Israel’s Ma’ariv daily newspaper reported on Tuesday that Saudi Arabian officials have “arrested” a wounded vulture that landed in a rural area of the country wearing a transmitter and a leg bracelet etched with the words “Tel Aviv University.”
The bird is part of ongoing long-term research into bird migration patterns, but the residents of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries had far more fanciful ideas. For them, this bird is a winged Zionist spy, and the transmitter he was wearing was sending vital classified information back to the “Zionist regime.”
Saudi Arabia’s Al Weeam newspaper was the first to report about the incident. It noted that the vulture had landed near the house of a local sheikh, and was not afraid of people. The reporter and the people he interviewed asserted that the aggressive nature of the bird and the foul odor that came out of its mouth were evidence of a Zionist plot, rather than tell-tale signs that this was in fact a vulture.
That article led to an explosion of comments on Arabic news websites and online forums, where people across the region were convinced that “the Zionists” had somehow trained the beasts of the wild to do their bidding.
Iran’s Tabnak news agency said as much when it reported that “spy personnel number of X63 [the identification number on the bird’s leg bracelet] leaves no doubt that other birds are going to be sent by the Zionist regime for espionage against Saudi Arabia and other countries.”
The story of the spy bird comes just weeks after Egyptian officials claimed that a string of shark attacks at resorts in the Sinai Peninsula were the work of Israel’s Mossad spy agency.