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Several articles regarding the scandal of Britain bypassing its own arms embargo on Israel by selling military equipment via America to Israel, knowing it is to be used against Palestinian civilians.

Articles in chronological order:


Cabinet in arms to Israel row

Kamal Ahmed, political editor
The Observer
July 7, 2002


Britain is bypassing its own arms embargo on Israel by selling military equipment via America.

In a move that has split the Cabinet, the Foreign Office is set to reveal that components for F16 fighter planes will be allowed to leave the country despite being destined for aircraft already sold to Ariel Sharon's government.

The move will be viewed with dismay by Arab states and anti-arms campaigners who say the arming of Israel raises tension in the area. One senior Government figure said there was a 'clear understanding' the fighter planes could be used for aggressive acts against the Occupied Territories, in direct contradiction to Tony Blair's call for peace.

Israel regularly uses F16s for assaults on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. They have been used in attacks on Rafah and the Palestinian securty compound in Nablus, killing civilians.

Government sources admitted the issue was 'delicate' and that rules on sales to embargoed countries via third countries were vague. One said the charge of hypocrisy would be 'difficult to head off'.

'We look at these things on a case-by-case basis,' said one senior Downing Street official. 'We have to make it clear we will only sell to countries where there are effective procedures for controlling which countries the equipment is sold on to.'

The deal will again focus attention on the Government's attitude to military sales abroad and raise the possibility that any arms embargo can be bypassed by selling to a third country.

The Government was condemned this year when it was revealed it was backing a £28 million military air traffic control system for Tanzania despite claims the country did not need and could not afford such a high-tech system.

The Ministry of Defence has been pushing for the Israel deal to go through, despite opposition from Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary. She is worried about the negative message such a deal sends to Arab supporters and the rest of the European Union.

However, Hewitt will now back the deal as long as the rules on future contracts to third countries are clear. Britain is to provide sophisticated navigation and targeting equipment for the F16s, which are being built in America for Israel.

The 'head-up displays' allow pilots to see positional and weapons information displayed in front of each eye without having to look at separate dials. It is sold as allowing pilots to fly with fewer distractions and increasing the accuracy of bombing raids.

The MoD admitted the contract was part of a wooing exercise to get US military business. Britain and the US are already planning a £100 billion joint strike fighter project.

'We have to get as much of that business as possible and we cannot be prescriptive on what we will and won't sell them,' said one MoD source. 'The British defence industry employs tens of thousands of people. We have to show we are a reliable supplier of high-tech defence equipment.'

The Foreign Office has already officially warned Israel about using British equipment to target the Occupied Territories.

In May, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw demanded an explanation from Sharon's government about the use of British military equipment in tanks and attack helicopters. Straw was furious that their use had come to light despite a written pledge from Israel in November 2000 that said 'no UK-originated equipment . . . is used as part of the defence force's activities in the territories'.

Campaigners against the new Israeli arms deal will point to guidelines published by the Government in 1997. They said that departments 'will not issue an export licence if there is a clearly identifiable risk that the intended recipient would use the proposed export aggressively against another country'.

Although the Palestinian Authority areas are not officially a country, Blair has said that he supports a separate Palestinian state.



Labour MPs protest at new rules on arms to Israel

By Nigel Morris,
Political Correspondent
The Independent (UK)
8 July 2002


The Government was warned last night it faced "one hell of a row" over new arms export guidelines that will allow Britain to sell military equipment intended for Israel.

Labour MPs and arms campaigners protested after they found out that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, would be spelling out updated rules, enabling components intended for Israeli F16 fighter planes to leave this country. The parts – "heads-up" cockpit displays – will be shipped to the United States where they will be incorporated in a consignment of jets being built for the Israeli air force. Israel uses the planes in sorties over Palestinian territories on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The deal will in effect bypass the Government's own embargo on exports of equipment to Israel if they could be used for internal repression or external aggression. The apparent intention is to ensure British contractors can continue to win contracts in projects involving several countries.

Downing Street said last night: "This is not a new policy. It is guidance based on existing criteria, to take account of the new reality of multinational assembly lines for major defence contracts." It refused to discuss the F16 contract, but said Mr Straw would make a Commons announcement on the revised guidelines this week.

In a foretaste of Labour backbench anger over the move, Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons Arms Export Licensing Select Committee, said: "Anything that undermines the commitment not to export kit to Israel that could be used in the occupation of the Occupied Territories would be a significant change in policy and cause a hell of a row. I would be furious and a lot of other people would be as well."

Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, said ministers would face massive objections. She said: "It is outrageous, given what is happening in the Middle East. This is a regional superpower going against an occupied territory with all the weaponry of modern warfare. It is immoral and wrong."

Llew Smith, Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, said: "How we can get into a position of exporting arms via a third country to Israel, which is invading the Occupied Territories on an almost daily basis, is beyond my comprehension. If this is an ethical foreign policy, I don't want anything to do with it."

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the move was a "dispiriting" response to events in the Middle East and one that was likely to dismay Britain's European allies.

Sam Perlo-Freeman, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: "They [the arms industry] have been arming India and Pakistan, even while they stood on the brink of nuclear war, and now they are choosing to contribute directly to death and destruction in the Middle East. They are clearly without shame, with the interests of the arms manufacturers being all."

The component at the centre of the row enables pilots to view information about their weapons and position in front of each eye, without having to look at dials. Its designer says that, by reducing distractions, pilots can pick out targets more accurately.

We cannot sell arms to Israel and pretend to be shocked if they are used

The Independent
8 July 2002


The Foreign Secretary was emphatic three months ago. "It is extremely important that there should be the greatest certainty," he told the House of Commons, about what the Government would and would not allow to be exported to Israel.

That is the significance of the news that Britain is to export parts to the United States for the F16s that the US will then sell to the Israeli Defence Force. The position set out by Jack Straw in April seemed to have the merit of clarity, even if it did not satisfy those who wanted to see the sweeping symbolic condemnation of a full arms embargo on Israel.

The policy was that the Government would look at exports with a potentially military use and refuse permission for "anything that could be used for internal repression or for external aggression", in Mr Straw's words. This has been Labour's policy towards all countries since it marginally tightened up the guidelines on arms exports when it came to power in 1997, and since 1998 a common policy has been adopted by all the members of the European Union.

There does not seem to be much wriggle room there. It does not matter whether the occupation of the West Bank is defined as an internal matter for the Israeli state or a hostile action against a putative Palestinian state. Both Britain and the EU have made it clear that they are against it. Nor should it make any difference that the equipment is initially going to a third country when its ultimate destination is well known.

But the "certainty" of three months ago is now going to be modified. Mr Straw will set out new guidance on arms sales this week. So what has changed? According to a Downing Street spokeswoman, the new guidelines are needed "to take account of the new reality of multinational assembly lines for major defence contracts". We knew the global arms industries were dynamic and fast-changing, but this is a little too fast-moving for comfort. It looks too much like an adaptation of the words of an ethical foreign policy whenever they threaten to get in the way of British economic interests.

Usually, British governments have taken the right moral ground in their policy towards Israel. They support its right of self-defence and have no qualms about supplying arms for that purpose. But even Margaret Thatcher's government imposed a total arms embargo in 1982, as part of a European response to the invasion of Lebanon. That embargo was lifted in 1994, to be replaced by a version of the "case by case" policy we have now.

It might be argued that nothing the British government does or fails to do makes much difference, because the value of UK military exports to Israel is so small. So far, the only British contribution to the crushing of the Palestinian rebellion, with its inevitable civilian casualties, has been some 30-year-old Centurion tank chassis which were rebuilt as personnel carriers.

However, we do not urge on Mr Straw the idea of a complete embargo simply for the sake of a gesture. Certainly a full embargo would be largely symbolic, but symbolism and moral pressure are important tools of diplomacy. In order to be effective, though, moral condemnation must be sharpened by clarity.

Britain, and the EU, should condemn Israeli policy in the West Bank and should make that condemnation as emphatic as possible. Unless we are prepared to suffer some loss in our defence industries for the sake of it, our moral outrage is useless.


Export of Israeli jet parts approved


Staff and agencies
The Guardian
July 8, 2002


The government has granted export licences for components to be used in US-built F16 fighters destined for Israel, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, announced today.
He said any interruption to the supply of Head Up Display units (HUDs) to be used in the fighter aircraft would have "serious implications" for defence relations with the US.

The go-ahead, given by the trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, is likely to invoke fury from Labour backbenchers who see it as unethical for Britain to be contributing to Israel's operations in the Middle East conflict.

The government currently refuses to issue export licences for equipment destined for Israel if it could be used against the Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The decision to issue new guidelines would appear to reflect concerns that British defence contractors should be able to compete effectively for a stake in lucrative multinational projects.

Labour MPs have warned that ministers would face fierce opposition if there was a retreat from the current position regarding the Middle East.

