Pegasus intelligence capabilities threaten state security - opinion

The majority of those Israelis being monitored by the system were fearful even before they were fully aware of the system’s substantial capabilities.

 ISRAELIS DESERVE security from both external and internal threats. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
ISRAELIS DESERVE security from both external and internal threats.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A tsunami is defined as “a series of several very long waves formed in the sea, usually due to an earthquake or subsurface landslide, which creates a sudden rise of the seabed.” The discovery of Pegasus surveillance is no doubt an “earthquake,” and the tsunami waves that are sure to follow must be addressed.

The “first wave” concerns the breach of national security due to the exposure of intelligence-gathering capabilities. The “second wave” concerns broader civil rights and the rights of suspects. The latter will affect the work of police and their status in Israeli society. The earthquake we are experiencing has the potential to produce tidal waves that will endanger us all.

Upon hearing of the Pegasus affair, our first tendency is to look within. We check our personal devices and encourage our friends to check theirs. We seek answers from the police, and we expect the government and the justice system to do an in-depth investigation.

But this serious incident of surveillance using spyware also has an immediate impact on state security. The majority of those Israelis being monitored by the system were fearful even before they were fully aware of the system’s substantial capabilities. Now, however, the internal Israeli affair has publicized these capabilities for all to see. Not only do they have the ability to listen, but they can collect SMS and WhatsApp messages, retrieve deleted materials, and more.

The enormous impact of this exposure on the Israeli intelligence world and the damage it does to our security must not be underestimated. The consequences demand that we appoint a national commission of inquiry. Every intelligence officer and each individual who trusts Israel to keep them safe must be bothered by the expected changes in our enemies’ behavior as a result of the various exposures.

 FORMER POLICE chief Roni Alsheikh, during whose term the police were said to have increased the use of NSO-style spyware. (credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP via GETTY IMAGES) FORMER POLICE chief Roni Alsheikh, during whose term the police were said to have increased the use of NSO-style spyware. (credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP via GETTY IMAGES)

The “policy of ambiguity” regarding Israel’s security capability has led to a tacit agreement with the US, which has even been accepted in Europe. Israel has achieved strategic goals by being deliberately ambiguous, casting doubt as to what we do or do not have. A few months ago, the Americans declared the NSO Group that created Pegasus as a factor that undermines national security. This decision was hidden below the radar due to the understanding that revealing 

Pegasus’s capacity would harm both American and Israeli national security. Now that the capabilities have been publicly displayed, it is not yet clear whether we have correctly internalized the magnitude of the problem. The tsunami that challenges our systems must be given the appropriate attention and the appropriate remedies.

With regard to the violation of human rights and the rights of suspects, we have an opportunity to make changes. Time and time again we read about detainees being handcuffed unnecessarily, being prevented from going to the bathroom, or having their consultations with their lawyers documented. The alleged use of Pegasus against suspects and non-suspects requires dialogue about the ability to monitor routine police work and work on ongoing investigations.

The police are facing harsh criticism. According to last week’s Israel Democracy Institute’s confidence index, only 29% of people trust in the police. Israel demands a good, strong police force.

The challenges within Israeli society are great. Crime is on the rise, and we will not allow our streets to be vacated  by the police.

We must therefore create two committees, one that will investigate the use of Pegasus and the conduct of the police, and one that will create a national plan for police rehabilitation, altering how the police operate, strengthening the quality of the police force, and improving the way they interact with the public. Only then can we restore public trust in the police. 

Israeli society is experiencing an earthquake. If the rifts are not yet deep enough to bother us, then we must certainly be frightened by the fact that our police act as if they are part of a dark regime.

All of us, elected officials and businessmen, those who lead social protests and those who interact with the police for any reason, must work to understand that this earthquake will have consequences. We must prepare ourselves and consider how we will rise up after the tsunami hits.

Israelis deserve security from both external and domestic threats. The Israeli public deserves an ethical police force that adheres to the law and respects our rights.

The writer is mayor of Efrat.