Jerusalem24 – Saeed Erekat (Al-Quds) – Once the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security included the NSO Group – an Israeli company for intelligence and cyber security – on its list of entities subject to trade restrictions that are seen as threatening US national security or US foreign policy interests, Israel proceeded to pool all its From influence in the American capital to pressure the Biden administration to remove the company from the black list.
The various wings of the Israeli lobby in Washington argue that the listing of the Israeli company “puts great pressure on the traditional close relationship between the United States and Israel.”
Intense pressure activities on the White House are at the forefront of the Israeli lobby, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – FDD, which was established by the Israeli army in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, to seize the opportunity and promote the Israeli narrative in the wake of the strong blow to the Arabs and their image in the United States. Initial documents submitted for tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service stated that its mission “was to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and public understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.”
Subsequent documents described the foundation’s mission as “to conduct research and provide education on international terrorism and related issues.”
The most powerful Israeli lobby, AIPAC, and the American Jewish Committee are also leading the efforts in the US Congress.
The Israeli Defense Ministry said last week that it would pressure the administration of US President Joe Biden to remove the company from the blacklist, despite new allegations of foreign governments using software developed by the company to target journalists, dissidents and activists.
The Israeli company develops technologies for government agencies, and its most prominent military-grade spyware is called Pegasus.
The company vigorously defends its product, claiming that it was intended to prevent and investigate crimes that have traditionally been invisible to security authorities due to end-to-end encryption.
However, mounting evidence shows that the company supplied the spyware to foreign governments, which they then used to carry out what the US Department of Commerce deemed “transnational repression.”
In late 2020, a Paris-based non-profit journalism organization called Forbidden Stories partnered with Amnesty International to release a target list of 50,000 phone numbers. These phone numbers are concentrated in countries that are considered customers of the Israeli company and have a record of monitoring their citizens. The Pegasus project, an investigation published by 17 media organizations in 10 countries last July, links 37 phone numbers with an attempt to spy on journalists, activists, opponents and those close to them.
For example, the project found that the spyware targeted individuals close to Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist who was brutally murdered by Saudi government agents while at their consulate in Istanbul. The targets included Khashoggi’s son and his friends, the Turkish prosecutor responsible for investigating his murder, and Khashoggi’s fiancée in the days following his murder.
Most recently, the Associated Press reported that Front Line Defenders, an Ireland-based rights group, found Pegasus on the mobile phones of six Palestinian activists, three of whom belonged to groups designated by the Israeli Defense Minister as “terrorist” organizations.
In January 2020, the United Nations released a report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely used Pegasus to hack businessman Jeff Bezos’ phone in 2018 “in an attempt to influence and silence, the Washington Post reports on Saudi Arabia.”
Last week, the Ninth US Court of Appeals also denied NSO Group foreign sovereign immunity, meaning that WhatsApp can sue the company for Pegasus’ alleged role in targeting 1,400 devices belonging to journalists and dissidents by exploiting its messaging app.
A few weeks before the United Nations released its report, the Israeli company contracted Mercury Public Affairs, a global strategy firm in Washington, DC, to improve its image. For just $120,000 a month, Mercury Public Affairs will advise on the company’s public relations, media, and governments.
It was reported that from the beginning of January 2020 until earlier this month, when Mercury Public Affairs severed its relations with the Israeli company, 99 media materials published by the advertising company on behalf of the NSO Group and its business practices were monitored.
And last July alone, at the time of the launch of Project Pegasus, Mercury Public Affairs issued 14 statements attributed to the NSO Group, the tone of which ranged from appalling anger at the alleged abuse to sharp disdain for the investigation.
And the Associated Press revealed last week that Front Line Defenders had found the Pegasus program on activists’ phones. The Israeli Defense Ministry announced its campaign to convince the Biden administration that Pegasus is a vital tool for national security.
Israel wants the US Department of Commerce to remove the company from the blacklist. She stated that the Israeli Defense Ministry, which oversees the program’s licensing, will tighten oversight of government agencies that have access to Pegasus. She claimed that she did not know who used the program to target Palestinian phones. The company refused to confirm who used the software and insisted it could not access information about the alleged targets.
A source, who asked not to be named, told Al-Quds that it was likely that Israel’s attempts to write off N. S.O. from the blacklist, with failure, “because the American officials concerned with this matter are very angry and shocked by this outrageous Israeli act, at least in the short term, but it is possible that it will be removed from the blacklist in the long term.”