Netanyahu allowed Saudi Arabia to use NSO spyware after talks with crown prince - report

Former PM Netanyahu hoped to gain Saudi crown prince's "commitment and gratitude" after sanctioning use of NSO's Pegasus spyware, according to the report. Netanyahu: 'Fabrication'.

 SAUDI CROWN Prince  Mohammed bin Salman attends  a session of the Shura Council  in Riyadh, 2019. Rosenberg met  personally with MBS.   (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
SAUDI CROWN Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, 2019. Rosenberg met personally with MBS.
(photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia received approval from Israel to use NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware following a $55 million deal signed in 2017 between former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the New York Times magazine reported on Friday.

The deal, signed prior to the signing of the Abraham Accords with other Gulf states, expired and the Defense Ministry reportedly decided not to extend it due to hesitancy over reports of civil rights abuses by the kingdom.

However, following talks between MBS and Netanyahu, the then-prime minister agreed to renew the Saudis’ contract, hoping to gain the crown prince’s “commitment and gratitude” ahead of the Abraham Accords signing, according to the NYT report.

As part of the deal struck with Netanyahu, the crown prince authorized Israeli flights over Saudi airspace and did not condemn the accords.

“The claims... are a complete fabrication,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “All sales of [NSO’s Pegasus] systems or similar products of Israeli companies to foreign nations are made with the approval and supervision of the Defense Ministry, as required by Israeli law.”

An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

NSO previously formed an ethics committee that urged the company to shut Saudi Pegasus systems down following reports of the company’s involvement in the 2018 Jamal Khashoggi killing.

The Times also reported that the FBI purchased Pegasus and installed the spyware in its computers back in June 2019, but never put it to use.

NSO Group, whose former chairman Asher Levy announced his departure last week, said on Wednesday that it is in talks with a number of US funds, confirming media reports that it was discussing a sale of its assets.