Let’s be clear about one thing. I’d like to spend a lot less time writing about Israel, just as I’d like to spend a lot less time cleaning my toilet. I dearly wish for a resolution to the conflict that is respectful to all parties, and agreed by all, but which provides just reparations for the great injustice committed against the people of Palestine, who were minding their own business up until they were brutalized and ethnically cleansed in 1948/9.
Yet here I am again, having to write about Israel’s malevolent impact on the world around us, as shocking revelations about Pegasus mobile phone spyware sets off alarm bells worldwide. ‘No-click spyware that gives you root access to any mobile phone’ sounds precisely as nefarious as it is.
For many activists and critics of authoritarian regimes, and not just those in the 11 countries already identified as having contracts with the Israeli tech firm NSO, it’s a bell-clanging reminder of a fact often forgotten: even a well-thought-out and implemented security strategy does not make you safe from intrusion.
Let’s examine two key planks of the Israeli response to the furore kicked up by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International.
1. NSO only sells to ‘responsible’ governments for the righteous purpose of fighting terrorists and low-lifes.
This is an insult to the intelligence. Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Hungary, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Togo, and the United Arab Emirates make up the 11 prurient NSO clients. None of them are on anyone’s list of civil society paragons. Most express open contempt for inconvenient principles such as the ‘right to life’.
Indeed, Israeli governments have been delighted to treat with fascists such as Paraguayan dictator General Alfredo Ströessner. One wonders what Israeli arms salespeople thought as they gazed at the General’s prized possession, a portrait of Adolf Hitler hung on his office wall. Israel likes to compare itself favourably to repressive Arab regimes and claim to be a beacon of liberty in an ocean of pathological sharks. That is complete tosh, and shame on Israel’s American patsies, who parrot this line like developmentally retarded mynah birds. Israel makes the whole world less just.
2. Mossad does not have a ‘back door’ that allows it to read all NSO client traffic.
This risible claim is actually being peddled by spokespeople for both NSO and the Israeli government. NSO is Mossad; half its staff are agency alumni. If Israel, historically tight-lipped about its technical capabilities, is allowing NSO to sell this spyware on the open market, then two things are true: first, geeks in Mossad or the Israeli Defence Forces’ Unit 8200 must already have a higher order capability than Pegasus.
And of course Mossad has a back door. Any historian of intelligence will tell you that Mossad would not merely have requested it from NSO, but insisted on it. The lengths spy agencies will go to to hack communications are the stuff of legend, as the few authorized histories of sigint agencies openly attest.