The famous spyware "Pegasus", produced by the Israeli company "NSO Group", the most famous company in this field. (Shutterstock)

In June 2019, three computer engineers from Israel traveled to a building in New Jersey used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), whose job was to install a number of servers in that building, and during the process they communicated with their company's head office in Tel Aviv, NSO Group. This was due to the FBI's purchase of a copy of the famous spyware Pegasus, produced by the most famous Israeli company in this field (1).

Over the past two decades, Israel has turned its attention to advanced military technologies and cyber espionage software. The continued success of the cyber sector in Israel is mainly due to the massive government support and the IDF's designation as an "incubator and accelerator for startups", not only because of the huge demand the army provides for these technologies and cadres provided by its technical units, but more importantly, it provided a space to test these systems and software inside the occupied Palestinian territories before selling them globally (2).

Startup Nation

The Nation of Startups (social media)

After the 2008 global financial crisis, Israel's ability to cope with economic collapse, unlike the United States and European countries, turned into an epic narrative as usual. This narrative was summarized and promoted in a 2009 book by the Council on Foreign Relations, Startup Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Sol Singer (3).

The basic premise in the book was that Israel's economy avoided the huge losses of the financial crisis due to a combination of factors, the most important of which is the forced conscription in the occupation army, and the authors claimed that the Israeli army can be considered a model for the rest of the world because of the close relationship between the government of the occupying power and the technology startups, as the government has been interested in funding and supporting startups there for many years. This pattern has enabled Israel to become one of the largest exporters of this type of military technology, especially surveillance, penetration and cyber weapons.

Until the first decade of the twenty-first century, most Israeli military arms and technology companies were owned by the government. The high-tech sector received a tremendous amount of government support, allowing it to forge strong links with major U.S. companies in this field. For example, in 2002, Microsoft concluded a three-year deal worth 100 million shekels (approximately $26 million now) with the Israeli government, the largest deal of its kind for the occupying power at the time, and in one of the terms of the contract, the American company agreed to provide an unlimited number of its products for the benefit of the occupation army and the Ministry of Defense, with a wide exchange of information and experience (4).

The Israeli government also provided a huge grant to the American company "Intel" to build its first factory in the city of "Kiryat Gat", which opened in 1999. Then in 2005 it gave a larger grant, up to $525 million, to the U.S. company to build its second plant in the city. The Israeli government also offered Intel a lower than usual tax rate, at only 10%, compared to 35% taxes in the United States at the time, according to the New York Times (5). To complement this trend to date, at the end of last December, the Israeli government decided to give Intel $ 3.2 billion to build a new factory in the city, valued at about $ 25 billion, the largest investment ever made by any company with the government of the occupying power (6).

In a 2014 interview, Singer elaborated on this hypothesis further, explaining that Israel itself is a startup because "an idea that took a lot of motivation and risk to become a reality" (7). In subsequent interviews over many years, Singer and Senor spent a lot of time talking about "innovation" in Israel, but of course they did not talk about how these innovations are being developed by taking advantage of the occupation of the Palestinian people, building expertise from developing these technologies by experimenting with them in the occupied territories, and then selling those experiences in controlling large groups of people to other countries in a global market that was hungry for that control under the "global war on terror." Anthony Lowenstein, an Australian-German investigative journalist, also mentions in his book The Palestinian Lab.

In other words, this narrative tries to assert that Israel is a "startup" state that can adapt to various surrounding conditions, innovate constantly, and adapt to global requirements, but this assumption deliberately ignores an important matter, which is the method that the "emerging" country used to achieve these alleged successes, by relying on technologies that contribute to further oppression of the citizens of occupied Palestine, whether it is continuous surveillance techniques throughout the day, various espionage and penetration techniques, or even drone technologies. Which are based on artificial intelligence.

