Pegasus sold only to governments: Israeli envoy to India

Israel envoy doesn’t say whether the spyware was sold to India.

October 28, 2021 09:05 pm | Updated October 29, 2021 10:32 am IST - NEW DELHI

Israel's new Ambassador Naor Gilon addresses the media in New Delhi, on October 28, 2021.

Israel's new Ambassador Naor Gilon addresses the media in New Delhi, on October 28, 2021.

Accusing Iran of ‘destabilising’ the West Asian region, the Israeli Ambassador to India said the newly announced India-Israel-UAE-U.S. quadrilateral was an outcome of the “Abraham Accords” that saw Israel and the UAE establish diplomatic ties, which were the result of “common concerns” about Iran’s role in the region.

Ambassador Naor Gilon told the media here that during his visit to Israel, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had also put forward India’s interests in Iran, as a neighbour and a country that facilitates Indian connectivity to Central Asia and Afghanistan, but that all four countries shared ‘similar’ evaluation of events.

A day after the Supreme Court asked an expert committee to enquire into allegations of hacking using an Israeli software Pegasus, the Ambassador also emphasised that the software could only have been sold to a Government, but wouldn’t comment on which Government or whether the Indian Government has contacted the Embassy or the Israeli Government to enquire into the sale of the software.

Also Read: Comment | India and the Abraham Accords

“The Abraham Accords have a huge potential for Israel and the region, and in a way, I believe Iran has a lot to do with this, with the fear and the sentiment in the region about its role,” Mr. Gilon observed to a specific question about the road map ahead of the new quadrilateral arrangement.

“We are very much aware that India has its own interests on Afghanistan and Iran. They were put forward by [EAM Jaishankar]. I think in discussions between countries, each country has its own interest and then you see how it all settles down in time. Israel was very clear about Iran, and [India] spoke about India’s interests… As I said before, many of the evaluations, of what’s happening are similar,” he stressed.

‘No military talks’

Mr. Gilon, however, denied that there were any discussions about military issues during the hybrid conference between Mr. Jaishankar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Foreign Ministers of Israel and the UAE held on October 18, and that the quadrilateral cooperation was “positive” and not aimed at any country. He stated that the quadrilateral would bring together pre-existing business ties between India and the UAE, Israeli technology and American financing and knowhow for cooperation only on economic issues, and infrastructure in particular.

The Ministry of External Affairs and the Iranian Embassy in Delhi did not respond to requests about the Israeli Ambassador’s comments, made during Mr. Gilon’s first press engagement after he presented his credentials to President Kovind on Tuesday.

The Ministry of External Affairs too declined to comment on the remarks.

In a statement on Thursday, the Iranian Embassy in Delhi called the Israeli envoy’s comments ‘childish’ and ‘adventurous’, and added that “great civilisations with a great history of peace and coexistence are smarter than falling into [such] traps”, and accused Israel of “human rights abuses” and ‘atrocities’. The Iranian embassy statement also referred to Israel's “scandalous involvement” in the Pegasus software hacking case.

Asked about the ongoing controversy over the use of Pegasus software , owned by Israeli tech company NSO, to hack the telephones of journalists, activists, bureaucrats and politicians in several countries including India, the Israeli Ambassador said it is an “internal matter” for India.

Also Read: Companies like NSO can’t sell products to non-governmental actors: Israeli envoy

“The NSO is a private Israeli company. Every export of NSO, of companies like it, needs an export licence. We grant export licences only to Governments. This is the main requirement. They cannot sell their product to non-government organisations,” Mr. Gilon said when asked if the Indian Government had directed any enquiries to the Israeli Government or embassy in India.

In Parliament, the Ministry of Defence has said it was not involved in any purchase of the software, but the Government declined to furnish an affidavit in the matter during Supreme Court hearings. Nor has it indicated that it would investigate whether any other Government could be involved in the hacking.

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