An IAF F-15I fighter jet.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – Britain has lifted what was in effect viewed as a partial arms embargo on arms sales to Israel that was imposed toward the end of last year’s Gaza war, because of fears some British components in weapons and equipment might be used against Palestinian civilians.
Even stricter criteria for arms sales to Israel were introduced shortly after the war by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, which at the time was headed by Vincent Cable, a Liberal Democrat MP who was part of the then-coalition with the Conservative led government.
Despite protests from several coalition partner Conservative Ministers and MPs, Cable took seriously a number of unverified accusations that Israel was in breach of the arms sales criteria and confirmed that approval for 12 arms export licenses would be suspended if hostilities resumed.
Cable explained at the time that the government was unable to clarify whether the arms sales licenses concerned – which included components for radars and tanks – breached UK regulations which expressly forbid exports being used for “internal repression” or “aggravate existing tensions or conflicts.”
His Liberal Democrat Party took a diametrically opposed stance toward Israel from their Conservative partners throughout the conflict.
Both said Israel had a right to defend itself, but Cable’s party went on to complain that Israel’s response to the constant Hamas rocket fire by attacking and partially invading Gaza was “disproportionate.”
As the conflict developed, he demanded an immediate ban on all further arms sales. The review into such arms sales resulted.
Now that Sajid Javid, a strongly pro-Israel Conservative minister, is in charge of the business department, he announced at the end of last week that, having completed their review, they were now satisfied that licenses for material including components for military radar and tanks met the UK’s export criteria.
The Business Innovation and Skills Department explained further that, with their review complete, they would now apply its normal criteria to all exports and thus would lift the threat to suspend licenses in the event of fresh hostilities.
However, according to The Independent
newspaper, suspicions were aroused about at least two of the 12 export licenses. It claimed that the British government admitted there were items for weaponry which may have been used in Gaza that were sent to Israel via Germany and the United States.
The paper added that critics of Britain’s arms exports control system had argued there were repeated examples of the use of British-made weaponry in the West Bank over the last 13 years, including the deployment of armored personnel carriers and the use of F-16 fighters and Apache helicopters containing UK components.
Human rights activists condemned the decision to lift restrictions, with Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade expressing disbelief.
“This report is extremely weak. It sends the message that Israel can continue using UK arms against the people of Gaza and the government will do nothing to stop it,” he said.
The Independent also disclosed that Britain had approved 32 new arms deals with Israel within weeks of the end of the Gaza conflict worth some £4 million, with one of the export licenses being granted six days after the cease-fire was announced. About £2.5m. was said to be for items being exported directly to Israel, including components for military radars, submarines, and jet engines.
The remainder was said to be for the incorporation of UK-made weaponry, including components for military pilots’ head-up displays and military combat vehicles, into products which were then be re-exported to other countries, including Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.
The government’s own quarterly arms export statistics also showed that 36 other licenses were granted for British components sent to destinations including Germany, Italy, and the United States for incorporation into weaponry which was then to be sold to Israel. They included parts for air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles, components for combat helicopters and tank turrets, and material used for the command and control of drones.