Ukraine’s deputy prime minister states that his country requires more ‘proactive’ support from Israeli firms and wants Israel to supply cyberoffense technologies, including the Pegasus spyware created by the NSO Group.
However, Israel blocked Ukraine from buying the infamous Pegasus spyware, fearing that Russian officials would be outraged by the sale of the hacking tool to a regional foe. This revelation offers new insight into how Israel’s relationship with Russia has sabotaged Ukraine’s offensive capabilities.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has been critical of Israel’s stance since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, saying that Israel would have to “give answers on why it had not given weapons to Ukraine or applied sanctions on Russia.”
There are speculations that Ukrainian officials lobbied Israel to convince it to license the spyware tool for Ukraine, dating back to at least 2019. However, those efforts were rebuffed, and NSO Group, regulated by the Israeli ministry of defense, was not permitted to sell the company’s spyware to Ukraine.
The Israeli government considers Pegasus as a critical tool for its foreign policy. As a result, Israel has made strategic decisions regarding which countries should be allowed or withheld from obtaining licenses for Pegasus. Most notably, Israel has used this spyware tool as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations, especially in the “secret talks that led to the Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and several of its historic Arab adversaries.”
“Policy decisions regarding export controls, take into account security and strategic considerations, which include adherence to international arrangements,” the Israeli defense ministry said in a statement. “As a matter of policy, the State of Israel approves the export of cyber products exclusively to governmental entities, for lawful use, and only for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime and counter-terrorism, under end-use/end-user declarations provided by the acquiring government.”
Israel’s decision reflects a reluctance to agitate Russia, which has a close intelligence relationship with Israel. Sources reveal that granting Ukraine the ability to harness Pegasus would be viewed as an act of aggression against their allegiance.