An Israeli ‘spy eagle’ has landed?

Israel projects paranoia and cruelty onto Arab/Muslim populations.

Britain has awarded 32 pigeons with medals "for conspicuous gallantry [or] devotion to duty" in wartime [REUTERS]

An October 17 report from Jerusalem-based AP correspondent Aron Heller begins:

Israeli eagles dangerously endangered by pesticides, electrical wires and poachers now apparently face a new threat: Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar website recently boasted of capturing an eagle that carried an Israel-labeled transmission device on its back and claimed the bird was an Israeli spy. It said hunters in central Lebanon shot down the bird and found devices on it as well as a copper ring on its leg that reads Israel in English followed by letters that refer to Tel Aviv University. The fate of the eagle remains unclear.”

Heller goes on to quote ornithologist Yossi Leshem, a Tel Aviv University professor, who complains that “[t]he whole field of conservation is based on regional cooperation and not this nonsense …. It’s not enough that they kill people, now they are killing birds too.”

Of course, such complaints might appear more applicable to Israel’s behaviour rather than Hezbollah’s. After killing dozens of Palestinians in Gaza in May 2004, for example, the IDF unleashed its military might on the Rafah zoo; BBC News reported that the aviary was smashedand that there was an ostrich … rotting in the rubble.

“Hezbollah Goes Paranoid”

Leshem alleges that a “paranoia persists in the Middle East” with regard to Israeli feathered friends that stage cross-border incursions.

An October 16 article in the US-based Jewish Press makes the same argument, citing previous stork, vulture, and pigeon “arrests” in Egypt, Turkey, and other Arab/Muslim locations. The articles headline proclaims: “Hezbollah Goes Paranoid.”

Obviously, the Orientalist practice of portraying the Arab/Muslim Other as unreasonable, silly, and prone to fits of unfounded emotion is nothing new.

Animals have been serving in the military as early as 1908, when Germans first attached cameras to pigeons to take aerial photographs.

Neither, it turns out, is the practice of using birds for intelligence purposes. A September BBC blog post recalls that “[a]nimals have been serving in the military as early as 1908, when Germans first attached cameras to pigeons to take aerial photographs.

A 2008 Wired magazine article questioning whether Iran’s detention of “spy pigeons” was “ridiculous” noted that 32 pigeons in Britain have been awarded medals “for conspicuous gallantry [or] devotion to duty” in wartime – certainly no more ridiculous than the possibility that Israel might employ animals in its own bellicose projects.

Incidentally, while the IDF was subjecting Gaza to yet another round of terror in November 2012, news emerged that mice were being trained to help protect the home front from suicide bombers.

As for Hezbollah’s supposedly “paranoid” reaction to the migrating eagle, wariness of airborne entities originating from Israel is perhaps understandable given constant violation of Lebanese airspace by supersonic warplanes, drones, and other items belonging to the Jewish state.

The 2006 Israeli assault on Lebanon – which killed 1200 persons, most of them civilians – offered additional proof that much of what Israel does is more shocking than anything a paranoid conspiracy theorist might invent.

Even the New York Times acknowledged that the cluster munitions utilised by Israel to carpet south Lebanon “look[ed] deceptively like toys, so children are often those who are injured”.

The Times quoted a Haaretz article in which an IDF commander confirmed: “What we did was insane and monstrous; we covered entire towns in cluster bombs.”

Between 2006 and 2011, over 50 people died after coming into contact with unexploded munitions.

Israel’s humane society

Thankfully, some life forms are afforded better treatment by the Israelis.

According to the AFP report on the anti-explosive rodent brigades – referred to in the article as “specially trained covert agents” – the Herzliya-based firm that is marketing the system “says the mice enjoy much better conditions than those of standard lab mice. They are trained over two months, with each mouse able to work for an 18-month period.”

A 2012 Haaretz article meanwhile celebrated the recovery of a Serbian vulture found at Kibbutz Lehavot Habashan with multiple gunshot wounds, necessitating two months of treatment at an Israeli veterinary hospital. Clearly, Israel far outshines Hezbollah when it comes to hospitality vis-à-vis foreign avian guests.

As I pointed out in a previous op-ed for Al Jazeera – titled “Israel’s humane society” – such portrayals of Israel as a sort of animal rights oasis serve to detract attention from the war crimes and other flagrant human rights abuses upon which the state is founded.

And while Israelis may accuse neighbouring Arab/Muslim populations of paranoid hallucinations, the fact is that Israel’s modus operandi qualifies as paranoid in the extreme. Specific manifestations of the disease in this case include shooting Palestinian children in the head and fatally bulldozing houses on top of disabled septuagenarians.

As for the ongoing effort to foment paranoia as a means of establishing a casus belli against Iran, it goes without saying that one of the current greatest threats to life in the region is posed by Israeli hawks – the non-avian variety.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.