Pakistan using Israeli surveillance tech, despite no diplomatic ties?


A recent report in Israeli news outlet Haaretz claimed that Pakistan has been using Israeli technology for security purposes, despite the lack of diplomatic relations and trade ties between the two countries.

“Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency and various police units [have been] using an Israeli digital intelligence company’s cyber technology software to tackle crime, espionage, and terrorist financing since 2012,” the report stated. It said that the Israeli company Celebrate supplied its products to Pakistan through its Singapore subsidiary.

The story created a stir in Pakistan. The Foreign Affairs Ministry did not respond officially. 

However, former Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in a statement: “Hacking technology and software are available in the international market. Pakistan can acquire such technology anywhere in the world according to its requirements. It is not correct to say that we have taken the technology directly from the Israeli firm. Whatever is available in the international market or whatever is the best product available is taken by our security agencies.”

Such revelations about the international use of Israeli-made spyware or digital surveillance technology are not new.

A paramilitary surveillance helicopter flies during a Shi’ite religious procession ahead of the Ashura festival in Karachi January 19, 2008. (credit: REUTERS/Zahid Hussein)

Pakistani PM was on a list of possible spyware targets

In July 2021, it was reported by Reuters that “Pakistan called on the United Nations on Friday to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures [in Pakistan], including Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Pakistani leader’s phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organizations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.”

Unnamed sources were quoted as saying, “Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems (Israel-based companies) have been providing security assistance to Pakistan, and their products have been used by the Pakistan Armed Forces.”

Elbit Systems provides a wide range of products including electronic warfare, command-control systems, training and simulation systems. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems provides air defense, missile defense, and anti-tank systems.

Israel and Pakistan do not have formal diplomatic relations, so any security assistance that may be provided by Israeli companies to Pakistan would be done through third-party intermediaries. It is possible that there is some cooperation between the two countries, but this cooperation is likely not as extensive as some claim.

Pakistan and neighboring Iran and Afghanistan have been developing increasingly cordial relations, and it is likely that the goal of publicizing such news is to harm Pakistan’s growing relations with both nations, as both have regimes hostile to Israel. 

Pakistan continues not to recognize Israel

Pakistan, the largest South Asian Muslim country, has declared that it will not recognize Israel as long as the Palestinian issue is not resolved. However, the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 normalized relations between Israel and several Arab countries, and has revived the question of relations with others. 

It is also possible that the news about Pakistani security forces using Israeli technology is simply a conspiracy theory. No concrete evidence has been produced to support the claim.

The Media Line spoke with various experts about the topic.

Dr. Baqir Malik is an assistant professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and holds a PhD in cyber politics, and has affiliations with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the National Center for Digital Government, Central European University in Budapest, and Harvard University.

“First and foremost, it is important to verify the accuracy of the claim that Pakistan is using Israeli spy devices,” Malik told The Media Line.

“If the claim is true, it is essential to determine why Pakistan would opt for such software, analyzing the technical aspects such as their capabilities, potential vulnerabilities, and how it could be used can shed light on its implications for Pakistan’s security and sovereignty.”

Pakistan would have to work through 3rd party due to anti-Israel sentiment

Malik said that there is widespread anti-Israel sentiment in Pakistan.

“Pakistani politicians may take advantage of anti-Israel sentiments for political gain, utilizing the matter to win support or divert attention from internal issues. Internationally, perceptions of the usage of these surveillance tools might also lead to increased tensions with other countries in the region,” he said.

“Politically and strategically, Pakistan needs to establish good relations with Israel, and the same is true for Israel. However, given that Pakistan is a multi-polar society and a socio-religious state, it may be challenging to do so in the near future due to the strong public reaction and the political consequences. For this reason, Pakistan obtains its strategic equipment through a third party.”

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based national security expert and expert in South Asia, told The Media Line: “Political goals are all about timing. Pakistan is now clearly being targeted due to the recent public discussions of possible limited openness to Track 2 diplomacy with Israel. Haaretz is fully aware of the sensitivity of the issue. Showing that multiple Pakistani institutions had allegedly used Israeli technology would create an impression of hypocrisy and double standards and could lead to civil unrest and change in power.” 

Dr. Frank Musmar, a Texas-based nonresident researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, said that the Abraham Accords had opened up the possibility for warming relations between Israel and Pakistan.

“As the Abraham Accords was signed between the UAE and Israel, private initiatives for advancing relations between Israel and Pakistan developed, renewing the Pakistani discourse on the issue. [This] could serve as a lever for diplomatic relations in the long term,” Musmar told The Media Line.

“The people of Pakistan are divided over relations with Israel. Some factions are against Israel because of the Palestinian cause,” he said.

“In contrast, others see relations with Israel as an important strategic initiative. They argue that rapprochement with Israel would help Pakistan economically and emphasize Israel’s socioeconomic strength as a prosperous high-tech nation.

“For Israel, Pakistan’s geographic location makes it a territory with strategic importance, especially the shared border with Iran, which has warm relations with Islamabad, and the long borders with Afghanistan, especially after the withdrawal of the US-led NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2021, leaving the country a fertile soil for its enemies.”

Muhammed Shahid Masood Qazi, a London-based Pakistani lawyer and political analyst, told The Media Line that “aside from the Palestine issue, there is no conflict between Pakistan and Israel, nor do their boundaries meet.”“The Abraham Accords’ members include Muslim countries with close ties to Pakistan,” he said.

“Israel is a large economically and technologically advanced military force from which numerous countries have profited, including India, Egypt, and Turkey. It is not surprising if Pakistan obtained Israeli technology on the open market. The world has turned into a global village. The availability of Pakistani spices in Israeli markets, as well as the recent travel of some expatriate Pakistanis to Israel, indicate some positive progress.” 

In 2016, the Times of Israel reported on the largest joint military exercise in the United States, held between Pakistan, Israel and the UAE in Nevada.

“Although Pakistan has indicated it would be prepared to formalize its relationship with the Jewish state once there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians, ties between the two countries are often complicated,” TOI reported.

“There have been reports of covert contacts between Israeli and Pakistani officials, including a WikiLeaks document that indicated that a high-ranking official in Pakistan met directly with the Israeli official.” 

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