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The New Arab

UAE 'sought Israeli help' to spy on Qatari, Saudi royals

The UAE's use of the Israeli cyber-weapon came to light in 2016 [Getty]

Date of publication: 31 August, 2018

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Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have used a powerful Israeli cyber-weapon to try to spy on Qatar's Emir and royal family, Lebanon's prime minister and a powerful Saudi prince.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have used a powerful Israeli cyber-weapon to hack the communication of Qatar's royal family, Lebanon's prime minister and a powerful Saudi prince.

Leaked emails submitted in two lawsuits on Thursday against the spyware's maker, the Israel-based NSO Group, have revealed the extent of the UAE's regional espionage efforts, The New York Times  reported.

Emirati officials asked the Israeli cyber intelligence firm if it could hack the phones of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the former head of the Saudi National Guard and a former editor of the UAE-funded Al-Arab newspaper based in London, according to one of the emails.

An NSO Group representative responded by sending the official recordings of phone calls of the journalist, Abdulaziz al-Khamis, taken without his knowledge.

The emails show the UAE has been trying to tap the mobile phone of Sheikh Tamim since 2014 and that 159 members of the Qatari royal family and officials have allegedly been spied on.

In one email, the Israeli firm promises a report based on spying on 13 "top targets" in Qatar.

The report comes amid a bitter year-long crisis triggered when Gulf countries cut ties with Doha.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and other allies severed ties with Qatar on June 7, 2017, accusing Doha of backing terrorism. Doha has categorically denied the accusations.

Qatar has accused the UAE of hacking its state news agency to publish false statements, which triggered the diplomatic and economic blockade of Doha.

The spy deal is the latest revelation that shows the growing bond between Israel and the UAE.

The UAE does not recognise Israel, but the two appear to have a growing behind-the-scenes alliance along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain as they find common cause against mutual foe Iran.

The emails also showed that the UAE has targeted other regional rivals, but also 'friendlies' as the pro-Saudi Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was among the targets.

Last year, Hariri announced a shock resignation in a televised address from Riyadh - a move many have said was forced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a close ally to the UAE.

Hariri, who has since rescinded the announcement, has been accused of failing to curb the influence of Saudi Arabia's regional rival Iran on Lebanon.

Another target was the former head of the Saudi National Guard, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, who at the time was considered a contender for the throne.

Prince Mutaib was removed from his post last year and arrested as part of a purported anti-corruption probe led by the powerful crown prince targeting rivals.

The UAE's use of the Israeli cyber-weapon came to light in 2016 when an Emirati human rights activist was targeted by the malware.

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