Ian Austin

Stopping arms sales to Israel would harm the UK

We would be the losers if the defence relationship was undermined – we depend on Israel


Israeli soldiers inside a Hamas command tunnel under an UNRWA compound in Gaza (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

March 27, 2024 12:23

How is it possible to say Israel has the right to defend itself after the October 7 atrocities, but threaten to ban arms sales on which that might depend? This week more than 130 MPs and peers called for arms sales to Israel to be suspended, and it has been widely reported that Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has twice threatened to suspend arms sales.

He is reported to have that said arms sales would be halted if Israel did not allow the Red Cross to visit Hamas prisoners. This is a requirement of the Geneva Convention, but the Red Cross not only refused to visit Israeli hostages in Gaza, but even to take urgently needed medicine to people kidnapped on October 7. On one occasion, they refused to take medicine for an 84-year-old when her daughter took it to their office.

Before that, Lord Cameron is reported to have threatened to ban the export of British defence equipment if Israel goes into Rafah to root out thousands of Hamas fighters hiding there.

And last week, MPs queued up to demand the government halt arms sales.

Given the size of Israel, the October 7 atrocities would equate to the slaughter of around 10,000 British citizens. What would people in Britain expect if 2,500 British kids were murdered at Glastonbury or if 1,800 people were kidnapped by Islamist terrorists who had declared war on the UK?

The death of any innocent civilian is a tragedy, but responsibility for the situation in Gaza lies with Hamas who deliberately provoked this war, hide weapons and fighters in densely-packed civilian areas and promise to repeat the October 7 atrocities again and again. Imposing a ceasefire now would allow the terrorists the opportunity to do just that.

Hamas are completely opposed to any peace process. They are determined to destroy Israel and murder not just its citizens but Palestinians who believe in negotiations and coexistence as well, so it is not possible to envisage any sort of peaceful future, let alone the two-state solution Lord Cameron wants to see, until Hamas are destroyed.

This is why, instead of threatening to ban arms exports, the UK should be doing everything possible to help Israel win the war as quickly as possible.

Even if none of that makes them think again, politicians calling for a halt in arms exports should consider the wider impact of undermining the defence relationship. A new report from BICOM shows that the UK benefits much more than Israel from the defence and security partnership between the two countries.

Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that 99 per cent of Israeli weapon imports are from US and Germany. British defence exports to Israel are worth less than £50 million a year and amount to less than 0.9% of its total arms imports. Much of that is related to radars for defence, dual use goods for non-military use or for equipment assembled in Israel before being exported to a third country.

This means the impact on Israel would be negligible, but a reciprocal move against Britain would be much more significant because much more equipment – and vital intelligence – comes the other way.

Israeli intelligence on Iranian-sponsored Islamist terrorism has thwarted attacks like the one planned by Hezbollah in 2015. One expert told me that without Israeli technology, the RAF could not get its planes in the air. Drones and armoured vehicle defences from Israel protected British troops engaged in dangerous and difficult operations against terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Equipment we export is used to clear tunnels in Gaza, for example, but the impact of an arms embargo would have much greater propaganda value than any impact on Israel’s ability to fight the war. Israel would be even more isolated and the UK’s standing in the eyes of the Israeli public would suffer huge damage. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran would be delighted by another example of the West’s weakness in supporting the Middle East’s only democracy and standing up for the values we share.

Our enemies would be strengthened and our allies weakened. Britain’s security services denied vital intelligence and its ability to defend itself undermined. Our troops would be put at risk.

Good luck to ministers and MPs who try explaining all that to the public.

Lord Austin is a former Labour MP

March 27, 2024 12:23

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