The government’s decision to revoke five arms export licences to Israel has been described by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as “far too little, far too late”.
The licences cover spare parts for guns on the Sa'ar ships which fired into civilian settlements on the Gaza coastline during Israel's assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.
While CAAT said that they welcomed the move, they pointed out that it had taken over six months for the UK government to take very limited action.
“It must have realised that these weapons were likely to be used in a naval bombardment so why did they approve the licences in the first place?" said CAAT’s Kaye Stearman.
The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband is reported to have made the decision on the grounds that the exports breach the ‘Consolidated Criteria’ for arms exports, which state that arms should not be used for “internal repression”.
This in itself has caused anger amongst campaigners by implying that Gaza and the West Bank are within Israeli territory.
CAAT point out that other considerations listed by the ‘Consolidated Criteria’ appear to have been ignored, including Israel’s human rights record and the impact of arms sales on regional peace, security and stability.
The government approved around £30m worth of arms licences to Israel in 2008, the bulk of which was listed as naval equipment. The UK is also a steady supplier of components incorporated into weapons exported to Israel by US suppliers. These include parts for F16 aeroplanes and Apache combat helicopters.
“This episode shows that we don't know how UK components, whether exported directly to Israel or via the US, will be used” said Stearman.
She concluded that “The only effective and ethical action is an immediate embargo on arms and components - this would help to protect the people of Gaza and the West Bank and send a meaningful message to the Israeli government about its policy towards the Occupied Territories.”
A full arms embargo is advocated by the Stop Arming Israel coalition, launched during Israel’s assault on Lebanon in 2006 by groups including CAAT and War on Want.