JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police allegedly used spyware on the phones of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son and members of his inner circle, an Israeli newspaper reported Monday.
Calcalist has published a series of recent reports alleging that police used sophisticated spyware to target protesters and other Israeli citizens, prompting condemnation from across the political spectrum. The police commissioner has joined those calling for an independent investigation.
In recent days, Israeli media have reported that spyware was used against a key witness in Netanyahu’s corruption trial. Calcalist says it was also used against his son, Avner, two communications advisors and the wife of another defendant in the case.
They are among several prominent figures to have been targeted with spyware, including business leaders, former directors of Cabinet ministries, mayors and protest organizers, Calcalist reported.
Israel’s mostly ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, called for a “deep and thorough investigation.”
“We must not lose our democracy. We must not lose our police. And certainly: we must not lose our public trust in them,” he said.
Netanyahu is in the midst of a lengthy corruption trial over charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. His historic 12-year rule came to an end last June when a narrow coalition government was sworn in after four hard-fought elections in less than two years.
Netanyahu has long accused law enforcement of unfairly targeting him, and his lawyers have demanded answers. Even Netanyahu’s political opponents have expressed outrage.
The witness whose phone was reportedly hacked, Shlomo Filber, is expected to testify in the coming days and Netanyahu’s lawyers are expected to request a delay to his testimony. It remains unclear whether any of the evidence allegedly gathered was used against Netanyahu.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said that following the recent reports, he has recommended that the government form an external, independent investigation committee headed by a judge.
In a statement, he said the investigation should aim to “restore public trust in the Israel police on the one hand, and regulate the use of technology by the Israel police on the other.” The police say they are already cooperating with an investigation launched by the attorney general.
State prosecutors have meanwhile told Netanyahu’s lawyers that they are “thoroughly examining” the reports, according to internal communications seen by The Associated Press.
Authorities have not said which spyware might have been improperly used. Calcalist has said at least some of the cases involved the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group. Its flagship product, Pegasus, allows operators to seamlessly infiltrate a target’s mobile phone and gain access to the device’s contents, including real-time communications.
NSO has faced mounting scrutiny over Pegasus, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe.
NSO, which does not disclose its clients, says all of its sales are approved by Israel’s Defense Ministry and that its technology is used by governments to combat crime and terrorism.
Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.