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Analysis

Hamas claims of Israeli killer dolphins are easy to mock, but not so farfetched

Folks were quick to ridicule a video, released by the terror group, alleging one of its naval commandos found a dolphin in the service of the IDF. But it’s not entirely ludicrous

Judah Ari Gross

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A Hamas operative holds up a harness the terror group says was on a dolphin that it believes was being used by Israel, from a video released by Hamas on January 8, 2022. (Screenshot)
A Hamas operative holds up a harness the terror group says was on a dolphin that it believes was being used by Israel, from a video released by Hamas on January 8, 2022. (Screenshot)

Over the years, Israel has been accused of sending genetically engineered sharks into Egyptian waters to attack swimmers, radiation-seeking lizards into Iran to find uranium mines and various birds throughout the Middle East for spying. There is an entire Wikipedia entry dedicated to these “Israel-related animal conspiracy theories.”

It was in this zoological vein that Hamas recently revealed it had encountered a dolphin in the service of Israel.

In a video released on Saturday, the terror group said one of its members “discovered a dolphin that the enemy used to hunt down members of our naval forces at sea,” according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

A commander in Hamas’s frogmen unit, identified as Abu Suhaib, claimed that a member of the detachment, Muhammad Abu Sam’an, who was killed in May’s conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, had been the one to find the animal in question, recovering a harness with an apparent weapon attached to it.

Some news sites also falsely wrote that Hamas had said Abu Sam’an was killed by the dolphin. He was, in fact, killed in an Israeli strike — on shore — according to Palestinian media.

Hamas’s claim of a dolphin being used to hunt its frogmen was quickly and widely mocked, particularly by pro-Israel groups and individuals, who created memes to ridicule the terror group.

On Wednesday, the State of Israel’s official account joined in with a tweet consisting solely of eight emojis of a dolphin.

In 2015, Hamas made a similar claim, saying it had captured a dolphin equipped with “spying equipment,” including cameras, that was being used by Israel.

With ample precedent of Middle Eastern countries falsely and fantastically accusing Israel of using various animals for nefarious purposes, this fresh allegation was an easy one to dismiss. But it’s not nearly as ludicrous as it may seem.

Both the United States and Russia have publicly acknowledged training and using dolphins — and sea lions — for military purposes.

Indeed, the harness that Hamas said it recovered from the dolphin, which appeared to fit on its nose and had what seems to be a speargun attached to it, is similar in design to one used by the Soviet military.

Dolphin training at the US Navy Marine Mammal Program (Courtesy)

The US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program has been in service since the 1960s, and, as of 2019, had roughly 70 dolphins and 30 sea lions in its ranks.

On the program’s website, it explains that these sea mammals are more adept at locating mines and other undersea targets — like Hamas frogmen — than humans and electronic sonar in certain conditions.

Moscow has reportedly been more aggressive with its Cetaceans, allegedly training them to attack, and even kill, intruders, a former Soviet dolphin trainer told the magazine Russia Beyond in 2017.

For the Israel Defense Forces, which maintains a tight blockade around Gaza and has routinely warned of the threat posed by Hamas naval commandos, such capabilities would be useful. The IDF did not respond to Hamas’s claims.

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