23 Aug 02. The Guardian reported that the British government is tightening the controls on arms exports to Israel, according to a leaked Department of Trade and Industry document.
Though both the British and Israeli governments publicly deny that an embargo is in place, it is clear that a partial one is being applied informally and is being expanded.
A letter from Jeremy Clayton, the DTI’s director of export controls, to the British embassy in Tel Aviv on August 2 has been leaked to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.
He wrote that Israel’s military tactics in the West Bank and Gaza in the past two years were taken into account in making licensing decisions, and “we have the situation under close review”.
As a result of the review, he added: “We have not approved licences for equipment we have licensed before.”
He said the government took into account “the outbreak of the intifada, the continuation of Israeli incursions into the occupied territories and Israel’s promise that equipment from Britain will not be used in the occupied territories.”
The Israeli defence ministry confirmed yesterday that there was a delay in the supply of some British equipment. It added that while Britain provided only a small part of Israel’s arms imports, these included vital components.
The latest British company to suffer from the crackdown on export licences to Israel is the Martin Baker Aircraft Company, which supplies ejection seats for the Israeli air force F-4 Phantoms.
Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi, an Israeli defence ministry spokeswoman, denied that there was an embargo.
But she admitted: “There are some delays in approval. We are having problems, but we are trying to resolve them. There is continuing dialogue.”
British arms policy towards Israel has been in confusion for months as the government has tried to square an ethical approach with the reality of international competition.
It has also tried to maintain good relations with Israel while meeting the concern of those angered by television pictures of Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza.
The government’s dilemma was reflected in July when the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, announced that the export of parts for Israeli F-16 planes, used in attacks in the West Bank and Gaza, was to be approved.
Only three months earlier he had demanded that Israel explain why it was using converted British Centurion tanks in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel swore almost two years ago that “no UK-originated equipment are used as part of the defence force’s activities in the territories”. Ms Niedak-Ashkenazi denied that Israel had reneged on its pledge. Referring to the Centurion tanks, she said: “They are not used in their original configuration. They are modified and are now armoured personnel carriers. Their use is defensive and not attack.”
Though both the Foreign Office and DTI refused to comment, Whitehall sources said the British government had been adopting a tougher line on exports to Israel since April.
British arms exports to Israel rose last year from £12.5m to £22.5m. They included components for combat aircraft, helicopters and bombs, components for anti-tank missiles and military aircraft engines, and large calibre ammunition. However, the latest available figures show that a large number of export licences to Israel were blocked.
Comment: the continuing debate regarding Israeli arms supply and exports could impinge on two major projects, Watchkeeper and the Medium Range Anti-tank system where the Spike missile is against the Raytheon Javelin. For Watchkeeper a number of Israeli or Israeli derivatives have been offered and the outcome of the downselect is expected as early as next week with BAE SYSTEMS seen as one of the two winners.