#BreakingSyria: Syrian General Sets Sights on Israeli Base

Syrian Arab Army officer publishes provocative photos of an Israeli base through a binocular scope

Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Facebook / اللواء الركن ماهر الأسد — مكتب الامن — فرع المعلومات).

After the ISIS and Syrian rebel factions were pushed out of the Damascus area, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) began to shift its focus towards Syria’s southern border. Open sources suggested that there was a recent increase of SAA forces along the southern part of Syria, including the border with Israel. @DFRLab previously reported on the potential for an SAA operation in the regions of Quneitera and Daraa, where elite SAA troops were located less than two kilometers away from the Israeli border. On June 5, an SAA general published new provoking photos, which allegedly showed an Israeli position through a scope of binoculars.

@DFRLab took a closer look if these photos were genuine.

News that SAA pushed out rebel forces out of Hermon (Beit Jinn) pocket appeared on December 31, 2017. As the last rebels were pushed out of the area, the northernmost point of the Golan Heights border fell in the hands of SAA. An Israeli observation post located on Mount Hermon remains in direct proximity of the SAA position.

Mount Hermon Israeli observation post (blue square) outpost surrounding territory comparison (according to Syria Liveuamap data). Left: (Source: Liveuamap); Right: (Source: Liveuamap).

As the outpost penetrates into Syrian territory, it can be approached from a multiple sides. The first photo of the outpost, allegedly released by the SAA troops, appeared on December 31, 2017.

On June 5, photos of the same observation post appeared on an SAA officer’s Facebook account. The photos were published on a private account of a well-known SAA officer, called “Major General Maher Al Assad — Security Office — Information Branch.”

On April 25, Major General Maher Al Assad was given the command of Syrian Army’s elite 4th Division. As @DFRLab reported, these forces — including the elite Al Ghaith group — are currently active in the area close to the Israeli Golan Heights border. The photos were most likely taken through the scope of binoculars pointed towards the Israeli position. Each photo served as a reminder that the Israeli position at Mount Hermon is within the operational range of the SAA.

We compared the most current photos posted on Facebook with the photos taken on December 31, 2017, and found a clear match. The observation tower, radars, and fence were identical in both pictures, but featured from slightly different angles.

Comparing the photos taken on June 5, 2018 and December 31, 2017. Left: (Source: Facebook / اللواء الركن ماهر الأسد — مكتب الامن — فرع المعلومات); Right: (Source: Facebook / اللواء الركن ماهر الأسد — مكتب الامن — فرع المعلومات).

@DFRLab also compared the uploaded photos with Google Maps satellite imagery of the Mount Hermon observation base. These images were also a clear match.

Comparison of the June 5, 2018, photo and satellite imagery. Left: (Source: Facebook / اللواء الركن ماهر الأسد — مكتب الامن — فرع المعلومات); Right: (Source: GoogleMaps).

No other bases along the border between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights region feature the distinct indicators, like the observation tower, at Mount Hermon. Furthermore, the Google Maps topographic maps confirmed the location as well, suggesting a clear match between relief captured in the picture and the 3D Google map.

Visual comparison of the June 5 photo and Google Maps topographic map. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: Facebook / اللواء الركن ماهر الأسد — مكتب الامن — فرع المعلومات).

After conducting a reverse image search, we found no reason to believe that the photos were taken from somewhere else. The Facebook posts made by the SAA general appeared to be the original source of these photos.

Conclusion

As rebels are continuously pushed out of southern Syria, the balance of power in the region continues to change. This was not the first time that photos of Israeli positions were posted online by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. Despite being posted for a mostly internal SAA audience, these pictures were open to interpretation as provocative. Furthermore, Syria considers the Golan Heights area as a territory unjustly occupied by Israel. As rebel forces no longer provide a buffer zone between Israel and SAA, the elite Al Ghaith group in the region could be tempted to provoke Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

@DFRLab will continue to monitor significant military developments in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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