IT’S EMERGED AN Irish officer played a key role in a bizarre incident last week involving Israel, Lebanon and a bird (yes, a bird) alleged to have been spying for Israeli forces.
The story of the vulture suspected of espionage made headlines across the world over the weekend…
TheJournal.ie carried the initial report on Saturday.
As there are plenty of Irish soldiers serving in the area as part of the ongoing UNIFIL mission, we decided to put a call in to the Defence Forces to find out if any of our own officers were involved.
So what happened?
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority first raised concerns last Tuesday after images were shared on social media appearing to show the bird, with an Israeli identification ring and location transmitter, captured by villagers in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon.
It had crossed the border some days before from its home at the Gamla Nature Reserve - flying about four kilometres into Lebanon, according to officials.
The authority at the time said the villagers had suspected espionage due to the transmitter but the bintjbeil.org news portal said the bird had been freed after it was deemed not to pose any threat.
As Israel and Lebanon are technically at war, citizens of the two countries are banned from communicating by law.
Contact was made with the UN peacekeepers, and an Irish Lieutenant Colonel who acts as liaison for the Lebanese Armed Forces, the United Nations and the Israel Defense Forces engineered the handover.
“It took place at a crossing at an area known as Rosh Hanikra,” a Defence Forces spokesman confirmed.
The spokesman said the bird was in fact a Spanish Eagle, and not a vulture as Israeli officials have described it.
“In a discreet operation with the Lebanese and with the great help of UN forces and the UN liaison unit, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was able to return the vulture that was caught a few days ago by villagers of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon,” a statement from the Israeli nature authority on Friday had said.
The handover took place on Thursday night, and the bird was said to be to “weak and with minor injuries,” the statement added.
Animal conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theories are endemic in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israel’s spying activities.
Last summer, Palestinian media reported claims by the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers that they had apprehended a dolphin off their Mediterranean coastline, equipped with video cameras for an Israeli spying mission.
In 2011, Saudi media reported that a vulture carrying a GPS transmitter and an identification ring from Tel Aviv University had been detained by security forces who suspected it was being used for espionage.
And in 2010, Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed Egyptian reports linking a spate of Red Sea shark attacks to the country’s Mossad intelligence agency.
There are around 350 Irish personnel serving across the Middle East. The majority are based in Lebanon.
Includes reporting from AFP.