Recent footage apparently taken of an intelligence base in the Syrian Golan Heights, uploaded by fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) after their capture of the base, indicates deep Russian involvement in the espionage operations of President Bashar Assad's regime.
The base in Tel Al-Hara, south of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel, was seized over the weekend by the FSA, after pitched battles that included a number of rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-aligned Nusra Front.
The footage shows that the base, used to carry out electronic surveillance of both rebels and of Israeli military forces, had been under Russian command.
The video posted by the FSA seems to be have been filmed in the office building of the base. It shows what appears to be a Syrian officer conducting a tour of the facility for the rebels, pointing at photographs, maps and captions on the walls, in Russian and Arabic. The symbols of Syrian intelligence and the 6th Directorate of Russian military intelligence (GRU) which deals with signal intelligence (SIGINT) are shown there side by side.
In the photographs, Russian and Syrian officers can be seen collecting and analyzing intelligence together. Further photographs captured Russian defense officials visiting the base, along with a list of current and previous commanders of the base, Russian officers with the rank of colonel.
The officers are directed, according to standing orders on the wall, to listen in to communications of the rebel groups. Also on the wall, is a map detailing locations of Israel Defense Forces positions in the north of Israel.
One question that arises from viewing the video is why the footage was taken only from the office building. A different video shows what the rebels claim to be an air-defense system, but the radio dishes inside the building look more like listening devices.
The Russian and Syrian officers that evacuated the base most likely took with them most of the sensitive hardware and intelligence material, but it is highly likely that valuable material remained behind, in addition to the photographs and maps on the office building walls.
The FSA has close ties to the CIA, and the Americans are certainly interested in analyzing whatever has been left behind at the base before it is seen in public.
New details of the ties between the FSA and Israel have also recently emerged, in an article written by Channel 2's Arab affairs commentator, Ehud Yaari, published Monday by the Washington Institute of which he is a research fellow.
Details of this relationship include coordination meetings in Israel, the operation of an Israeli field hospital on the Golan Heights for wounded Syrians, and a limited amount of weapons supplies, mostly rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Israel naturally has a huge interest in the spy base which operates on its border, especially as any intelligence gathered would have been shared by Syria with Assad's allies, Iran and Hezbollah.
Jerusalem has a deeply sensitive relationship with the Kremlin and there have been extremely few public recriminations over the military and intelligence support Russia extends to Syria and Iran.
There have been no official comments so far from America or Israel regarding the footage, and probably will not be in the near future.
A swift American response has emerged though, from Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, who tweeted that the "Shocking revelation of (the) secret Russian base in Syria shows how much Putin is helping Assad's war machine."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now