Israeli authorities have inspected the offices of NSO Group, a surveillance outfit, in response to the Pegasus project investigation into abuses of the company’s spyware by several government clients, as per The Guardian report.
Officials from the Defence Ministry visited the company’s offices near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, at the same time when Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Paris for a pre-arranged visit. Gantz discussed the Pegasus revelations with his French counterpart.
French President Emmanuel Macron is one of the high-profile figures whose phone numbers appeared on a leaked database of 50,000 numbers that are believed to have been selected as candidates for possible surveillance by the clients of NSO, as per the report. Macron spoke to Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week to stress the importance of “properly investigating” the project’s findings.
According to early media reports, the moves on NSO’s offices were described as a raid but the company stated that the authorities had only “visited” and not “raided” its premises.
The NSO clarified that it had been informed in advance that Defence Ministry officials, responsible for overseeing commercial exports of sensitive cyber-exports, would be doing an inspection. “The company is working in full transparency with the Israeli authorities,” the report added.
The Defence Ministry tweeted that the visit conducted by several state bodies was related to disclosures stemming from the Pegasus project — a consortium of 17 media outlets, including The Guardian, which revealed last week that government clients around the world have used the hacking software sold by NSO to target human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers.
As the scale of the disclosures has become clearer, diplomatic pressure has mounted on Israel to explain the nature of the relationship between NSO and the state under the tenure of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the report stated.
The wider Pegasus project investigation found that the Israeli government gave the NSO explicit permission in 2017 to try to sell the hacking tools to Saudi Arabia in a deal reportedly worth at least $55 million, the report added.
Gantz told French Defence Minister Florence Parly, on Wednesday, that Israel is investigating the matter “with the utmost seriousness”, as per a statement from the Israeli Defence Ministry.
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RUSSIA ADDS GOVERNMENT’S TOP CRITIC ALEXEI NAVALNY TO ‘TERRORISTS AND EXTREMISTS’ LIST
Russia on Tuesday added President Vladimir Putin’s jailed vocal critic Alexei Navalny to a list of “terrorists and extremists”, as the country’s authorities and security agencies continue their clampdown on opposition leaders and opponents.
In a database of banned individuals and groups compiled by the Federal Service for Financial Monitoring, the names of Navalny and several of his allies, including key aide Lyubov Sobol, were found on the list.
The recent decision by the Russian authorities puts them in the same group as foreign terrorist organisations including the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS).
A crackdown on Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation started last year as it was declared extremist and their activities were banned. Earlier this month, two other key aides of the opposition politician were added to the list.
Speaking to the foreign media from an unknown location, one of the leaders associated with Navalny, who had fled the country during last year’s crackdown, said, “We will fight the regime in Kremlin come what may. The people of Russia want accountability and governance. What we are getting is dictatorship.”
In the past year, Russian security and intelligence agencies have been involved in an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in Russia, including the jailing of President Putin’s top critic Navalny last January and the outlawing of his political organisations.
Navalny, a lawyer, and anti-corruption activist, had been Putin’s most vocal domestic opponent. The leader came into international prominence by organising anti-government demonstrations and running for office to advocate reforms against corruption in Russia, and against President Putin and his government.
Navalny was a Russian Opposition Coordination Council member. He has been behind bars since returning to Moscow in January 2021 from Germany, where he was recovering from a poisoning attack with a nerve agent that he blames on the Kremlin.
UAE bans drones after attack by Houthi rebels
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), had banned the use of drones for a period of one month, days after Yemen based Houthi rebels launched a deadly drone and missile attack on its capital Abu Dhabi that resulted in the death of three civilians.
Local media reports quoted a Ministry of Interior press release which reads, “the Ministry of Interior is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircraft for a month.” The government also cautioned people that anyone flying it will be subject to legal liabilities. It adds, “anyone performing these activities during that period and disregarding guidelines will be subject to legal liabilities. Those who need to fly drones for work must ask the authorities for the necessary exceptions and permits.”
The Ministry of Interior affairs did not exclusively mention the recent deadly attack, but added that the decision has been made after “misuse spotted recently” where users were “trespassing into areas where these types of activities are prohibited.”
Last Monday, Houthi rebels did a drone and missile attack that hit the oil facilities and the airport in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, killing three people and injuring half a dozen.
The Houthi rebels have carried out repeated cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia, but 17 January was the first attack carried out and acknowledged by the UAE inside its borders and claimed by the Yemeni insurgents. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a part of a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition that supports Yemen’s government while the Houthis are supported by Iran.
After the attacks which exploded fuel tanks at the airport the Crude prices soared to seven-year highs as chances of escalation had increased with the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition promising to retaliate in a major way.
BRITAIN CALLS FOR UNITY AGAINST CHINA AND RUSSIA
Britain had cautioned Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Western world stands united to fight for democracy against dictatorships which it said were more emboldened than at any time since the Cold War.
