Intercept. But under global law it’s absolutely clear that in Syria in 2008, they had no rights under the laws of war because at the time there was no armed conflict. The money cast doubt on Suleiman’s loyalty to Assad and sparked the rumors that he had been killed over an internal dispute. Al-Assad was “devastated by the discovery” and wanted to find out “how the general acquired so much money”, fearing Suleiman “betrayed” him.
The spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not immediately available for comment.