Saudi Arabia

Introduction:

While there are officially no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in recent years Saudi has used Israeli spyware against critical journalists and human rights defenders, and relations between the two countries are slowly strengthening.

Israel - Saudi Relations:

Historically, Saudi was part of the Arab boycott of Israel, as well as lead the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) boycott since 1973. While the Arab boycott was officially lifted as part of the Oslo accords in the early 90’s, only in 2005, Saudi Arabia announced the end of its ban on Israeli goods and services. In 2016, the relationship took another turn with the visit of former Saudi general Eshki, who was once a top adviser to the Saudi government, to Israel. Eshki lead a delegation of Saudi business men, officially to push the Saudi Peace Initiative, but also signaling an opening of other relations between the countries[1].

In September 2020, with the signing of Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE, the Israeli Prime minister and the Saudi crown prince met making it the first official high-level meeting between the countries[2]. The same month, Israel and Saudi Arabia announced a plan to build a pipeline between the two countries in order to export Saudi oil to Europe[3]. Two months later, Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia[4].

Yossi Cohen, the head of the Mossad between 2016-2021, visited Saudi Arabia together with prime minister Netanyahu in his 2020 visit. Today he workds for the investment group Softbank that owns the cyber companies Cybereason and Anyvision. [19]

Military relations:

With no official diplomatic relations, Israeli and Saudi military corporation has been ongoing, mostly facilitated by US mediators, in relation to Iran[5], Syria[6], and on other occasions. A leaked diplomatic cable from 2017 called Israeli diplomatic corps to back Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen[7].

In the last few years, CitizenLab exposed that Saudi has used the Israeli spyware Pegasus. In 2020, NSO Group, the company that operates Pegasus, rolled out their new big-data tool “Fleming”, including in Saudi Arabia[8].

Usage of Israeli Arms:

In 2017 a demonstration of the Pegasus spyware was conducted in Cyprus for Saudi Executives. NSO demonstrated the “Zero Click” option. Short time after the demo Saudi Arabia became a customer of NSO in a long-term $50m contract.[16].

In 2018, the spyware Pegasus was implicated in the murder of Saudi Jamal Khashoggi through the hacking of the phone of his colleague Omar Abdulaziz[9].  In 2020, dozens of Al-Jazeera journalists were hacked using Pegasus, most likely to the request of Saudi Arabia[10].

In 2019 the Israeli company Quadream sold spyware technology to Saudi Arabi through a Cypriot company. Quadream was established by ex- NSO employees.[17]  In the same near the Israeli company Cellebrite provided spying services to Saudi Arabia.[18] 

The New York Times reported that Israel has continued to allow and even encourage cyber-surveillance companies to secretly work with Saudi Arabia, despite recurring reports that Israeli tech was being used to clamp down on dissent and target opposition figures, including possible ties to the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to the report, one of the firms given permission by the Defense Ministry to work with Saudi Arabia was Candiru.[14] The report said the Saudis are continuing to use Israeli-made spyware to monitor opponents of the regime.[15]

Human Rights Violations:

Saudi is infamous for its Limitation on freedom of expression and organization. This includes the authorities’ continued prosecution of human rights defenders and peaceful critical individuals before the Specialized Criminal Court, a counter-terror court. Political parties, unions, and human rights organizations are all forbidden, and all mass gatherings, including protests, are forbidden. [11] The extrajudicial execution in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while not officially carried out by the Saudi government, was part of the ongoing persecution of journalists.

The death penalty is still used in Saudi as part of the criminal code, with 184 executions in 2019 – the third highest in the world[12]. Women still require permission from a male guardian for a long list of rights, including getting married, providing consent for their children to marry, travel, and much more.

Externally, Saudi leads the coalition conducting the armed intervention in the armed conflict in Yemen since 2015. The coalition is implicated in war crimes and other serious violations of international law and gross human rights violations[13]. Up until 2021, Saudi Arabia was the leading member of the coalition imposing economic and political sanctions on Qatar, that partially ended in an agreement in January 2021.

