By Tom Coghlan and Sara Elizabeth Williams
A secret base overrun by Syrian rebel forces this week yielded more than a grandstand view of the Israeli border. After seizing the 3,280ft peak at Tal al-Hara, the rebels found a military eavesdropping base bristling with equipment.
Intriguingly, though, the walls were also covered in maps of Israel annotated in Russian to show the layout of Israeli forces and signal stations.
There were lists of Russian soldiers who had apparently served with Syrians at the base, less than 10 miles from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Wall-mounted displays showed Syrian army emblems alongside the insignia of the Osnaz GRU, the Russian special forces’ electronic intelligence unit. Video footage shot by the rebels showed a wall-mounted list of six past commanders of the base, all Russians with the rank of colonel.
An Arabic document left at the base, dated May 31, showed it was heavily involved in tracking Syrian rebel electronic communications. Rebel commanders said they believed that the Russian garrison and the most sensitive electronic equipment and documents were evacuated by helicopter two weeks before the site was overrun.
One rebel, a former soldier in the Syrian army, said that the site was the most important in a network of Russian-operated listening posts in Syria.
The American senator John McCain said that the base reflected enduring Russian support for President Assad’s government, describing its discovery as a “shocking revelation”.