London: British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing mounting pressure to change his Israel policy with his Deputy Nick Clegg and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond seeking an immediate suspension of arms licences to Israel.
Deputy Prime Minister Clegg’s accused Israel of “overstepping the mark” in its attacks on Gaza “for defending its citizens,” Asian Lite reported.
Cameron’s Conservative Party is in coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats ruling the country since 2010. British newspapers earlier revealed that arms and ammunition export licences worth Â£42 million have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles. These were used during the recent Gaza military operations by Israel.
Clegg said he shared Baroness Warsi’s “concerns” over Britain’s relations with Israel and said licences to export arms and ammunition to Israel should be halted pending an existing review of whether they should be revoked more permanently in future.
Baroness Warsi, one of the most influential Muslim politicians in the country, quit the government on Tuesday over Gaza. She accused the government of not doing enough to stop the atrocities in Gaza.
“Over the last four weeks I have done everything I can both at formal meetings and informal meetings trying to convince my colleagues that our current policy on Gaza is morally indefensible, that it’s not in British interests and that it will have consequences for us, both internationally and here at home,” Baroness Warsi said in a statement. “In the end I felt the Government’s position wasn’t moving and I had to, on a point of principle, resign.”
The deputy prime minister said he had been working with Lib Dem colleague and business secretary Vince Cable to get the suspension finalised, saying an announcement would be made “very shortly”.
Speaking about the potential suspension of licences, Mr Cable said senior Lib Dems had been “making this case inside government”, but said they had “not yet been able to get agreement” with Tory coalition partners.
“I hope and expect that to change shortly,” he said.
A Downing Street spokesman said a review of export licences to Israel was under way, and no new military licences had been issued since the Israeli operation was launched.
“Suspending export licences is not a decision we take lightly and it is right that we examine the facts fully. This is the approach being taken by the vast majority of countries,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel over the mounting death toll in Gaza.
Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf described Gaza as an “open air prison” over the blockade imposed on the Strip by Israel and pledged that the Scottish National Party (SNP) administration would press for an independent investigation into the recent death toll.
Mr Yousaf described the Israeli action as “heavily disproportionate as is evident by the mounting civilian death toll” as he faced questions from MSPs in Parliament.
“The UN has said that there is a strong possibility that violations of international law have occurred and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described the shelling of a UN school in Rafah recently as a ‘criminal act’,” he said.
“With mounting evidence of possible violations of international law the UK must ensure that it is not complicit in the killing of innocent civilians through its supply of arms. There must be an immediate embargo on arms sales to Israel and an investigation into whether or not UK arms supplies might have been used in violations of international law.
“The Scottish government continues to offer its support wherever we can, be that through specialist medical care or providing asylum to Palestinian refugees – we stand ready to play our part as a good global citizen.”
According to The Independent newspaper among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.
The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians and guided missile strikes.
Past sales of UK weaponry have included head-up displays for F-16 jets made and parts for Apache attack helicopters made by at least half a dozen
UK companies or subsidiaries. Both weapons have also been used in Gaza in recent weeks.
Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than Â£7bn last year. But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the Â£42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some Â£10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.
The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s Â£12bn annual arms export trade.
Drones have played a significant role in the action, flying above the Occupied Territory using sophisticated surveillance technology to pinpoint targets and guide in missile and smart bomb strikes. The drones are also used to deliver “warning shots” by firing smaller missiles into targeted buildings prior to heavy munitions delivered by jets such as the American-built F-16.
Other UK suppliers include BAE Systems, which provided head-up display units for US-built F16s delivered to Israel prior to 2002. The company said yesterday it had not supplied equipment since then and additional head-up displays used by the Israelis were provided by a domestic manufacturer.
In a statement, a Government spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing all existing export licences to Israel. All applications for export licences are assessed on a case by case basis against strict criteria. We will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict.”