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It Didn’t Start With Pegasus Spyware

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with party colleagues at Likud headquarters on election night in April 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with party colleagues at Likud headquarters on election night in April 2019.Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Next month we will mark three years since the worst attempt at election tampering that ever took place in Israel.

Three weeks before going to the polls, the public was informed that the Shin Bet notified Benny Gantz that “his phone had been hacked by the Iranians.” Interrupting regularly scheduled broadcasts with the scoop was Amit Segal, not a military or security reporter.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to town on the news, while his son Yair and confidant Shimon Riklin were eager to tell us that embarrassing materials had been sucked from Gantz’s phone. They even threatened to publish them.

Had this truly been an Iranian cyberattack on a former IDF chief of staff, the former heads of the military, Mossad and Shin Bet would have needed to be notified of the danger. That did not happen. The “cockpit” of ex-military chiefs in Gantz's Kahol Lavan party initiated their own urgent inquiry through a firm specializing in industrial espionage; they were told that all their phones had been hacked.

They were not surprised. The appeals sent by the party to then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and other office-holders to launch an investigation were left to die on the vine.

In February 2019, a month before the “Iranian” hack, Gideon Sa’ar’s phone was also hacked, during his campaign against Netanyahu in the Likud primaries. In April of that year, the Shin Bet warned Ayelet Shaked, who led Yamina along with Naftali Bennett in direct competition for Likud’s electorate, that her phone was being listened in on. They never found out who it was who wanted to eavesdrop on Sa’ar and Shaked.

A year later Yisrael Bachar, a senior strategic adviser to the Kahol Lavan campaign, was covertly recorded saying Gantz is "a danger to the people of Israel.” The man who got Bachar to talk and recorded him was Rabbi Guy Habura, who exploited Bachar’s family distress. The recordings were published a day after Habura and Netanyahu attended the “Torah V’hora’a” yeshiva in Tel Aviv. Bachar’s contract was terminated. The affair was not investigated.

In July 2020, Netanyahu and his court distributed posts by an internet user named “Dana Ron,” calling for his murder. Alert citizen Yossi Dorfman, who specializes in cracking the identity of fictitious users, proved it to be a fake profile. Facebook confirmed this. The police major crime unit, Unit 433, found an Australian connection, but the investigation ended there.

A month later Netanyahu’s mouthpieces were in a lather over web surfer “Nadav Brickman,” who identified online as a supporter of the protests at the Prime Minister's Residence and called for Netanyahu's supporters to be harmed and “the Gestapo police” to be lynched. This, too, was proven to be a fake profile of someone abroad. lawmaker Moshe Ya’alon’s appeal to Mendelblit over the matter was in vain.

In December 2020 the investigative TV show "Uvda" broadcast footage of attorney Ariel Roth, a senior partner at the office of Netanyahu defense counsel Amit Hadad, trying to recruit a businesswoman who expressed an interest in funding a ploy to compromise Netanyahu’s trial. Netanyahu announced in response that it was a “despicable and obvious political sting job intended to tilt the election results against the prime minister.” Despite the footage and the broadcast, the affair was not investigated.

Netanyahu, who marketed the NSO Group’s products to the world and refrained from using a smartphone, declared that the Pegasus scandal was “a black day. It’s like the IDF bombing Israeli citizens from planes.”

The truth is that the citizens of Israel have been bombarded in the past few black years from the air, sea and land by an organized cybertechnology front that included hacks, data extraction, covert wiretaps and mass deployment of bots and fake profiles. It’s time to get to the very bottom of the matter, and this must be part of the mandate of any commission of inquiry.

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