The Middle East has long been fertile ground for a good conspiracy theory—whether it’s Jews and the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA and Arab Spring, or the alliance of Western businessmen, journalists and politicians that supposedly helped oust Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last year.
But it’s not just humans that are surreptitiously helping to bring down governments. There’s apparently also a whole sub-world of animal spies that are working to destabilize Mideast regimes. In one case, a very suspicious stork was turned over to local police in Egypt. In another, a shark that was attacking swimmers was briefly linked to a Mossad plot.
Even puppets sometimes need to answer for their actions. Abla Fahita, an Egyptian muppet-type character, was forced to go on national television recently to deny that her appearance in a phone commercial was actually a coded message to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
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As with all good conspiracy theories, there’s just enough historical precedent to resonate with believers. American and British forces used homing pigeons during World War II to carry messages, and the CIA reportedly trained dolphins, ravens and even cats for use in surveillance and weapons detection with varying degrees of success during the Cold War. Israel, too, has tried to cultivate some four-legged allies: Its security service was said to have trained gerbils for use in airport security, believing their keen sense of smell could help detect a rise in adrenalin. Problem was they couldn’t distinguish between a nervous flyer and a potential bomber.
The gerbils, in fact, may have been the inspiration for G-Force, a 2009 Disney film about “an elite team of animal spies.” The comedy was largely dismissed by critics. “The plot is pretty ridiculous,” wrote one.
Here are some of the most recent cases involving suspected Israeli animal spies.
When: August 2013
The Animal: Stork
The Case: “Death on the Nile”
Egyptian authorities “arrested” the bird after a device was found attached to its leg. A fisherman in the Nile River southeast of Cairo first detained the suspicious stork and handed it over to the local police. The device turned out to be a wildlife tracker used by French scientists to trace the stork’s migrating patterns.
While cleared of spying, things did not end well for the stork. It was reportedly caught and eaten shortly after being released into a conservation area in southern Egypt.
When: July 2013
The Animal: Falcon Kestrel
The Case: “Day of the Falcon”
Turkish police seized a small Falcon Kestrel who had an Israeli tag attached to its foot. Medical personnel at Firat University in eastern Turkey identified the bird as an “Israeli Spy” in their registration documents.
The bird was forced to undergo a battery of tests, including X-ray scans, which found that it wasn’t carrying any surveillance equipment. (It was,however, found to be carrying a grudge. Jews do that.)
When: January 2013
The Animal: Carrier pigeon
The Case: “Bird on a Wire”
A few months before the Stork incident, a carrier pigeon was captured north of Cairo after a message was found attached to one of its feet and a microfilm to the other. The microfilm supposedly carried the message “Islam Egypt.”
Egypt’s Criminal Investigation Department took the lead in the investigation, had the microfilm developed and determined that the bird was not a spy. Or was it? The mystery of the microfilm was never explained.
When: December 2010
The Animal: Vulture
The Case: “Agent R65″
A griffon vulture, caught by a hunter in rural Saudi Arabia, was turned over to security forces after it was found to be wearing a suspicious GPS device and a “Tel Aviv University” leg tag with the ID code R65. Rumors quickly spread, and were picked up by several Saudi newspapers, that the bird was an agent dispatched by Mossad.
The real explanation was a little more mundane. The griffon is in danger of extinction in the mountains of Israel and is the subject of a reintroduction project. As part of that project, vultures are tagged to keep track of the population.
(A similar case was reported in Sudan in December 2012. Authorities accused a vulture of being an Israeli spy. An Israeli ecologist explained the bird was part of a group of about a 100 tagged by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and fitted with a GPS system that could take distance and altitude readings.)
When: December 2010
The Animal: Shark
The Case: “Jaws” (or as more than one blogger dubbed it, “Jews”)
A series of rare shark attacks in the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm el-Sheikh prompted accusations that the sharks were part of a Mossad plot—sent into Egyptian waters to scare off visitors and disrupt tourism. Reports claimed a remote controlled GPS tracking device was attached to the shark and was being used to control it.
“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,” a local government official was quoted as saying.
Others pointed out that it would be difficult for the Mossad shark to distinguish its Arab target from a friendly Jew, aside from the fact that the Jew would probably not be a good swimmer and would most likely be accompanied by his mother who would be yelling at him to swim closer to shore.
In any event, the shark in question was eventually caught and dismissed as a spy threat.