France’s Macron Reportedly Phoned Israel’s Bennett Personally to Ask for Probe Amid Spying Scandal
16:53 GMT 25.07.2021 (Updated: 17:33 GMT 25.07.2021)
© AP Photo / Philippe WojazerEmmanuel Macron, looks at his phone
© AP Photo / Philippe Wojazer
The French head of state is one of over a dozen world foreign leaders whose phone number appeared on a 50,000+ name list of individuals potentially targeted for hacking using Pegasus, the Israeli-made military-grade spyware capable of taking control of phones without users knowing it.
French President Emmanuel Macron personally telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to press for an internal Israeli inquiry into the Pegasus spyware scandal, Israel’s Channel 12 News has reported, citing an unnamed source said to be familiar with the situation.
Macron, who is well-known for his love of cellphones, reportedly asked his Israeli counterpart to take the issue "seriously," with Bennett reportedly responding by attempting to distance himself from the situation by stressing that the spyware was developed and deployed before he stepped into office in May.
Macron reportedly expressed concerns that his phone and the phones of most of his cabinet had been targeted, ostensibly by the Moroccan government. Bennett is said to have promised that "the required conclusions" would be reached following a probe.
French and Israeli authorities have not offered any details of the reported telephone conversation between the two leaders, which was said to have taken place sometime earlier this week.
Macron was one of at least 14 world leaders possibly targeted using Pegasus, the highly advanced spyware developed by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group which can turn a target’s phone into a mobile listening device and extract virtually all sensitive data, from encrypted text messages to emails and photos.
The French president called an unscheduled national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the spyware scandal, its impact on the French state, and Paris’ possible response. The same day, Ram Ben-Barak, the chief of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, announced that the Israeli defence establishment had set up a committee to review potential misuse of the Pegasus software via the targeting of non-criminal, non-terror targets (which NSO claims Pegasus is designed for).
On Wednesday, an NSO Group spokesperson said the company could “specifically come out and say for sure that the president of France, Macron, was not a target” using Pegasus. Earlier, the company dismissed reporting by dozens of outlets on the potentially illegal use of its software as “uncorroborated theories.”
Along with Macron and other leaders, over 50,000 people are believed to have been targeted by Pegasus in total, among them over 600 senior government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 activists, and over 180 journalists across 20 countries. The list reportedly contains over 1,000 French nationals, including journalists from leading French news outlets.
Pegasus was developed by three former members of Unit 8200, the highly secretive intelligence corps unit of the Israeli Defence Forces responsible for signals intelligence. In a bombshell report last week, Haaretz suggested that NSO Group was not only allowed to freely export its spyware to foreign clients, but that Tel Aviv actively supported or even forced the company to do so in certain instances, all in the interests of “Israel’s security.”