The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has lied outright to citizens, by denying the purchase of this Israeli military spyware.
This week’s ‘Listening Post’ carried a detailed report on Pegasus and the way the story unfolded the world over. We have seen how the Indian government, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who lambasted his predecessor Manmohan Singh for keeping quiet, seems to have beaten him in that silence game. Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has lied outright to citizens, by denying the purchase of this Israeli military spyware. Governments across the world were shocked how the spyware made by one Israeli company, ably supported by the former Benjamin Netanyahu government, was bought by authoritarian regimes. This is being seen as Israeli ‘tech’ diplomacy and more so, considered a weapon of war. There are two important things that one needs to see – compare the timeline of events in every country to the meetings of Netanyahu with the leaders of specific countries where the privacy and safety of the citizens was compromised, the contracts for military weapons signed by those countries and the growing repression of dissent. Information and data is available online, courtesy Listening Post. Secondly, I am now beginning to believe the theory that had cropped up after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, when the late Hasan Gafoor, Commissioner of Police was removed due to pressure by an Israeli arms company because he was against purchasing their equipment. A lot of these dots could be joined and there could be truth in it.
Israeli spyware diplomacy
A month ago when this news made headlines across the world, a global consortium of media houses broke the spyware story, we did not see all governments, including Indian, go into a huddle or denial. The Listening Post has followed the photo ops of Netanyahu, the world leaders he met and then some tech journalists and specialists corroborated the timelines of this spyware being sold to those countries. What we were not told is the root of this spyware is in Israeli military and surveillance against the Palestinians. The best of Israeli former military officials and Israeli IDF intelligence are founders of hundreds of these spy tech companies. It is not for nothing that Israel is called the country for start-ups and has the highest number of surveillance companies per capita. One would never have imagined something like this existed. Scary enough as that is, what is scarier is when the heads of countries like India, Hungry, Rwanda and Azerbaijan met with Netanyahu and this spyware made its way into the phones of those whom these governments want silenced and we have seen specific instances of quashing dissent.
Interesting coincidences many may say, but it is an eerie conspiracy that the the Government of India purchased this spyware, which the developing company says is solely used against serious crimes and terrorism. This Israeli company is calling all media coverage as slanderous. They have escaped only for lack of an international human rights organisation that can tackle breach of technological laws. Currently, Israel gets up to $3 billion financial aid from the United States for defence. In the name of defence, they have gone on to becoming world’s largest espionage equipment manufacturers. And through this tech diplomacy, they choose the country to form new alliances with. It is no surprise to see the shift in India’s diplomatic ties, from the Indira Gandhi pro-Palestine era to Modi’s open embrace of Israel. Modi was the first Indian PM to visit Israel, signalling a clear paradigm shift to an anti-Muslim stance. This coincides with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sanghatana wanting to implement a one nation-one religion policy. Now, when one looks at the political developments in countries like Hungry, Rwanda and Azerbaijan, where there have been skirmishes and dissent and the timeline of strong government action against them after the purchase of Pegasus, the strong link between this spyware making its way into the cellphones of dissenters and their governments acting against them becomes evident.
India: Pegasus impact
Take the case of India, for instance. In July 2017 after the photo-op between Netanyahu and Modi, Elgar Parishad, a peaceful meeting of leading scholars, judges, professors was held on December 31, 2017, where they spoke of toppling the BJP government that was specifically targeting minority communities. Later on, on January 1, 2018 there were riots caused between two mobs, which the Pune rural police pinned to right wing Hindu extremist outfits and yet, a number of Dalit followers and those opposing the government have been arrested since then.
16 activists have been jailed since January 2018, Father Stan Swamy died recently, Varavara Rao is on medical bail and Professor Hany Babu in hospital.
Then, in December 2019, the Central government passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in Parliament. Protests erupted in the northeast, beginning in Assam. Later, it spread across India and then finally, on December 15, 2020, the protests took place near Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University. Police fired on protesters, too. The entire narrative being anti-Muslim. In fact, in 2018, BJP Yuva Morcha leader Manish Chandela had admitted on Twitter to burning down the Rohingya refugee camp. Guess what, he is out on bail, while the voices of dissent have been muzzled. Meanwhile, in September 2020, the Union government decided to introduce three contentious Farm Bills. These bills were passed in a manner termed undemocratic by the opposition and since November 2020, farmers from Punjab have been protesting at various borders of Delhi. They have been called Khalistanis, anti-national and their leaders have been arrested. They want the laws repealed, something which the current dispensation is never going to allow.
Now, see the pattern – all those who have protested have faced severe charges, mainly sedition. Most are being termed anti-national and are facing trials for false charges and some were even held under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar, both students of Jamia were arrested under the UAPA, a law usually reserved for terrorist activities. We are seeing more and more people dissenting against the current BJP government being put under pressure by various investigating agencies and facing charges under stringent laws. A major deterrent to silence any opposition to their ideology.
Along with this, match the timeline of major arms deals that India has signed with Israel. India signed up for Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, artillery weapons, India was to purchase 2 AWACS aircrafts and in fact, after the stand-off with China in Leh, India signed a secretive $200 million deal with Israel. ‘India to get spice bomb making technology’. A new relationship blossomed with Israel once their two leaders began to bask in the warmth of their friendship.
Here, I would say, there is a bit of history in Mumbai city and the attacks on Jewish synagogues that we saw in 2008 and thereafter. An eerie interference since then by Israel, in our policing. In fact, after the 26/11 terror attacks when the late Hasan Gafoor was unceremoniously shunted out as commissioner of police, I was privy to a theory shared by some police officers that an Israeli arms company had managed to do so after convincing the then Home Minister, newly appointed by Nationalist Congress Party. In fact, this defence company only managed to pass the arms deal for equipping Mumbai Police with some guns, after removing Gafoor, who had staunchly opposed it. In fact, just prior to his removal, Mumbai police was gearing up for major upgrading of their equipment.
After reading a dissertation called, ‘TENTATIVE SECURITIES: 26/11, ISRAEL AND THE POLITICS OF MOBILITY’, by a scholar, Rhys Machold, I do think this theory holds good. Machold has elaborated on many points which we need to reflect upon. The dissertation mentions how “it constantly needs to rearticulated, Israel’s claim to expertise in security knowledge”. Israel’s involvement in the 26/11 attacks ‘reveals basic tension’. It explains how Israel has tried to portray itself in a dominant position regarding matters of counter-terrorism and homeland security. Also, how Israel has meticulously criticised the handling of the entire episode as a failure of governance which required urgent policy intervention.
The dissertation describes how the Democratic Front government in Maharashtra decided to learn from Israel in 2009 because it believed that associating with Israel would help them in ‘managing public dissent and restoring their authority to govern.’ I am glad to have come across this study. Just see the decisions the Maharashtra government made after the terror attacks. The only problem being, the seeds of this Indo-Israeli defence friendship were first sown by the Congress and NCP. Citizens may recall the rather famous Force One, the anti-terrorism squad set up on the lines of the National Security Guard. Now interestingly, this Force One was set up after two months of basic training by Israeli specialists.
Neeta Kolhatkar is a senior journalist with over 30 years of work experience across different media platforms. She is currently a freelancer and media consultant.
(Views Expressed Are Personal)
As an independent media platform, we do not take advertisements from governments and corporate houses. It is you, our readers, who have supported us on our journey to do honest and unbiased journalism. Please contribute, so that we can continue to do the same in future.