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(photo credit: Associated Press)
The US handed British Prime Minister Tony Blair a political embarrassment on Thursday, a day before Blair's White House visit, following press reports that the Pentagon ignored regulations governing arms transshipments through British civilian airports.
American arms destined for Israel and routed through Glasgow's Prestwick Airport apparently were not shipped according to safety and security procedures established by the Civil Aviation Authority. The revelation handed a political windfall to Blair's opponents who said the error shows Blair is a puppet of President George W. Bush.
As a result of the disclosure, Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett said she would issue a formal protest to the US.
"No I'm not happy about it," Beckett told British TV when asked about 5,000-pound "smart bombs" being sent through Prestwick Airport. "Not least because it appears that in so far as there are procedures for handling of that kind of cargo, hazardous cargo, irrespective of what they are, it does appear that they were not followed.
"I have already let the United States know that this is an issue that appears to be seriously at fault, and that we will be making a formal protest if it appears that that is what has happened. We are still looking into the facts but I have already notified the United States to let them know we are not happy about it," she said.
"It is particularly provocative for the United States to have acted in this way," said Liberal Democrat Party leader Sir Menzies Campbell on Thursday, adding it could only "reinforce the belief of many that Britain is taken for granted in the so-called special relationship."
Campbell also criticized Israel, saying "One way of ensuring restraint on the part of Israel would be to cut off the supply of arms and equipment."
"With an escalating Middle East conflict," said Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond on BBC's Radio 4, it was problematic "to arm one side in that conflict to the teeth, at a time when hundreds of civilians, many children, United Nations observers, have already been eliminated, killed, by similar weapons." Britain must stand up to America, he said, and have "an independent foreign policy, as opposed to merely acquiescing [to] everything the United States chooses to do."
The controversy added to the Labour government's political woes, coming on the heels of an ICM survey, published in The Guardian on Thursday, which put the Conservatives at 39 percent support among voters - their best showing in 13 years - against the Labour Party's 35%, and the Liberal Democrats' 17%.
Criticism from the Church of England, the Conservative Party and even Labour supporters over the weekend has reinforced the findings of a YouGov poll published by the Daily Telegraph which said 64% of voters think Blair "gives the impression of siding with the Americans, whatever the Americans say."
Last week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon telling BBC Radio that Israel's military offensive was disproportionate to the provocation it had received. Israel's response was "contributing not to the short and middle-term security of the state of Israel and its citizens but to further destabilization" of the region, he said.
Israel had the right to defend itself, the archbishop said, but the question at issue, he added, "was what can a state morally do without subverting its own cause in self defense? That's the question which I think people are pressing at the moment in Israel."
William Hague, Conservative Party shadow foreign secretary, wrote on Sunday: "Our position in international affairs may often be linked to that of the United States but it does not have to be identical to it.
"Israel can hardly be expected to end its offensive at this stage unless captured soldiers are returned, rocket attacks ended, and some hope provided that Lebanon's future will be different from its past." However, "in some instances, such as attacks on the Lebanese army or on parts of the civil infrastructure, Israeli actions have been disproportionate," he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
Writing in the New Statesman this week, a former foreign policy advisor to the prime minister, Sir Stephen Wall, said, the "overriding reason for Britain's loss of moral authority is Blair's conviction that he has to hitch the UK to the chariot of the US president." "Is it the conviction of our government that we should leave it to George W. Bush to set the bearings of our moral compass?"