Israel Is Militarizing and Monetizing the COVID-19 Pandemic

Israel is one of the top ten weapons exporters in the world. But now, it’s also become a powerhouse in the field of black-hat cyber-security: selling tools used by the world’s most repressive regimes to exert social control.

By Richard Silverstein

As the number of Israeli victims and the first death from coronavirus was announced, Netanyahu saw an opportunity to revive his political relevance. Actually, Netanyahu acted even before the first death, which was on March 20.

Only a few days earlier, on March 16, he asked the Knesset intelligence committee to approve the use of a hitherto secret national database compiled by the Shin Bet and comprising private personal data on every Israeli citizen, both Jewish and Palestinian.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel’s Knesset secretly assigned its domestic intelligence agency the task of creating the database, which was ostensibly meant as a counterterrorism measure.

The data included puts Edward Snowden’s alarms about the NSA’s mass surveillance to shame.

It not only contains the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every citizen; it also records every phone call made, and the recipient of these calls, including name and phone number.

It uses geo-location to track where every citizen has traveled within the country, and it maintains records of all online activity, including internet searches.

The top-secret project was couched by Netanyahu as a powerful tool to monitor victims of the epidemic and all who had social contact with them.

Few Israelis, aside from privacy advocates and related NGOs, raised any alarms about the obvious violations of individual privacy and rights entailed in both the database itself, whose codename was “the Tool,” and its use to compel suspected coronavirus victims to self-quarantine.

They remained silent — even though health ministry officials urging them to approve use of the database suggested that the epidemic would force the state to “suspend personal freedoms.”

Few politicians, even in the opposition, questioned the prime minister’s exposure of a decades-long secret database touted as one of the Shin Bet’s most powerful counterterrorism tools.

They should have, because Netanyahu was clearly exploiting the existence of the Tool to highlight for the public his indispensability.

He wanted Israelis to view him as the strong, steady leader who could carry them through the threat posed by the epidemic.

Add the growing anxiety over the COVID-19 epidemic, which began to hit Israel in earnest, to the near panic over the country’s political crisis, and you have a perfect recipe for Netanyahu’s miraculous political comeback.

The geo-location function would track every known coronavirus victim, and not only while they had the illness.

It would go back in time two weeks to track every movement of the victim: where they went, who they met.

It would even identify anyone who stood within six feet of the individual for longer than twenty minutes.

Those bystanders, too, would be identified and placed under quarantine, whether they had the virus or not; whether they were tested or not.

Any health policy expert will tell you that the history of pandemics, including HIV and Ebola, indicates that victims must not be criminalized or ostracized.

They must be encouraged to cooperate with authorities in order to protect themselves, their family, and the public.

Given that Israeli police are now empowered to arrest anyone violating regulations and fine them $1,500, along with a six-month prison term, using the Tool as a law enforcement rather than a public health measure carries the nation very far in a direction no society should go.

The Israeli government also tasked the Mossad with purchasing hundreds of thousands of ventilators and respirators for its citizens to prepare for the full onslaught of the contagion.

Media reports deliberately omitted the source of the equipment, saying only that it might be a country with which Israel has no formal relations.

Other reports indicated that it was purchased in the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, Mossad officials interviewed for the TV nprogram Uvda boasted to Ilana Dayan, the host, that the agency had “stolen” the 100,000 face masks and respirators on the first shipment it brought to Israel.

No one notes that in every other democratic country, the health authorities do such a job.

But Israel, in a bit of political chicanery, appointed an ultra-Orthodox (“Haredi” in Hebrew) Jew who does not believe in science or medicine to take charge of the health ministry.

The minister violated his own ministry’s quarantine orders and joined in prayer services, where he promptly contracted COVID-19.

Were Israel a normal state instead of a mash-up of a theocracy and a garrison state, it would not need (or want) the Mossad to perform such duties.

Israel announced before any other country that its chemical and biological weapons lab at Nes Tziona had developed a vaccine (though the claim was later disputed).

While it’s certainly commendable for Israeli scientists to make such efforts to save lives, Nes Tziona has the expertise to develop such a vaccine because its research involves testing and developing lethal agents used against the country’s enemies.

The lab also develops agents to counteract such pathogens as COVID-19 in order to protect Israel’s soldiers and civilians.

But the preponderance of Nes Tziona’s work, at least what is known publicly, is used to develop deadly agents to kill Israel’s enemies.

The poison injected by two Mossad assassins into Khaled Mashal in Jordan in 1997 was developed by Nes Tziona, as was the antidote that King Hussein demanded in order to save Mashal’s life.

The poison used by the twenty-seven-strong Mossad hit team to assassinate Hamas weapons dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010 was similarly developed by Nes Tziona.

Any evaluation of the good that could come from such a COVID-19 vaccine must be weighed against the damage such a facility does in all its other work.

etanyahu is attempting to cast himself as the Indispensable Man during the health crisis.

He knows that when an entire nation is living in uncertainty and mass anxiety, they are willing to sacrifice even more of their rights in return for a leader with a firm hand.

This is how Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 in the midst of a deep economic crisis. Similarly, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán arrogated to himself absolute power using the excuse of the epidemic to name himself dictator.

In a deft bit of dog-whistle racism, Bennett also noted that COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire through two different Israeli communities: the ultra-Orthodox and the Palestinian.

He told a TV interviewer that there were “three Israels.” Two were riddled with disease.

The third, presumably, was his own modern, well-educated, affluent, and relatively disease-free Ashkenazi sector.

