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Britain and Israel to sign 10-year trade and defence deal

The deal comes amid mounting allegations that Israeli spyware was used to hack foreign officials and journalists
The trade and defence pact was declared by Britain and Israel after the UK declared Hamas a 'terrorist' organisation (AFP)

Britain is set to sign a 10-year trade and defence pact with Israel on Monday in which they will cooperate on cybersecurity and commit to stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons on the eve of new talks. 

The deal comes amid mounting evidence that Israeli spyware was used to attack Middle East Eye and spy on British lawyers advising Princess Haya, the ex-wife of the ruler of Dubai.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid announced the memorandum of understanding on Monday in a joint article for the Telegraph newspaper. 

Both ministers said the pact would "spur technological breakthroughs" and that "Israel will officially become a tier-one cyber partner for the UK" with this deal.

The UK and Israel will begin talks on a full trade deal early in 2022, Truss and Lapid said. Trade between the countries currently is worth $5bn. 

The pact also doubled down on Britain's commitment to stamping down on antisemitism by condemning protests against Israel's ambassador Tzipi Hotovely outside the London School of Economics earlier this month, and supporting the UK's decision to proscribe Hamas as a terrorist group

"There is no place for anti-Semitism around the world. That is why the UK has moved decisively to support Israel in this fight by proscribing Hamas in its entirety," the pair wrote.

They highlighted UK support for the recent normalisation agreements between several Arab states and Israel, overturning decades in which ties were kept under wraps. 

"The UK was one of the first countries to publicly celebrate this historic step towards normalisation in the Middle East led by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco and mediated by the United States," they wrote. "One year on, the UK is continuing to play its part in supporting Israel as it works more closely with partners in the region." 

Lapid arrived in London on Sunday for a two-day trip to the UK and France, a day before nuclear talks with Iran will resume. 

The Israeli foreign minister is expected to sign the deal with Truss on Monday before meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where they will both give speeches. 

Israeli Channel 13 reported that Lapid's visit aimed to ensure banking sanctions were not lifted during talks with Iran. 

UK silence on Israeli spyware

Earlier this month, the UK government refused to say whether it has or will complain to Israel following reports that MEE was among targets of an alleged cyber-attack linked to Candiru, a Tel Aviv spyware firm sanctioned in the United States. 

The alleged attack, which a cybersecurity firm said has "strong links" to Candiru, a highly secretive Israeli firm that only sells its spyware to governments, follows earlier reports that the NSO Group's Pegasus software was used to target phones in the UK. 

Britain's High Court also found that Fiona Shackleton and Nick Manners, the lawyers advising Princess Haya during her court hearing, was hacked using software from Israeli spyware firm Pegasus. 

The court believes the Pegasus hack on Princess Haya and her lawyers was ordered by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed who denies the claim. 

The military and defence pact comes as the UK has strengthened military ties with Israel under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with a $137m contract between the British military and Israel drone technology company Elbit Systems to supply remote targeting systems agreed in January.

The RAF also took part in a training exercise with the Israeli air force over the Negev Desert in October, a first since 1948, according to The Times.

The pact comes as the international community enters talks with Iran to restart nuclear talks after a five-month gap in Vienna.