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Israel’s infamous spying vulture

india Updated: Jan 08, 2011 23:03 IST
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Saudi Arabia has arrested a bird on charges of spying for Israel. According to the newspaper Al-Weeam, the alleged Mossad agent is a vulture that was captured in a rural area of the country. It was discovered to have a transmitter and a leg bracelet marked ‘Tel Aviv University’.

Some might be tempted to believe Israel’s story, which is that the bird was part of a scientific study tracking the movements of vultures in the region. But not the Saudi press or any number of Arab websites that were quick to jump on the story. The vulture, said Al-Weeam, was most likely part of “a Zionist plot.”

This is hardly the first time that Arab media — or governments, for that matter — have jumped to conclusions about the Mossad’s technological prowess. Two other birds tagged by Tel Aviv University, a vulture and a pelican, were accused of being spies when they were captured in Sudan. And just last month the governor of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula claimed that a shark that killed a tourist near the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh was a Mossad plant.

A few years ago the Egyptian press was full of reports about an alleged Mossad plot to distribute chewing gum that would cause young women to become sexually promiscuous. Though it heavily censors its press, the government did nothing to discourage the story.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens pointed to the Mossad shark and other Arab conspiracy theories as an example of “the debasement of the Arab mind.” But there is a more benign explanation as well: Israel’s real technological prowess and its real covert operations. As foreign policy expert Max Boot points out, the Mossad’s most recent suspected exploits are almost as fantastic as the fantasies.

Israel is widely believed responsible for the Stuxnet computer worm, which appears to have done serious damage to Iran’s centrifuges and its Bushehr nuclear plant. And the Mossad is the leading suspect in the high-tech bomb attacks on two leading Iranian nuclear scientists last month. One was killed and the other seriously injured when passing motorcyclists slapped adhesive bombs onto their cars.

So Arab media and officials who rave about spying vultures and Mossad sharks deserve to be mocked. On the other hand, they can cite the paranoid's defense — just because they believe the Mossad is staging wild covert operations against them doesn’t mean it’s not true.

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