International Politics of Pegasus Spyware and Espionage

As a result of so much allocation in the technology research sector, Israel has come across technology like Pegasus spyware, which has been sold to various countries in the last three years, making billions of dollars as well as diplomatic warmth with the Arab world.
Pegasus spyware and international politics

Espionage has been an integral part of state affairs since ancient times. There is no accounting of how many empires have been broken for the sake of espionage and how many empires have been expanded.

Ancient texts such as the Iliad, the Bible, or the Old Testament tell tales of all sorts of espionage. However, the fact that espionage could play an important role in bringing peace beyond the battlefield was first highlighted in the famous book "The Art of War" by the Chinese strategist Sun Tsu and "Arthashastra" by Kautilya, the finance minister of the ancient Indian emperor Chandragupta Maurya.

Since then, intelligence agencies have been formally formed in the states.

States have a fundamental responsibility to keep abreast of terrorists or individuals or groups that could harm the state in secret and to take action against them in a state of public safety.

But nothing in the world is above side effects. Just as government intelligence agencies provide public protection against immoral acts, so too do many governments have been accused of stealing personal information, which is considered an international human rights violation.

Recently, one such incident has surfaced in the world media. I'm talking about the "Pegasus spyware" prepared by the Israeli firm NSO.

The present world is so technologically advanced that it is no longer necessary for spies to send loyal people in disguise to the enemy.

Spyware goes on when it is inserted into the opponent's mobile phone. Spyware Pegasus has the ability to smuggle all sorts of information from the target's phone. It has the ability to track the complete history of a person, when and where they are going, who are they talking to, what are they talking about, all kinds of information stored on their phone, even using the camera and microphone without the owner's knowledge.

A search of some of the world's leading human rights organizations and NGOs, including Amnesty International, has uncovered a list of 50,000 mobile numbers monitored by Pegasus spyware buyers. A search of the 50,000 mobile numbers revealed that they included current and former heads of state, prime ministers, key political figures, human rights activists, journalists, and members of the royal family. Such surveillance and breach of personal security is undoubtedly a violation of human rights

Pegasus spyware world map
Photo: Amnesty International

However, the NSO claims that it has legally exported the cyber product to countries whose human rights situation has improved. Even Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, "We have approved the export of cyber products only to be sold to the governments of different countries and only to be used legally." However, he assured that the Israeli government would investigate the leak. Israel's Pegasus scandal came to the forefront of the world at a time when Israel's relations with Arab Muslim countries in the Middle East are developing. 

The relations of most of the Muslim countries in the world and especially the Arab countries with the Jewish state of Israel on the Palestinian issue are like a pumpkin. 

Since its founding in 1948, neighboring Egypt and Jordan have lost more than one war with Israel and signed peace agreements with the country in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively. 

Egypt was expelled from the Arab League in 1979 as punishment for the peace deal. Surprisingly, the Arab states that most condemned the peace deal at the time are now interested in warming relations with Israel. 

The United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Sudan, and Bahrain have recently signed agreements with Israel to establish peaceful and cooperative relations.

There are also rumors in international circles that the Sunni chief Saudi Arabia, the undeclared leader of the Arab world, also secretly communicates with Israel. 

The London-based Guardian has even revealed that Saudi Arabia is one of the buyers of Israel's Pegasus spyware. 

Now the question may be: What is there for Israel in whose interest Arab Muslim countries are also interested in peaceful relations with Jewish enemy Israel? 

The answer is 'technology'. Israel has always been at the forefront of science technology. Despite being a country with a population of only 10 million, in 2015, the country spent about five percent of the total GDP on research and development, the highest in the world in proportion to the population. Israel was also ranked fifth in the world in the Bloomberg Innovative Index in 2019.

As a result of so much allocation in the technology research sector, Israel has come across technology like Pegasus spyware, which has been sold to various countries in the last three years, making billions of dollars as well as diplomatic warmth with the Arab world.

It goes without saying that Petro Dollar-based Arab countries lag behind Israel in science and technology. 

While the lives of Arab desert countries are luxurious enough for the benefit of natural oil resources, technology is one of their weaknesses. 

In the 21st century, when they are considering reducing dependence on oil and focusing on other sectors, including science and technology, there are 140 scientists and researchers in present-day Israel, the highest in the world, and nearly ten thousand full-time researchers against every million population.  

Nearly seven decades of perseverance are behind such a hundred developments in Israel and the Jewish nation. And as a result of that perseverance, patience, and dedication, they have put the Palestinian issue in that former position and have started to lure their opponents, Arabs, with the lure of state-of-the-art technology. 

Israel is a shining example of how much technology can be used as a diplomatic weapon in modern world politics.

According to the Guardian, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been targeted from India with Pegasus spyware. 

As many as 10,000 phone numbers, including French President Macron and 14 ministers of his government, former Belgian Prime Minister Michel, WHO chief, and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, were targeted for hacking from Morocco. Iraqi President Salih and Lebanon's Saad Hariri have also been targeted from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

That is, it is clear that one state has used this technology against its rival state, although every state accused in the world media continues to deny the allegations. This is the main problem or advantage in modern-day espionage. 

The device can be hacked through this spyware or malware and the culprit cannot be immediately identified while stealing the information and later it becomes difficult to collect enough evidence to punish the culprits. 

And with this opportunity, technology-based espionage is on the rise in today's world.

So it can be said that Pegasus spyware came out as a trump card for Israel in all aspects. On the one hand, huge sums of money have been earned by exporting this technology, on the other hand, in diplomacy, the enmity of the seventies with several countries like UAE, Morocco, Bahrain has been alleviated. 

And since it is an issue related to cyber technology, if a crime is organized here, no one can be easily convicted. This requires time and careful research. 

And at this time, the work of sprinkling dust in the eyes of the world by denying the crime by understanding the eyes is quite useful.

Jannatul Tazri Trisha
Alumni, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.

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