Since the their rupture in the wake of the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, Turkish-Israeli relations have been limping along, taking some hopeful steps forward and more worrying steps backwards. One of the problematic side effects of Turkey-Israel ties being stuck in the muck of mutual recrimination is that this state of affairs only strengthens a tendency among the Turkish public -- and, occasionally, Turkish officials -- to connect Israel to outlandish conspiracy theories. In recent years, for example, Turkish Islamists claimed a three-day heavy metal music festival in Istanbul was actually organized by a Mossad front and the head of Turkey's Higher Education Board (YOK) suggested that genetically modified tomato seeds bought from Israel could be "programmed" to harm Turks, if not destroy the whole Turkish nation.
Now, farmers in southeast Turkey appear to have uncovered the latest Israeli plot against Turkey, one that turns tiny birds into flapping spies. As the Turkish daily HaberTurk first reported, a group of villagers near the city of Gaziantep discovered a small dead bird (from a breed known as the European Bee Eater) with a metal band around its leg that read "Israel." As if that wasn't suspicious enough, the bird had what seemed to be a very enlarged nostril, leading one local official to suggest that perhaps the bird had been implanted with some kind of microchip or spying device. Although counterterrorism officials were called in at one point, local agriculture officials examined the colorful bird thoroughly and decided it posed no threat to national security. According to officials with Israel's Society for the Protection of Nature, the suspect bird had been banded some four years earlier as part of a routine effort to track the migration patterns of the European Bee Eater.
As Israel's Ynetnews website pointed out, this incident was only the latest one in which Israel had been accused of using animals to stir up trouble in the Middle East. Two years ago, an Egyptian official claimed the Mossad may have been behind a surge in shark attacks in the Red Sea. Iran, meanwhile, has said in the past that it has captured both spy squirrels and spy pigeons working in the service of the Jewish state.
An incident that recently took place in Cypriot airspace, though, might indicate that Turkey is also feeling threatened by a different kind of Israeli bird. As Reuters reports, the Turkish military said today that it had to scramble some of its fighter jets earlier this week after an unidentified Israeli plane violated the airspace of Northern Cyprus, the Turkish-speaking part of the divided island. Considering the ongoing tension over gas and oil exploration in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey on the one side and Israel and Greek Cyprus on the other, it's likely that the explanation for how an Israeli aircraft ended up in Turkish Cypriot airspace is a little less innocent than how the suspected "Israeli spy" bird ended up in Gaziantep.