A report released by the New York Times on Friday demonstrated that the UAE is using Israeli spyware to target regional rivals and allies, raising questions over the UAE's aims going forwards.
It was first revealed through emails submitted in two lawsuits filed by a Qatari citizen and a Mexican journalist against the Israel-based NSO Group that runs a spyware called Pegasus. The lawsuits suggested the UAE’s involvement in illegal spying.
According to the NYT, the emails indicated the UAE had signed the contract with NSO in early August 2013.
The spy software secretly downloads to the targeted phone through links sent in text messages. It enables the user of the software to monitor the phone calls and nearby conversations, in addition to giving access to all contacts, messages, emails and data on social media platforms.
With the alliance formed between UAE and Saudi Arabia in the time of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the emails confirmed that the UAE intercepted phone calls and devices of the Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who was seen as MBS’ rival to the throne. Several journalists, prominent human rights lawyers and anti-corruption activists were also targeted by the UAE.
Meanwhile they also spied on the Qatari Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani in 2014, nearly two years before the Gulf crisis first erupted with Qatar.
The report confirms that UAE used the software to keep an eye on the phone calls of the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri who was detained in Saudi Arabia last year and was forced to announce his resignation - before later rescinding it. It was attributed to his failure to respond to Hezbollah, Iran’s biggest ally.
The report came as a shock putting the UAE in place of suspension over its aims and targets. In addition to its cooperation with Israel, the Arab’s longtime enemy.
Translation: “The Saudi media did not mention reports on UAE scandal of spying on the phone of Prince Mutaib. Is it because their media platforms are being controlled by Abu Dhabi?”
Social media users were split between skeptics or convinced of the credibility of the report.
The NYT report also points out that the NSO Group did not cooperate with UAE only. The Israeli company had also sold their surveillance technology to Mexico on the condition that it should be used against criminals and terrorists. However, it was used by the country against journalists, academics and human rights lawyers.