War on Terror

The war on terror has sparked the need for internal security technologies in the developed world, increasing the demand for new surveillance and espionage technologies (Reuters)

The September 2001, 8, attacks on U.S. soil greatly stimulated Israel's military sector, after the "war on terror" became an official international policy. On the night of the attacks, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked on American television what the attacks meant for relations between the two countries, to which he immediately replied, "This is excellent," and then quickly corrected his words: "Well, not excellent, but it will achieve immediate sympathy for us. Because these attacks may strengthen the bonds between the peoples of the two countries, because we have been suffering from terrorism for decades, but it is the turn of the United States to now suffer a massive hemorrhage from terrorism" (<>).

The war on terrorism has triggered the need for internal security technologies in the developed world, increasing the demand for new surveillance and espionage technologies. In that period, the infrastructure for surveillance and espionage began to expand and spread in various countries of the world, and there are several scandals that appeared in that era about the spying of the security services on the citizens of their countries, and perhaps the most famous scandal that Edward Snowden blew up in 2013, when he revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spied directly on the central servers of 9 major American technology companies, including they get voice conversations, video calls, photographs, emails, and private documents, and contact logs that enable them to track the movements of any targeted person.

Simply put, Israel already had products that the world wanted, because it had fully adopted the production of internal security sector technologies years ago(9). Netanyahu's message to the rest of the world was clear: "We have been specializing in the war on terror since our inception. Let's critique the road and explain to you how to control it."

In fact, Israel was known for its previous expertise in these matters long before the September 11 attacks, but these attacks helped promote its capabilities very quickly globally. For example, the organizing committees of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games turned to Israeli companies to secure events during the Games, mainly because Israel promoted itself as one of the best providers of crowd and crowd management technologies, as well as its ability to operate command and control rooms, and maintain security within cities. All this, along with the protection of nuclear plants, airport security, and many other areas, were considered necessary to monitor and enforce high security measures. Israeli expertise or equipment and techniques were the answer to almost any security question in that period (9) (10).

Unit 8200

At the time, as digital communications became more widespread, the IDF needed to restructure military intelligence, and army generals praised the organizational structure of American tech companies such as Google, arguing that secret intelligence units should operate as "a group of small startups" (11).

The most famous of these units of the occupation army was Unit 8200, which was previously dedicated to signal intelligence such as eavesdropping on telephone lines, to turn from then into a vast laboratory for innovations and techniques for espionage and electronic surveillance, and it aims to recruit enthusiastic young people to work in the technology industry and has the capabilities of espionage, surveillance and penetration of various computers. IDF engineers, developers, and analysts spend three to five years developing, managing, and distributing facial recognition cameras, drones, spyware, and biometric databases inside the occupied territories.

Once out of service, they were keen to apply what they had learned and benefit from their skills in emerging tech sectors within Israel. The occupying power then benefits from these startups, and uses these techniques to spy or monitor inside the Palestinian territories, or to transfer these technologies to the private sector and benefit from them by selling them to those who wish to pay the return from governments or security services of other countries (9).

More than two decades after the September 11 attacks, Israeli espionage and surveillance technologies are now invading the world, and perhaps the most famous Israeli startups we may hear about are the companies that are famous for these technologies, the most famous example is the company "NSO Group", which produced the famous spyware "Pegasus" to hack smartphones, that software used by intelligence and security services of the largest developed world, including US intelligence.

According to a report from the New York Times (1), almost all of the company's R&D team members actually served in Israel's intelligence services, most of whom served with Intelligence Unit 8200. The company's most important employees have also received elite training courses, including Unit 8200's secret program called ARAM, which accepts only a small handful of the best recruits with high IQs and provides them with training in the most advanced methods of cyber weapons programming.

Startups. For espionage and surveillance

NSO Group was founded in 2010 by study friends Shalev Holio and Omri Lavie after they finished military service, along with Neve Karmi, a former Mossad worker. Hulu and Lafi knew the importance of developing spyware that could hack mobile phones without being detected by the victim. Thus, the company began to develop the famous spyware "Pegasus", which was a tremendous development in spying techniques and software, giving the company capabilities and capabilities that may match the capabilities of the world's most famous intelligence agencies.

