Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Israel-Gaza conflict: Britain’s role in arming Israel

Palestinian Abir Wahdan, 39, left, and her husband Muhammed, inspect the rubble of what used to be their family house in the heavily bombed town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, close to the Israeli border, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Palestinian Abir Wahdan, 39, left, and her husband Muhammed, inspect the rubble of what used to be their family house in the heavily bombed town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, close to the Israeli border, Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The British Government has been accused of failing to regulate arms sales to Israel following evidence that weapons containing British-made components are being used in the bombardment of Gaza.

Documents shown to The Independent newspaper reveal that arms export licences worth £42m have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.

Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.

The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians and guided missile strikes. The situation in the Occupied Territory deteriorated further today when a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire collapsed within hours amid further shelling and the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier.

The Government said that it would review all outstanding export licences to Israel. But politicians and campaigners called on ministers to establish definitively whether whether UK-manufactured weapons or components have been used by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in Gaza since hostilities began three weeks ago.

Labour MP Katy Clark told The Independent: “By refusing to investigate this vital question the British Government are trying to bury their heads in the sand. This is a shameful approach to take and frankly makes the Government look as if it has something to hide.

“The British public have the right to know the level of support which the United Kingdom has provided to the Israeli armed forces through arms sales.”

In 2009, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband said some IDF equipment used in a previous, heavily criticised offensive in Gaza that year had “almost certainly” contained British-supplied components and vowed all future export applications would take this into account.

Past sales of UK weaponry have included head-up displays for F-16 jets made and parts for Apache attack helicopters made by at least half a dozen UK companies or subsidiaries. Both weapons have also been used in Gaza in recent weeks.

Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than £7bn last year.

Palestinian relatives of Islamic Jihad militant Shaaban Al-Dahdouh, which was found under the rubble, during funeral in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Israeli reserve solders gather in a staging area near the Israel-Gaza border, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Israeli reserve solders gather in a staging area near the Israel-Gaza border, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Palestinian supporters of Hamas clash with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank.   (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Palestinian supporters of Hamas clash with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the £42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some £10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.

The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s £12bn annual arms export trade.

But evidence exists that British-made components feature in weapons being deployed during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has been criticised for what some see as heavy-handed tactics during its assault on Gaza. Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, alongside 63 Israelis, including three civilians.

Drones have played a significant role in the action, flying above the Occupied Territory using sophisticated surveillance technology to pinpoint targets and guide in missile and smart bomb strikes. The drones are also used to deliver “warning shots” by firing smaller missiles into targeted buildings prior to heavy munitions delivered by jets such as the American-built F-16.

Schleifring Systems Ltd, a Berkshire-based subsidiary of a German defence company, is listed in the Government documents as having received 21 licences for military-use equipment in 2010, including four approvals for drone technology, one for armour plating and one for 12mm calibre firearms and accessories.

In one of its brochures, the company states that it supplies an advanced transmission device, known as slip ring, for the Hermes drone made by Elbit Systems, a large Israeli defence company. Both variants of the drone have been deployed over Gaza in the last three weeks according to military experts. The company also states that it supplies technology for other Israeli weaponry, including the Merkava IV main battle tank, also used in Gaza.

Schleifring did not respond to requests from The Independent to comment on its sales to Israel or whether its components feature in Hermes drones or other equipment used in Operation Protective Edge.

A Staffordshire-based subsidiary of Elbit, UAV Engines Ltd, is also listed as having obtained a licence to supply equipment relating to “target acquisition, designation, range-finding, surveillance or tracking systems”.

The company’s principal activity is the manufacture of drone engines. It has previously been listed in its own publicity material as supplying the engine for the Hermes 450, described by Elbit as “the ‘backbone’ of Israeli army and air force ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance] missions”.

UAV Engines did not respond to a request to comment but Elbit has previously denied that the Hermes 450s used by the IDF are powered by UK-made engines.

Other UK suppliers include BAE Systems, which provided head-up display units for US-built F16s delivered to Israel prior to 2002. The company said yesterday it had not supplied equipment since then and additional head-up displays used by the Israelis were provided by a domestic manufacturer.

Campaigners said the worsening situation in Gaza made it incumbent on the Government to halt weaponry sales to Israel. Andrew Smith, of CAAT, said: “There must be an immediate embargo on all arms sales and military collaboration with Israel. When governments sell weapons into war zones they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for what happens when they are used.”

In a statement, a Government spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing all existing export licences to Israel.  All applications for export licences are assessed on a case by case basis against strict criteria. We will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict.”

