According to the report on Sunday, divers from 'Shayetet 13', Israel’s elite naval commando unit installed the equipment. They approached the island from one of the country’s German-built Dolphin class submarines, which are armed with nuclear cruise missiles.
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In early March, Al-Manar, a pro-Syrian Hezbollah affiliated television station in Lebanon, reported that the “rocks” could track and film Russian warship movements and instantly transmit pictures back to Israel by satellite.
Syria’s state-run television showed a camera, a satellite dish and other objects including batteries and cables secreted among several imitation rocks.
According to the report in the Sunday Times, the commandos had apparently visited the island earlier to obtain samples so the color and shape of local rocks could be matched and the right position for the monitoring station established.
Under cover of darkness the frogmen ferried the equipment on two inflatable dinghies equipped with silent outboard motors to Ant Island where they spent several hours installing it, disguising it and ensuring that the satellite links were operational.
The report claims that the commandos’ immediate problem was not so much being spotted by the Syrians as the risk of detection by “friendly” patrols from the US Sixth Fleet and a British monitoring station in Cyprus that keeps a close watch on the Syrian coastline.
It is not known how long the monitoring station operated before it was uncovered. A senior Syrian security official said the equipment was highly intricate and as well as tracking ships could also keep tabs on Syrian troop movements.
Russia leased the Tartus facility in a deal in 1971 under which a multibillion-dollar debt was written off. Several Russian warships have docked at the port in recent months.
Vice-Admiral Viktor Chirkov, the Russian naval chief, stressed recently that Tartus was “essential to us”.
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