Pegasus has received international and global acceptance by governments and intelligence services of several countries, and its first known use was in Mexico since 2013, which resulted in the arrest of the world's most dangerous drug dealer, Joaquin Guzmán, known as "El Chapo" (1). As usual, the world celebrated the success story of the startup in Israel, with many seeing it as evidence of Israel's technical capabilities and innovation prowess, but of course the reality of Pegasus' impact on the world was even more complex.

Over the years, the world began to discover the reality of the impact of Israeli software. A research institution called "Forensic Architecture" described the role of NSO Group, and similar entities based on electronic espionage, as creating a "digital infection", targeting not only individuals, but entire networks of those who deal with them, especially within civil society organizations, which has already appeared in several countries that used the "Pegasus" software to hack the phone of the target person and then penetrate his network, with a wider targeting of journalists, human rights activists and other victims, to turn into one of the most powerful weapons. Cyber in the XXI century (12). Of course, the Israeli occupation authorities use Pegasus software to spy on the mobile phones of Palestinian human rights activists and other Palestinian officials.

Unlike Pegasus, which is used to target specific individuals, Israel's military and security apparatus already relies on broader electronic and digital surveillance systems, perhaps the most famous of which is the Blue Wolf system, in which Israeli soldiers use special phones equipped with the app, photograph Palestinians and ID cards in order to create a digital database of citizens of the occupied West Bank (13). One of the most famous startups that developed this system is AnyVision, one of the most famous Israeli companies that provides Israel with cameras and facial recognition software to impose censorship and apartheid against Palestinians in the West Bank. The company's fame and surveillance technologies prompted Microsoft to invest about $ 74 million in it during 2019 (14).

The myth of the "startup nation"

The Palestinian Lab Book (Social Media)

In the book "The Palestinian Lab", Lowenstein states that the occupation government and its private arms companies exploit their experience in the occupation of the Palestinian people to achieve these enormous material gains. For example, the government has sold its technology to the United States as a solution for "unwanted" migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, with products from Israel's Elbit Systems being a key player in repelling and preventing migrants at the border. European governments also wanted to monitor refugees, so they resorted to using reconnaissance drones sold by Israel Aerospace Industries for this mission (15).

Such projects, apart from the financial profit they make, contribute to the broader Israeli narrative of the "startup nation," a narrative through which Israel seeks to paint a modern and legal picture of what it does, in an attempt to divert attention from the uses of these modern technologies in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, according to Rebecca Stein, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University (16). On the other hand, hardly anyone hears of the resounding successes of Israeli companies outside the espionage and surveillance spaces, and in all other civilian industries, leading us to conclude that the so-called "corporate nation" of Israel has in fact produced only the technologies of oppression and surveillance paid for by the occupied Palestinian people, which Israel has turned into a laboratory for experiments under the eyes of the world.



1) The Battle for the World's Most Powerful Cyberweapon

2) 6 Reasons Israel Became A Cybersecurity Powerhouse Leading The $82 Billion Industry

3) Start-Up Nation

4) Google, Amazon and Microsoft. How do big tech companies support the Israeli occupation?

5) High-Tech Industry in Israel Goes From Bust to Boom

6) Israel grants Intel $3.2 billion for new $25 billion chip plant

7) An Interview with Saul Singer, Co-Author of the Book 'Startup Nation'

8) A DAY OF TERROR: THE ISRAELIS; Spilled Blood Is Seen as Bond That Draws 2 Nations Closer

9) The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World

10) Israeli companies to provide security for 2004 Olympics in Athens

11) The start-up spy state

12) Digital Violence: How the NSO group enables state terror

13) Israel escalates surveillance of Palestinians with facial recognition program in West Bank

14) Why did Microsoft fund an Israeli firm that surveils West Bank Palestinians?

15) "Our weapons are tested in the field." This is how Israel exploits massacres to increase its arms sales

16) Rebecca L. Stein, Screen Shots: State Violence on Camera in Israel and Palestine

Source : Al Jazeera