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.
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.”
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