Israel ‘investigates’ cyber espionage affair NSO

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Israel has not yet established a formal commission of inquiry into the NSO group affair, but the government has senior inter-ministerial team commissioned to investigate it. Israeli media said on July 21 that National Security Council representatives met this week with experts from the defense and foreign ministries to examine the possible implications of the affair for the country’s diplomacy, international image and security exports. .

The inter-ministerial team is expected to decide whether to open an official investigation investigating the legal aspects of the affair, whether the NSO group has violated the scope of its export license and whether the authorities have exercised sufficient control over its use. license. In addition, future working methods should be considered and whether Defense should change its approval mechanism and requirements for granting such permits. Notably, as of 2007, Israeli law requires exports of cyberwarfare and cyberespionage technologies to be approved by a special agency belonging to the Ministry of Defense, similar to the approval required for arms exports.

So far, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office has declined to comment on the matter. Bennett did not elaborate on the affair during his speech at the Tel Aviv University Cyber ​​Week conference on July 21. The Defense Ministry said Israel is studying the revelations about the Pegasus project. Defense Secretary Benny Gantz said: “We approve the… export of cyber products only for governments and only for legal use. Countries that purchase these systems must comply with the terms of use.”

Yet unnamed officials in Israel recently admitted that the affair has become a source of embarrassment to the government. French authorities are now investigating reports that President Emmanuel Macron’s phone was listed among some 50,000 numbers of politicians and journalists chosen by foreign governments as possible surveillance targets via the Israeli-made Pegasus software. It is unclear whether Macron’s phone was indeed hacked.

The Washington Post reported on July 21 that two members of Dubai’s royal family who had fled the country had been selected as: potential targets for the Pegasus spyware. The Guardian claimed in a report that the NSO group had been given permission by the Israeli authorities to try… sell the Pegasus software to the Saudis. An anonymous source told The Guardian about a meeting he attended in Cyprus in 2017, with representatives from NSOs and with Saudi businessmen. The source claimed that the Pegasus software was presented to the Saudis, who were amazed at its capabilities.

On July 21, Reporters Without Borders urged Israeli authorities to suspend the export of cyber-espionage technologies. The group’s head, Christophe Deloire, said: “We call on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to immediate moratorium on the export of surveillance technology until a protective regulatory framework is established.”

The controversy over Israel’s exports of high-tech espionage and combat technologies and the possible diplomatic damage is not new. For example, Armenia had accused Israel of supplying drones to Azerbaijan. Last year, the aide to Azerbaijani President Hikmet Hajiyev told the Israeli press who has used the army of his country Israeli-made attack drones during the recent fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz has long championed greater transparency and higher moral standards in Israel’s cyber and arms exports. He tweeted July 21: “I met Eli Joseph today who has been protesting outside the Knesset for 48 days since he learned of murders committed in Ethiopia. Joseph has been fighting for years against arms exports to dictatorial countries and to countries involved in murders. He is right. I have made a commitment to take action against the government to stop the export of security products that could be used to kill civilians.”

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