Evidence from an internal National Security Agency document suggests that Israeli special forces were responsible for assassinating a senior Syrian military official who was a close adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The NSA document, which was provided by former contractor Edward Snowden to the Intercept, is the first official confirmation that the 2008 assassination of Brig. Gen. Muhammed Suleiman on a beach in the Syrian port of Tartus was an Israeli military operation.
On Aug. 1, a team of Israeli naval commandos entered the waters near Tartus, according to the Intercept, and shot and killed Suleiman, a top aide to al-Assad, while he held a dinner party at his seaside weekend retreat. 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.
Suleiman was responsible for the development and security of Syria's nuclear facilities and helped to facilitate the training and arming of Hezbollah by Iran, which might have led to the assassination, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The document's classification markings suggest that the NSA acquired the information about the assassination through surveillance of Israeli communication signals, according to the Guardian. "We've had access to Israeli military communications for some time," said a former US intelligence official to the Jerusalem Post.
At the time of the assassination, experts speculated to the Guardian that the assassination could have been caused by internal power struggles arising from the growing tension between Iran and Syria. 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.
"The major issue now facing Syria is its relationship with Iran and Hizbullah and how it can reconcile that with talking to Israel," Andrew Tabler, a Damascus-based political expert, told the Guardian in 2008. "The assassination means that there is a power struggle going on in Syria and it most probably concerns Iran. People like this don't just die unless something is going on."