He advocated treating the other two Israels as if beset by plague: sealing them off and letting them fend for themselves.

In fact, Israeli authorities have refused to provide any testing for Israeli Palestinian communities, which are already best by inferior medical care.

That is one of the reasons Israeli Palestinians in Jaffa rioted recently, throwing stones at police and firefighters.

Monetizing the Pandemic

he second half of the defense minister’s plan to combat COVID-19 urged the nation to adapt the Tool as a “civilian” product developed by Israel’s cybersecurity industry and marketed to foreign countries.

In fact, he suggested one particular company that was already doing so: NSO Group.

As I’ve written here before, it is the world’s most successful cyber-hacking firm, recently sold to a private venture capital firm in the UK for a $1 billion “unicorn” valuation.

NSO’s primary product is Pegasus, the most sophisticated malware on the market. It has been used by police agencies in scores of countries to spy on terrorist groups and drug dealers.

At least, that’s what the PR firms representing NSO will tell you. But there is a dark underbelly that NSO refuses to acknowledge.

It also sells Pegasus to some of the most repressive countries in the world, whose secret police use it to target political dissidents, rights activists, independent journalists, and public interest lawyers.

NSO’s products have been used as evidence in cases brought against human rights activists fighting for democracy in their own societies.

Ahmed Mansoor in the UAE was sentenced to ten years in prison for his activism. His cell phone was hacked, and all his emails and text messages were used as evidence in court against him.

Even more troubling is the case of Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi intelligence agents.

They, too, used Pegasus to monitor Khashoggi’s contacts and even his physical location.

The malware enabled them to determine where he was, where he went, and where he intended to go, including to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where the murderers laid in wait for him.

Groups like Amnesty International and Citizen Lab are fighting back against these violations of basic human rights.

The former is suing in Israeli courts to force the defense ministry to revoke NSO’s export license to sell Pegasus abroad.

NSO may see the handwriting on the wall in terms of the pushback against its malware.

It may contemplate so much controversy that either the state will cease to permit its sale or the world will prohibit it.

That’s why NSO is getting ahead of the curve. It knows about the Tool and is already offering to sell countries a “civilian” (meaning less problematic) version.

Presumably, health ministries and government population registries would compile databases covering all citizens. Then, algorithms developed by the Shin Bet and/or NSO would manipulate the data to detect patterns among the population.

If you know who is already infected with COVID-19, you can trace their movements, who they’ve been in proximity to, and then spread a wider net to stop the circulation of the virus in the wider population.

But, of course, such a tool can be used for much more nefarious purposes.

If you’re a Saudi intelligence agent, you can target a specific state enemy — where they go, who they meet, who they email or text, what they say to each other.

You can go backward in time as long as you wish to follow such trails. It offers endless dragnet opportunities to ensnare targeted individuals and anyone who has any contact, whether benign or suspicious.

This saves such security agents the tedious process of hauling suspects in for interrogation and attempting to elicit from them, by persuasion or force, incriminating information.

Bennett is promoting this new NSO product as a way to monetize the COVID-19 epidemic.

Israel is one of the top ten weapons exporters in the world. But now, it’s also become a powerhouse in the field of black-hat cyber-security: selling tools used by the world’s most repressive regimes to exert social control.

It seems like human nature that grifters and con artists will exploit tragedy in order to cheat unwitting individuals.

Even major corporations advertise during such disasters in order to promote their brands.

But in this case, Bennett is using the power of his state office to promote not just an individual product, but the entire mass surveillance state it represents.

When a country buys Pegasus or the civilian version of the Tool, they are not just buying a discrete product.

They are, in fact, buying all of the social, political, and intelligence premises built into it.

Even if, for example, you have a national constitution or a set of regulations that govern surveillance and individual privacy, these tools are so powerful, so sweeping that they vacuum up massive amounts of data.

The data cries out to be used and manipulated, which is what intelligence agencies like the NSA and the IDF’s Unit 8200 do.

In the process, they far outstrip any protections that may be in place to prevent misuse of personal data or violations of privacy.

In that sense, Israel is exporting its own national security state alongside these cyber-tools: a state that sacrifices individual rights on the altar of security.

A state in which citizens defer to state authorities who act in their name. So, when another country implements Israeli cyber-ware, they too will absorb some of these assumptions and values embedded in their development.

In effect, these cyber-spying tools are outrunning the development of laws to regulate them.

There is no international code under which cyber-surveillance technology may be regulated. It is a Wild West out there.

These are conditions Israel finds ideal for pursuing both its geo-political and commercial interests, interests that thrive on confusion, division, and uncertainty — precisely the conditions we now face.

One thought on “Israel Is Militarizing and Monetizing the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. How much of this Covid hysteria is due to Betty Nuttyahoo trying to quash his corruption trial by claiming that millions will be killed, so I have to shut down the state?

    Fuckhead got his trial delayed, and also got the courts/DA to proclaim he won’t got to jail if found guilty?

    Then add in this, Israel was working on the Covid vaccine BEFORE it it the fan?

    Israeli Scientists Claim It’s ‘Pure Luck’ They Were Already Working On A COVID-19 Vaccine Prior To The Outbreak

    “Let’s call it pure luck,” he said. “We decided to choose coronavirus as a model for our system just as a proof of concept for our technology.”

    In 1998 Israeli Jews were caught developing ethnic bioweapons

    The “ethno-bomb” program is based at Israel’s Nes Tziyona research facility. Scientists are trying to use viruses and bacteria to alter DNA inside living cells and attack only those cells bearing Arabic genes.

    That’s too many coincidences.

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