Was Pegasus reason behind PM Modi and Netanyahu’s closeness?

Ground Report | New Delhi: Pegasus was sold to India; The Indian government had bought Israel’s spy software Pegasus in 2017. The American newspaper New York Times said in a report on Friday that India has bought the Israeli spyware Pegasus. The Narendra Modi government has neither accepted nor denied the purchase of Pegasus. It said that the defence deal signed by the Modi government five years ago with Israel for two billion dollars (about 15 thousand crore rupees) also included the purchase of Pegasus spyware.

Pegasus was sold to India

Last year, Pegasus spy software was reported to have recorded calls from politicians, journalists and social workers from several countries. The name of India was also included in this. The opposition parties had criticized the government for this and sought an answer.

However, the government had rejected the allegations of the opposition. At present, the matter is being probed by a Supreme Court panel.

Access to the spyware, which is classified as military-grade software and manufactured by the NSO Group, was reportedly part of a “package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth nearly $2 billion” between India and Israel.

The NYT report, which investigates how Israel gained diplomatic advantage around the world from NSO’s Pegasus spyware, outlines how the US Federal Bureau of Investigation purchased a version of Pegasus. It also sheds new light on how the software was sold to Poland, India and Hungary.

“The combination of Israel’s quest for influence and the NSO’s campaign for profits has put powerful spyware in the hands of a new generation of nationalist leaders around the world. However, Israeli government surveillance continues to use powerful spyware in repressive ways.” To prevent this, Pegasus has been sold to Poland, Hungary and India, despite those countries’ dubious records on human rights,” the report said.

How did Pegasus spyware come to India?

The newspaper claims that when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Israel in July 2017, his message was clear that India is now changing its old stand towards Palestine. As a result, there was a lot of closeness between PM Modi and the then Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.

India signed an agreement to buy modern weapons and spy software from Israel. This entire agreement was about 15 thousand crore rupees. At its centre were a missile system and Pegasus itself.

The report said Netanyahu also visited India shortly thereafter, the first visit to the country by an Israeli prime minister in years. After this, in June 2019, in the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, India voted in support of Israel and took steps against giving observer status to the Human Rights Organization of Palestine. This was the first time that India had given priority to a single country between Israel and Palestine.

Pegasus was revealed in July 2021

So far, neither India nor Israel has confirmed that the Pegasus deal has been signed between the two countries. However, in July 2021, a consortium of media groups revealed that this spyware was being used to spy on journalists and businessmen in several countries around the world. In India too, there was talk of spying on many politicians and big names.

In 2019, messaging application WhatsApp sued NSO Group for what it called an illegal breach of its software. At the time, the Facebook-owned firm confirmed that it had found several Indian activists and journalists targeting Pegasus on the phone.

The Indian government has been largely hesitant in its replies to whether it has bought or used Pegasus. In August 2021, the Defense Ministry categorically stated that it had no business dealings with the NSO Group, leading to speculation whether an agency under the Home Ministry was a client.

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