Archive for January, 2019

Israel company admits spying on Emir of Qatar

January 14, 2019

The CEO of Israeli spyware company NSO Group has admitted that its software was used to spy on the Emir of Qatar.

In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend, Shalev Hulio admitted that his company’s product was used to spy on Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, as well as Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

The interview disclosed that NSO’s “Pegasus” software – which can be used to remotely infect a target’s mobile phone and then relay back data accessed by the device – was used to intercept phone calls and text messages made by both the Qatari foreign minister and the Emir. These conversations reportedly concerned “hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom to Iran and Hezbollah for the release of several Qataris,” some of which was allegedly sent to the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani.

This spying was seemingly undertaken at the behest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Hulio revealed that the Israeli Defense Export Control Agency (DECA) authorized three deals with the UAE for the sale of NSO software, despite the fact that DECA is only supposed to give authorization for the “purpose of fighting terrorism and crime”.

These deals – allegedly mediated by former senior Israeli defense officials with close ties to a senior Emirati official – raised a total of $80 million in revenue for NSO.

NSO’s Pegasus software has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months after the product was revealed to be complicit in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Though Hulio stressed in the interview with Yedioth Ahronoth this weekend that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection,” it appears that Saudi Arabia used NSO software to spy on many of Khashoggi’s friends and associates.

US whistle-blower Edward Snowden has been at the forefront of these claims, telling the Israeli newspaper: “I do not pretend that NSO is involved in hacking [directly] into Khashoggi’s phone, so their denial does not take us to a different conclusion. The evidence shows that the company’s products were involved in hacking into the phones of [Khashoggi’s] friends Omar Abdel Aziz, Yahya Assiri, and Ghanem Al-Masarir.”

The UAE is also known to have been using NSO’s software for some time. In 2016, Citizen Lab and Apple revealed there were attempts to infect an iPhone owned by the Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor had raised the alarm after receiving suspicious text intended to “bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and control of the device through a spy software created by the NSO Group”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190114-israeli-company-admits-spying-on-emir-of-qatar/.

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Italy’s far-right minister visits Israel, drawing criticism

December 12, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — One of Europe’s most divisive political figures, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, opened his visit to Israel Tuesday with warm words of support for his hosts, condemning Hezbollah as a “terrorist” organization and denouncing rising waves of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Salvini is in Israel for a two-day visit that has prompted criticism over his far-right policies and anti-migration views. He kicked off his trip with a tour of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where the Israeli army has uncovered tunnels it says were built by Hezbollah for attacks. He told a gathering of journalists in Jerusalem on Tuesday that no country would tolerate enemy tunnels infiltrating its territory.

“I call terrorists what they are, which is terrorists,” he said. He said he was “very proud” of the Italian soldiers serving in UNFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which is headed by an Italian general.

Salvini, best known for bashing the European Union and cracking down on African and Arab asylum-seekers, said his government “fights anti-Semitism in every way and every form wherever it is.” He blamed Europe’s resurgent anti-Semitism on “immigration from Islamic countries.”

The leader of Italy’s populist League party, Salvini exploded onto the scene just months ago, but already exerts outsized influence on Italy’s prime minister and dominates the political conversation. Opinion polls show him surging in popularity as he stokes anti-immigrant anxiety and positions himself at the forefront of the nationalist movements sweeping Europe. In recent months, Salvini has made international headlines by tightening criteria for humanitarian protection and refusing to allow rescue boats packed with African migrants to dock at Italy’s ports.

Salvini is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. Pro-refugee activists rejecting his tough stance on migrants are expected to protest at the memorial during his visit.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin turned down a meeting with Salvini, his office said, citing a full schedule and declining further comment. Opposition lawmakers have praised Rivlin’s decision, interpreting it as a rebuke of Salvini’s views.

Salvini brushed off the backlash Tuesday, saying, “I smile when I hear criticism from the left in Italy and in Israel,” and that whoever is bothered by his visit “will have to get over it.” Salvini’s remarks frequently drawn outrage from the Italian Jewish community. The president of Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, criticized the minister’s move to abolish an anti-racism law last summer, expressing concern at the government’s “radicalization.” The Jewish Union has also slammed Salvini over his announcement that he would conduct a census of Roma in Italy, saying he was awakening memories of racial hatred and fascist tendencies during World War II.

Emmanuel Navon, senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, said Israel’s embrace of Salvini and “rebellious European governments” allows it to gain leverage over Western European powers, which have traditionally sympathized with the Palestinians, pressed for renewed peace talks and sought to block recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the European Union.

