Espionage equipment hidden on an island across from the Syrian city of Tartus was being used to monitor Russian naval movements and Syrian troop movements, The Sunday Times reported on Sunday.
The devices were discovered earlier this month by fishermen on Ant Island, near a naval base Russia considers a strategic asset.
According to the report, the materials were planted under cover of darkness by the IDF’s Shayetet 13 naval commandos, who spent several hours on the island installing the equipment and ensuring that it worked. The commandos had allegedly visited the island previously to collect information on the local rocks, so that the equipment could be properly camouflaged.
“Any unusual activity by the Russians in Tartus, such as a sudden evacuation of families and non-essential personnel, would be good indicators for the Israelis that something big was happening,” The Times quoted a defense source as saying.
Russia has provided the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad with diplomatic support throughout the two-year conflict, but it believes the end is inevitable and Assad “will be forced to retreat to the Alawite enclave [along the coastal region], so they want to be there,” said the source.
Earlier this month, Syrian state-run TV released pictures of the devices Damascus said were designed to photograph, register and transfer data.
The television footage aired on Syrian TV showed what looked like a camera and a satellite dish, and other objects that resembled rocks. Plastic boxes resembling batteries and cables were also displayed.
In January, Syria accused Israel of carrying out an aerial attack near Damascus. US officials said the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, while Syria maintained that a research center was hit. Israel never confirmed having undertaken the operation.
For the past several months, Israel has watched warily as the Syrian war raged closer and closer to its borders, with several incidents of mortars, shells and stray bullets reaching the Golan Heights. Israeli officials are increasingly concerned that radical Islamist groups among the rebel forces may take control of villages near the Golan, posing an unprecedented security threat.