Senior Palestinian official: Pegasus hacked Palestinian diplomats’ phones
A senior Palestinian official announced that the phones of 3 high-ranking Palestinian diplomats were hacked by the “Pegasus” spyware, which was developed by the private Israeli company NSO, which the US administration recently included in its blacklist, according to what came in a report For The New York Times.
The newspaper said that this accusation – whose validity has not yet been verified by an independent body – led to increased scrutiny of the company, which was included in the US blacklist for providing governments with spyware on activists, journalists and lawyers, and also raised more questions about whether The Israeli government itself uses the program.
In an interview with the newspaper yesterday, Thursday, Ahmed al-Deek, the assistant Palestinian foreign minister, accused Israel of using “Pegasus” to hack the phones of 3 senior Palestinian diplomats, saying, “Of course they are the Israelis…they are the only ones who are capable and interested in doing so. Of course, we accuse them of being behind this attack.”
The Palestinian official did not provide any evidence of the hacking or publish phone data records that might confirm his accusations, and he refused to provide further details.
A second Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, stated that at least two of the three officials whose phones were hacked were working as part of a campaign to bring Israeli officials to trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes.
The Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense refused to comment on the matter, and the Israeli Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet) had the same position.
As for the “NSO” company, it said – in a statement – that it has no information about who governments monitor using its programs, and it mentioned earlier that the list of its clients is private, and that it will not reveal whether the Israeli government is among them or not.
The latest accusation – first reported by the Associated Press, followed a similar announcement earlier this week – by international internet experts who said they had discovered the “Pegasus” spyware on the phones of four Palestinian human rights activists belonging to groups under investigation by Israel.
The Israeli government, which authorized the sale of the company’s spyware to other countries, denied that it had used it to target activists, but according to Israeli policies, Israeli officials are the only ones authorized to publish the spyware on activists’ phones with Israeli numbers.
It is noteworthy that NSO has faced criticism for years for selling software to clients who have used it to target activists and media professionals, such as Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and human rights lawyers in Mexico, investigative journalists in Hungary, and two reporters for the New York Times.
Censorship of the company and its relationship with the Israeli government escalated last summer, after a global investigation revealed the extent of its access, noting that the “Pegasus” that it developed was used to hack the phones of dozens of activists and correspondents in several countries.