“Israel needs to take advantage of this big divide in Europe right now,” Navon said. “People are uncomfortable with it, but this is in Israel’s national interest.” Netanyahu has recently welcomed a string of contentious nationalist leaders to Israel, including Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose past remarks have been interpreted as anti-Semitic, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, widely accused of committing human rights abuses. Netanyahu has also promised to participate in the swearing-in ceremony of hard-right Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Israel protests Jordanian minister’s walk over its flag

Monday 31/12/2018

JERUSALEM/AMMAN – Israel protested to Jordan on Sunday after the spokeswoman for the government in Amman was photographed stepping on the Israeli flag during a meeting with trade unionists.

Jumana Ghunaimat, Jordan’s minister for media affairs and communications and the government spokeswoman, on Thursday walked over an Israeli flag painted on the floor of the headquarters of Jordan’s professional unions in Amman.

She was on her way to attend a meeting between Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al Razzaz and union representatives. Razzaz, however, entered the building through a rear door, avoiding having to walk over the flag.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Sunday deploring the flag “desecration”, and said it had summoned acting Jordanian ambassador Mohammed Hmaid for a reprimand and that the Israeli embassy in Amman had also issued a “sharp protest”.

The flag was painted on the floor of the building several years ago to encourage passers by to tread on it, a mark of disrespect, unions said at the time.

Despite the neighbours’ 1994 peace deal and commercial and security ties, many Jordanians resent Israel and identify with the Palestinian struggle against it.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Qatarneh confirmed in a statement issued via state media that the Israeli embassy in Amman had asked for clarifications over the incident and that Israel had called in the Jordanian charge d’affaires in Tel Aviv to “discuss” the matter.

Qatarneh said that Jordan respects its peace treaty with Israel and that Ghunaimat had entered a private building by its main entrance to attend an official meeting.

The flag had been painted at a time when the unions were controlled by Jordan’s mainly Islamist opposition, fierce ideological foes of Israel. They have since lost influence and Jordan’s professional unions are mostly now run by nationalist and secular parties that avoid party activism.

Still, some union members were unhappy that union leaders had allowed Razzaz to avoid the flag.

“The unions took a cowardly stance by allowing the prime minister to enter from a back door and his aides no doubt told him of the presence of the flag at the entrance,” Masira Malaas, a leading union activist, said.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: https://middle-east-online.com/en/israel-protests-jordanian-minister%E2%80%99s-walk-over-its-flag%C2%A0.

Russian and Turkish ministers meet for Syria talks

December 29, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian and Turkish foreign and defense ministers met in Moscow on Saturday to discuss northern Syria as U.S. forces prepare to withdraw and Turkey threatens to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces controlling nearly a third of the country.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said before the talks began that they would focus on the situation in and around Idlib, as well as “what can and should be done” when the U.S. withdraws from Syria.

After the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that much of the discussion focused on the pending U.S. withdrawal, and that Russia and Turkey managed to agree on coordinating their steps in Syria “to ultimately eradicate the terrorist threat.”

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said the meeting lasted an hour and a half. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said only that “we will continue our close cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and regional issues.”

The Syrian military said it entered the Kurdish stronghold of Manbij on Friday as part of an apparent agreement between the two sides. The Kurds are looking for new allies to protect against a threatened Turkish offensive as U.S. forces prepare to leave.

With President Donald Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw troops earlier this month, Turkey announced it will pause a threatened offensive against Kurdish militants. It has, however, continued amassing troops at the border as it monitors the situation.

The movements follow days of equipment transfers across the border into a Turkish-held area of northern Syria near Manbij. Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters said they have started moving along with Turkish troops to front-line positions near the town as a show of readiness.

A statement released by the rebels said they are ready to “begin military operations to liberate the city in response to calls by our people in the city of Manbij.” Turkish news agency IHA showed video of at least 50 tanks arriving at a command post in Sanliurfa province early Saturday. The province borders Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates river in Syria.

The Russian side was represented in Saturday’s talks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defense Minister Shoigu, and Kremlin foreign affairs aide Yuri Ushakov. The Turkish delegation includes Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Saturday that, in addition to the foreign and defense ministers of each country, the meeting was attended by intelligence chiefs from both sides.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan did not attend the meeting. Peskov said the two would later schedule a separate meeting.

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed from Beirut.

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