A day after the Supreme Court ordered a “thorough inquiry” into allegations of unauthorised surveillance using the Pegasus spyware, Naor Gilon, Israel’s new ambassador to India, declined to be drawn into the issue, calling it an “internal” matter of India.
He said every export of the NSO Group — it is the maker of the Pegasus spyware — needs a licence from the Israeli government and this licence is only for exports to governments, not “non-governmental actors”.
He made these remarks Thursday during his first media interaction after taking charge earlier in the week as his country’s envoy to New Delhi.
Asked whether the embassy or the Israeli government will cooperate with the committee tasked by the Supreme Court to conduct an inquiry, Gilon said: “NSO, very simply and I will not go into more details, is a private Israeli company. Every export of NSO needs a licence from the Israeli government. We grant the export licence only for exporting to governments. This is the only and the main requirement, they cannot sell it to non-governmental actors.”
“What is happening here in India is a really internal thing of India, and I would rather not go into your internal affairs,” he said.
The Indian Express reached out later with more questions on whether the Israeli government had a list of names with whom NSO had shared the Pegasus technology, and whether it had done so with the Indian government or any of its agencies. There was no response until evening.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, while ordering a probe into the Pegasus matter, set out the terms of reference of the committee. These include: “Whether the Pegasus suite of spyware was used on phones or other devices of the citizens of India to access stored data, eavesdrop on conversations, intercept information and/or for any other purposes… Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Respondent-Union of India, or any State Government, or any Central or state agency for use against the citizens of India?… If any domestic entity/person has used the spyware on the citizens of this country, then is such a use authorised?”.
Three editors of The Indian Express — two current and one former — were among over 40 journalists and more than 100 others whose phone numbers figured in a leaked list of potential targets of surveillance by an “unidentified agency,” using the Pegasus spyware, The Wire had reported as part of a global investigation, drawing on data accessed by Paris-based Forbidden Stories. Among the phones targeted were those of Rahul Gandhi, Ashwani Vaishnaw, Prashant Kishor, Abhishek Banerjee, Prahlad Patel, Ashok Lavasa and Rakesh Asthana.
Ambassador Gilon, responding to a question on the new grouping of India, Israel, US and the UAE, said it is focused on cooperation in areas of economy, trade, infrastructure and technology among others, and there is “no military element” to it.
On whether India’s close ties with Iran will impact cooperation within 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,” he said.
He said while Israel has voiced its “concerns”, India has shared its “interests” when it comes to Iran. At the same time, he said, the biggest threat Israel has been facing is from Iran.
He said Israel is cooperating with Indian agencies probing the bombing outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi 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.