Why is the US keeping mum on Israel’s Pegasus spyware? - ABDULLAH MURADOĞLU

Why is the US keeping mum on Israel’s Pegasus spyware?

Not too long ago, U.S. President Joe Biden accused China and Russia of taking cyber pirates under their wings. Furthermore, Biden announced a series of sanctions on Russia for organizing cyber attacks and other “hostile actions” mid-April. However, in the face of similar accusations against Israel, there isn’t a peep emanating from American administrations. When it was revealed that the Pegasus spyware manufactured Israeli firm The NSO Group had been used in close to 50 countries, the same silence ensued. The spyware in question had been used to listen to the personal calls of dissidents, businessmen, journalists, academicians, and politicians. Among these are also American journalists and businessmen.

The Biden administration condemned the global Pegasus scandal that was announced to the public by Amnesty International and 16 media outlets, however neither the country’s nor the firm’s name was uttered. All the Biden government did was request, behind closed doors, that Israel probe the matter. The software in question was bought by a horde of countries’ intelligence institutions. And naturally, it was sold to states friendly with Israel. These administrations in their turn used the software to spy on their political opponents and dissident journalists. In close to 50 countries, tens of thousands of phones were targeted. The black sheep on this list are Mexico and India. The Narendra Modi government plainly rejects the tapping claims, and refuses to answer questions on whether India actually bought the software.

Matters are worse in Mexico’s case. Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Birto, who had to go into hiding for researching the connection between drug gangs and the local government forces, was killed in 2017. It’s suspected that Birto’s cell was tapped and being monitored by the Pegasus spyware, which aided crime organizations in detecting his location. Turns out that Mexico was NSO Group’s first client.

Civil servant Tomas Zeron De Lucio, who marketed Pegasus to Mexican security and intelligence agencies, fled the country due to investigations against him. Zeron was head of the "Crime Investigation Agency" during the presidency of pro-Israeli President Enrique Pena Nieto. Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the Mexican presidency in the 2018 elections. Even though Obrador doesn’t use a personal cell phone, it was revealed that the mobiles of his close family circle had all been tapped by Pegasus. The Obrador government is also conducting a corruption investigation into the $300 million purchase of the Pegasus software. According to financial intelligence officials, the bill of Pegasus software was inflated and footed by the government.

The Nieto era had been branded as the golden age of Mexico-Israel relations. When Obrador was elected president, an Israeli publication had headlined one article as: “Will the golden age of Israeli-Mexican relations continue under Obrador?” In May, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to form an international investigation committee to probe the escalating violence and human rights violations in Gaza and other areas under Israeli occupation. Obrador’s Mexico was among the countries that voted in favor of the investigation in the resolution vote. Of course, Israel was not happy, to say the least.

After an arrest warrant was issued for Tomas Zeron De Lucio, he fled to Israel. The Mexican government requested Israel to extradite him back to the country. Tel Aviv however isn’t too keen on returning Zeron, who has applied for political asylum. He is also at the center of an investigation probing the 2014 disappearance of 43 students at the Teaching Academy. There is evidence that students were handed over to a drug gang to be executed by local security forces. Zeron is accused of torturing witnesses who testified as part of the massacre investigation and tampering with evidence. There are whispers that Israel's refusal to extradite Zeron to Mexico is related to the Obrador administration's support for the UN Human Rights Council's decision to establish an investigation commission against Israel.

If the country at the center of the Pegasus software claims was one that was at loggerheads with the United States, would the American administration have stayed mum on the matter? I think you know the answer.


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