Speaking at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said, “The West must respond together to global threats, deepen ties with democracies in the Indo-Pacific and face global aggressors. Global aggressors are emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the Cold War.” The Foreign Secretary highlighted that the 21st Century will be the century of struggle between democracies and rivals such as China and Russia who are challenging the post-Cold War consensus through all means be it militarily, economically and technologically.
She added, “They seek to export dictatorship as a service around the world. That is why regimes like Belarus, North Korea and Myanmar find their closest allies in Moscow and Beijing.”
She emphasised on the need to work with allies like India, Japan, Australia, Israel and Indonesia to face down global aggressors and threats to the world order.
In her speech, Liz Truss, called Russia a dictatorial model which is governed by a mercurial elite that had been involved in irresponsible escapades such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, attempts to meddle in US and European elections, and a series of high-profile espionage and assassination attempts abroad. Truss further cautioned Moscow to desist and step back from Ukraine before it makes a massive strategic mistake and added that “Kremlin has not learned the lessons of history that invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”
In the last few months, tensions in the West on one hand, and China and Russia on the other hand, had increased in multiple theaters across the globe.
US WILL RESPOND IF RUSSIAN MILITARY FORCES MOVE ACROSS UKRAINIAN BORDER: JEN PSAKI
Amid the brewing tensions over Russia’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border, white house press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.”
Russia has put more than 100,000 troops and war-making machinery on Ukraine’s borders. Which has sent alarms through the west – and apprehensions that Moscow is ready to invade Ukraine. But Russian commanders have said, they have no plans to invade.
The EU had earlier warned the Kremlin of “extreme consequences” if it takes any military action in neighboring Ukraine.
In the fray, Sweden has found itself threatened and has moved hundreds of its troops over the weekend to reinforce its borders and deny any fallout from the strategically important Gotland island – which lies in the Baltic Sea. Denmark has also strengthened its presence in the region a week back.
The rising tensions in the region have again re-ignited the debate in both Sweden and Finland as to whether they should now join Nato.
“If they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force they’ve massed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia,” Biden told reporters.
“The cost of going into Ukraine in terms of physical loss of life, for the Russians… it’s going to be heavy,” he told reporters.
Despite the massive build-up of troops on the borders, Moscow has denied that it’s planning a military invasion. But it has issued Nato with a list of security demands blaming the alliance for “undermining regional security”, as NATO has regularly tried to make the former soviet members a part of the alliance which continues to infuriate Russia.
According to the reports, The Biden administration is weighing new options, to make the Putin administration rethink its invasion. The US wants to provide more arms to Ukraine that will help it resist Russian occupation, and also raise the costs for Russian President Vladimir Putin in case he decides to invade the country.
ANTI-MILITARY PROTESTS WILL INTENSIFY IN SUDAN
Anti-military protests are likely to intensify in Sudan after security forces killed seven protesters. As per the local media reports, seven people were killed and dozens injured as the security forces used gunshots and tear gas to stop lakhs of protesters who were marching towards the presidential palace in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
The groups who were leading the protest movement told the media that in the coming days a massive protest against the massacre committed by the military would be organised. Spokesperson of one protesting group named Committee of Sudanese Doctors said, “They also fired live ammunition and stun grenades, the security forces did a massacre today, what we demand is civilian rule and democracy,”.
Many countries condemned the violence and the United States’s Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee is heading to Sudan to assess the situation and has called the military to end violence and respect freedom of expression. Political parties in Sudan had announced two days of civil disobedience in protest against the current violence.
Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since the military coup on October 25. The power grab by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan more than two months ago dismantled a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians established in the wake of the April 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Sudan, a country located in Northeast Africa is the third-largest country by area in Africa and the Arab League had seen many coups in the past and the current military coup resulted in the capture of the civilian government, including former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The coup was led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who subsequently declared a state of emergency. On November 21, Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister after a political agreement was signed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to restore the transition to civilian rule. The 14-point deal called for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulated that a 2019 constitutional declaration continued to be the basis for a political transition. On January 2, Hamdok announced his resignation from the position of Prime Minister which led to this current wave of protest.
Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Donald Trump
Twitter suspended an account related to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on which a video calling for revenge for Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani assassination against former United States president Donald Trump was posted.
Talking to the media, spokesperson of the social media company said, “The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,”. In the recent past also many accounts of the Iranian government and its leaders were suspended by Twitter over posts which called for the killing of the United States president and the top officials.
The account which had been suspended is @KhameneiSite, and an animated video titled “Revenge is Definite”, showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump was posted. The title “Revenge is Definite” was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.
Twitter had stated that its policies around abusive behavior is clear and it had taken action as per its policies. On January 3, which marks the second anniversary of the assassination, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also threatened the United States with revenge.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), General Soleimani was the main strategist who handled the country’s proxies around the Middle Eastern countries and aimed to increase the influence of Tehran across the region. He was killed in a United States drone attack near the Baghdad International airport in January 2020. Iranian government and its leadership had repeatedly promised to avenge his death and teach the US harsh lessons.
Iran and the United States shares a bitter relationship and have had no formal diplomatic relation since April 7, 1980. Contacts are carried out through informal channels and the Iranian interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the US Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
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