Last month Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, pronounced 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 bombardment of Gaza.
Since 2010 the UK government has licensed £42 million worth of military equipment to Israel, including targeting systems and drone components. Even the UK government’s own review found 12 licences for components that may well have been used in the bombardment of Gaza.
The government’s response to its own review was shocking. It said it would suspend the licences only if ‘significant’ hostilities resumed. Yet even when Israel renewed its attacks on Gaza, with a further seven days of conflict, it did not do so.
Unfortunately we have been here before. In 2009 the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, told parliament that it was “almost certain” UK weapons had been used in Gaza, before adding “We are looking at all extant licences to see whether any of these need to be reconsidered in light of recent events.”
The arms sales continued and nothing changed. Since his statement the UK has licensed £50m of weapons, including missile-targeting equipment, gun sightings and drone components.
Opposition to the bombardment has been widespread, the mass demonstrations that have taken place across the world have shown a deep well of public support and solidarity with the people of Gaza. In Birmingham activist group London Palestine Action successfully shut down and occupied a factory owned by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company.
The impact has been felt in the corridors of power, with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi resigning from the UK government in opposition to its uncritical support of Israel, and Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond supporting calls for an embargo on all arms sales to Israel.
In many ways the issue goes way beyond Israel. The UK has a long and inglorious history of selling arms into war zones. In the past few years UK weapons have been used to facilitate oppression in Bahrain, Egypt and Libya.
After the slaughter of recent weeks, it beggars belief that the UK government is continuing to allow the export of components which it admits could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza. Such equipment containing UK components has been used in Israeli attacks in the past and the licences should never have been granted in the first place.
The government’s position has been hypocritical and weak and they need to be held accountable for its actions. This is why CAAT is threatening them with legal action. We will update you on that over the weeks ahead, but you can join us in taking action today by emailing the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to condemn the government’s weak and unprincipled response.