India World

Narendra Modi’s government bought Israeli spyware as part of $2 billion weapons deal: New York Times Report

The Indian government acquired spyware from Israel as part of a weapon purchase deal in 2017, according to a New York Times report.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government denied it bought the Israeli-made spyware, which was allegedly used to infect phones of its opponents, rights activists and journalists in India.

The report published on Friday said Pegasus and a missile system were the “centerpieces” of a roughly $2 billion deal of sophisticated weapons and intelligence tools back then.

Last year, an investigation by a global consortium of media outlets showed how the Israeli-made malicious spyware was used by governments around the world to spy on dissidents and journalists via their mobile phones.

More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among nearly 50,000 selected worldwide as possibly of interest to clients of the Israel-based NSO Group, the maker of the Pegasus spyware.

The New York Times report said the warming of relations after Modi came to power in India led to the deal in question back in the day.

“The Modi visit [to Israel in 2017] was notably cordial, complete with a carefully staged moment of him and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu walking together barefoot on a local beach,” the newspaper said.

“Their countries had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces,” it said.

“Months later, Netanyahu made a rare state visit to India. And in June 2019, India voted in support of Israel at the UN’s Economic and Social Council to deny observer status to a Palestinian human rights organisation, a first for the nation.”

India’s Defence Ministry told Parliament last year that it “has not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies”.

But India’s main opposition Congress party has accused the government of committing “treason”.

“Modi Govt bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Govt functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason,” Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Saturday.