UK limits arms exports to Israel after Gaza assault

Government accused of introducing a partial arms embargo after decision to revoke five arms licences

Britain has suspended export licences for weapons on Israeli missile gunships after they were used during the assault on Gaza earlier this year.

The Foreign Office confirmed that five of the export requests for spare parts for the Sa’ar 4.5 gunships had been rejected because the ships had fired on Palestinian territory during the 23-day offensive which left an estimated 1,400 Palestinians dead. The decision was reportedly taken after pressure from MPs and human rights groups, many of whom are calling for a complete arms ban.

The Israeli government is relaxed over the British decision-which affects only five out of 182 licences-but there is concern that the move may encourage other countries to follow suit.

A senior defence official said: “We were surprised by this decision, but it appears to be a political decision to appease. Five out of 182 is not significant.

“ We are only concerned if this becomes a trend.”

The Foreign Office denied that the move effectively imposed a partial arms embargo on Israel but the Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman spoke of the decision in such terms.

“Israel has known many cases of embargo in the past. We always knew how to get by, and there is no need to get excited about this,” he said.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office insisted that the decision simply reflected European Union arms licence criteria, comparing it to the decision to suspend licences to Russia and Georgia following the Georgia conflict last summer.

“In light of Operation Cast Lead, and in line with our obligations after a conflict, we conducted a review of extant export licences for Israel,” the FCO official said. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, had announced the review in a statement to the Commons on April 21.

“We judged that, in a small number of cases, Israeli action in Cast Lead would result in the export of those goods now contravening the [EU’s] consolidated criteria. These licences have been revoked. This is standard practice. A number of licences to both Russia and Georgia were revoked following the Georgia conflict last August,” he said.

He added: “There are no security agreements between the UK and Israel. We continue to assess all arms export licence applications against the consolidated criteria and the prevailing circumstances, which take into account the recent conflict.”