Israel Owes France an Explanation About NSO Surveillance Technology

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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France's President Emmanuel Macron, left, holding two cell phones during the European Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2017.
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Those around Benny Gantz stressed on Tuesday that the defense minister’s trip to France on Wednesday, and the planned meeting with French Defense Minister Florence Parly, had been scheduled a month ago. Officials thus tried to clarify that it had nothing to do with the international report last week disclosing that the Pegasus software made by Israeli spyware firm NSO was used by governments to spy on dozens of journalists, dissidents, leaders and regulators throughout the world. But even if that’s the case, it’s reasonable to assume that a substantial part of their meeting will deal with NSO’s involvement in surveillance that Morocco may have sought to conduct against French President Emmanuel Macron.

The meeting comes after a conversation Macron had with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week, and after France announced it had launched an investigation into the matter. The French have every reason to demand explanations from the Israeli government, since the government allowed the Israeli company to supply weapon-like technologies that could be used to spy on the president of a friendly country like France. Israel cannot shirk responsibility, just as it cannot evade responsibility when an Israeli company arms foreign governments with guns and missiles that are used against their own citizens.

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Israel will face some tough questions, like why isn’t there tighter supervision on the export of technological weapons and how is it possible that Israel doesn’t restrict to whom the technology can be sold and how it can be used. These questions are even more relevant because every defense-related export needs a Defense Ministry permit, and many NSO employees and those of other offensive cybercompanies who develop means to spy on and repress people were trained by the Israel Defense Forces, particularly veterans of Unit 8200 and other units in the IDF’s technological array.

The findings of the investigative report and the diplomatic incident with France, which has yet to be resolved, demand an in-depth investigation and a conceptual reboot. The more the high-tech industry develops, the greater the pressure will be to export new technologies, including those that can be used as weapons, and the harder it will be for the government to monitor secondary changes made to these exported technologies. Because the issue is so sensitive, and the relationship between Israeli high-tech and the defense establishment is so tangled, a limited internal investigation by the Defense Ministry cannot be enough.

To make order in this sensitive matter, the government must order an independent probe that will uncover the blunders, prepare new regulations for defense exports, curb them and increase transparency. The involvement of Macron and the blow dealt to an Israeli ally are proof that there is no control over the uses of exported technology. This necessitates a major reorganization of the system.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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