Emirates Leaks

Israel sale of spy devices to the UAE: strengthening repressive regimes a strategic interest


The Israeli government has acknowledged selling spy devices to the UAE represents a strategic interest which is a reinforcement of repressive regimes.

In response to accusations that selling spy devices is helping dictators’ regimes suppress their citizens, the Israeli government has defended allowing Israeli cyber companies to sell software that enables them to spy on and harass political opponents.

The Israeli television, Reshet 13, said that official forums said that Tel Aviv allows the sale of this software to regimes “whose survival is a strategic interest for Israel.”

The same forums added that the Israeli government is interested in strengthening the ability of certain regimes to survive, where their fall could lead to the rise of other regimes that may adopt hostile policies to Israel, noting that decision-makers realized before granting the license to provide these systems with espionage techniques that they may be used to touch the human rights record on a large scale.

Israel has already allowed NSO to sell Pegasus, which is capable of hacking mobile phones, monitoring incoming and outgoing calls, and tracking user movements, the same forums noted.

The channel quoted from sources in the NSO saying that the contracts signed with foreign countries and governments are under the supervision of the Israeli government.

Shin Bet uses Pegasus to spy on Palestinians in the West Bank in the Gaza Strip, while the electronic spying operations by “8200” include all countries that Israel’s interest in obtaining intelligence inside.

An investigation by the New York Times revealed that NSO had sold the Pegasus program to Saudi intelligence officials and that the program had been used to track down Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was neutralized by a Saudi security team at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The UAE was also involved with the Israeli company more than a year ago. In August 2017, the UAE human rights activist Ahmed Mansour received a suspicious message on his phone, which turned out to be a virus intended to hack his phone.

Finally, a few months ago, it was found that the same software was used to spy on an Amnesty International employee by infiltrating an electronic pirate into his phone last June, by a false message on Whatsapp, noting that the employee focuses on the human rights file in Saudi Arabia.

In a previous investigation, the Foreign Policy published an interview with Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marksack, in which he said that the UAE government had purchased this software from the NSO company for between 10 to 15$ million.

Forbes magazine and the Canadian Citizen Lab magazine have revealed that NSO has helped the Saudi regime track down its opponents, including the satirical writer Ghanim al-Musair, human rights activist Yahya Assiri and London-based Omar Abdel Aziz.

In the past two years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at unprecedented secret cooperation between Israel and a number of Arab countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Last week, the Associated Press reported details of a manhunt and an attempted to lure six people who worked on an investigation, published by the New York Times and the New Arab last Autumn, revealed the use of the services of the Israeli company NSO, which developed Pegasus.

The journalist Rafael Sater revealed in his article the details of the espionage incidents against two of the investigation team, in addition to three lawyers working on the case before the Israeli courts against NSO, and the reporter of the “New Arab” in London Iyad Hamid which revealed details of attempts to lure him.

The case against the Israeli company is based on selling the spyware program to governments with bad human rights records, such as the UAE.

The secret operation had begun to unfold when two researchers working for the Citizen Lab, a cyber investigations center, noticed that they were targeted. John Scott Railton, a researcher at the foundation, said a colleague was lured in December to meet at a hotel in Toronto with a client. After that, a person named Michelle Lambert connected Railton, trying to arrange a similar meeting at the hotel In New York City. Then Railton, who realized what was happening, asked Associated Press to cover the meeting.

The issue soon took greater proportions when an Israeli television show and the New York Times revealed the real identity of Michael Lambert, who turned out to be a former Israeli security official named Aaron Almog Asulin. When the Associated Press published the data at the time, Mazen Masri continued with the US news agency to inform them that he and Ala Mahajna, the main lawyer in the Tel Aviv case, had been subjected to a similar situation. He said that two Egyptians contacted them and told them they were working for wealthy companies and offered them job opportunities for those companies, asking them to meet them in London.

The lawyer, Christina Marco, who is following the case in Cyprus, was later subjected to a similar attempt. She traveled to London at the client’s expense to meet an investor who said he was based in Hong Kong. The new Arab reporter in London, Iyad Hamid, said that he was subjected to a similar situation, saying that an investor working for a Belgian investment company connected him to provide university grants to Syrian students.