Israel-related animal conspiracy theories
Zoological conspiracy theories involving Israel are occasionally found in the media or on the internet, typically in Muslim majority countries, alleging use of animals by Israel to attack civilians or to conduct espionage. These conspiracies are often reported as evidence of a Zionist or Israeli plot.
In December 2010, several shark attacks occurred off the South Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.
Following the attacks, in an interview on Tawfik Okasha's popular but controversial Egypt Today television show, a Captain Mustafa Ismail, introduced as "a famous diver", alleged that the GPS tracking device found on one of the sharks was in fact a "guiding device" planted by Israeli agents. Prompted in a television interview for comments, the governor of South Sinai, Mohammad Abdul Fadhil Shousha initially said: "What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark [in the sea] to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question. But it needs time to confirm." Shousha later directly dismissed the event as being connected to Israel.
Describing the conspiracy connection to Israel as "sad", Professor Mahmoud Hanafy, a marine biologist at Suez Canal University, pointed out that GPS devices are used by marine biologists to track sharks, not to remote-control them. Egyptian officials suggested that the attacks were due to overfishing, illegal feeding, the dumping overboard of sheep carcasses, or unusually high water temperatures.
Amr Yossef, Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo, wrote that this and other similar conspiracy theories result from a misconception among the Egyptian public that Israel is all-powerful. Yossef wrote, "Notwithstanding that such allegations have no factual or logical grounds, no one stops to ask why should an Israel facing serious security challenges (Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.) busy itself with that kind of stuff".
Ohad Hatzofe, an avian ecologist for the Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, said the idea that tagged birds are used for spying is absurd, and stated that "Birds and other wildlife belongs to all of us and we have to cooperate... Ignorance causes these stupid beliefs that they are used for spying".
In 2011, a griffon vulture with a wingspan of about 8 feet (2.4 m) was caught by a hunter near Ha'il, Saudi Arabia wearing a GPS device and a "Tel Aviv University" leg tag. Rumors spread among locals, repeated in some Saudi newspapers, that the bird was sent by Israel to spy on the country.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Secretary General of the Saudi National Security Council dismissed the rumors, said the equipment on the bird was simply there for scientific study, and that the bird would be quickly released. Saudi wildlife authorities agreed that the equipment was for solely scientific purposes. "Some Saudi journalists rushed in carrying the news of this bird for the sake of getting a scoop without checking the information... they should have asked the competent authorities about the bird before publishing such news," Bandar said at the time. Israeli officials described the rumor as "ludicrous" and said they were "stunned."
A spokesman for Israel's Park and Nature Authority told the Israeli daily Ma'ariv that Israeli scientists use GPS devices to track migration routes. "The device does nothing more than receive and store basic data about the bird's whereabouts," he said. The Israeli ornithologist Yossi Leshem of Tel Aviv University said that this was the third such detention of a bird tracked by Israeli scientists in 3 decades. He reported that Sudanese authorities detained an Egyptian Vulture in the late 1970s, and a White Pelican in the early 1980s, both carrying Israeli equipment used for animal migration tracking.
In May 2012, a dead European Bee-eater with an Israeli leg-band, used by naturalists to track migratory birds, was found by villagers near the south-eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. The villagers worried that the bird may have carried a micro-chip from Israeli intelligence to spy on the area and alerted local officials. At one point, a counter-terrorism unit became involved. Turkey's agriculture ministry examined the corpse of the bee-eater and assured villagers that it is common to equip migratory birds with rings in order to track their movements. The BBC correspondent, Jonathan Head, ascribed the event to his view that "wildly implausible conspiracy theories take root easily in Turkey, with alleged Israeli plots among the most widely believed."
In December 2012, a Sudanese newspaper reported that the Sudan government had captured a vulture, in the town of Kereinek, which they said was an Israeli spy bird and was tagged in Hebrew and equipped with electronic devices.
Ohad Hazofe, an ecologist from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority to and Israeli news site YNet: "This is a young vulture that was tagged, along with 100 others, in October. He has two wing bands and a German-made GPS chip,". Ohad Hazofe denied that the device had any photographic capabilities.
The kestrel is frequent visitor to Israel and Turkey during the nesting season. In 2013, a kestrel carrying an Israeli foot band was discovered by villagers in the Elazığ Province, Turkey. Initially, medical personnel at Firat University identified the bird as an "Israeli Spy" in their registration documents, however after thorough medical examinations, including X-ray scans, the bird was determined to be carrying no electronic equipment.
