Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


3  British arms exports to Israel

78. In the light of the concerns about the conduct of the conflict in Gaza which we outlined in paragraphs 61-73, there has been renewed discussion of foreign arms transfers to Israel and the OPTs. In a report published in February, on the basis of the findings of a team which visited Gaza after the conflict, Amnesty International concluded that "both Israel and Hamas used weapons supplied from abroad to carry out attacks on civilians" during the December-January violence.[202]

79. By definition, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups do not receive officially approved arms transfers from the UK. In this chapter we therefore exclusively consider UK arms exports to Israel. We refer to the issue of arms supplies to Hamas in the context of our discussions of access into Gaza (in paragraphs 41-45) and the role of Iran (in paragraph 161).

80. British arms export policy is scrutinised in the House of Commons by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), a concurrent meeting of four select committees, including the Foreign Affairs Committee. CAEC has taken a longstanding interest in British arms export policy regarding Israel. It is examining the subject again as part of its current annual inquiry.

81. The British Government grants arms export licences on the basis of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. Among other provisions, these specify that the Government may not authorise an arms export where there is a "clear risk" that it may be used for internal repression (Criterion 2), or which would "provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination" (Criterion 3), or where there is a "clear risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim" (Criterion 4). The criteria also require the Government to "exercise special caution and vigilance" in issuing licences to countries where serious human rights violations have been established (Criterion 2), and to take into account the purchasing country's compliance with its international commitments (Criterion 6). The criteria further require the Government to take into account the potential effect of the proposed export on the UK's defence and security interests, although they specify that this factor cannot affect consideration of the human rights and regional security criteria (Criterion 5).[203] In his statement to the House on the Gaza conflict on 12 January the Foreign Secretary summarised the way in which the Government applies the criteria in relation to Israel: he said that "no arms exports are granted where there is a clear risk that those arms could be used for internal repression or external aggression."[204]

82. According to successive editions of the Government's Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls, for military exports to Israel in recent years the value of approved Standard Individual Export Licences and of exported military equipment was as follows:

Value of British military exports to Israel, 2002-2008 (£ million)
2002 2003 20042005 2006 20072008
Military equipment exported 2.170.24 0.840.58 1.826.3 Not yet available
Standard Individual Export Licences approved 10.011.5 12.022.5 16.510.5 27.6

Source: BERR/FCO/MOD/DFID, successive Annual Reports on Strategic Export Controls, available via www.fco.gov.uk. The 2008 Annual Report had not been published when we completed this Report. As a result, no figure for equipment exported in 2008 was yet available, and the figure given here for Standard Individual Export Licences approved was summed from the four 2008 Quarterly Reports. See also House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/IA/4931, "Arms Exports to Israel", 13 January 2009.

83. After further questioning by ourselves and CAEC following the conflict in Gaza, and after NGOs and the media had continued to raise a number of specific issues in connection with British arms exports to Israel in the context of Israel's military campaign in the territory, the Foreign Secretary issued a written ministerial statement on 21 April. One issue which had been raised was the Government's decision in 2002 to authorise the export of components to the US for incorporation there into aircraft for onward export to Israel, when it would not authorise the export of the relevant components or aircraft to Israel direct from the UK.[205] Under the 2002 decision, the UK has supplied components to the US for incorporation into F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache attack helicopters. In his 21 April statement, the Foreign Secretary said that F-16s and Apache helicopters used by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead "almost certainly" contained British-supplied components.[206] The Foreign Secretary also identified, as equipment used by Israel during Operation Cast Lead which "almost certainly" included British-supplied components, Saar 4.5 naval vessels and armoured personnel carriers. The UK authorised the export direct to Israel of gun components for the former. The latter included converted British Centurion tanks sold to Israel in the late 1950s.[207] Apart from those relating to the Saar naval vessels, all the British export licences for items which were "almost certainly" used during Operation Cast Lead were issued before the war in Lebanon in 2006: Bill Rammell told CAEC in April that the Government had not authorised any exports relating to F-16s, helicopters or armoured personnel carriers for Israel, including for incorporation in a third country, since that conflict.[208]

