Israeli police call for probe into new Pegasus revelations | News | DW | 07.02.2022

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Israeli police call for probe into new Pegasus revelations

An Israeli newspaper reported that police used Pegasus spyware on former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son and other prominent figures. Israel's police commissioner has called for a probe into the matter.

The website of Israeli firm NSO Group, which created Pegasus spyware

Pegasus spyware can be used to track phone calls and read text messages

Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai called for an investigation on Monday into the use of Pegasus spyware, following a bombshell report in Israeli media.

Shabtai said he requested Public Security Minister Omer Barlev set up "an external and independent commission of inquiry, headed by a judge" to investigate the matter.

"To the extent that the commission finds irregularities and failures, they will be dealt with in accordance with the law," Shabtai added. Several Israeli ministers have also backed an inquiry, along with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

What is the latest on the Pegasus spyware scandal?

Business daily Calcalist reported earlier in the day that police used the Pegasus spyware to hack the phones of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son, along with aides and other members of his inner circle.

The spyware was also used to target a key witness against Netanyahu, who is currently on trial for corruption. 

Netanyahu has previously accused law enforcement of unfairly targeting him. It's unclear why the spyware was used to hack the phones of those close to the former prime minister.

Netanyahu's lawyers have called for trial proceedings to be halted until a thorough investigation is carried out.

Government and business leaders, journalists, and protest organizers saw their phones reportedly hacked, according to Calcalist. The spyware, which was created by Israeli firm NSO Group, was used to "phish for intelligence even before any investigation had been opened against the targets, and without judicial warrants," the report said.

Pegasus scandal: Indian journalist Siddharth Varadarajan

How has Israel's prime minister responsed?

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government must act. 

"We won't leave this without a response. Things allegedly happened here that are very serious," Bennett said in a statement. At the same time, he defended Pegasus as "an important tool against terrorism."

"But they were not intended to be used in phishing campaigns targeting the Israeli public or officials — which is why we need to understand exactly what happened," Bennett added.

The software can hack phones illicitly and allows the attacker to listen to the phone calls and read text messages of the victim, among other features.

In July of last year, a coalition of news organizations, along with Amnesty International and Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories, published an investigation which found how the spyware had been used to target world leaders, journalists and human rights activists. The leaks revealed 11 countries as NSO clients, such as Azerbaijan, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and India. 

wd/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)