Israeli soldiers at the border with Gaza today. Photo: Getty
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Why the UK must end its military support for Israel

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade argues that those who oppose Israel's actions in Gaza must acknowledge that Britain is implicitly supporting them through its military trade. 

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, pronounced last week on Russia's support for separatists in Ukraine: “They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them . . . They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out." He is right, but the same could be said of the UK's support for Israel in the current bombardment of Gaza.

It's almost impossible not to be moved by the bloody and horrific images that are coming out of Gaza. The intensifying conflict has become a humanitarian catastrophe, with much of Gaza's infrastructure being destroyed and the violence claiming the lives of over 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis.

There have been international calls for a ceasefire, but they are having little impact. Gilad Erdan, communications minister and a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner security cabinet, said: “This is not the time to talk of a ceasefire. We must complete the mission.”

The UK government's call for “peace” is hollow when it reiterates its support for Israel; David Cameron has described his support as “unbreakable” and Hammond has refused to declare the Israeli response disproportionate.

The UK's political support is underpinned by its strong military relationship with Israel. In terms of exports, the UK has awarded almost £50m in military licences to Israel in the last five years, including £10m last year.

It seems likely that UK arms exports have played a direct role in the conflict. In 2009, David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary confirmed that Israeli equipment that had been used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components.

The relationship works in both directions. The Israeli arms industry is one of the most advanced in the world, with more than 200 arms companies and a government spend of $18.2 billion in the last year alone.

Last week, as bombs were being dropped on Gaza, a number of major Israeli arms companies were in the UK for the Farnborough International Airshow, which, despite its family-friendly image, is little more than a glorified arms fair.

Among the companies promoting “battle-tested” weapons was Elbit Systems, which is working with  UK arms company, Thales UK, on a Ministry of Defence contract worth nearly £1 billion for the development of Watchkeeper WK450 drones. The aim is for these to be exported from 2015 onwards.

As long as these kinds of deals are central to UK-Israeli relations, it is unlikely that there will be any change in the current levels of political and military support.

The violence in Gaza did not start two weeks ago. It has been going on for decades. In that time Israel has used excessive and disproportionate force and carried out house demolitions, targeted assassinations, detention of minors, detention without trial, attacks on water supplies, violation of the right to food and attacks on medical personnel and equipment.

The ongoing military collaboration and the sale of weapons are not apolitical moves. Arms deals don't just give Israel military support, they also bolster the Israeli government by sending out a strong message of political support.

Arms sales and military collaboration fuel the cycle of war. When a government sells weapons it can not absolve itself of responsibility for what happens when they are used.  That's why an immediate end to military co-operation and an embargo of all arms sales to and from Israel is essential.

An embargo would mean that UK arms companies would no longer profit from the misery of the Palestinians, and that the arms which the UK buys have not been “tested” on the Palestinians living under Occupation. Just as importantly, it would set a crucial and long overdue precedent by sending a strong message that people in the UK do not support the actions of the Israeli government and the collective punishment of Gaza. 

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @caatorguk.

Photo: Getty
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The DUP scored £1bn for just ten votes – so why be optimistic about our EU deal?

By March 2019, we’re supposed to have renegotiated 40 years of laws and treaties with 27 ­countries.

If Theresa May’s government negotiates with the European Union as well as it negotiated with the Democratic Unionist Party, it’s time to cross your fingers and desperately hope you have a secret ­Italian grandfather. After all, you’ll be wanting another passport when all this is over.

The Northern Irish party has played an absolute blinder, securing not only £1bn in extra funding for the region, but ensuring that the cash is handed over even if the power-sharing agreement or its Westminster confidence-and-supply arrangement fails.

At one point during the negotiations, the DUP turned their phones off for 36 hours. (Who in Westminster knew it was physically possible for a human being to do this?) Soon after, needling briefings emerged in the media that they were also talking to Labour and the Lib Dems. In the end, they’ve secured a deal where they support the government and get the Short money available only to opposition parties. I’m surprised Arlene Foster didn’t ask for a few of the nicer chairs in Downing Street on her way out.

