Britain arms Israel

IssueFebruary 2009
Feature by Kathy Laluk

Twelve British companies produce components, many of them essential, for the F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters that attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip last month, according to the Stop Arming Israel website.

Several of these UK-based companies produce critical parts used in the Apache aircraft. Among these are Agusta Westland in Yeovil and Redmayne in Hampshire (“Jesus nuts”), Senior Aerospace Baxter Woodhouse & Taylor (air duct systems) and Meggitt Avionics (air data systems), and Page Aerospace and the Smiths Group (electrical and lighting management systems).

Kaye Stearman, press officer for Campaign Against Arms Trade, said the aircraft could not function without these parts and, based on its own laws, the British government should not sanction the export of arms to Israel.

“The problem is the licensing process looks very good on paper because the government isn’t supposed to sanction arms exports to countries that have violated human rights or has political turmoil,” she said. “But in practice, these guidelines can be overlooked and, I think, often are.”

Recent statistics released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office show that between April and June of last year, the government approved 47 licenses for companies to ship items on the military list either directly or indirectly to Israel.

Some of these companies ship arms directly to Israel for use in the region, while others ship the arms through other countries first. In some cases, Israel is not the end user and those arms can be re-exported around the world.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business said they have a “very strict” application system through which companies must provide evidence of any intent for weapons to be re-exported after reaching Israel, but how and when the equipment is used remains unknown to the department.

£24m in six months

According to its most recently published quarterly report, the Standard Individual Export Licenses, or SIELs, approved for Israel had a net worth of about £4.2 million between April and June 2008, bringing the total for the first half of the year to nearly £24 million.

Export licenses approved in the first half of last year included components for combat aircrafts, surface-to-air missiles, helmet mounted display equipment and deploying equipment for torpedoes, all of which have reportedly been used by the Israeli Defence Forces in the Gaza attacks.

UAV Engines, of Lichfield, Staffordshire, was thrust into the spotlight when it appeared their unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, were being used in the attacks on Gaza.

The company, commonly called UEL, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of engines for drones, which are becoming increasingly popular in frontline systems for military and civilian use across the globe. The company is owned by the Israel drone specialists Silver Arrow and is a subsidiary of the Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems.

According to Elbit’s website, one of its rotary Wankel engines is used in their Hermes 450 drone, a version of which makes up a squadron of the Israeli air force that has been used for surveillance and to identify targets for Israel’s F-16 fighters in the Gaza conflict.

Though Elbit denies it, Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s International Defence Review reported these drone engines are produced in the Lichfield factory.

Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock said while he believes UEL’s actions to be legal and licensed, they violate international human rights and all arms exports should be halted. A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We do not approve any defence-related exports if we judge that there is a risk that they will be used for external aggression or internal repression. Any application relating to Israel is considered on this basis.”

The Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, adopted by the UK in 2000, requires all arms exports applications to be considered based on respect for the UK’s international commitments, for human rights, and fundamental freedoms and for the preservation of peace, security and stability.