August 4, 2021

NSO Group at the heart of Israel’s “soft power”

By Louis Imbert

Posted today at 1:00 p.m.

Browsing the list of targets for Pegasus surveillance software, a service provided by the Israeli company NSO Group to a dozen states in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia, is to follow a story of Israeli diplomacy. These data, vast but still partial, shared by the organization Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International with seventeen media, including The world, have accompanied the all-out expansion of Israeli “soft power” for a decade. They constitute a dark side, discreet but assumed.

Founded in 2009, when former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came back to power (2009-2021), NSO benefited from Israel’s expansion of diplomatic relations. One moment is emblematic: July 2017. Mr. Netanyahu welcomes Narendra Modi to Tel Aviv. This is the first time that a head of the Indian government has visited the country in twenty-five years of diplomatic relations. Mr. Modi is a choice catch in Mr. Netanyahu’s effort to diversify Israel’s alliances.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a campaign poster for Likud, Mr. Netanyahu's party, in Tel Aviv on July 28, 2019.

Powerful, ultranationalist, authoritarian and populist, the Indian signifies the opening to Israel of a booming market, and does not seek to dwell on the occupation of the Palestinian territories or on the question of human rights. man. Shortly after the two men posed for photographers with their feet in the water in the Mediterranean, India tested Pegasus spyware for the first time. Since then, it has continued to use it, less against potential terrorists than against opponents, journalists and human rights defenders.

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The service provided by NSO weighs little against the traditional arms contracts that Israel and India negotiate in 2017, covering missiles and air defense systems, and valued at 1.7 billion euros. But Mr. Netanyahu says so, he who sought in 2009 to promote research and teaching in cybersecurity, and to better integrate it into the defense organs: “Cyber ​​is a serious threat and a very lucrative business. “

Globally, “Of the 5 to 7 billion euros that the military exports of Israeli companies represent annually [comme IAI, Elbit et Rafael], cyber occupies only a modest portion: barely 3% to 4% “, says Eitay Mack, lawyer and expert on Israeli arms exports, who is campaigning for more transparency in this area.

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