NSO Group welcomes Netanyahu's return, views contracts in Saudi Arabia

Embattled cyber firm hopes PM-designate will ease restrictions on spyware exports to countries with history of human rights violations

Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group, shaken by scandals surrounding the controversial use of its Pegasus software, welcomed the imminent return of Benjamin Netanyahu to power, the Financial TImes reported Tuesday.
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  • According to the report, the firm hopes that the incoming prime minister eases restrictions on the export of Israeli spyware to countries that have a history of human rights violations, foremost among which is Saudi Arabia.
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    NSO בניין
    NSO בניין
    Benjamin Netanyahu, NSO logo
    (Photo: AP)
    The current approval process for new sales in the spyware industry is "designed to make it extremely difficult to sell to countries with problematic human rights record" except with the express approval of the Defense Ministry, according to the report.
    Several sources told the Times that the company, which has been blacklisted in the U.S. and several European countries, is in danger of bankruptcy, forced to cut staff and costs in recent years and facing over $400 million in debt.
    “Don't worry, Netanyahu is coming back,” Shalev Hulio, co-founder of the company, reportedly told guests at a dinner in Tel Aviv, months before the leader of the right-wing Likud party won the November election.
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    מוחמד בן סלמאן
    מוחמד בן סלמאן
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
    (Photo: EPA)
    According to the sources, while serving as prime minister, Netanyahu encouraged exports of intelligence software in an attempt to improve Israel's unofficial relations with countries like Saudi Arabia, as well as Gulf countries and east Africa. After striking normalization deals with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan under former U.S. president Donald Trump, Netanyahu has never made a secret of his desire to strike a similar deal with Saudi Arabia.
    The kingdom became "one of NSO's biggest clients" in 2017, the Times reported, but the firm was forced to temporarily suspend its Saudi contract at the end of 2018, after the assassination of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, while the journalist's family claimed that Riyadh used Pegasus to track him.
    According to the report, a new contract with Saudi Arabia was signed in 2019 "with the knowledge of Netanyahu." The surveillance software was notably used to track 36 journalists from the Qatar-based Al Jazeera media house. It is unclear whether the contract is still in effect.

    Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.
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