Scandal puts Israel’s tech diplomacy under scrutiny

NSO yesterday rejected in a statement the “fraudulent accusations” and assured that it only acts “to save lives and prevent crimes and acts of terror.” “We had not received as of today (yesterday) any evidence that a person on this list was a target of the Pegasus system,” Oded Hershkovitz, a spokesman for the group, told Israeli radio.

“The big question for me is whether NSO knew about the ‘spied on people,” explained May Brooks-Kempler, an Israeli cybersecurity expert. “We should be more aware of the customers of this technology and not sell it to regimes that can use it to spy on their population and their opponents. It is basically a problem especially for the Ministry of Defense ”, which authorizes its export.

The Ministry of Defense indicated that it “does not have access to the information collected by NSO clients,” but recalled that “appropriate” measures are taken if the clients of these programs violate the conditions of use.

In Israel, there are several hundred companies in the cybersecurity sector and some of them are specialized in offensive technologies, which allow infiltration of other systems.

The then director of the Israeli Innovation Authority, Aharon Aharon, declared in 2019 that “in the use of (cybersecurity) technologies there is a good part and there may also be a darker part. I think NSO is based, to a certain extent, on this dark side. “

“Israel is an incubator for repressive technologies,” said Jonathan Klinger, a lawyer specializing in computer law. “It is a sad business model, but it is not illegal.”

Israel exports its technological advances in the agrotechnology sector, but also in the military industry, such as drones, missile systems or artificial intelligence, which favors diplomatic relations with other countries. According to revelations on Sunday, four Arab countries used Pegasus: the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The first three of them normalized their ties with Israel in 2020 and then there was also a certain thaw between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

Did the use of the controversial NSO program favor this diplomatic rapprochement? “The US willingness to sell its F-35s to the Emirates and its pressure (in favor of normalization) changed the situation, the program did not” Pegasus, says Yoel Guzansky, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Tel Aviv National (INSS). “20 or 30 years ago, arms exports allowed Israel to establish numerous diplomatic or informal relations with countries in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, and the same situation exists today. But now he has more things to sell, such as a range of cybersecurity tools ”, adds this expert.

However, this is “a double-edged razor, as Israel can also be seen as a country that helps authoritarian regimes to suppress freedoms.”

AFP Agency

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