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Fact-Checking Hamas’s Claim That It Captured an Israeli Spy Dolphin

The report is the latest in a series of conspiratorial claims that Israel has used animals as weapons of war.

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There’s a wonderful moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Indy and his father, played by Sean Connery, are fleeing a Nazi fighter plane and are on a beach about to get strafed. Connery’s character is suddenly inspired to use his umbrella to scare a flock of birds into the sky, sending them into the propeller of the plane and crashing the fighter. Connery, in a moment of triumph, declares: “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne: ‘Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.'”

There’s scant evidence that Connery was using a real Charlemagne quote, but the idea of using animals as weapons of war is a powerful one that has both been put to practical use and been subject to a fair bit of mythmaking. The latter is what appears to have happened Wednesday when Israel’s Army Radio reported that Hamas claims to have captured an Israeli spy dolphin, equipped with surveillance gear, off the coast of Gaza. The purported Mossad dolphin was captured by an elite Hamas frogmen unit. According to Israel’s Ynetnews, citing a Palestinian outlet, the commandos spotted the dolphin carrying out “suspicious movements” near where the commandos were training.

The story has quickly picked up traction on the Internet, with a wide variety of outlets picking up the claim. But is there anything to this story? Alas, probably not. Though dolphins have been used by various militaries, including by both the United States and Russia, this report likely falls into what is a surprisingly fertile genre of conspiracy theories: the notion that Israeli intelligence routinely uses all manner of birds and other animals as tools of espionage.

When in 2010, for example, the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh saw a rash of shark attacks, a diver in the resort city and a government official theorized that the Israelis were responsible and had planted guiding devices on the animals.

Then, in 2011, a vulture being tracked by researchers at Tel Aviv University ended up in Saudi Arabia, where he too was declared an Israeli spy.

Then there was the 2013 case of a kestrel discovered by Turkish villagers with a ring around its leg bearing the words, “24311 Tel Avivunia Israel.” That bird was also labeled a spy before being exonerated.

Is it possible that Hamas operatives captured a dolphin spying on its commandos? Sure. Is it likely? No. Though Israel does have in its arsenal the Dolphin-class submarine, there is scant evidence that the country has a military program devoted to the marine mammal by the same name.

If the Hamas operatives did indeed capture a dolphin carrying some strange-looking gear, it was probably just another animal tagged with a GPS tracker. Just have a look at images of dolphin-tracking equipment; it does look somewhat like spy gear.

Photo credit: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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