Gantz grilled by French officials over NSO affair

A statement from Israel’s Defense Ministry denied that Gantz’s trip to France was part of a damage control effort.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz touched down in Paris on Wednesday for a slew of meetings with French government officials aimed at addressing their concerns on the heels of reports that Pegasus spyware may have been used against France’s president, Emmanuel Macron.

Several French ministers and journalists were also reportedly the targets of Pegasus hacking.

Last week, media outlets including the Washington Post and the Guardian published reports that Israel’s NSO Group had licensed their Pegasus cellphone-hacking technology to foreign governments, which used the solution to surveil dissidents and political opponents.

The report also alleged that NSO was irresponsible in licensing the technology to countries with spotty human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia.

A French government spokesperson said in a statement ahead of the meeting on Wednesday that Defense Minister Florence Parly would “question her counterpart about the knowledge the Israeli government had of the activities of NSO’s clients.”

Also on the agenda for the conversation were questions about the Israeli government’s plans “to prevent a misuse of these tools that are highly intrusive,” the spokesperson added.

While France has refrained from condemning the NSO Group or Israel, instead expressing concern over the revelations while emphasizing that investigations are still ongoing, the Washington Post reported that Macron called an emergency cyber security meeting last week over the reports.

A statement from Israel’s Defense Ministry denied that Gantz’s trip to France was part of a damage control effort.

“The trip was planned approximately one month ago, regardless of the NSO issue,” the statement said.

After returning to Israel late Wednesday evening, Gantz tweeted, “I had a fruitful visit that highlighted the bond between our nations – one based on the common values of democracy, liberalism and freedom.”

At the 11th annual Cyber Week cybersecurity conference last week in Tel Aviv, Gantz said that Israel authorizes the “export of cyber-products solely to governments, only for lawful use and exclusively for the purposes of preventing and investigating crime and terrorism.”

In an interview with Israel Hayom earlier this week, NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio denied the reports and said they were part of a smear campaign backed by BDS or Qatar.

“There are people who don’t want ice cream to be imported here [to Israel] or for technology to be exported….it’s no coincidence that the same week that people try to prevent Cellebrite’s IPO, an expose about [cyber firm] Candiru is published, and now us.

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“It can’t be that this is all coincidental.”