How did this happen? When I talked to Sam McBride of the Belfast News Letter for a BBC radio programme days before the pact was announced, he pointed out that the DUP are far more used to this kind of rough and tumble than the Conservatives. Northern Irish politics is defined by deal-making, and the DUP need no reminder of what can happen to minnows in a multiparty system if they don’t convince their voters of their effectiveness.

On 8 June, the DUP and Sinn Fein squeezed out Northern Ireland’s smaller parties, such as the SDLP and the Alliance, from the region’s Westminster seats. (McBride also speculated on the possibility of trouble ahead for Sinn Fein, which ran its campaign on the premise that “abstentionism works”. What happens if an unpopular Commons vote passes that could have been defeated by its seven MPs?)

The DUP’s involvement in passing government bills, and the price the party has extracted for doing so, are truly transformative to British politics – not least for the public discussion about austerity. That turns out to be, as we suspected all along, a political rather than an economic choice. As such, it becomes much harder to defend.

Even worse for the government, southern Europe is no longer a basket case it can point to when it wants to scare us away from borrowing more. The structural problems of the eurozone haven’t gone away, but they have receded to the point where domestic voters won’t see them as a cautionary tale.

It is notable that the Conservatives barely bothered to defend their economic record during the election campaign, preferring to focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s spending plans. In doing so, they forgot that many of those who voted Leave last year – and who were confidently expected to “come home” to the Conservatives – did so because they wanted £350m a week for the NHS. The Tories dropped the Cameron-era argument of a “long-term economic plan” that necessitated short-term sacrifices. They assumed that austerity was the New Normal.

However, the £1bn the government has just found down the back of the sofa debunks that, and makes Conservative spending decisions for the rest of the parliament fraught. With such a slim majority, even a small backbench rebellion – certainly no bigger than the one that was brewing over tax-credit cuts until George Osborne relen­ted – could derail the Budget.

One of the worst points of Theresa May’s election campaign was on the BBC ­Question Time special, when she struggled to tell a nurse why her pay had risen so little since 2009. “There isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want,” the Prime Minister admonished. Except, of course, there is a magic money tree, and May has just given it a damn good shake and scrumped all the cash-apples that fell from it.

That short-term gain will store up long-term pain, if the opposition parties are canny enough to exploit it. In the 2015 election, the claim that the SNP would demand bungs from Ed Miliband to prop up his government was a powerful argument to voters in England and Wales that they should vote Conservative. Why should their hospitals and schools be left to moulder while the streets of Paisley were paved in gold?

The attack also worked because it was a proxy for concerns about Miliband’s weakness as a leader. Well, it’s hard to think of a prime minister in a weaker position than May is right now. The next election campaign will make brutal use of this.

Northern Ireland might deserve a greater wodge of redistribution than the Barnett formula already delivers – it has lower life expectancy, wages and productivity than the British average – but the squalid way the money has been delivered will haunt the Tories. It also endangers one of the Conservatives’ crucial offers to their base: that they are the custodians of “sound money” and “living within our means”.

Labour, however, has not yet quite calibrated its response to the DUP’s new-found influence. Its early attacks focused on the party’s social conservatism, pointing out that it is resolutely anti-abortion and has repeatedly blocked the extension of equal marriage through “petitions of concern” at Stormont.

This tub-thumping might have fired up Labour’s socially progressive supporters in the rest of the UK, but it alienated some in Northern Ireland who resent their politicians being seen as fundamentalist yokels. (Only they get to call the DUP that: not Londoners who, until three weeks ago, thought Arlene Foster was the judge who got sacked from Strictly Come Dancing.)

And remember: all this was to get just ten MPs onside. By March 2019, we’re supposed to have renegotiated 40 years of legislation and treaties with 27 other European ­countries. Ha. Hahaha. Hahaha.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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