Reports of spyware use against key witness in the trial of Netanyahu

Israeli police used sophisticated spyware to target a key witness in the corruption trial against former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli media reported that this was done to jolt the trial and shine a spotlight on an Israeli-made surveillance tool.

Reports of spyware use against key witness in the trial of Netanyahu

Netanyahu is currently facing a long corruption trial on charges of fraud, breaching trust, and accepting bribes in 3 separate cases. According to Israeli Channel 13, the police used spyware to obtain information from the witness's phone, prompting a commotion.

Netanyahu's lawyers demanded information from the state on how and what data was collected. Netanyahu's supporters have been energized by the report. They have long considered the trial to be part of a conspiracy against the former leader. Even Netanyahu's political enemies are outraged.
"This is an earthquake which would justify a government commission of inquiry," Tamar Zandberg (Cabinet Minister) said Sunday to Israeli Army Radio. She said that the spyware was most likely Israeli-made.

Amnon Lord was a columnist for the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper and called for a mistrial.

Shlomo Filber (the witness whose phone was allegedly hacked) is expected to testify and Netanyahu's lawyers will likely request a delay in his testimony. It is unclear if any of the evidence gathered was used against Netanyahu.

A lawyer for Netanyahu and police did not respond to a request. Last week, however, Netanyahu was reelected by a coalition government. He accused police of illegally hacking into his phone to "to overthrow a strong, right-wing prime Minister."

The Israel Justice Ministry declined to comment.

According to internal communications seen and analyzed by The Associated Press, the state prosecutors told Netanyahu's lawyers they are "thoroughly examining” the reports.

This report follows a Calcalist Israeli newspaper reporting that Israeli police had tracked targets without authorization. The Israel's national police claimed that it had discovered evidence to support its suspicions about the improper use of spyware by its own investigators in order to spy on Israeli citizens' mobile phones. These revelations shocked Israelis, and provoked condemnations from all sides of the political spectrum.

The authorities have yet to comment on whether spyware was used in an improper manner.

However, the Calcalist report stated that at least some cases involved NSO Israel.

NSO is Israel’s most well-known manufacturer of offensive cyberware. However, it is not the only one. Pegasus, the company's flagship product allows operators to seamlessly penetrate a target's mobile phones and gain access to its contents including contacts and location history.

NSO is under increasing scrutiny for Pegasus. It has been implicated in spying on journalists, human rights activists and politicians around the world, including countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE.

NSO claims that all its sales are approved and authorized by Israel's Defense Ministry. According to reports, such sales played a major role in Israel's establishment of ties with Arab countries in the Gulf.

Aluf Benn (editor of Haaretz daily) said that it was a surprise twist that Netanyahu was now portraying him as a victim.

He wrote, "What an irony: A man who leveraged Pegasus to gain foreign-policy gains now believes that he has lost his domestic power due to the spyware."