Israel arms embargo: who is calling for one and will things ever change?

Dina Rickman@dinarickman
Thursday 07 August 2014 12:20

Who is calling for an embargo?

Figures from across the political spectrum have called for Britain to stop selling weapons to Israel, including First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond, and ex-International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

Liberal Democrats have called for arms exports to Israel to be suspended, while NGOs such as Amnesty International have called for a blanket arms embargo from the UK government.

Israeli soldiers wave from their armoured personnel carrier

What is the current situation?

Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) told i100 it believes Britain's arms exports to Israel are worth between £10-15m per year. While an £8bn figure has been reported in several newspapers, CAAT say this is inaccurate and reflects exports with no military purpose, such as the telecoms industry.

Documents exposed by The Independent last week reveal that arms export licences worth £42m were granted to 130 British defence manufacturers between 2010-2013 to sell military equipment to Israel.

These are CAAT's figures for sales of arms to Israel between 2011-2013:

What would an embargo involve?

According to the Foreign Office, arms embargoes generally cover all goods and technologies on the UK Military List, a 27-page document that encompasses everything from soft body armour to radar equipment to robots. Then there are unlisted goods such as components of weapons, for which there may need to be separate controls. The UK government also imports weapons from Israel, which could be affected by a ban.

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So what’s the problem?

As The Independent reports today, David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond are resisting attempts from within government to impose a weapons embargo on Israel. A Lib Dem source said "it’s frustrating; they are being uber-cautious".

And while the government said on Monday it would review arms exports to Israel in light of Operation Protective Edge, CAAT spokesperson Andrew Smith told i100 this was largely meaningless.

"We have been here before. When it was revealed that UK components had been used in Gaza in 2009 the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced a similar review, but nothing changed. The arms sales continued", he said.

As for why things won't change? Smith says: "The UK government's relationship with Israel is also linked to its relationship with the United States and maintaining the relationships between US and UK companies. Jack Straw admitted as much in 2002 when he said '"Any interruption to the supply of these components (to Israel) would have serious implications for the UK's defence relations with the United States".

i100 has contacted the Foreign Office to ask for their stance on an arms embargo to Israel.