Did a Syrian customs official assist the Mossad in the assassination of Hezbollah's military commander Imad Mughniyeh ? A report published Saturday in Kuwaiti Alrai newspaper claims so.
According to a western diplomat stationed in Damascus, the official received large sums of money to leave the border unsupervised, which allowed for the entrance of Israeli agents.
Israel has denied any involvement in the Hezbollah operative's assassination.
According to the report, which cites the diplomat as a source, the Syrian intelligence opened an investigation after the February 2008 assassination which led them to former head of the customs authority in Syria, Hassan Makhlouf, who holds a rank similar to brigadier-general.
The investigation focused on suspicions that Makhlouf received around one million dollars in exchange for opening the border crossings with Syria to smugglers for a number of hours at a time without supervising or overseeing activity at the site.
According to the source, the Israeli Mossad was aware of this, and used it to get to Mughniyeh by infiltrating cells including Israeli agents of Iraqi descent. The agents reportedly carried Iraqi passports, spoke perfect Iraqi Arabic, and officially entered Syria a number of times during hours where only one clerk was stationed at the border.
Did official know who he was assisting?
The Syrian intelligence's investigation focused mainly on whether Makhlouf gave the agents information on Mughniyeh or his movement from Lebanon to Syria and within Syria itself.
According to the diplomat, after the assassination, Makhlouf directed most of his staff to only one border crossing – a move which some believe was meant to ease the flight of the assassins from the Syrian border.
The report, which has not been confirmed by official sources, does not mention whether Makhlouf was aware of the fact that he was assisting Israel or doing so unknowingly.
Makhlouf, who was terminated from his position following bribery charges, held hundreds of millions of Syrian pounds as well as dozens of houses and real estate plots in various locations around Syria.
The diplomat said that in the times when Makhlouf left the border unsupervised, the agents carried out a number of activities in Syrian territory, including surveillance of the al-Kibar site near Deir ez-Zor where, according to foreign reports, Israel attacked a Syrian nuclear plant.