Commentary on patterns
Writing in The Times, James Hider linked the responses to the shark incident with those to the vulture incident and ascribed the reactions in Arab countries to "paranoia among Israel's enemies and its nominal friends", adding that "evidence of Mossad using animals is scant."
Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post also linked the two events, writing that Arab media and officials who circulate fantasies of Mossad sharks and spy birds "deserve to be mocked". While mentioning Bret Stephens' theory, that the conspiracy theories are an example of "the debasement of the Arab mind", Diehl wrote that the paranoia in fact has also a more benign explanation, since Israel's real covert operations "are almost as fantastic as the fantasies".
In 2011, Jihad el Khazen of the Lebanese newspaper Dar Al Hayat published a column analyzing recent animal related conspiracy theories, explaining that the concept of conspiracy is not particular to Arabs. According to Dar Al Hayat, people "always look for explanations that suit their prejudices or whims, even as such explanations often give truth, logic and reason a slap in the face".
Gil Yaron wrote in the The Toronto Star that "Many animals undoubtedly serve in Israel’s army and security services: dogs sniff out bombs and alpaca help mountaineers carry their loads. [...] But tales about the use of sharks, birds, rodents or, as has also been claimed, insects in the service of the military are more the fruit of imagination than hard fact."
- Animals used in espionage
- Animal-borne bomb attacks
- Man-eating badger
- Media coverage of the Arab–Israeli conflict
- Yasmine Fathi (6 December 2010). "Expert shoots down conspiracy theory blaming Israel for shark attacks". Al Ahram. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
- Waghorn, Dominic (7 December 2010). "Mossad Behind Egyptian Shark Attacks?". Sky News. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- "Shark Attack in Egypt? Must Be the Work of Israeli Agents". Discovery Magazine.
- O’SULLIVAN, ARIEH (12/06/2010). "Egypt: Sinai shark attacks could be Israel... JPost - Middle East". jpost.com. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
- "Governor absolves Israel of shark attacks". 20 December 2010. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Yolande Knell (7 December 2010). "Shark attacks not linked to Mossad says Israel". BBC News. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
- "Egypt to reopen beaches after deadly shark attack". Reuters. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 26 December 2010.
- Amr Yossef (29 May 2011) "In defense of reason, not Israel." Daily News Egypt
- ARIEH O'SULLIVAN /The Media Line. "White bird down leads to delicate rescue operation. Some see a spy in every GPS-carrying pelican, but Israel gives no credence to 'stupid belief'." The Jerusalem Post. 2011.
- Gil Yaron (5 January 2011). "Secret agent vulture tale just the latest in animal plots". Toronto Star.
- Haaretz Service (4 January 2011). "Saudi Arabia 'nabbed Israeli-tagged vulture for being Mossad spy'". haaretz.
- "Saudi Arabia 'detains' Israeli vulture for spying". BBC. 5 January 2011.
- محيط – جهان مصطفى (07/01/2011). "نسر "آر56" يكشف لغز القرش المفترس بشرم الشيخ". lahona. (Arabic)
- Emirates 24/7 staff (9 January 2011). "Saudis to free Israeli vulture". Emirates 24/7.
- Alexander Marquardt (10 January 2011). "Israeli Vulture Spy Declared Innocent By Saudi Arabia". ABC News.
- Vulture Saudis Nabbed Was Third Israeli Bird Held Since 1975
- Diehl, Jackson. "PostPartisan - Israel's Spying Vulture - and Killer Shark". Voices.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- "Turkey villagers see Israeli spy in migratory bird". BBC. 16 May 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
- Arabic: Khartoum radar monitors bird for espionage but unable to monitor aircraft
- 'Vulture spying for Israel' caught in Sudan
- Roxanne Palmer. Turkey Clears Bird Of Spying For Israel; Kestrel Is Just Latest In Long List Of Suspected Animal Mossad Agents. International Business Times. 27 July 2013
- Justin Vela. Turkey clears bird of spying for Israel. The Telegraph. 26 Jul 2013
- James Hider (7 January 2011). "Vulture held as Mossad spy by Saudi Arabia". The Australian.
- Jackson Diehl (5 January 2011). "Israel's Spying Vulture – and Killer Shark". Washington Post.
- Jihad el Khazen (27 January 2011) "Ayoon Wa Azan (Conspiracy Theory)." Dar Al Hayat, International ed. (Beirut, Lebanon). Al Bawaba (Middle East) Ltd.