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Micah D. Halpern Headshot

Birds -- Israel's New Spies

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It happened in Iran. It happened in several of the Gulf States. And now it happened in Turkey.

A bird with an Israeli tag was arrested for espionage.

The bird was thought to be a spy, it was thought to be carrying cameras and microchips and perhaps even explosives. After an investigation which included an x-ray, this bird, like others, was set free to fly away.

The bird that was just arrested in Turkey had a metal ring tag on its leg which read 24311 Tel Avivunia Israel. Of course, that would frighten any reasonable person who would then, frantically, call the police and the secret security service. This particular bird was found and captured in the Agin district of the eastern province of Elazig.

The incident was reported in the national Turkish newspaper Hurriyet -- usually a reliable source. In this case, at least, Hurriyet maintained a sense of humor and concluded their piece with the sentence: "Following the tests, the authorities decided not to press official charges and the falsely accused bird was free to fly away."

Why does this ludicrous event happen time after time?

Practically speaking, Israel is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to tracking birds. It is a haven for birds. Ornithologists from all over the world come to Israel, especially southern Israel, to watch bird migration. The birds make their way straight up the Syrian African Rift to the Beit Shan Valley then on to the Hulla Valley and the Galilee.

It's got nothing to do with politics, diplomacy or security issues. It's all about geography. Israel is situated between Africa and Europe. It is on the migration route of half a billion birds -- over 530 species -- that travel in splendor and meticulous formation from Africa to Europe and then back. Many flocks of birds touch down in Southern Israel today just as their ancestors did in Biblical times. They follow the same migration path, they fly in the same formation. It is truly breathtaking to watch.

Israel has become a bird watching super power. Big birds or tiny, drab and colorful, they all stop by and rest their weary wings. And they are tracked. As a means of tracking, some birds are tagged. Some are actually tracked with GPS which can be used to identify and monitor migration routes and patterns. It was a tracked and identifiable griffin vulture with an eight foot wingspan that was captured in Saudi Arabia. And the Sudanese government detained a white pelican and an Egyptian vulture.

Ridiculous charges are not limited to birds. Last year Egypt claimed that their increase in shark attacks was due to Israel training sharks to attack Egyptians. These stories are actually reported as serious news items and people really believe them. These absurdities track back to the conspiracy theory that Israel has super human technology and many secret weapons. As absurd as it sounds, the theory is pervasive throughout the Middle East.

Conspiracy theories run rampant in the Middle East. They are embedded in almost every country and subculture. When it comes to stories and legends about Israel and Jews, the conspiracy theories take on an even more exaggerated, at times even super natural and almost comic book-like, form. So it does not surprise me that some governments actually think that Israel can train birds and sharks to be used as their newest secret weapons. After all, Israel is on the cutting edge of so many other technologies and inventions.

No doubt a major part of Israel's reputation is earned, but these far ranging ideas transform Israel into an enemy that is not of this world, an enemy that defies nature. They play into the abnormal definition of the Jew and the Israeli. They also create a mystique. And that mystique just might be the force behind the status quo which prevents assaults and attacks.

This kind of myth might be a major part of the deterrence that, in the end, keeps the region safe.