The foreign secretary, in a parliamentary written answer, announced the decision as he set out new guidelines for how the UK will approach licence applications for goods which are to be incorporated into products for onward export.

Downing Street earlier said the guidelines reflected the "new reality" of the multinational defence industry.

Mr Straw said the end of the cold war and subsequent reduction in defence budgets worldwide had meant a massive rationalisation of the defence industry which presented "new challenges" for the government's approach.

"One consequence of this change is that increasingly defence goods are manufactured from components sourced in several different countries," he added.

Existing EU guidelines state that licence applications would be judged on a case-by-case basis but do not provide guidance on "incorporation" cases, Mr Straw said.

The government would assess such applications on a case-by-case basis but take into account a number of factors, including the importance of the UK's defence and security relationship with the "incorporating country".

Mr Straw stressed that the HUDs amounted to less than 1% in the value of the F-16s, which are scheduled for delivery to Israel in 2003.

But he added: "Any interruption to the supply of these components would have serious implications for the UK's defence relations with the United States."

The UK government remained "seriously concerned" about the situation in Israel and the occupied territories, Mr Straw said, stressing its role in reducing the level of tension in the conflict.

"Appropriate use of arms exported to Israel by the US is the subject of regular dialogue between the two countries, and when the US have concerns they make these known to the Israelis," Mr Straw said.

"The state department has been monitoring Israeli actions carefully and will continue to do so."

The US-UK defence relationship was "fundamental" to the UK's national security and its ability to play a strong and effective role in the world, particularly in the wake of September 11, the foreign secretary added.

Earlier, Labour MP Dr Brian Iddon, the secretary of the Commons all-party Palestine group, said: "I am very disappointed that we are aiding and abetting the Americans to attack the Palestinians.

"I have been disappointed by the British government's attitude towards Palestine. They keep mentioning in statements suicide bombers, terrorism, as if the Palestinians were the only ones creating terrorism in that area.

"I would submit that Ariel Sharon and particularly his defence force are equally terrorising the Palestinians.

"I think we are leaning too far in the direction of the Israelis at the moment and we are not putting enough pressure on them to sort the mess out."

The "head-up" cockpit displays are made by BAe Systems and exported to US firm Lockheed Martin which builds the F-16 fighters.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman stressed that the government's policy on not exporting arms directly to Israel remained unchanged, and that all applications would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

But the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, said the decision would leave the door open to exports "of any kind".

"This clearly rushed and reactive change of policy provides maximum flexibility and minimum accountability. The revised criteria give the government absolute discretion and open the door to any arms exports of any kind which may seem right at the time.

"By announcing this change the government has further strengthened the already overwhelming case for prior parliamentary scrutiny of sensitive arms exports," he said.

"Who on earth believes that the hopes of peace in the Middle East will be helped one bit by this decision, and just exactly what would we refuse to export to areas of tension like India and Pakistan?"


Straw provokes row over arms for Israel


Michael White and Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian
July 9, 2002

Anger over export guidelines which sanction British components for warplanes bound for Middle East


The government yesterday enraged its backbench critics, supporters of the Palestinian cause and human rights groups, by allowing the export of British components for US F16 warplanes sold to Israel.

In a move which ministers said was dictated by the interests of British arms companies, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw told MPs that stopping the supply of the F16 parts would have "serious implications" for defence relations with the US.

He announced new export guidelines agreed by the trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, covering British components that would be incorporated in weapons systems sold on to third countries, in this case Israel.

Downing Street earlier said the guidelines reflected the "new reality" of the multinational defence industry. "If there is any doubt about our re liability as a supplier the Americans will go elsewhere on the JSF," a minister said referring to the £100bn joint strike fighter project due to enter service with the US air force and the RAF in the next decade.

BAE Systems, Britain's largest arms company, supplies head up display units (HUDs) for the F16s to be to be sold to Israel. Downing Street admitted these amounted to "only 1% to that particular aircraft".

However, despite the government's existing policy of refusing to issue export licences for equipment if it could be used against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the anger which the move would provoke, Tony Blair's allies are afraid that any wavering on the "new realities" of multinational defence projects would jeopardise many other lucrative contracts.

Leftwing MPs, including Alice Mahon, demanded a Commons statement, predicting that the EU - more critical of US-Israeli intimacy than Britain - would be dismayed. When the region was again on the brink of war the rule change was "an absolute scandal", Ms Mahon said.

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman called it a "clearly rushed and reactive change of policy [to] provide maximum flexibility and minimum accountability" - a form of absolute discretion that would "open the door to any arms exports of any kind".

