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British arms export licenses to Israel down amid Gaza conflict

According to a recent report by Reuters, Britain’s approval of arms export licenses to Israel has significantly decreased following the onset of the Gaza conflict. The value of these permits has dropped by more than 95%, marking a 13-year low. This decline raises questions about the future of military support and the legal implications of arms sales during times of conflict.

The data, provided by the Department for Business and Trade’s Export Control unit and other government sources, shows that the value of approved licenses fell to £859,381 ($1.09 million) between October 7 and December 31 last year. This represents the lowest figure for this period since 2010. In comparison, the same period in 2022 saw the approval of nearly £20 million in arms sales to Israel, including small arms ammunition and components for combat aircraft. In 2017, approvals amounted to £185 million, including components for tanks and surface-to-air missiles.

Unlike the United States, which provides arms directly to Israel, the UK government issues licenses for companies to sell weapons, with legal oversight to ensure compliance with international law. Many of the licenses approved since the start of the Gaza conflict were for items listed for commercial use or non-lethal purposes, such as body armor, military helmets, and all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection.

Reuters could not determine whether the sharp decline in the value of approved licenses was due to a decision by the British government to restrict certain items or a decrease in demand from Israel. Both the Department for Business and Trade and the Foreign Office declined to comment, and Israel’s embassy in London did not respond to requests for comment.

The conflict in Gaza began on October 7 when Hamas fighters entered Israel, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, according to Israeli reports. Israel’s subsequent military response has led to over 37,000 Palestinian casualties, according to health authorities in Gaza.

The reduction in arms export approvals has drawn criticism from members of the British parliament and human rights groups, who have called for greater transparency regarding arms sales to Israel. Some countries, including Italy, Canada, and the Netherlands, have imposed restrictions on arms exports to Israel due to concerns about the potential use of these weapons.

While Germany increased its arms exports to Israel to €326 million last year, approvals dropped to around €10 million in the first quarter of this year. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been a strong advocate for Israel’s right to respond to Hamas but has maintained that the UK adheres to a “very careful licensing regime.”

Dr. Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, commented on the issue, stating, “These figures reflect the complexities and ethical concerns surrounding arms sales during conflicts. It is crucial for governments to ensure that their actions do not contribute to human rights violations.”

The British government is expected to release further information about arms sales to Israel for the first half of this year in the coming months. Historically, the UK has blocked arms sales to Israel on several occasions, including after the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and revoking licenses in 2009.

The significant drop in arms export licenses to Israel amid the Gaza conflict underscores the ongoing debate over the ethical implications of military support and the necessity for greater transparency in the arms export process.