Saudi Arabian authorities have reportedly detained a vulture on suspicion of being an Israeli spy.
According to reports in Middle Eastern media, a vulture discovered near a sheikh’s home in the town of Hayel was tagged with the words “Tel Aviv University” and had a GPS transmitter attached to its leg.
For many locals, that was enough to indicate a plot by the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. Saudi newspaper al-Weeam reported that the bird had a “foul odor coming out of its mouth — proof of a Zionist plot.”
But scientists at Tel Aviv University say the bird — designated “E65″ by researchers — was part of a research project tracking the migrating habits of Middle Eastern vultures. They say seven birds were tagged in Israel in recent years, and some have made their way to Saudi Arabia.
“The subject is receiving great publicity [in Saudi Arabia] and it is important that Saudi authorities understand that it is not true,” Ohad Hatzofe of Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said.
The controversy comes on the heels of similarly improbable claims in Egypt regarding a series of shark attacks last month. After five shark attacks hit the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in six days, Egyptian media began speculating that the sharks were trained by the Mossad to ruin Egypt’s tourism industry. Israel dismissed the claims.
More recently, lawyers with the Egyptian Bar Association accused Israel of being behind a bombing outside a Coptic Christian church during midnight mass on New Year’s Eve.
“The Mossad carried out the the operation in a natural reaction to the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network,” the lawyers alleged.
No one has taken responsibility for the bombing, which took 23 lives and touched off riots among Egypt’s Christian minority, who say they are the targets of discrimination and cannot count on authorities for protection.
The accusations against Israel “may reflect a growing irrational hysteria among Arabs surrounding Israel’s military prowess and the efficacy of its intelligence services,” reports Israel National News.