For Yaïr Lapid, the NSO affair « is out of the hands of the Israeli government »

Yaïr Lapid is the architect of a coalition of eight parties, left and far right, which ended, in June, the twelve-year reign of former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Minister of Foreign Affairs, he is due to take charge of the government in the summer of 2023, replacing Naftali Bennett, the current Prime Minister. He answers questions from World on targeting French figures using spyware Pegasus, produced by the Israeli company NSO, and seeks to distinguish his government from that of Mr. Netanyahu.

Did Moroccan intelligence hack President Emmanuel Macron’s phone using Pegasus, the Israeli spyware?

President Macron is an inspiring leader, a true friend of Israel, but also a personal friend of mine. He is one of the most committed and steadfast European leaders in the face of anti-Semitism. We would never have done anything to harm him. NSO is a private company, but we did our best to find out what happened, and as far as we can tell, no one listened to the President’s phone. This is in accordance with the license [d’exportation délivrée par l’Etat israélien à NSO] : the program can only be used to fight terrorist organizations and serious crimes, and we hope these terms have been observed.

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Traces of malicious actions by Pegasus were however detected on the phones of French officials by national intelligence …

So it is a crime. If someone misused this cyber weapon or lied, they should be punished by justice.

Have you revoked the license from the Moroccan authorities?

This license is very strict. We exposed all the material we had to the French authorities. And we’ve made sure everyone understands the difference between a private company and a government company. It is not a matter between governments.

What about your ongoing negotiations with Paris, which wants French phone numbers to no longer be targeted by Pegasus, like the Americans?

Investigations have been launched in Europe and the United States, we will have to wait for the results. It is out of the hands of our government.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Despite NSO Group’s approaches, France chose not to purchase Pegasus spyware at the end of 2020

In the occupied Palestinian territories, it is difficult to distinguish your action from that of Mr. Netanyahu. What is the difference ?

Our Defense Minister visited President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, after a decade without such contacts, to improve coordination with the Palestinian Authority [AP]. Israel loaned 140 million euros to the PA two months ago. We believe that it is better for both sides to strengthen and not weaken the PA. The structure of our government does not allow us, like theirs, to move forward towards negotiations. But we want to help the Palestinians improve their lives and their economy. We have also increased the number of work permits in Israel. A few weeks ago, I called one of my counterparts in the PA to donate 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. They decided not to take them, but I think they appreciated our goodwill.

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