This arms restriction might work in Israel's interest

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 16, 2009

The latest restriction on arms export licences is certainly not the most strategically damaging of arms embargos imposed by the UK government on Israel.

That prize probably goes to the refusal to sell Israel the Chieftain tank in 1969.

In the 1980s, refusal to sell chemical warfare defensive gear was certainly more insulting, and the problem with the supply of parts for the Martin Baker ejection seat seven years ago was potentially life-threatening for Phantom combat jet pilots.

Despite the ban, Israeli navy Saar 4.5 missile boats will continue to patrol the eastern Mediterranean, and even the coast of Gaza, without the system upgrades that were to be purchased from British companies.
Similar services will be supplied eventually by another country, or perhaps an Israeli company will develop the specific capability.

In the past, arms embargos have always worked in Israel’s long-term interests, forcing it to invest in indigenous research. The Chieftain embargo spurred the development of the Merkava tank project, which now equips the IDF’s armoured corps with thousands of the best tanks in the world.

Overall, British arms exports to Israel are virtually negligible and the revoking of five export licenses is hardly a full-blown embargo. The main concern in Israel is that it is yet another step down the slippery slope of gradual isolation.

Six months have passed since the end of the operation in Gaza and despite all the UN resolutions and denunciations and damning reports by international organisations, this is the first example of a concrete step taken by an ostensibly “friendly” country against Israel.

Britain might be setting an example for other European Union members, in the same way it did last year when it pushed for trade restrictions on Israel to prevent the mislabelling of produce from the settlements.
Britain was also the first EU country in which senior IDF officers became liable for arrest over war crimes allegations.

While the government routinely speaks out against boycotting Israel, it is leading the way on pinpoint sanctions.

Beneath the surface, co-operation on defence matters between Israel and Britain remains strong, with the intelligence services routinely exchanging valuable information.

Ironically, the main joint defence procurement programme is one in which the British army is to operate an Israeli-developed unmanned air system.

In Israel, this week, there were those who wondered whether it isn’t the UK which has more to lose from a breakdown in this particular relationship.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010