“In a discreet operation with the Lebanese and with the great help of UN forces and the UN liaison unit, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was able to return the vulture that was caught a few days ago by villagers of Bint Jbeil, Lebanon,” the authority said in a statement.
The UN acted as a go-between in negotiations between the Lebanese and the Gamla Nature Reserve where the bird lived before it flew across the border, it added.
“The attempts were successful and yesterday evening at a meeting at the border at Rosh Hanikra the vulture was returned in reasonable health by UN officers,” the statement said, referring to an area in northern Israel.
The bird was “said to be weak and with minor injuries” and had been taken for treatment.
The Nature and Parks Authority issued a photograph of the bird being handed over by uniformed members of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL.
It had first raised concerns over the vulture on Tuesday after images shared on social media appeared to show the bird with an Israeli identification ring and location transmitter captured by the villagers.
The authority at the time said the villagers had suspected espionage due to the transmitter but the bintjbeil.org news portal said the bird had been freed after it was deemed not to pose any threat.
The vulture had crossed the border some days before and flown about four kilometres (2.5 miles) into Lebanon, the authority said.
Israel and Lebanon are technically at war and the UNIFIL peacekeepers monitor their disputed border. Citizens of the two countries are banned from communicating by law.
Conspiracy theories are endemic in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Israel’s spying activities.
Last summer, Palestinian media reported claims by the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers that they had apprehended a dolphin off their Mediterranean coastline, equipped with video cameras for an Israeli spying mission.
In 2011, Saudi media reported that a vulture carrying a GPS transmitter and an identification ring from Tel Aviv University had been detained by security forces who suspected it was being used for espionage.
And in 2010, Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed Egyptian reports linking a spate of Red Sea shark attacks to the country’s Mossad intelligence agency.