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The Rocks in Lebanon Have Eyes

The Lebanese armed forces have destroyed a spying device after discovering it in southern Lebanon, disguised as a rock.

A Hezbollah militant looks through his binoculars in Umm Khorj in the Lebanese eastern mountain range close to the Syrian border on October 9, 2014, after capturing the area from Islamic State (IS) militants. Lebanon's border with Syria is not officially defined and much of it is porous and unpatrolled, with local residents, smugglers and others moving freely across it. AFP PHOTO/SAM SKAINE        (Photo credit should read SAM SKAINE/AFP/Getty Images)
A Hezbollah militant looks through his binoculars in Umm Khorj in the Lebanese eastern mountain range close to the Syrian border on October 9, 2014, after capturing the area from Islamic State (IS) militants. Lebanon's border with Syria is not officially defined and much of it is porous and unpatrolled, with local residents, smugglers and others moving freely across it. AFP PHOTO/SAM SKAINE (Photo credit should read SAM SKAINE/AFP/Getty Images)

There was something about the sandy colored “rock” that didn’t quite fit in with its natural surroundings. Electrical cords spilled out of one end; some of its sides formed unnaturally neat right angles. It was enough to arouse the suspicions of a Lebanese villager, who, upon stumbling across the rock, informed authorities. Their conclusion: it wasn’t a rock at all.

Instead, the Lebanese army said, there was a camera, equipped with four batteries, hidden inside the stone. The army said Wednesday that it believes the rock is “an Israeli spy device”; it did not say whether the device was in active use. The discovery took place a few miles from the Israeli border, in an area that was occupied by Israeli military forces from 1985-2000.

Israel has remained silent on the rock, with an Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson telling the Times of Israel that the military “does not respond to reports of this kind.”

But the incident comes on the heels of a number of similar reports of surveillance systems concealed in artificial rocks. In 2010, the Lebanese army said it had discovered two rocks containing cameras and a device bearing the stamp of a company called “Beam Systems Israel Ltd.” In 2014, meanwhile, a Hezbollah member died in an explosion while trying to dismantle a rock-concealed camera. Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s media arm, attributed his death to an Israeli drone flying overhead, which they claimed detonated the surveillance system from above.

Lebanon is not the only place where rocks are not always what they seem. A mysterious rock lying on the pavement on a street in Moscow in 2006 was also found to contain electronic equipment. Russian officials blamed it on the U.K., and a former British official copped to the accusation six years later. In a BBC documentary in 2012, Jonathan Powell, once a top aide to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the Russians “had us bang to rights.”

SAM SKAINE/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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