More information is pointing to an Israeli assassination of the Assad regime’s top scientist for missile and rocket development, for delivery of both conventional and chemical weapons.
On Saturday night, the head of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, Aziz Azbar (pictured), and his driver were killed by a bomb placed in their car near the SSRC complex in Masyaf in western Syria.
The SSRC is the center for the regime’s chemical weapons program and its development of missiles. It has been bombed on three occasions since last September by the Israelis, and it was struck by the US, Britain, and France in mid-April, a week after the Assad regime carried out a double chemical attack on Douma in East Ghouta near Damascus.
The Israeli military has not commented on the assassination, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman played down the possibility on Sunday: “Every day in the Middle East there are hundreds of explosions and settling of scores. Every time they try to place the blame on us. So we won’t take this too seriously.”
But a “senior official from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency” said on Monday that the Israelis were responsible. The official, whose agency was informed about the operation, said it was at least the fourth time in three years that Israel has assassinated a weapons engineer on foreign soil.
Israel is believed to be responsible in past years for the killing of several Iranian nuclear scientists, and of a Hamas rocket scientist and drone engineer in the past 18 months.
Initial reports linked Azbar, who held a degree in nuclear physics from a French institution, to the regime’s chemical weapons program at Masyaf. Later information clarified that Azbar led a top-secret unit called Sector 4 developing missiles and weapons, working with Iranian personnel.
Sources said Azbar collaborated with Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, including n production of precision-guided missiles in Syria by retrofitting Tishreen and Maysaloon rockets. He also reportedly was overseeing rebuilding of an underground weapons factory destroyed by Israel’s strikes last September — an effort that was further hampered when the Israelis destroyed machinery in attacks on July 23.
The senior intelligence agency also confirmed Azbar’s connection to delivery systems for chemical weapons, with work at at the al-Safira complex outside Aleppo as well as at Masyaf.
Syrian State media acknowledged Azbar’s death on Monday. SANA said the assassination was part of the “crimes of the Israeli and US enemies, who have targeted the Syrian Scientific Research Center multiple times through launching direct aggression due to its role as a leading scientific institution in Syria”.