India bought Pegasus spying software as part of defence deal with Israel in 2017: Report

New York/Bhubaneswar: A missile system and the NSO spyware Pegasus were the ‘centrepieces’ of a $2 billion deal between India and Israel in 2017, claims a report in The New York Times.

The Pegasus spyware created massive controversy in 2021 when it made headlines for its alleged use by some governments to spy on journalists, human rights activists, politicians, among others.

According to the report in the NYT, the NSO Group which produces the Pegasus software had for nearly a decade been “selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else — not a private company, not even a state intelligence service — could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone.”

“For decades, India had maintained a policy of what it called “commitment to the Palestinian cause,” and relations with Israel were frosty. The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and (then Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach,” it report said. “They had reason for the warm feelings. Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly USD 2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces.”

“Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation,” the report added.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the NSO Group, Asher Levi, is stepping down after less than two years.

Levi has announced his resignation after reports published in Israel revealed that the local police had also purchased the Pegasus spyware system, according to Haaretz.

“Israel Police used Pegasus to collect intelligence for investigative purposes, with no legal oversight, targeting protest leaders in the anti-Netanyahu demonstration movement, as well as mayors suspected of corruption, the report said on Tuesday, quoting financial daily Calcalist.

Levi, however, said he was leaving NSO for other reasons and is joining Novalpina Capital, a VC fund with Berkeley Research Group.

“The fund brought me in in 2020. About five months later it was replaced by BRG, and I told them I wish to finish my role as I was not appointed by them,” Levi was quoted as saying.

Calcalist also reported that a number of other firms owned by NSO have turned to the courts amid fears the company is about to default.

NSO has been blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce after Apple discovered that eleven State Department Officials in Uganda were targeted by a client of NSO last year.

(With IANS inputs)

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