written by Lydia Alaiadi
Cyber weapons become more relevant in the military due to their rapid technological development. Palestine appears to be a place for Israel to practice its technology before its efforts in winning a cyber war against Iran and growing the successful international sale of cyber security programs. Cyber attacks in Palestine can be detrimental to the outcome of the conflict.
Israel and Cyber Warfare
Israeli cyber security companies are known to have superiority in the cyber industry. The most famous of all is the NSO Group which developed the Pegasus Program, a spyware that accesses information through one’s phone. Other companies include Candiru, Verint which became Cognyte, Black Cube, Passitoral and Toru Group Limited which are part of Intellexa, Prelysis, and U-TX.
Pegasus is one of the most famous spyware programs and it is found to have been used in Algeria and purchased by Morocco, Poland, Israel, Thailand, Rwanda, and Hungary, against Romania, the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and many more. Pegasus is also the program that was used to spy on Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was murdered at the orders of Saudi Arabia in 2018. It was also used to spy on the United Nations investigator Kamel Jendoubi while he was in Yemen. NSO, the company that created Pegasus is banned from the United States, and it is being sued by Meta and Apple, with allegations of hacking.
Black Cube was blamed for having spied on the negotiations between the United States and Iran for a nuclear deal in 2018, on behalf of the Israeli government. Intellexa was used to spy on Greek journalists, Opposition members, and a Meta employee, by the Greek Government. Verint and Cognyte are linked to having sold cyber weapons to South Sudan, Myanmar, and several countries in Latin America. Finally, even if these companies are private, we see the Israeli state having the ability to intervene. Intellexa tried to sell its program Predator to Ukraine but it was the Israeli government that asked for the negotiations to stop since it did not want its relationship with Russia to be affected.
Israeli companies are key players in the cyber market
The industry itself is extremely profitable and is expected to grow even bigger. “Global demand for offensive cyber systems is expected to rise 39% by 2027 to $9.7 billion”. Israel is using its cyber weapons in a different way than most countries do. Of course, they have Palestine to test their technology and are believed to be using offensive weapons against Iran, but most importantly, they are using cyber weapons as a new means of diplomacy.
Their relevance and importance in cyberwarfare, give them more power than expected. For example, Israel and Bangladesh have zero diplomatic relations, Bangladesh has even made it illegal for its citizens to travel to Israel, however, it had no problem doing business together. Bangladesh with the help of Greece, purchased cyber weapons from Intellexa (around 2021-2022). Also, even if the United States have banned NSO and Condiru, many other Israeli companies still operate in the United States.
Cyber Attacks in Palestine
In May 2023, Palestine saw one of the biggest attacks in its economic sector where commercial and economic establishments were targeted. Even though it is yet unclear which program was used and by whom, the attack happened a month after several Israeli Universities were attacked by the “Anonymous Sudan” hacking group. Many of the attacks in Israel come as acts of solidarity for Palestine.
Palestine has had to deal with spyware from Israel for more than ten years. Israel’s military unit, Unit 8200 has been using spyware to spy on Palestinian electronic communication and military and diplomatic traffic. Israeli whistleblowers have said “The Palestinian population under military rule, is completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself. In many cases, intelligence prevents defendants from receiving a fair trial in military courts, as the evidence against them is not revealed.”
The difficult nature of cyber weapons and the lack of regulations make it extremely difficult to find legal means to stop the attacks and for Israel to be held responsible. Israel’s cyber power can be detrimental to the future of the conflict where Palestine has to rely on external hacking groups for its protection. A positive resolution of the conflict for Palestine may be more difficult in the future as cyber weapons develop.