84. In his 21 April statement, the Foreign Secretary also said that the UK had supplied "minor components" for reconnaissance satellites which "might" have been used to prepare Operation Cast Lead, but which "would not have played a significant part in the operation itself."[209]

85. In its February 2009 report, Amnesty International had drawn attention to the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A Lichfield firm supplies engines to Israel for inclusion in the Hermes 450 UAVs which are manufactured there by Elbit systems. The IDF used Hermes 450 aircraft during Operation Cast Lead.[210] However, according to Elbit, Hermes 450 aircraft containing British engines are manufactured in Israel exclusively for export and are not used by the IDF.[211] The Government has said similarly that British export licences have only been issued for the engines to be incorporated in Israel and then exported.[212] Of British export licences for equipment for Israel's UAV industry, the Foreign Secretary said in his April statement that "the great majority are subject to further incorporation in Israel for onward export and a small number approved for demonstration, research, testing and our own 'Watchkeeper' UAV programme".[213] The latter is the UK's major contract, awarded in 2005, for new UAVs; Hermes 450 aircraft provided under the programme by a consortium of Elbit and Thales were declared 'in service' in July 2007.[214] The Foreign Secretary told the House in his April statement that the FCO had "no evidence that goods licensed by the UK [for UAVs] were diverted within Israel for use by the IDF."[215] The case of Israeli-made UAVs seems to us to raise issues about any end-use restrictions that may have been placed on the British engines exported to Israel for incorporation into Israeli UAVs, and about the relationship between British arms export policy and the importance to the UK's defence interests of the imported Israeli-made aircraft.

86. The Foreign Secretary concluded his 21 April statement by saying that the Government was reviewing all extant export licences to Israel, to see if any needed to be reconsidered in the light of the conflict in Gaza. This confirmed what Bill Rammell had already indicated to us.[216] Bill Rammell also told both us and CAEC that licences would be revoked if necessary.[217] The Foreign Secretary told the House that the Government would take the conflict in Gaza into account in assessing all future licence applications.[218]

87. On 13 July, there were media reports that the Government had decided to revoke five licences for arms exports to Israel, reportedly for exports of components for Saar 4.5 naval vessels. The decision would appear to be the result of the review which the Foreign Secretary announced in his April statement. The FCO was quoted as saying that, as a result of Israel's action in Operation Cast Lead, the exports would now contravene the licensing criteria.[219]

88. In its February report, Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Gaza. In the meantime, Amnesty urged exporting states to suspend all arms transfers to the relevant parties.[220] It noted that, among EU member states, nine already claim to export no arms to Israel.[221] The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has similarly called for a UK arms embargo on Israel, on the grounds that it was "not credible to believe" Israeli assurances that weapons and components received from the UK were separated from other equipment and not used in offensive actions outside Green Line Israel.[222]

89. We and CAEC have heard a number of arguments against a UK arms embargo on Israel:

i.  The UK is not a major arms supplier to Israel, so a British embargo would have little impact on Israel's ability to mount offensive operations.[223] Israel sources around 95% of its defence imports from the US;[224] in its latest Yearbook, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) put the US share of Israel's conventional weapons imports in 2004-08 at 99%. According to SIPRI, the UK was among the suppliers which collectively accounted for less than 0.5% of Israel's conventional weapons imports over the period.[225]

ii.  The Government already refuses a considerable number of applications for export licences for Israel: Bill Rammell told us that the Government had refused between nine and 26 licence applications each year over the last five years.[226] In the view of those who oppose an arms embargo, this suggests that the Government is implementing its stated restrictions on transfers to Israel, in line with the consolidated criteria; and it reinforces the argument that a formal embargo would have little practical impact on Israel's capacity to take military action.[227]

iii.  Banning the export of components for incorporation in the US and onward export to Israel would damage the UK-US defence relationship. This is the argument that the Government put forward at the time of its 2002 decision on incorporation.

