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Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm and Iran

Pegasus software is said to have been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials, and human rights activists.

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Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to confer on spyware loaned by Israeli cyber firm NSO Group that was supposedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron’s phone was on a list of goals that were perhaps under observation by Morocco, which used NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has since called for an investigation.

Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.

“Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of the NSO, ” the statement read.

Israel’s Defense Ministry supervises commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies like Pegasus.

A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus software had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials, and human rights activists.

Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.

The NSO Group rejected the reports, saying they were “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.

Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers’ efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.

Israel is concerned with the revival of the deal which may ultimately permit its arch-foe Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran rejects seeking such weapons in official statements. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.

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