1. ^ https://www.timesofisrael.com/former-saudi-general-visits-jerusalem-meets-israeli-officials/

2. ^ https://www.wsj.com/articles/israels-netanyahu-meets-saudi-crown-prince-hebrew-media-says-11606120497

3. ^ https://www.972mag.com/gulf-oil-israel-arms-industry/

4. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/israeli-prime-minister-visits-saudi-arabia-meets-with-crown-prince-and-pompeo-say-local-media/2020/11/23/63f3cab4-2d5f-11eb-9dd6-2d0179981719_story.html

5. ^ https://www.haaretz.com/israel-saudis-now-allies-on-iran-1.5291205

6. ^ https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190919-saudi-jets-helping-israel-strike-pro-iran-militias-on-syria-iraq-border/

7. ^ https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/10/israel-instructs-diplomats-to-support-saudis-cable

8. ^ https://forensic-architecture.org/investigation/nso-groups-breach-of-private-data-with-fleming-a-covid-19-contact-tracing-software

9. ^ https://citizenlab.ca/2018/10/the-nso-connection-to-jamal-khashoggi/

10. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/dec/20/citizen-lab-nso-dozens-of-aljazeera-journalists-allegedly-hacked-using-israeli-firm-spyware

11. ^ https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/

12. ^^ https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/policy-issues/international/executions-around-the-world

13. ^ https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/report-united-arab-emirates/

14. ^ https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-israel-pushed-spyware-firms-to-work-with-saudis-despite-khashoggi-murder/

15. ^ https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-israel-pushed-spyware-firms-to-work-with-saudis-despite-khashoggi-murder/

16. ^ https://www.themarker.com/technation/.premium-MAGAZINE-1.10014777

17. ^ https://www.themarker.com/news/.premium-1.9882699

18. ^ https://www.themarker.com/law/.premium-1.9158754

19. ^ https://www.themarker.com/technation/.premium-MAGAZINE-1.10014777

Saudi Arabia

While there are officially no diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in recent years Saudi has used Israeli spyware against critical journalists and human rights defenders, and relations between the two countries are slowly strengthening.

Historically, Saudi was part of the Arab boycott of Israel, as well as lead the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) boycott since 1973. While the Arab boycott was officially lifted as part of the Oslo accords in the early 90’s, only in 2005, Saudi Arabia announced the end of its ban on Israeli goods and services. In 2016, the relationship took another turn with the visit of former Saudi general Eshki, who was once a top adviser to the Saudi government, to Israel. Eshki lead a delegation of Saudi business men, officially to push the Saudi Peace Initiative, but also signaling an opening of other relations between the countries[1].

In September 2020, with the signing of Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE, the Israeli Prime minister and the Saudi crown prince met making it the first official high-level meeting between the countries[2]. The same month, Israel and Saudi Arabia announced a plan to build a pipeline between the two countries in order to export Saudi oil to Europe[3]. Two months later, Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia[4].

With no official diplomatic relations, Israeli and Saudi military corporation has been ongoing, mostly facilitated by US mediators, in relation to Iran[5], Syria[6], and on other occasions. A leaked diplomatic cable from 2017 called Israeli diplomatic corps to back Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen[7].

In the last few years, CitizenLab exposed that Saudi has used the Israeli spyware Pegasus. In 2020, NSO Group, the company that operates Pegasus, rolled out their new big-data tool “Fleming”, including in Saudi[8].

In 2018, the spyware Pegasus was implicated in the murder of Saudi Jamal Khashoggi through the hacking of the phone of his colleague Omar Abdulaziz[9].  In 2020, dozens of Al-Jazeera journalists were hacked using Pegasus, most likely to the request of Saudi[10].

Saudi is infamous for its Limitation on freedom of expression and organization. This includes the authorities’ continued prosecution of human rights defenders and peaceful critical individuals before the Specialized Criminal Court, a counter-terror court. Political parties, unions, and human rights organizations are all forbidden, and all mass gatherings, including protests, are forbidden. [11] The extrajudicial execution in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, while not officially carried out by the Saudi government, was part of the ongoing persecution of journalists.

The death penalty is still used in Saudi as part of the criminal code, with 184 executions in 2019 – the third highest in the world[12]. Women still require permission from a male guardian for a long list of rights, including getting married, providing consent for their children to marry, travel, and much more.

Externally, Saudi leads the coalition conducting the armed intervention in the armed conflict in Yemen since 2015. The coalition is implicated in war crimes and other serious violations of international law and gross human rights violations[13]. Up until 2021, Saudi Arabia was the leading member of the coalition imposing economic and political sanctions on Qatar, that partially ended in an agreement in January 2021.