He again called for prior parliamentary scrutiny of such deals. The US congress has such scrutiny - which forced the Reagan White House to engage in clandestine sales to Iran to finance its illegal contra forces in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

"Anything that undermines the commitment not to export kit to Israel that could be used in the occupation of the occupied territories would be a significant change in policy," said Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons arms committee.

The shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram, also stressed the need to draw a proper distinction between arms needed for the protection of a state and those that could be used for internal repression.

The Guardian has revealed that British equipment is used in Israeli tanks and attack helicopters, the main weapons used against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israeli Merkava tanks have been equipped with cooling systems made by the Airtechnology Group, the Surrey-based company confirmed yesterday. British equipment is also used in US Apache helicopters supplied to Israel.

Mr Straw told MPs the US-UK defence relationship was "fundamental" to the Britain's national security. He added: "The state department has been monitoring Israeli actions carefully."

Phil Bloomer, an Oxfam spokesman, said the proposed sale was a dangerous precedent which could easily lead to British arms turning up in the world's bloodiest conflicts.


Straw defies MPs over Israel arms

By Nigel Morris,
Political Correspondent
The Independent (UK)
09 July 2002


Jack Straw defied Labour MPs last night and approved the sale of military equipment for Israel.

Rebellious backbenchers wrote to the Speaker, Michael Martin, and to the Foreign Secretary demanding a Commons statement on the issuing of export licences for components to be used in United States-built F-16 fighters to be sold to Israel.

F-16s have flown regular bombing sorties over Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The deal, which in effect sidesteps the government embargo on sales of military equipment that could be used by the Israelis for internal suppression, was strongly defended by Mr Straw. He said Britain had some of the toughest rules on military exports, but insisted this contract was vital for Britain's defence relationship with the US.

Downing Street admitted the Government had faced a "difficult decision" in an area where there had been no clear guidance.

Labour MPs were incensed that the export licence, which they believe undermines the party's promise to have an "ethical dimension" to its foreign policy, was announced in a Commons written answer. Denouncing the Government's decision as completely immoral, Alice Mahon, the Labour MP for Halifax, warned of a "real, growing unease" among backbenchers.

She said: "The Foreign Secretary himself in the past has condemned in the strongest possible terms the fact that Israel has used F-16s and helicopter gunships in the Occupied Territories. This, after the scandal of continuing to arm India when India and Pakistan stood on the brink of a nuclear war, I think is just a bit too much to swallow."


Straw stands alone over arms to Israel
:Ministers unhappy with fighter jet deal

By Oonagh Blackman
The Mirror (UK)
10 July 2002


JACK Straw was left isolated yesterday over his decision to sell military parts to America for use by the Israelis.

Labour MPs, human rights groups and Palestinian supporters were outraged at the decision and branded it "unethical".

Even key figures, such as Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, distanced themselves from the move.

And it emerged last night that Mr Straw had also faced opposition from within the Foreign Office.

It came from his former Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw, who was said to be "totally dismayed" when he found out Mr Straw was planning to give the green light to export display units used by F-16 pilots.

The fighter jet equipment would be sold to the US firm Lockheed Martin and the completed planes would then be sent to Israel. As junior minister responsible for the Middle East and international terrorism, Mr Bradshaw would have personally had to make the announcement to the Commons.

An insider said last night: "He was strongly opposed to the change in policy. He felt so deeply about it that he told the Foreign Secretary it was a resigning matter for him. But they reached a compromise and it was decided Jack would make the announcement instead and would guarantee close scrutiny of the deal."

Weeks later, Mr Bradshaw was shunted out of the Foreign Office in a Cabinet reshuffle at the end of May.

He was made deputy to Commons Leader Robin Cook in what was widely seen as a sideways move.

The row came at the height of the Israeli action on Palestinian refugee camps and Yasser Arafat's HQ. At that time, even Mr Straw was critical of the attacks.

He said in April: "I am profoundly concerned at scenes of widespread destruction of densely populated refugee camps."

But when he announced the new arms policy to MPs on Monday, he said: "We're not a pacifist country. I do not believe we would make the world a safer place by Britain not being involved in responsible defence exports."

His remarks provoked outrage and furious Labour backbenchers demanded Mr Straw be hauled before the Commons to justify his decision.

-A REPORT by Defence Committee MPs claims Government cost-cutting, including the withdrawal of the Navy's fleet of Sea Harriers, could leave Britain's armed forces dangerously under-equipped.