Three Charged With Spying, Hunting for Syrian Defector

Three Israelis were indicted this week for allegedly spying for Syria, including hatching an elaborate plan to kidnap someone they believed to be a Syrian defector living in Israel.

Majdal Shams spy suspects
Hagai Fried

A gag order was lifted yesterday on the details of the case that suggests Syrian intelligence is still hunting a pilot who defected to Israel in 1989.

On October 11, 1989 a Syrian MiG-23 landed at the Megiddo landing strip. Major Bassam Adel, who was on a training mission in Syria when he crossed over the Golan Heights, opened the cockpit and waved. "I want to defect," he declared.

Adel later told journalists that "crossing the border was a difficult mission. The border is full of missiles on all sides. I flew at low altitude, as low as 50 meters, at high speeds, between 1,250-1,250 kph. The minute I crossed the border, I shut down my radio. Complete radio silence."

The Syrian pilot said he thought about the possibility that Israeli jets could try to intercept him. "My warning system showed that they were constantly following me. However, I believed they would not shoot me down. I did not know where to land and whether I would have the proper conditions for a landing. I went into the unknown. I flew three or four minutes between the moment I crossed the border and the landing, but it had been 15 to 20 minutes from my takeoff in Syria until my landing in Israel."

Bassam Adel was given a new identity and settled in a foreign country. According to the indictment filed by the Northern District's prosecutor against three people suspected of spying for Syria, Syrian intelligence is still looking here for the pilot. The three are residents of the Golan Heights and Baka al-Gharbiyeh. Two of those indicted are residents of the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams, Majd Sha'ar, 58, and his son, Fida, 27. Also indicted was Mahmoud Masarwah, 62, of Baka al-Gharbiyeh. They are charged with having had contact with a Syrian intelligence officer for years, specifically a former resident of Majdal Shams named Madhat Salah. The indictment states that Salah, formerly a security prisoner in Israel, and Majd Sha'ar's wife have known each other for decades.

According to the indictment between 2006/7 and 2009, while Fida Sha'ar was studying music in Damascus and then in France, the suspects were in contact with Salah.

Masarwah reportedly heard that a man of Syrian origin lived in Baka al-Gharbiyeh and was allegedly the pilot who had defected to Israel. In mid-2007, Majd and Masarwah traveled to Amman to meet with Salah, who expressed a great deal of interest in locating the defector and ordered the two to kidnap the man they thought to be him and hide him near the border with Syria. They were allegedly promised that the Syrians would see to it the man was brought across the border into Syria.

The indictment lists a number of meetings and exchanges between the suspects and Salah in Amman, Cairo and Turkey and on the Internet. These exchanges were allegedly facilitated by Fida, who spent the final year of his studies in France and was arrested on July 11 at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

To carry out the kidnapping, the prosecution alleges, Majd Sha'ar acquired a narcotic and syringes, to drug the defector when he was located and to kidnap him. The plan was never implemented.

The suspects are also charged with filming military installations from the balcony of a relative of the Sha'ar family in Baka al-Gharbiyeh and filming the power plant in Hadera.

The prosecution alleges the suspects relayed to the Syrians, through Fida, a list of Israel Defense Forces movements on the Golan Heights, and that in late 2009 or early 2010, while Majd was in Haifa, he saw an Israeli submarine making its way north in Haifa Bay and relayed the information to his son via the Internet for him to pass it on to the Syrian agent. He allegedly described the submarine as a dangerous shark capable of attack.

The defense attorneys for the three suspects, Nabiya Hanjar, and Raed Mahamid, said their clients were innocent, and that the charge sheet was exaggerated, but they could not comment on specific charges as they have not been able to see the investigation material.