Israeli NSO’s Pegasus spyware hits headlines yet again, however this time, used by Bahrain to spy on human rights activists. According to the Canadian Citizen Lab Institute, the victims included 9 human rights activists from 3 different organizations; 2 of which have voluntarily exiled in England. Other than the more blatant issue of normalization with ‘Israel’, the joint endeavor in capturing human rights activists sets a prime example of the brutality and oppression that was not needed in the already repressive state in which human rights activists live in Bahrain.
The three movements targeted were Al-Wefaq, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and Waad, some of which are often labelled as ‘terrorist organizations’. The attacks occurred between June 2020 and February 2021. The Canadian Citizen’s Lab revealed that the Israeli NSO’s Pegasus Spyware has developed a ‘no-click’ hacking system which is revolutionary, since in the typical espionage circumstances, a link is sent to the victim’s phone, under the guise of a genuine link, in this case – a DHL message to the victims’ iPhones. Contrary to iPhone’s claim that their security is solid, the Pegasus spyware were seemingly able to bypass their strongest security feature ‘BlastDoor’.
Israeli NSO claims no responsibility, as expected, demanding the release of evidence the Canadian Citizen Lab claim to hold – as it has done previously at every accusation stop, including the 2019 WhatsApp lawsuit against them that is still presently ongoing.
It must be said that amidst all these so-called new headlines, there really is nothing new about it at all. Bahrain has been investing in spyware and espionage techniques since 2010; and although normalization with Israel only occurred last year, truth dictates that relations between the two preceded, as NSO cyber programs were purchased by Bahrain since 2017.
As normalization with ‘Israel’ spreads in the Middle East, control of the rebelling population has become even more of a priority. Pegasus, ‘the most powerful piece of spyware ever developed,’ as the Guardian described it, is crucial in controlling and repressing any powerful uprisings and rebellion; which is why it expectedly will grow and intensify as time goes by. Nevertheless, although Pegasus is evolving rapidly, it being Israeli is far more cause for concern. A concern that, unfortunately has begun to infiltrate the Middle East officially for all to see and being labelled as normal helping aid. It is not normal. It will never be normal.
*Ragheb Malli is a researcher for the Gulf Institute of Democracy and Human Rights and also a London-based social media activist for human rights.