Israel 'encouraged' sale of Pegasus spyware to UAE and other Gulf regimes, report finds

Israel 'encouraged' sale of Pegasus spyware to UAE and other Gulf regimes, report finds
Israeli officials helped market and mediate between notorious spyware company NSO and Gulf regimes including UAE and Saudi Arabia, where it has been used to crack down on peaceful dissidents
2 min read
23 August, 2020
Israeli surveillance firm NSO makes hundreds of millions of dollars annually from Gulf regimes [Getty]
The Israeli government encouraged and officially mediated in the sale of notorious phone-hacking spyware Pegasus, developed by Israeli tech firm NSO, to Gulf states including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where it is known to be used to monitor dissidents, according to a Haaretz report published on Sunday.

The Israeli government put NSO, which makes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of annual revenue from its contracts with Gulf regimes, in contact with governments in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and the the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Ras Al-Khaimah.

Israeli government representatives even participated in marketing meetings between Arab intelligence officials and NSO staff, some of which were held in Israel, according to intelligence obtained by the newspaper.

The government support has helped make NSO's Gulf arm its most profitable division, with one contract reporetedly signed for $250 million.

Pegasus spyware, which is exclusively sold to state authorities, is known to be used by Gulf and other regimes to hack the mobile phones of dissidents and other opponents. The software can copy the contents of these devices and sometimes even control the camera and audio recording capabilities.

It is claimed that Pegasus was used to spy on the phone belonging to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by a team of Saudi officials in the Istanbul consulate in 2018.

NSO denies these claims, however several employees quit in protest following the allegations.

Despite the company claiming that its spyware is used only against criminals, there is little to no supervision of how it is implemented by government clients. NSO employees have he ability to shut down or control the software remotely, however employees claim that linguistic barriers as well as lack of interest mean they do not monitor the activity of Gulf governments.

The claims come just days after Israel and the UAE signed a security cooperation deal following their decision to fully normalise diplomatic relations.

US and Israeli officials have suggested that more Arab nations may soon follow the UAE's lead, with Bahrain and Oman believed to be closest to sealing such deals.

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