Israel: Update on UK strategic export controls
Foreign Secretary David Miliband commented on reports that UK supplied equipment may have been used by the Israeli Defence Forces during the Gaza conflict in a written ministerial statement to Parliament on Tuesday 21 April.
I am taking this opportunity to update Parliament, following my answers on 19 January (Official Report, Column 514), on whether UK-supplied equipment may have been used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during the recent conflict in Gaza.
All strategically controlled exports from the UK (both military and dual-use goods) require an export licence, issued by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the basis of advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence and, in relevant cases, the Department for International Development. Applications are assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and any other relevant announced policy. There are eight Criteria, which set out the basis on which applications will be assessed. The most important criteria in relation to exports to Israel are as follows: Criterion 2 (we will not issue an export licence where there is a clear risk that the export might be used for internal repression), Criterion 3 (we will not issue licences for exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination), Criterion 4 (preservation of regional peace, security and stability), and Criterion 7 (the risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions).
Estimates suggest that Israel buys over 95% of its military requirements from the US. The EU accounts for a proportion of the remainder. The UK is estimated as accounting for less than 1% of total Israeli military exports. Of the goods licensed by the UK, a significant proportion will have been for dual use goods for non-military use, or for goods for incorporation in Israel before onward export to a third country. Of the military goods licensed from the UK, the majority have been for components rather than complete systems or sub-systems. Many of the licences we have identified covering military equipment were for components for incorporation into US-manufactured platforms which were then re-exported to Israel.
I will start by dealing with the equipment used by the IDF in relation to Operation Cast Lead which – contrary to suggestions made in the press and elsewhere – we do not believe contained components supplied under licence from the UK.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): UAVs were used extensively for reconnaissance and targeting. The Heron and Hermes 450 variants were positively identified. Numerous export licence applications have been received to supply equipment to Israel’s significant UAV industry. The great majority are subject to further incorporation in Israel for onward export and a small number approved for demonstration, research, testing and our own “Watchkeeper” UAV programme. We have no evidence to suggest that goods licensed by the UK were diverted within Israel for use by the IDF.
Tanks and Armoured Bulldozers: Merkava tanks were deployed in support of the ground offensive into Gaza. We have not identified any UK components on the Merkava tank. D9 Armoured Bulldozers were used to clear ground, clear routes for armoured vehicles and there are credible reports that they were used to demolish houses containing weapons caches or tunnels. None were supplied under licence from the UK, nor were any components for them.
Secondly, there is equipment which may have been involved in Operation Cast Lead and may have contained British-supplied components.
Satellites: Israel has a number of reconnaissance satellites that could have been used to provide information to the IDF, and for which the UK has supplied minor components. We assess that these might have been used to prepare the operation but would not have played a significant part in the operation itself.
Thirdly, there is IDF equipment that was used in Operation Cast Lead and which almost certainly contained British-supplied components.
Combat Aircraft: The F16 was widely used, including for the delivery of precision-guided ordnance. No licences have been granted by the Government for the export of F16 components sent direct to Israel since 2002. British made components for F16s have been exported to the United States where Israel was the ultimate end-user. These licences covered components for Head-up displays, Head-down displays and enhanced display units.
Helicopters: Apache attack helicopters were used in the operation as part of the initial air campaign, and later in support of ground troops. Licences have been approved for the export of components to the US for incorporation into equipment for use on Apache helicopters ultimately destined for Israel. These licences covered parts for the fire control and radar system, navigation equipment and engine assemblies.
Naval Vessels: Saar-Class Corvettes took part in the operation from the waters off Gaza. They are likely to have been used for a number of tasks, but there are credible reports that the Saar 4.5 was used in a naval fire support role (the Saar 5 does not carry a gun suitable for such a task). Applications have been approved for components direct to Israel for a 76mm gun for a Saar 4.5 class vessel.
We have also licensed the supply of other types of equipment for the Israeli navy; most recent cases have been for ubiquitous cabling for the Saar-class vessels and components for radar equipment. Of the cases for radar equipment most have been for air defence purposes, but they have the technical capability to be used for fire-control against surface targets.
Armoured Personnel Carriers: Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) were used and these included conversions of UK-supplied Centurion tanks to carry troops, for mobile headquarters and as combat engineer vehicles. The Centurions were sold to Israel in the late 1950s.
It is inherent in the Consolidated Criteria that judgements are in part based on past practice, so evidence from Operation Cast Lead will be used in all future applications. I can confirm that we are looking at all extant licences to see whether any of these need to be re-considered in light of recent events in Gaza.
All future applications will be assessed taking into account the recent conflict. I continue to believe that UK export controls and the Consolidated Criteria are amongst the strongest and most effective in the world and are the best basis for putting into practice our commitments on arms exports.