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New Delhi: Israel does not allow companies like the NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware that has been at the centre of misuse allegations, to sell their products to non-governmental actors, newly-appointed Israeli ambassador to India Naor Gilon said on Thursday, describing the row over the alleged use of spyware Pegasus in India as an “internal matter” of the country.
His comments came a day after the Supreme Court appointed a three-member committee to investigate the alleged use of Pegasus spyware to snoop on Indian citizens including journalists, activists and politicians. The Wire, as part of the Pegasus Project consortium, had revealed that the spyware, which is ostensibly meant to target criminal gangs and terrorists, was deployed against rights defenders and journalists. Many more potential targets for surveillance were identified.
Gilon, replying to questions over allegations of unauthorised surveillance using Pegasus and whether the Indian government contacted Israel over the issue, said, “I will not go into more details… [NSO Group] is a private Israeli company. Every export of NSO or such companies needs an export licence from the Israeli government. We grant this export licence only for exporting to governments.”
“This is the only main requirement…Under the requirements, they cannot sell it to non-governmental actors. What’s happening here in India is an internal thing for India and I would rather not go into your internal matters,” Gilon said.
The Union government has refused to reveal if it has purchased Pegasus, citing national security reasons. The Supreme Court shot down this reasoning while setting up the three-member independent expert panel, observing that the state cannot get a “free pass” every time the spectre of national security is raised.
The Israeli firm has denied that the records accessed by the Pegasus Project have anything to do with surveillance through Pegasus.
Asked about the new quadrilateral grouping comprising India, Israel, the US and the UAE, the envoy said it is focused on cooperation in areas of the economy, trade, infrastructure and technology among others and that there is “no military element” to it.
When asked about India’s close ties with Iran and whether it will impact cooperation under the grouping, he said, “Our cooperation is to promote something positive, it is not to create something negative against someone else.”
“We are very much aware that India has its own interests when it comes to Afghanistan and Iran….I think that in discussions between countries, especially between friends, each country puts forward its own concerns and each country has its own interests, and then you see over time how it circles down, how it comes out, the envoy said.
At the same time, he said the biggest threat Israel has been facing is from Iran, alleging that the country has been a source of instability in the Gulf region.
Gilon said Israel is keen to expand its cooperation with India in areas of economy and trade and said the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the two sides is expected to increase the volume of economic engagement.
He said the FTA is expected to be finalised by June next year.
The envoy also said Israel is cooperating with Indian agencies probing the bombing outside the Israeli embassy in the national capital earlier this year.
“We don’t know yet the identity of the perpetrators. It is an ongoing investigation. I hope we will get to them as soon as possible,” he said.
The envoy said Israel’s cooperation with India in areas of agriculture, water and irrigation sharing is on an upswing.
External affairs minister S. Jaishankar paid a visit to Israel this month, holding talks with Israel’s top leadership to further expand the strategic ties between the two countries.