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Anyone listening? Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata secretly visited Paris several days ago for talks with his counterparts at the Élysée aimed at ending the crisis around the alleged use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO to hack the cell phones of President Emmanuel Macron and other top French officials, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The alleged misuse of NSO software has become a major diplomatic headache for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government. The crisis led to a partial freeze on diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France and the suspension of high-level bilateral visits.

Driving the news: Hulata met in Paris with Macron’s national security adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, briefed him on the ongoing Israeli investigation into Pegasus and presented him with a proposal to end the crisis.

  • The Israeli proposal included a commitment to ban the hacking of French mobile phone numbers in any future spyware deal between an Israeli firm and a third country.
  • A similar ban already exists on hacking U.S. and U.K. numbers.

The backstory: An international consortium of investigative journalists reported in July that Pegasus — designed to track terrorists and criminals — had become a valuable tool for governments to spy on journalists and critics.

  • Among the countries listed in the reports as NSO clients are Hungary, India, Mexico, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
  • Some of the most explosive media reports at the time involved Morocco's alleged use of Pegasus to hack the phones of Macron and other French officials.

Flashback: Macron called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to seek an explanation.

  • Bennett told Macron he had inherited the NSO issue from his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, and was conducting an investigation.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz traveled to Paris at the time and briefed his French counterpart about that investigation.

What’s next: The talks between Israel and France are ongoing but Israeli officials say they hope a solution to end the crisis could be reached soon.

Go deeper

Nov 24, 2021 - World

Israeli diplomat: New regional alliances "keep the Iranians up at night"

Photo: Mazen Mahdi AFP via Getty

MANAMA, Bahrain — The diplomat who transitioned Israel's secret relationship with Bahrain into a public one tells Axios that Israel's burgeoning partnerships in the region "keep the Iranians up at night."

What he's saying: "The Iranians opened a front against us in Syria and Lebanon, but now when they look across the Gulf, they see us there with our allies very close to them," says Itay Tagner, the outgoing head of mission at the new Israeli Embassy in Bahrain, who previously led the secret Israeli diplomatic mission in Manama.

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Abrams’ campaign manager rules out 2024 run if she wins governor's race

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In her first major interview since the official announcement, Stacey Abrams' campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo quashed speculation that the Georgia Democrat would interrupt a theoretical gubernatorial term to run for president in 2024.

Why it matters: Abrams' name has come up repeatedly as a top 2024 Democratic contender given President Joe Biden's age and Vice President Kamala Harris's low favorability rating.