Israel's NSO Double Game

Jerusalem is making a show of investigating and reprimanding NSO now, but for years the state acted as matchmaker between the spyware company and a number of dictatorships

Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv
Protestors hold placards and a banner during a protest attended by about a dozen people outside the offices of the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group near Tel Aviv, last week.
Protestors hold placards and a banner during a protest attended by about a dozen people outside the offices of the Israeli cyber firm NSO Group near Tel Aviv, last week.Credit: NIR ELIAS/ REUTERS
Amitai Ziv
Amitai Ziv

In the wake of the shock waves generated by global investigations from the Pegasus Project, revealing the significant number of journalists, human rights defenders, political dissidents and even heads of state targeted using NSO’s spyware, Defense Minister Benny Gantz boarded an overnight plane to Paris. Hoping to smooth things over with French President Emmanuel Macron, whose phone was on a list of potential targets for possible surveillance on behalf of Morocco in the Pegasus case, Gantz assured his counterpart Florence Parly that Israel was examining the allegations.

The NSO fallout has been a major test for Gantz, who has pledged several times in the past not to sell arms to "racist and murderous" states.

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Revelations that NSO’s surveillance tools aren’t used only for fighting crime and terror led to a diplomatic crisis for Israel’s new government. In addition to France calling for investigations into the use of Pegasus spyware, U.S. lawmakers called for punitive measures against NSO and protesters gathered in India, Hungary and Mexico.

Israel's security establishment is at least putting on a show of concern. Defense Ministry representatives conducted a kind of "surprise visit" to company headquarters in order to "examine the reports and allegations regarding the company," as a ministry spokesperson confirmed. The cabinet has appointed an inter-ministerial panel to review the findings of the Pegasus reports, including not only representatives from the defense, justice and foreign affairs ministries but also from the military as well as from security and intelligence agencies.

The intelligence subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, meanwhile, is scheduled to discuss Israel's cyber exports policy.

In the end, it must be remembered that Israel is playing a double game here. It's making a show of investigating and reprimanding NSO now, but for years the state acted as matchmaker between NSO and a number of dictatorships.

The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation that involves 17 media organizations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories with support of Amnesty International’s Security.

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