Report: UAE used Israeli spyware to track Qatari royals

Two lawsuits filed in Israel and Cyprus say spyware developed by an Israeli-based company was used by UAE to spy on political agitators.

Ben Ariel, Canada,

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Spying
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Two lawsuits filed against an Israeli-based company allege that the United Arab Emirates used an Israeli spyware to track Qatari royals, the New York Times reported on Friday.

The lawsuits filed against the NSO Group, in Israel and in Cyprus, say the software, named Pegasus, was originally used to spy on political agitators locally and overseas through their mobile phones.

The report said that after being proposed an upgrade for the technology, Emirati officials inquired if they could use the spyware to tap figures like the emir of Qatar, a Saudi prince in charge of the kingdom's national guard, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the editor of an Arab newspaper based in the UK.

Four days later, according to The New York Times, NSO sent back an email which included two recordings of calls made by Abdulaziz Alkhamis, the newspaper editor. Alkhamis confirmed to the newspaper he made the calls and said he did not know he was being recorded.

The lawsuits were filed by a Qatari citizen and a group of journalists and human rights activists from Mexico, who were hacked by NSO's technology.

The UAE does not officially recognize Israel, but leaked emails submitted in the lawsuits show it signed a contract to license Pegasus as early as August 2013.

The lawsuits note that the NSO Group and its affiliates could have sold the software to the UAE only with approval by the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The NSO group declined to comment until it could review the lawsuits. The Emirati Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Tensions between the UAE and Qatar reached a boiling point in 2013 over a struggle for power in Egypt. Qatar had allied itself with the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the elections held after the Arab Spring. The UAE backed the military takeover that cast the Islamists into prison.

Last year, the UAE was accused of orchestrating the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani.

It widely believed that comments published by the Qatar News Agency attributed to the Qatari emir were one of the factors that led to the decision of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain to cut off ties with Qatar last July.

In those comments, al-Thani allegedly described Iran as an "Islamic power", criticized U.S. President Donald Trump's policy towards Tehran and claimed his country’s relations with Israel were good.

Qatar immediately dismissed those comments and said the website of its news agency was hacked.

While the UAE and Israel do not have official relations, in 2015 an Israeli diplomatic mission was opened in Abu Dhabi. Emirati officials stressed at the time, however, that the move does not represent a change in policy regarding UAE-Israeli relations.

Despite the growing ties, animosity towards Israel remains visible in the UAE, as was seen last year when Israeli judokas were forced to compete in Abu Dhabi without any Israeli flags or identification of where they hail from.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)


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