A woman holds a Union flag umbrella in front of the Big Ben clock tower (R) and the Houses of Parliament in London.
LONDON – Less than three months after a thorough British government investigation into arms sales to Israel, the lead department on the issue has launched a further inquiry into whether any exported UK items have been used for “internal repression” in Gaza or what it calls the “Occupied Territories.”
The Business Investment and Skills (BIS) Department announced the decision quietly earlier this month, in a statement explaining that export licenses issued for Israel during the first half of 2014 had been assessed against eight internationally agreed-upon criteria, and only those that didn’t breach the criteria had received approval.
It added that “a review of licensed exports to Israel, which was carried out earlier this year, found that the vast majority of exports currently licensed for Israel are not for items that could be used by Israeli forces in operations in Gaza in response to attacks by Hamas.”
Justifying the new review, a spokesman said that to ensure that up-to-date information and evidence was taken into account, and in light of the cease-fire having been in place for more than two months, “ministers decided to carry out a further review of extant licenses for Israel – the results of which... will be published in due course.”
Overseeing the BIS Department is Vincent Cable, a senior member of the Liberal Democrat Party, which is part of the governing coalition.
During the Gaza conflict, party leader Nick Clegg repeatedly called for an arms embargo against Israel, a position Cable endorsed in August when – despite the cease-fire – he said that due to uncertainties regarding whether the UK’s strict export license criteria were being met, his department had decided to suspend certain existing export licenses in the event of a resumption of significant hostilities.
Following what was believed to be a significant internal row with those following the more pro-Israel stance of conservatives in Prime Minister David Cameron’s governing coalition, Cable insisted that his departmental brief allowed him to impose a de facto arms embargo as long as hostilities were likely.
Having at the time identified 12 licenses for components that could be part of equipment the IDF used in Gaza, the department said it was concerned that it would not be able to clarify whether the export license criteria were being met, and would therefore “suspend those licenses as a precautionary step.”
The department said the items included components for military radar systems, combat aircraft and tanks.
However, it added that the suspensions would not include components of the Iron Dome missile shield, which helped protect Israelis from Hamas rocket attacks, nor would it include commercial exports, or components for the manufacture of equipment to be supplied to countries outside Israel.
At the time, Cable said that “no new licenses of military equipment have been issued for use by the IDF during the review period, and as a precautionary measure this approach will continue until hostilities cease.”
He also issued a warning about future arms export licenses, stating that the government “continues to monitor closely the situation in Israel and Gaza, and if existing licenses are found to be no longer consistent with the criteria, those licenses will be revoked.”
It is understood that it is this aspect of his August statement that he has decided to implement now.
BIS Department sources emphasized that he was doing so with the full knowledge and agreement of the Foreign Office.
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