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Saudi opened its airspace to Israel in return for access to spyware

January 28, 2022 at 3:12 pm

A woman checks the website of Israel-made Pegasus spyware at an office in the Cypriot capital Nicosia on July 21, 2021 [MARIO GOLDMAN/AFP via Getty Images]

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to renew Saudi Arabia’s licence to use the controversial software Pegasus in return for Riyadh opening its airspace to flights from the occupation state, a new report has revealed.

According to the New York Times, though the sale of the software had been approved in 2017, a year later, an ethics committee called for Saudi’s access to come to an end after reports that it had been used to track down and kill Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

In 2019, however, Pegasus was up and running again, the paper said. This came at a time when Netanyahu was negotiating to normalise relations with Arab states the UAE and Bahrain. A deal later signed in September 2020.

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When Saudi’s licence expired, Netanyahu personally intervened, the New York Times reports, after receiving a call from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Bin Salman agreed to allow the use of Saudi air space by Israeli planes and flights heading to Israel, strengthening the normalisation deals signed with its Gulf neighbours.

Following a call between Bin Salman and Netanyahu, the Israeli Ministry of Defence called Pegasus’ parent company – the NSO Group – and ordered Saudi’s system to be turned back on, the paper added.