Arms to Israel

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Girl casualty
Haya, 12, was killed with her sister, Lamer, 4, in Israel's attacks on Gaza in December 2008. The UK supplied parts for the planes used in the bombing.

UK arms sales to Israel

The UK has consistently sold arms to Israel. Details of the export licences issued since 2008 can be found here. During and since the start of the military action against Gaza in July 2014, with the ensuing deaths of over 2,000 Palestinians and the destruction of homes and vital infrastructure, there have been many calls for an arms embargo.

These calls led Prime Minister David Cameron to say on 4 August 2014 that all export licences would be reviewed. More details about the review, and CAAT's legal challenge to its unsatisfactory outcome, can be found here.

Existing Government policy had been "clarified" in a letter dated 10 February 2011 from the then Foreign Office Minister, Alistair Burt, which says "I can confirm that UK policy on the export of controlled goods and equipment to Israel has not changed since the Coalition Government took office. All export licence applications to Israel are considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Export Licensing Criteria." However, this says nothing - the real issue is how the criteria are interpreted. Despite the UN stating that Israel "violates humanitarian law", and even though the criteria are supposed to assess the impact on regional peace, security and stability and the human rights record of the recipient, the sales continue.

Components matter

In addition to the military equipment being supplied directly from the UK, there are also components that go into US-built equipment destined for Israel. In July 2002, the UK government approved the export of components for F-16 fighters being made by the US company Lockheed Martin and sold to Israel. Then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justified the sales saying: "The Government has judged that the UK's security and defence relationship with the US is fundamental to the UK's national security ... Defence collaboration with the US is also key to maintaining a strong defence industrial capacity." He went on "Any interruption to the supply of these components would have serious implications for the UK's defence relations with the United States." In other words, the commercial relationship between BAE Systems and US companies such as Lockheed Martin was judged more important than the lives of Palestinians.

Israel has used F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache combat helicopters to bomb Lebanese and Palestinian towns and villages. These have contained UK manufactured components including missile triggering systems for Apaches and Head-Up Displays for F-16s.

More information on UK companies known to have supplied military equipment to Israel.

UK equipment used in Gaza in 2008-9, but no assessment since

In a Ministerial Statement on 21 April 2009, then Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband admitted that Israeli equipment used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict "almost certainly" contained UK-supplied components. He cited F16 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, Saar-Class corvettes and armoured personnel carriers. The following day, quizzed by the Commons' Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), junior Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said no licences for components for the F16s, helicopters or armoured personnel carriers had been approved since the war on the Lebanon in 2006. On 13 July 2009 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that licences for parts for the Saar corvettes had been revoked. The UK embassy in Israel confirmed this had been done following the then Foreign Secretary's statement.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, talking about the Israeli Defence Force actions in November 2012, said on 18 December 2012 that: "We have no assessment to date of whether any UK weapons or components were used during the recent conflict by the IDF." No detailed assessment has been made during subsequent hostilities either.

Israel's own arms industry and the two-way links

Israel's military sector is made up of over 200 public and private companies. It is dominated by Elbit Systems and three state-owned companies: Israel Aircraft Industries, Israel Military Industries and Rafael.

The UK spends millions of pounds each year on 'battle-tested' arms from Israeli companies. One growing link is in the area of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. More information about this can be found here.

Another area of concern is the links between the European Union and Israel over security equipment.

Further information

For more information, see frequently asked questions about Israel.

Page updated 7 October 2014
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