Live video

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Further reading

Brian Eno on the Israel-Gaza crisis: Why does America continue its blind support of this one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing?

Peter Schwartz responds to Brian Eno's open letter on Israel-Gaza crisis

Britain’s role in arming Israel 

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland in plea for peace

Sinn Fein man sorry for 'shell' Israel call

US gives £134m to restock Iron Dome 

Hamas denies snatching Israeli 'dual citizen' who had lived in the UK  

More carnage as Israel pounds Gaza

US gives £134m to restock Iron Dome

Probe into UK arms sales to Israel 

Russell Brand hammers FOX News anchor Sean Hannity over aggressive 'debate' 

Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot's pro-IDF stance causes controversy

Israel will destroy tunnels 'with or without ceasefire'

Dress the Israel Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Israel's propaganda machine is starting to misfire 

MPs' concern over violence in Gaza 

Israel and Hamas agree 3-day truce 

US resupplies Israel with grenades and mortar rounds from War Reserve Stockpile

Swastikas and 'f*** Gaza' graffiti attack by loyalists on Catholic church sparks anger

Penelope Cruz among Spanish stars to sign open letter condemning Israel for 'genocide'

Israel-Gaza crisis: More reserves to join fighting 

UN accuses Israel of possible war crime after school shelling kills 19

Penelope Cruz among Spanish stars to sign open letter condemning Israel for 'genocide' 

Video: Moment UN spokesman breaks down in flood of tears discussing Israeli attacks on Gaza

At least 109 Palestinians killed and power station shut down as Gaza pulverised by the Israeli military in heaviest day of bombardment yet

China 'hacks data' from Israel's Iron Dome missile shield, says report 

Surgeons deliver baby girl by Caesarean section after mother is killed in air strike 

Israeli bombs blast Hamas media hub

Fury at Sinn Fein 'boycott Israel' call

Obama presses Netanyahu to call ‘immediate and unconditional’ Gaza ceasefire

Unionist Lord Kilclooney under fire as he attacks Israel’s blitz on Gaza  

John Prescott condemns Israel's bombardment of Gaza as a 'war crime' 

Pope Francis issues desperate plea to fighters - 'I ask you with all my heart, stop please' 

The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts 

Gaza war rages despite truce vows

Israel-Hamas ceasefire: At least 60 bodies found in Gaza after 12-hour truce begins

Robert Fisk: What would we do if it had been 35 Palestinian dead, and 800 Israeli? 

Israeli targeting policy under scrutiny after shellfire hits a mother and child, a school full of refugees and a doctor’s home

Israel may have committed war crimes in Gaza, says UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay

Civilian casualties in Gaza tell stories of death and heartbreak 

Deadly flechette shells used by Israeli military in Gaza 

The myth of Hamas’s human shield 

Israel-Gaza conflict: UN chief Ban Ki-moon pushing for ceasefire

Gaza bloodbath claims 500 Palestinian lives in relentless Israeli onslaught

Israel-Gaza conflict: Gaza suffers its deadliest day after ‘heinous massacre’ in Shuja’iya

Scores dead in Gaza ground battle 

Gaza action 'must be proportionate'

Israel more brutal than Hitler: Turkish PM

Thousands gather for Gaza protest

What if British had treated Northern Irish like Israel treats Palestine?

Israel launches Gaza ground offensive as four more Palestinian children are killed including a five-month-old baby

Response to Gaza 'lily-livered'

Gaza children killed as they played football on the beach

Israeli government insists it does not target civilians – the day after four children are killed by shelling

Israel actions 'disproportionate'

Gaza: Four Palestinian boys killed in Israeli rocket attack on beach

The deep-lying racism fuelling the Israeli onslaught

Alexei Sayle: Israel is Jimmy Savile of nation states

'Sderot cinema’ image shows Israelis with popcorn and hookahs 'cheering as missiles strike Palestinian targets'

Gaza back-story: A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory

From the archives

Students offered grants if they make pro-Israel Facebook posts and tweets  

Cameraman in Gaza 'killed by deadly flechettes fired from Israeli tank'

Israel 'used white phosphorus deliberately and recklessly'

Kim Sengupta: Claims that Israel is using white phosphorus illegally won't go away

UN: Israelis hit our headquarters in Gaza with 'white phosphorus' shells 

Dime bombs leave Israel's victims with mystery wounds 

Israel accused of Gaza war crimes in Amnesty report

Gaza: Demolished in three weeks. Rebuilding it will take years

 Outrage as Israel bombs UN HQ, hospital, school and media building

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