Have British weapons been used in the ongoing atrocities against Palestine?

Campaign Against Arms Trade calls for an investigation into possible abuses.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is calling on the UK government to investigate whether arms made in Britain and exported to Israel have been used in the ongoing bombing of Gaza.

As Israeli bombardment of Palestine enters its second week, leading to the death of around 200 Palestinians, including 58 children, the spotlight has fallen on whether arms licensed by the UK have been used in the atrocities.

Demands for the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel come after Amnesty International announced it is likely war crimes are being committed in the current conflict in Gaza. An active ICC investigation could mean that both Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups are held responsible for war crimes.  

Not the first time

In regard to Britain’s implications in arms exports to Israel, this would not be the first-time weapons and components made in the UK have been deployed in bombing campaigns in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

A review by the government into the bombardment of Gaza in 2014, identified 12 licenses for “components which could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza.” The licenses included equipment for military radar, combat aircraft and tanks.

In the wake of the review of UK exports to Israel, the British government said at the time it would suspend some of its arms exports to Israel if hostilities resume in Gaza.

“No new licenses of military equipment have been issued for use by the Israeli Defence Forces during the review period, and as a precautionary measure this will continue until hostilities cease,” said Vince Cable, business secretary at the time.

Cable, along with the former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, had called for the immediate suspension of exports. The calls had been resisted by the then prime minister, David Cameron and the former foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.

UK arms “almost certainly” used

The suspension of arms to Israel in 2014 followed similar accusations and investigation in 2010, when the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, said that UK arms had “almost certainly” been used in the 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza.

In response to a report issued by the Commons Committee on strategic export controls that found that arms exports to Israel were almost certainly used in Operation Cast Lead – the attack on Gaza – the committee said: “This is a direct contravention to the UK government’s policy that UK arms exports to Israel should not be used in the occupied territories.”

Despite investigations and subsequent calls and promises to revoke export licences for equipment destined for Israel, since 2015, the UK has licensed over £400 million worth of arms to Israeli forces.

CAAT itemises what the £400 million worth of licenses have been allocated to. £183 million has been spent on military equipment known as ML22 licenses. £104 million has gone on ML10 licenses for aircraft, helicopters and drones. £20 million has been spent on grenades, bombs, missiles and countermeasures. £4.6 million on armoured vehicles and tanks, £1.9 million on ammunition and £1 million on small arms.

According to CAAT, the actual level of exports will be significantly higher, as there has also been 43 Open Licenses since 2015. Open Licenses have been mainly used for aircraft equipment and allow for an unlimited quantity and value of exports.

“No justification”

Andrew Smith of CAAT said there can be “no justification” and “no excuses” for the brutality of the ongoing bombardment in Palestine.

“Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed, including many children. The suffering will only intensify the longer the bombing continues,” said Smith.

“We know that UK made arms have been used against Palestinians before, but that has done nothing to halt the flow of weapons. There must be a suspension of arms sales, and a full review into whether UK weapons have been used and if they are implicated in possible war crimes.

“For decades now, successive government have talked about their commitment to peacebuilding, while continuing to arm and support Israeli forces. These arms sales do not just provide military support, they also send a clear sign of political support for the occupation and blockade, and the violence that is being inflicted,” Smith continued.

Left Foot Forward reached out to the Department for International Trade on the issue.

A Government spokesperson said: 

“We have been clear that the ongoing violence across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is deeply concerning and must stop. We want to see an urgent cessation of hostilities and calm restored. 

“The UK operates one of the most comprehensive export control regimes in the world and rigorously assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. 

“We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.” 

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to Left Foot Forward.

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