Syrian rebels overtook a joint Russian-Syrian spy station, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday. The Free Syrian Army says the station was used to spy on opposition groups and possibly on Israel.
Free Syrian Army officials, U.S. officials, and independent experts told The Daily Beast that the evidence of Russian involvement in the facility, just a few miles from Syria’s border with Israel, if verified, would show a level of Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war that was not previously known. Free Syrian Army officials posted several videos on YouTube showing both the outside and the inside of the facility, which the FSA captured over the weekend during a battle near Al Harah, south of Damascus, next to the Golan Heights.
The videos and accompanying photos show insignias representing a branch of Syrian intelligence and the Russian Osnaz GRU radio electronic intelligence agency. The FSA found photos and lists of senior Russian intelligence and military officials who visited the facility, pictures of Russian personnel running the base, and maps showing the location of Israeli military units. Israeli news reportsearlier this year said the Russian government had upgraded an advanced surveillance and intelligence gathering station in that area which could snoop on Israel, large parts of Jordan, and western Iraq, potentially to warn Iran in advance of an Israeli strike. Initial reports said documents from the facility suggested theRussian equipment was used to spy on Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
U.S. defense officials told The Daily Beast the photos of the Russian insignia first shared on blogs were legitimate. But that evidence, at the same time, may not necessarily mean the facility captured by the opposition was controlled by Russia’s military; it could just mean that Russians were working there, as advisors or partners to Syrian troops.