UK has issued 108 arms export licences to Israel since 7 October

The UK has issued more than 100 arms export licences to Israel between the Hamas attack on 7 October and 31 May, according to government figures.

Thirty-seven of the 108 licences were described as military and 63 as non-military, but this might include telecommunications equipment for use by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A further eight open licences were granted.

A total of 345 licences to sell arms to Israel currently exist, including those issued before 7 October. The figures were released by the business department in response to what it described as exceptional parliamentary interest.

The statistics show no arms export licence application was rejected or revoked during the conflict, but Emily Apple, of the Campaign against Arms Trade, complained the figures did not reveal the value or the detailed category of the arms export licences, only the number. The value of arms export licences is normally contained in the quarterly arms export licences statistics.

Ministers in three separate decisions in December, April and May rejected calls to suspend arms exports to Israel. Ministers have said decisions have been consistent or in line with legal advice.

Numerous international bodies and UK campaign groups have asserted Israel’s use of military equipment in Gaza, leading to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, risk breaching international humanitarian law, the UK’s legal criteria for deciding if arms exports licences should be suspended.

More than 36,700 Palestinians have been killed and at least 83,530 have been injured in the Israeli military offensive on Gaza since 7 October, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said in a statement on Friday. These statistics are contested by Israel.

Objections to UK arms exports to Israel are based on the practical support they provide to the IDF, and to the signal it sends to the world that the UK regards Israel’s offensive in Gaza as not in breach of international law. It is also argued the arms helped Israel impose controls on humanitarian aid.

The value of UK approved arms exports licences to Israel was £42m in 2022, and publication of the figure for the whole of 2023 is due later this week.

UK arms sales are dwarfed by US arms sales. The US president, Joe Biden, has accepted that some of Israel’s military action is indiscriminate, but has said the Israeli offensive on Rafah has shown greater restraint than some of its previous actions.

The UK Campaign Against the Arms Trade has calculated that since 2008 licences to export arms to Israel worth £574m have been granted, but this figure cannot calculate the value of open licences.

The figures published on Tuesday do not cover the identity of the arms manufacturer or detailed type of equipment exported.

The decision to publish the figures on a one-off basis was signalled by the business minister Alan Mak a fortnight ago.

The move came as Britain’s two premier human rights organisations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said they were seeking to join a claim for judicial review about arms sales that has been launched by Global Legal Action Network and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group.

The substantive case is due to be heard in early October and it is not clear if a likely Labour government will seek to resist the claim, or make it unnecessary by revoking arms sales. Labour has said it will publish a version of the internal legal advice concerning continued arms sales, but has not committed to ending arms sales.

At an interim hearing this week, the judge is due to decide whether the period for review of government decision-making can be extended.

Yasmine Ahmed, the director of UK Human Rights Watch, said: “The right way to approach Israel’s commitment to comply with IHL [international humanitarian law) is not by reference to Israel’s subjective interpretation of its compliance with IHL, but by an objective interpretation of what IHL actually requires.”

She said the two organisations had collated open source evidence of Israel’s pronouncements and practice covering evacuation orders and warnings; risk of forced displacement; approach to rules concerning the provision of healthcare; targeting practices; and the provision of access to medical supplies, food and aid.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “We’re supporting this important case because of the UK’s refusal to abide by its international legal obligations and suspend arms transfers to Israel.

“There’s a mountain of evidence showing that Israeli forces are committing war crime after war crime in Gaza, going back well before last October.”

The Israeli government insists it is acting in self-defence, has legal advisers embedded with the IDF counselling on the legitimacy of specific attacks, and the death toll is the responsibility of Hamas due to its decision to embed itself in the civilian population of Gaza.

The IDF adds a number of internal disciplinary inquiries are under way, but already specific officers have been disciplined over errors in targeting.

The Guardian

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