August 4, 2014 9:07 pm

Downing St reviews £8bn arms sales to Israel

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LONDON - FEBRUARY 25: A general view of the door for Number 10 Downing Street on February 25, 2010 in London, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)©Getty

Britain is reviewing £8bn worth of arms exports to Israel in the light of the country’s military campaign in Gaza.

Downing Street said on Monday that the UK government would look at each of the licences granted to British companies to ensure they were not being used for internal repression or to provoke further conflict.

A spokesman for David Cameron said: “We are currently reviewing all export licences to Israel to confirm that we think they are appropriate.”

The move is the latest sign the British government is taking a firmer line towards Israel, which has spent much of the last two days pulling back its troops from parts of Gaza as part of a unilateral seven-hour ceasefire that took place on Monday.

While UK ministers continue to back “Israel’s right to defend itself,” senior members of the government have become more critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the last few days. Mr Cameron said on Monday morning that he backed the position of the UN, which has condemned Israel’s shelling of schools a “moral outrage”.

The prime minister said: ““International law is very, very clear that the use of force always has to be proportionate, that civilians should not be targeted.”

Most of the £8bn worth of arms contracts now under review are for cryptographic software and military communications, though parts for weapons are also being sold.

Campaigners are most worried about £42m of arms export licences granted to 130 British companies, including two supplying components for the Hermes drone and one selling components for Israel’s main battle tank.

The information was uncovered by Campaign Against the Arms Trade, but the government said it had no plans to investigate whether British-made parts were being used in weapons or military equipment deployed in Gaza.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 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.”

Ministers have resisted calls from campaigners however to impose a blanket arms embargo on Israel, arguing that such a move would not help the Middle East peace process.

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