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20 Okt 2023

Katie Fallon, Declassified UK

UK: Criticism of the lack of assessment by government for arms exports to Israel as it commits "war crimes" against Palestinian civilians


The UK has sold arms to Israel in spite of its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, since 1967. Four major military assaults on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, and 2021 have killed almost 4,000 Palestinians. 

This month, in less than two weeks, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza, as the UK and most other Western governments sanctioned trapping over two million people, with no food, water, fuel, or way out, watching their homes collapse, and their loved ones die day by day...

Since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015, the UK has licenced over £472m worth of arms to Israeli forces. This includes licences covering components for aircraft, helicopters, drones, bombs, missiles, military technology, armoured vehicles, tanks, ammunition, and small arms. 

The highest value single licence to Israel in recent years was issued in 2021 for “unmanned air vehicles”, “military aero-engines”, and related equipment and components, worth a total of £9m. 

However, this figure doesn’t include exports covered under the secretive Open Licencing system, whereby the UK government authorises the transfer of unlimited quantities of listed military items, with no requirement to report what, if any, is transferred.

The licencing system inherently and purposefully lacks transparency and can easily facilitate violations of international law against civilians during conflicts. Since May 2015, our government has approved 57 open licences, including 10 in 2022 alone. 

Combat aircraft

One of the most significant UK arms exports to Israel in the context of the current violations against civilians, is Britain’s contribution to the US F-35 stealth combat aircraft which are currently being used by Israel to bombard Gaza.

Approximately 15% of the value of each F-35 aircraft is produced in the UK, including the rear aft fuselage, the fuel system, and a range of electronic systems. 

In addition to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor in the F-35 project, BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, SELEX, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce are among the companies involved...

While the value of UK companies’ F-35 contracts with Lockheed Martin is not known, CAAT estimates that the UK’s share implies a value of £58m for deliveries to Israel in 2022 alone.

This is far higher than the value the government publishes as single licences, and amounts to approximately £336m since deliveries began in 2016. 

Almost all exports related to the F-35 programme are covered by an open licence not included in the government’s licencing figures mentioned above. 

UK law prohibits issuing licences if the government “determines” that there is a “clear risk” arms exports might be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”. 

But F-35s were also deployed in Gaza in May 2021 when an Israeli government spokesperson confirmed their use as part of an assault that killed 260 Palestinians, including at least 129 civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 12 civilians.  

No assessment

In 2009, the UK’s then foreign secretary, David Miliband, admitted that Israeli equipment used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components. 

However, no such assessment is known to have been conducted by the government in subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza. This is despite consistent cross-party calls for an investigation, including by a group of 78 MPs in 2021...

Part of the following timelines

Palestine/Israel: International companies supplying weapons to Israel face growing direct action amid calls to governments to enact an arms embargo against Israel

Palestine/Israel: International companies supplying weapons to Israel face growing direct action amid calls to governments to enact an arms embargo against Israel