India Bought Pegasus Spyware From Israel in an Alleged Deal Concerning Palestinians, Claims NYT
The Indian government has categorically rejected claims that it bought the Pegasus spyware from NSO Group, as per a written reply by the Defence Ministry in parliament last year. A joint investigation last year claimed that the spyware has been used to snoop on 50,000 mobile numbers in more than 50 countries since 2016, including India.
The Indian government used taxpayer money to buy the military-grade spyware programme Pegasus from Israel's NSO Group, a report by The New York Times claimed on Friday. The report by the American newspaper says the deal was finalised during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's maiden visit to Israel in 2017 and was part of a broader $2 billion transaction for weapons between Tel Aviv and New Delhi.
"The Modi visit, however, was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach. They had reason for the warm feelings", claims the report.
The report goes on to insinuate that the purchase of Pegasus, which can't be sold to foreign entities without an "export license", influenced New Delhi's decision in 2019, when it voted in favour of an Israel-backed resolution that sought to bar the Palestinian rights organisation Shahed from obtaining "observer status" on the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Otherwise, India has been a longstanding supporter of the two-state solution and has consistently voiced its "commitment to the Palestinian cause".
The report notes several other instances of Israel allegedly using the sale of the Pegasus spyware to achieve its diplomatic ends at the United Nations as well as broader geopolitical goals.
"Countries like Mexico and Panama have shifted their positions toward Israel in key votes at the United Nations after winning access to Pegasus", it says.
"...the sales of Pegasus played an unseen but critical role in securing the support of Arab nations in Israel's campaign against Iran and even in negotiating the Abraham Accords", claims the NYT investigation.
Besides India, the NSO spyware was also reportedly sold to the governments of Poland, Hungary, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia. The report says that in all the instances, it was used against political opponents and dissenters. America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly also conducted trials of the software, but ultimately decided not to pursue the deal, the report claims.
NSO Group has maintained that its software merely helps "government agencies prevent and investigate terrorism and crime to save thousands of lives around the globe".
NYT Report Triggers Controversy in India
The revelations by the US daily have kicked up a political storm in India, where the Israeli spyware is alleged to have to snooped on senior journalists, political opponents, government officials, and two federal ministers.
The list of snooping targets also allegedly includes federal opposition leader and Congress Party parliamentarian Rahul Gandhi, as well diplomats serving on the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.
Soon after the allegations against Pegasus first surfaced, India's Information and Technology Minister Aswini Vaishnaw rejected them as "an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well established institutions".
Subramanian Swamy, an MP from Modi's BJP, has since joined the bandwagon of politicians demanding answers from the government in the wake of the NYT report. Mahua Moitra, an MP from opposition party Trinamool Congress, has alleged that the spyware was part of a "quid pro quo" deal with Israel.
The Indian Supreme Court set up an "expert panel" in October of last year to investigate the snooping claims.
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