Israel barred Pegasus spyware sale to Ukraine fearing Russian wrath

Israel barred Pegasus spyware sale to Ukraine fearing Russian wrath
2 min read
24 March, 2022
Israel prevented Ukraine from purchasing the NSO Group's Pegasus spyware due to fears that such moves could be interpreted as acts of aggression against Russia, according to a new investigation.
A senior Ukrainian intelligence official was reportedly left "confused" after Israel's refusal to sell the Pegasus malware [Getty]

Israel prevented Ukraine from purchasing Israeli spyware to avoid angering ally Russia amid Moscow's brutal invasion of Ukraine, The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed.

Israel allegedly blocked the sale of the NSO Group's sophisticated hacking tool Pegasus to Kyiv, who sources say have requested a licence to use the tool since 2019, according to a joint investigation by the dailies.

"Policy decisions regarding export controls take into account security and strategic considerations, which include adherence to international arrangements," the Israeli defence ministry told the newspapers.

"The state of Israel approves the export of cyber products exclusively to governmental entities, for lawful use, and only for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime and counter-terrorism."

A senior Ukrainian intelligence official was reportedly left "confused" after Israel's refusal to sell Pegasus, which is capable of switching on a target's phone camera or microphone and harvesting its data.

Another source "close to the matter" told the investigation Israel feared the move could be interpreted as an act of aggression against Moscow's intelligence services.

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Sources also revealed to the investigation that NSO refused to permit Russian foe Estonia to use Pegasus against Russian targets in August 2019. 

NSO's technology has been used to target activists and dissidents around the world, and is believed to have been sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for this purpose. Both countries have denied such allegations.

The Guardian and The Washington Post report on NSO come amid continued efforts by Kyiv to shore up international support against Russia's invasion.

On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Israel to abandon its effort to maintain neutrality, saying that it's now "time for Israel to make its choice".