Experts consider Hamas’ Israeli dolphin assassination allegation

  • Hamas claims to have spotted a dolphin equipped with a pistol-like device off the coast of the Gaza Strip.
  • A spokesman for the militant group claimed that Israel had trained it to target Palestinian combat divers.
  • Experts told Insider that the allegation should be viewed with skepticism, even though dolphins are sometimes used by the military.

A spokesman for the Palestinian al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, claimed in a video Monday that the militant group had spotted an Israeli assassin dolphin off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

The spokesman claimed that the Israeli military had trained the dolphin to hunt down and kill Hamas’ frogmen, according to the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds.

The spokesman said a Hamas fighter Israel killed during the conflict in May found a pistol-like device attached to the water mammal, The Jerusalem Post reported. He did not say when the operation took place.

Hamas claims to have found a pistol-like device on a dolphin's beak.

Hamas claims to have found a pistol-like device on a dolphin’s beak.

Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas

Experts told Insider that while dolphins can and have been used for military exercises, this latest allegation of a seafaring assassin must be viewed with skepticism.

“Hamas has certainly broadcast a lot of propaganda and, if you will, not entirely honest media in the past,” said HI Sutton, a defense analyst who writes for the US Naval Institute during an interview with Insider. “So there’s always a chance it’s done up.”

‘There is a propaganda war going on’

Gervase Philips, a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University whose research focuses on animals in human conflict, told Insider he agrees.

“My own position is that it is theoretically possible, but I am very, very skeptical,” he told Insider. “There is a propaganda war going on,” Phillips said, agreeing with the idea that Hamas’ demands should be questioned.

This is not the first time Hamas has accused Israel of using dolphins to target them, and offers sparse evidence to support the allegations.

In 2015, it claimed to have caught a dolphin being used as an Israeli spy. Per Al-Quds was allegedly equipped with a spy camera and turned into a “killer” by Israeli security forces. No photographic evidence of the alleged naval secret agent was ever released, according to BBC News.

Other Arab nations have also accused Israel of using animals to target enemies. Hezbollah in Lebanon claimed to have captured Israeli spies. In 2012, Sudan accused Israel of sending a spy capable of spying into the country.

And in 2010, an Egyptian lawmaker spread a claim that Mossad was responsible for several shark attacks that took place off the coast of the Sharm el-Sheikh resort.

But while animal-related conspiracy theories about Israel may sound amazing, it is a fact that some nations have used marine mammals in warfare.

The U.S. Navy has a marine mammal program

The US and Russian militaries have historically trained sea creatures. Little is known about the Soviet-era or modern-day Russian program, Phillips said, leading to “all sorts of rumors circulating,” but the existence of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal (NMMP) Program is well known.

After the program was declassified in the early 1990s, the public learned that the NMMP trains bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to perform protection, mine detection, and object recovery. The U.S. Navy insists it has never trained marine mammals to attack humans or ships because dolphins cannot distinguish between the enemy and friendly vessels or divers.

Phillips added that it is “impractical” – and potentially “catastrophic” – to use dolphins in killing missions because they have their own minds.

“Behavioral scientists have this tendency to talk about animals as programmable platforms, as if they were machines or some form of AI,” he told Insider. “But they are not artificial – they are sentient beings with their own will, and there is always an element of the unpredictable about them.”

Sutton said that while the dolphins are unlikely to commit the killing themselves, it is “not so far out” to suggest that the military could use them to attach markers to targets for the purpose of being captured or taken out of humans.

The gun-like device that the Hamas spokesman showed in the video is more likely “a marker buoy,” Sutton said, but could also be “a pinger or an acoustic device.

HI Sutton's model of the alleged gun-like device on a dolphin

HI Sutton’s model of the alleged gun-like device on a dolphin.

HI Sutton, Covert Shores

Israel has not announced whether it has a military program for marine mammals. The Israeli defense forces did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on the program’s existence or the alleged discovery of a killer dolphin.

But a tweet shared Wednesday on Israel’s official Twitter account appears to shed light on the situation. The tweet consisted exclusively of eight dolphin emojis.

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