Last August, when Israel was burying the Gaza strip in rubble, the Government finally agreed to ‘review’ the weapons and parts that UK companies were permitted to send to Israel. You would have thought that any exports going off to Israel while bombs were falling would have given pause for thought. Immediately. Imagine if the bombs had come from Russia or Iran.
But no: it took nearly a month of bombs and over 1,000 deaths even to think about reviewing.
Another 8 days passed of scratching heads (and falling bombs). Then – most conveniently – just as one ceasefire had seemed to hold, the Government announced that they had found 12 items on the list of exports which could be seen to pose a ‘significant risk’1
Twelve export licences deemed to pose a ‘significant risk’
Note the items in the first box: not surprisingly, when a military machine is targetting a people, ‘targetting equipment’ turns out to be a risk. Most people wouldn’t need an 8-day review to tell them that.
Targetting equipment is exactly what is manufactured at Instro-Elbit. ISo we can’t help wondering if some of the licences which the Government has ‘reviewed’ and found to pose a risk are licences held by our local arms factory.
Not risky enough…
Nevertheless, those licences have still not been revoked. Despite the fact of risk established by the Government’s review, despite the ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people, despite the violations of international law and the (obvious) possibility that bombs will fall again on Gaza – targetting equipment is still allowed to go to Israel from the UK.
This is what Philip Hammond said:
“12 licences have been identified (8 for items to be incorporated into equipment manufactured in the US and Germany, and 4 for items to be exported directly to Israel) where, in the event of a resumption of significant hostilities, and on the basis of information currently available to us, there could be a risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Therefore, the Government has concluded that, in the event of a resumption of significant hostilities, these 12 licences should be suspended”
Of course, ‘hostilities’ did resume after this statement was put out. They’ve never really stopped. The Gaza strip is occupied, besieged, and Israel has not ceased its ‘targetting’, even when it ceased its carpet bombing. All of these acts are violations of international law. But apparently we still think it’s ok to export equipment that will help them in their targetting.
A weakening of export policy
The wording in the 12th August statement was revealing. Several members of the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls remarked that it implied a new and lower standard for export licences to Israel. Here’s Oliver Sprague:
‘Up until that statement – that licences would be suspended pending a resumption of significant hostilities – we were always under the assumption that UK Government policy had been based on a risk assessment, based on the likelihood and foreseeability of breaches of the criteria. So if you look, for example, at criterion 2, is there a “clear risk” that the equipment “might be used for internal repression”, which also includes deciding how likely that is, based on evidence of how equipment might have been used in the past? So when one of the Foreign Ministers, in a debate in Parliament, says that this is the third time in six years that Gaza has escalated into crisis, using precisely the kind of equipment that we believed was subject to the licences, the Government had admitted that those 12 licences covered systems that were at risk of being used. I think if you take all of that together, the UK’s existing policy should have been clear: it should have suspended or revoked any licence that it saw as at risk of being used in that crisis.
Three or four years ago, the Government concluded that arms of that type had actually been used in the previous crisis, in 2009—I think the phrase they used was that “almost certainly” they had been used. In that respect, I think, using a phrase like “a resumption of significant hostilities” in some ways rides a coach and horses through the previous understanding of a preventive approach based on clear risk.’
Richard Benyon – in the same report – pointed out that
‘the phrase “significant hostilities” appears nowhere in existing transfer control criteria, nor in any user guides on the implementation of criteria currently used by licensing officials working across the EU. … There is concern that it demonstrates a weakening of UK arms export policy‘. [my emphasis]
Instro is part of Elbit Systems – Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer and key supplier to the IDF. That is enough to shut it down. But it turns out that Instro also manufactures things that even by the Government’s flabby standards ‘might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law’ (… if sent to Israel, and if the Government can bring itself to say that there’s enough hostility resumed).
Instro specialises in the area for which the high risk licences were issued; Instro’s part of an Israeli company, and Instro is the holder of export licences2, approved by Government, to send to send off something that’s ‘designed for military use’ – in Israel.
We need to stop our local arms machine.
1. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmquad/608/608iii.pdf (page 246)
2. Instro received export licences to Israel in 2010 and 2012 (latest data available). From an FOI request by CAAT