(Left: The author in Syria with his Russian counterpart)
According to Janes Defence Weekly (read article), Syria and Iran have expanded their joint signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection efforts, increasing the number of joint intercept sites from two to four. The two existing sites, one located near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and the other located in northeast part of Syria are in excellent location to intercept communications of Israeli forces in Israel and American forces in Iraq, respectively. Of course, the site near the Golan Heights was likely of immense value to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) efforts to support Hizballah with weapons and intelligence on Israeli forces during the recent conflict in Lebanon.
The two new sites will be located near Bab Al-Hawa' in the mountains near and overlooking the Turkish border, and near Abu Kamal, where the Euphrates flows from Syria into Iraq's Anbar province, the site of the fiercest fighting between Iraqi insurgents and American forces. According to the article, these sites will complement IRGC intelligence collection capabilities. As Iran emerges as the leading power in the region, they need accurate and timely intelligence on their neighbors. Syria is willing to provide them a platform to do just that.
This expanded cooperation comes in the wake of, and probably because of, a defense cooperation agreement proposed in February 2005 and signed last November. (See my earlier Syria and Iran Common Front - Nothing New) Syria and Iran have been allies since Damascus sided with Tehran during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Of course, Syria and Iran are not the only ones collecting signals intelligence in the area. The Israelis have a huge SIGINT collection site in the Golan Heights (see photo at right).
On the Syrian side, the SIGINT effort is under the control of Syrian Military Intelligence. Most people are not aware that women serve in the Syrian military, in the medical and administrative fields as you would expect, but mostly they serve in the signals intelligence directorate.
When I was the Air Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, we attaches were invited to the graduations of all the service academies. On the airport road in Damascus is the Al-Kuliyat Al-'Askariyah Lil-Banat, The Military College for Girls*. Upon completion, they are commissioned as second lieutenants.
There's just something about a 21-year old dark-eyed Syrian girl/woman in fatigues with an AK-47, but I digress. While chatting them up at the reception at the Officers Club following their graduation - it was pretty easy, they all wanted to have their pictures taken with Al-Amirki (the American), since we are, after all, the bad guys. They told me that almost all of them had been studying Hebrew for four years and were going to be intercept operators.
This expanded cooperation beetween Iran and Syria should come as no surprise.
* "Girls" is the actual translation, rather than the expected "women."