Israeli Minister Reveals Commando Soldier Killed in Secret Syria Raid in 1984

Omar Bar-Lev was a former commander of the elite unit to which the soldier belonged, and the disclosure came despite a military order banning the publication of details pertaining to his death

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev in Jerusalem.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev in Jerusalem.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev revealed on Tuesday that a member of the Israeli army’s elite Sayeret Matkal special operations force who died in action in 1984 was killed on Syrian territory.

Omar Bar-Lev’s disclosure came despite an order by the military censor barring publication of the details regarding the death of the soldier, Barak Sharabi.

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In an interview on Kan Reshet Bet public radio on Tuesday, Bar-Lev was asked about members of the Israel Defense Forces whom he knew personally as a commander himself and who had died in action. He responded by discussing several people, including Sharabi, whom he described as having “been killed under my command when I was commander of Sayeret Matkal, somewhere in the depths of Syrian territory.”

Barak SharabiCredit: Israel's Defense Ministry's memorial website.

Officials in the Military Censor’s Office were surprised at Bar Lev's disclosure, which was made just ahead of Memorial Day in Israel – observed beginning Tuesday evening – and without the office's consent or coordination. Officials in the office are now working with Sayeret Matkal staff to assess the consequences of the disclosure.

The Defense Ministry's Yizkor memorial website says Sharabi - born in 1963 in Kfar Hanagid – served in the first Lebanon war before his death on December 18, 1984, and was buried at the military cemetery in Nes Tziona, leaving behind his parents and two sisters.

According to the website, Sharabi first served in Sayeret Matkal and then transferred to combat parachute and medic courses. It adds that “when Barak was due to be released [from the army], his commander asked him to sign on for an additional year as a career soldier so that he could carry out a particular mission. Barak agreed to the request without hesitation.” There is no mention of where or how Sharabi was killed – noting only that he "fell while serving in the line of duty."

A member of the Shin Bet security agency who participated in the operation in which Sharabi was killed described the operation as “very complicated” in a 2014 interview with the Makor Rishon newspaper. “It’s no secret that the unit’s operations are very sensitive, and disclosure of this incident could have disclosed operational methods and directly harmed state security.”

When asked about the end of the operation, he described it as “a great success, other than Barak, who was killed in action. The other combat soldiers returned home safely.”

Regarding the circumstances of Sharabi’s death, various public sources have stated that it was the result of a “mishap” and “a military failure.”

“The operation that the unit set out on went disastrously awry, which led to a difficult and protracted rescue of soldiers from the force, together with Sharabi who had been killed and eight combat soldiers who had been wounded. That’s all that is allowed to be written regarding the complicated operation, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that if the soldiers had been spotted that night by the enemy, it could have led Israel into a war,” the Makor Rishon report stated.

“There was a lot of excitement in the air,” one of the soldiers from the operation told the Ha’ir newspaper in 2004. “You need to understand,” he said, that the group had been preparing for that night for three years.

Initially Sharabi’s family didn’t receive information regarding the real circumstances of his death, and were told that he was killed in a traffic accident. It was only later that the future prime minister, Ehud Barak, who headed the army Intelligence Corps at the time, told Sharabi’s parents the truth. It was a “secret,” he said, but he was killed “beyond enemy lines,” as Sharabi’s father later recounted it in an interview.

Likud lawmaker Shlomo Karhi called on the Public Security Committee to convene urgently to discuss the Bar-Lev's competences following. Karhi also notified the Attorney General and proposed the Knesset to debate Bar-Lev's recent actions and statements.

Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report.

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