The Ususal Suspects
The Pegasus scandal has pushed Covid off the headlines of Israel’s major news sources. Pegasus is a spyware program made by an Israeli company called NSO and is considered the most sophisticated and powerful way to hack into a mobile phone.
Recent reports in the Israeli journal Calcalist by reporter Tomer Ganon “Revealed the Israeli police has been using invasive technological tools to spy on citizens among who were many prominent figures.” This according to highly-respected veteran journalist Nachum Barnea writing in Ynetnews.
This was the second article by Calcalist’s Ganon. The first dealt with the fact that the Israeli police were using the Pegasus spyware, a tool that has come under harsh criticism for abuse in countries around the world. Pegasus CEO Shalev Hulio claims that his company provides authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime.
The NSO license forbids illegal use, but Hulio also says he can’t control what those countries do with the program once it is acquired. Also, the Israeli government supposedly vets the company’s sales. Israel is a leader in cyber-security with sales in 2020 of nearly $7 billion.
According to a August 25, 2021 report by Daniel Estrin for NPR (National Public Radio), “The Pegasus Project, a consortium of international media outlets, says a leaked list of some 50,000 phone numbers showed that governments around the world sought NSO's cellphone hacking technology Pegasus to spy on people or mark them as potential targets, whether inside or beyond their own borders.
“It says the phone numbers selected by governments for surveillance belong to a staggering array of potential targets, including political dissidents, human rights activists, 180 journalists in nearly two dozen countries, a Dubai princess escaping her father, the fiancee of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and 14 heads of state, including French president Emmanuel Macron.”
French officials were outraged by the report. A senior US official reportedly raised the issue with Israeli officials. Israeli defense officials also were reported to have visited NSO’s headquarters in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, and then, according to NPR, “briefed the French defense minister on its efforts.”
Now Pegasus has been exposed as also being in Israel and has put the Israeli police on the defensive. As Nachum Barnea wrote, “If the authoritative figures we so strongly rely on to confine the extent of their examination of technology to that of an average citizen, how can we blindly trust them to protect us?”
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on trial in three separate cases of graft and corruption, has called for a mistrial in his first case claiming that evidence from witnesses in the cases against him was obtained illegally. The court has asked the prosecution in one of the cases, the first case to go to trial, to clarify the extent the spyware was used in Netanyahu’s trial. The trial has been delayed until the prosecution comes up with answers.
According to Barnea, “If Netanyahu's rights were indeed violated by the police's use of the spyware against him, he is entitled to protection from the court - even if it will undermine his corruption trial. However, Netanyahu's intentions are clearly not to seek justice.” Other commentators say that Netanyahu is looking at this scandal as a get out of jail free card.
Police officials have adamantly insisted that there was no illegal use of the spyware and have launched their own internal investigation. Former police commissioner Roni Alsheich, who served 27-years with the Israeli Shin Bet (Israel’s version of the FBI) says that the spyware was never used without a court order. He also said that the spyware was in place before he took over his position in 2015.
Some pundits claim that a rogue element inside the police was operating outside the law in pursuit of criminals. However, politicians and journalists, anti-Netanyahu protestors and witnesses against Netanyahu were also targeted. One observer pointed out that Netanyahu was Prime Minister during the time this software was sold to foreign countries, and that Netanyahu’s hand-picked acolyte Amir Ohana was appointed Minister of Police during the time the investigations began into Netanyahu’s malfeasance. Ohana and other Likud party members and ministers tried to derail the investigation into Netanyahu’s alleged offenses and were also highly critical of the judicial system.
Israeli ministers have called for a government investigation. This reminded one cynic of the line in the film Casablanca when, after Humphrey Bogart has shot and killed the Nazi officer played by Conrad Velt, Claude Raines, who plays the French chief of police, turns to his underling and says, “Round up the usual suspects.”
Israel has seen a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, mostly of the Omicron variant. From Dec 25,2021 when1,775 daily cases of Covid were reported, the number soared to 83, 088 cases by Jan 24, 2022. Serious illness went from 88 in December to 1,162 on Feb 8, 2022. Deaths rose from 8,241 to 9,226 during the same period, over 70 a day. However, most of the seriously ill and those who died were either unvaccinated, or over 60 with underlying illnesses and mostly unvaccinated.
Worldwide, there were 398,809,771 infections with 5,771,527 deaths, and 73,592,489 active cases. In the USA, still number one world-wide in infections, there were 78,370,774 cases,928,879 deaths and 29,145,580 active cases.
However, a new variant has hit Israel, the BA.2 strain of Covid-19, a variation of the Omicron variant. Health officials say this new BA.2 variant, that apparently came to Israel from outside the country, is, according to Mayo Clinic, 1 1/2 times more infectious or transmissible than Omicron. But, while BA.2 is better at avoiding anti-bodies, those vaccinated are still nearly 90 percent protected from severe illness.
Some medical experts worry that the BA.2 could be the start of a sixth wave. Prof. Dror Mevorach of Hadassah Medical Centers said in a report in Ynetnews, that “He does not share the view of Hans Klug from the World Health Organization who said Omicron has brought the world closer to a ‘pandemic endgame.’” Prof. Mevorach said, “The new variant could develop into a separate wave and more variants could appear at any time. We hope to have two to three months of a break between waves, but we have no certainty of that.”
According to a peer-reviewed article appearing in the journal Advanced Science, summarized in the TimesOfIsrael, Israeli scientists have given paralyzed mice the ability to walk using bio-engineered spinal cord tissue implants. The first experiment of its kind in the world took place at Tel Aviv University with 15 mice suffering long-term paralysis. The mice were implanted with bio-engineered spinal cord tissue from human cells. After the treatment, growing pieces of actual spines and transplanting them, 12 of the mice were able to walk normally.
Prof. Tal Dvir said this treatment “can offer all paralyzed people hope that they can walk again.” Dvir’s team use of human cells, he said, makes the development of the treatment for humans much easier and faster. and will “enable regeneration of the damaged tissue with no risk of rejection.” Dvir expects the treatment to be available within two-and-a-half to three years.