UK weapons exports to Israel soar to record high in 2017

Campaign Against Arms Trade says Britain issued £221m worth of arms licenses to defence firms exporting to Israel.

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers take part in an urban warfare drill inside a mock village at Tze'elim army base [File: Reuters]

The UK approved record weapons export licenses to Israel last year, according to new figures by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).

In 2017, Britain issued £221m ($294m) worth of arms licenses to defence contractors exporting to Israel, up 256 percent when compared with the £86m ($114m) licensed in 2016.

The year before that, in 2015, licenses worth £20m ($27m) were issued.

In total, the UK has sold arms and military hardware worth more than £350m ($466m) to Israel over the past five years.

Among the weapons that the UK sold to Israel were assault rifles, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles and components for targeting equipment.

The new figures were published amid the Israeli army’s deadly response to the weekly demonstrations held by Palestinians in the east of the Gaza Strip near Israel’s fence since the end of March. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed by sniper fire, and more than 13,000 wounded.

Andrew Smith, CAAT spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that UK weaponry previously sold to Israel was used in at least two Israeli offensives on the besieged coastal enclave.

“UK government investigations have confirmed that UK arms were used against the people of Gaza in 2009 and 2014,” he said, calling for “a full investigation” to determine whether “they were used in recent atrocities”.

The exponential increase of arms sale is testament to the “increasingly close political and military relationship between the UK and Israel”, Smith added.

The close relations are further exemplified by Prince William’s visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories next month, the first such official visit to the region made by a member of the royal family.

Prince William will first visit the Jordanian capital Amman, before making his way to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

His tour will come against the backdrop of heightened tensions given recent events, such as the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the killing of 62 Palestinian protesters by Israeli forces on May 14.

“If the Prince wants to help the people of Palestine, then he must speak out against the abuses taking place and use his visit to call for meaningful peaceful solutions,” Smith said.

Source: Al Jazeera