Gantz in Paris to Discuss Spyware Scandal as Israeli Officials Inspect NSO Offices

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz with his French counterpart Florence Parly in Paris, today
Defense Minister Benny Gantz with his French counterpart Florence Parly in Paris, todayCredit: Courtesy of Benny Gantz's Office

Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his French counterpart, Florence Parly, on Wednesday Israel was looking into the allegations made against Israeli spytech firm NSO with "utmost seriousness," arguing his ministry approves exports of cybertech "only to be used against terrorism and crime."

Gantz's snap visit to Paris, to discuss the Pegasus spyware allegedly used to target President Emmanuel Macron, comes as Israeli officials inspect NSO's offices just north of Tel Aviv.

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Defense Ministry officials responsible for overseeing commercial exports of cyber-surveillance technologies told NSO they were planning to visit the company's headquarters beforehand, amid allegations its Pegasus software was used to target journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

The ministry announced the visit, meant to "inspect the publications and claims" regarding the company, as Gantz was in Paris. NSO was informed of the inspection in advance.

In the meeting with Parly, Gantz also stated that NSO's actions were in violation of the licensing regulations.

A protester outside the offices of the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group in Herzliya, on Sunday.Credit: Nir Elias/Reuters

Macron's phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group's Pegasus software, according to France's Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation.

The Israeli Defense Ministry's brief confirmation that the NSO offices were visited on Wednesday by several state institutions was the first official acknowledgement of the scandal since it broke out.

A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

NSO rejected the reports, saying it was "full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories". Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.

Gantz's trip, which was planned before the NSO affair, also covered the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, strengthening the Palestinian Authority, the rehabilitation of Gaza after the war with Israel, and world powers' efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran.

This is a developing story. More details soon...

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