As the ‘normalization’ deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel takes effect, the two countries are busy promoting the benefits of their new relationship, with particular emphasis on commercial and security benefits. The ‘new normal’ is now permitting the disclosure of relations and areas of cooperation that have in fact existed for many years in some cases. Other areas of ongoing cooperation continue to receive much less attention in the official discourses.
The Jerusalem Post has highlighted the burgeoning UAE-Israeli intelligence cooperation relationship under the heading “UAE cyber head: Israeli intel. sharing helps deter hacking attempts”.
In a first for UAE and Israeli cyber intelligence and security agencies, their respective directors (Muhammad al-Kuwaiti and Chief Yigal Unna respectively) participated openly at the same event, in a Tel Aviv University virtual conference on Thursday. Both sides were effusive in their praise for their counterparts and the benefits of the normalization agreement.
Responding to questions about the impact of the normalization deal on Israeli-UAE cyber security cooperation, al-Kuwaiti said that “it has been really a positive and added value to many sectors and aspects” of defending the UAE from hacking.
“It’s a plus… that will help us on many collaborations and with digital transformation. Israel is very well known for technology… and cyber security… In less than a month, many of the emergency response teams are sharing information.”
Al-Kuwaiti said this sharing, “will help us in deterring [hackers] jointly and together and to allow all of these [new] business [ventures to] easily work together.”
In his opening remarks, Unna greeted al-Kuwaiti in Arabic, saying, “My brother, I am happy for this great opportunity and for the start of fruitful and successful cooperation between each of us, with god’s help…
We are threatened by the same threats, maybe even a little more than the rest of the world because of the nature of the region because of the new relationship and because of who we are – strong economically and technologically.”
Unna added, “If we are more threatened, we should join hands and work together. The UAE has a lot to offer to Israel and Israel has a lot to offer the UAE.”
He said cyber professionals in both countries were “just waiting to begin. The natural thing was finally our leaders paved the way to work [together]. As we see…from the first meeting in Abu Dhabi, things are [moving with] fast progress.”
The event was also attended by another heavyweight in Israel’s cyber-security efforts, Major-General (ret.) Yitzhak Ben Israel, who currently directs the cyber program at Tel Aviv University and heads a task force dealing with quantum computing, who commented on the importance of that field in changing the future of encryption methods.
Aspects of UAE – Israeli cyber intelligence cooperation that remain in the ‘strictly covert, neither confirm nor deny’ category include programs that enable the UAE to track, intercept and disrupt the communications of dissidents and critics of the regime, and the establishment or expansion of Israeli intelligence facilities at UAE military and intelligence installations at its military outposts in other countries and occupied areas, such as Socotra Island in Yemen and other areas controlled by the Southern Transition Council, which receives substantial financial, military and technical support from the UAE and grants access to Yemeni territory and infrastructure in return.
In August Almasirah noted that the UAE and Israel already had extensive cooperative relations in cyber security.
Once again, media outlets reported on the Israeli enemy cooperation with Gulf countries in the field of espionage and the sale of special capabilities and expertise that will help Gulf governments track down dissidents. The Israeli NSO company is also mentioned in a very important and sensitive topic related to its advanced spyware, “Pegasus”, which enables penetration of mobile phones.
This time, the Hebrew newspaper, Haaretz, discussed the issue of Israeli-Gulf cooperation in terms of espionage, stating that the NSO company recently sold programs to opponents like the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries. According to what the newspaper on Sunday, deals, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, were carried out through official mediation.
The article states of NSO, the electronic technology and intelligence company at the centre of the deal:
At the top of its services are to spy on and penetrate mobile phones, and to steal their data. It is founded in 2010 by Neve Carmi, Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, and has about 500 employees at its headquarters in “Herzliya” near Tel Aviv. Its annual revenue reached about $ 40 million in 2013 and increased to $ 150 million by 2015. In June 2017, its owner, Francisco Partners Management, put it for sale for one billion dollars and the deal was completed in 2019.
Its services are all over the world and deals with many governments, but its name has been associated with countries accused of widespread human rights violations, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain…
New York Times reported that UAE bought programs that helped it eavesdrop on the leaders of neighboring countries and the editor of an Arab newspaper in the British capital. The Israeli government treats its products like any arms exporting company. It requires it to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Defence (the Ministry of War) to export any of its products abroad.
The company claims to provide technology support to the world’s governments in order to help them fight terrorism and crime. However, international human rights organizations accuse it of designing and developing programs used in hacking and espionage operations against human rights activists and journalists in many countries.
The Saudis have also been reported to be benefitting from Israeli ‘cyber-security’ expertise under their ‘alternative normalization’ strategy, maintaining cooperation at different levels of military, intelligence and commercial activities whilst categorically denying that this is happening. As early as 2018 Mintpress News cited numerous news reports that the Saudis had purchased a $250 million package of ‘cyber-security’ espionage software and equipment.
Saudi Arabia has inked a deal worth $250 million in advanced espionage technologies with Israel after a series of backroom meetings, according to a recent report from Emirati outlet Al-Khaleej.
This revelation highlights the Kingdom’s increasingly aggressive spy apparatus under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) — used to heighten attacks on journalists and dissidents living abroad, as evidenced by the recent killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The exclusive report, obtained by the Jerusalem Post, claims that Saudi and Israeli officials held a series of secret meetings in Washington and London with the assistance of a European mediator.
The tech package includes the “most sophisticated systems” Israel has ever sold to any Arab country. The purchase also includes Israeli-led training for Saudi technicians operating the new systems. Saudi Arabia has already put most of the new espionage technology into use.
The report states that the two countries also exchanged strategic military information and plan to expand their military cooperation in the future. The relationship between Riyadh and Tel Aviv has blossomed over the past year as the two countries have openly joined forces against a shared enemy, Iran.
It is unlikely that the Saudis or Israel will acknowledge much less actively publicize and promote such areas of cooperation, even if they should take the step of normalizing their relations with a formal deal.
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