iv.  It is possible that a British embargo on Israel might disrupt arms transfers from Israel to the UK. The Chairman of the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence (EGAD), David Hayes, told CAEC that the Ministry of Defence was procuring equipment from Israel and that an arms embargo "would have a devastating effect on the operational capability of [UK] Forces and put [UK] military personnel at increased risk."[228]

v.  There is the political argument that, as Bill Rammell put it to CAEC, the imposition of an arms embargo on Israel would not help the UK to achieve its broader political aims in the Middle East.[229]

90. We welcome the Government's investigation into Israel's use of UK-sourced military items during its campaign in Gaza. We conclude that it is regrettable that components supplied by the UK were "almost certainly" used in a variety of ways by Israeli forces during the most recent conflict in Gaza, and that this constitutes a failure of past Government arms export control policy. We recommend that the Government should continue to do everything possible to ensure that this does not happen again. We welcome the Government's decision to revoke some arms export licences to Israel for components for Saar 4.5 naval vessels. We further recommend that the Government should provide its assessment of the impact on the UK-US defence relationship of its decision since 2006 to cease licensing the export of components for incorporation into F-16s and Apache helicopters in the US; and specify any end-use restrictions which it places on exports of components for unmanned aerial vehicles for incorporation in Israel for onward export.


202   Amnesty International, "Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza", 23 February 2009, pp 30-31 Back

203   BERR/FCO/MOD/DFID, United Kingdom Strategic Export Controls Annual Report 2007, Cm 7451, July 2008, pp 37-39 Back

204   HC Deb, 12 January 2009, col 29 Back

205   Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, First Joint Report of Session 2001-02, Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2000, Licensing Policy and Prior Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 718, paras 136-147; Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, Second Joint Report of Session 2002-03, Strategic Export Controls, Annual Report for 2001, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, HC 474, paras 130-154 Back

206   HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS Back

207   Ibid. Back

208   Oral evidence taken before CAEC on 22 April 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-iii, Qq 126, 136 Back

209   HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS Back

210   Ibid. Back

211   Amnesty International, "Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza", 23 February 2009, pp 30-31 Back

212   Ev 52; oral evidence taken before CAEC on 21 January 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-i, Q 19 [Ian Pearson MP, Economic and Business Minister, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and Ms Jayne Carpenter, Assistant Director, Export Control Organisation, BERR] Back

213   HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS Back

214   HC Deb, 26 January 2009, col 40W Back

215   HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS Back

216   Q 117 Back

217   Q 117; oral evidence taken before CAEC on 22 April 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-iii, Q 124 Back

218   HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS Back

219   "UK cuts Israel weapons contracts", BBC News, 13 July 2009, via www.bbc.co.uk/news; "Foreign Office halts sale of parts for Gaza warships", The Times, 14 July 2009 Back

220   Amnesty International, "Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza", 23 February 2009, p 35 Back

221   Ibid. Back

222   Written evidence to CAEC, January 2009, published online at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmquad/memo/strategic/ucam0702.htm Back

223   Oral evidence taken before CAEC on 11 March 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-ii, Q 69 [Roy Isbister, Saferworld]  Back

224   Q 117; HC Deb, 21 April 2009, col 8WS; oral evidence taken before CAEC on 22 April 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-iii, Q 138 [Bill Rammell]; House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/IA/4931, "Arms Exports to Israel", 13 January 2009 Back

225   SIPRI Yearbook 2009 (OUP 2009), p 332 Back

226   Q 117 Back

227   Export Group for Aerospace and Defence (EGAD), written evidence to CAEC, January 2009, published online at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmquad/memo/strategic/ucam0602.htm; oral evidence taken before CAEC on 21 January 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-i, Q 6 [Ian Pearson]; oral evidence taken before CAEC on 22 April 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-iii, Q 139 [Bill Rammell] Back

228   Oral evidence taken before CAEC on 11 March 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-ii, Q 100 Back

229   Oral evidence taken before CAEC on 22 April 2009, HC (2008-09) 178-iii, Q 142 Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 26 July 2009