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Who is arming Israel? UK Exports to Israel  

AOAV’s report ‘Who is arming Israel?’ is an in-depth analysis of the arms sold or provided to Israel by the UK, US, and other nations, focusing on the continuation and expansion of arms exports despite allegations of war crimes by the Israeli armed forces, highlighting the lack of transparency and the profits made in arms exports.

  • ​​UK manufacturers, like BAE Systems, continue to supply arms to Israel, including components for F-15, F-16, and F-35 fighter jets. 
  • There are 28 existing and 28 pending licences for military equipment from the UK that may be used by Israel in Gaza. 
  • The UK government declined AOAV’s request for information on arms export licences since October 7th, citing exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • The UK government’s claims of “very minor” arms exports to Israel are contradicted by the nature of the exports, whereby the UK’s arms manufacturers have had a hand in 15% of every F35 that Israel has received since 2016, worth at least £368 million.
  • Over £448 million worth of arms have been licenced by the UK government to Israel since 2015 in single licences. 
  • The actual size of the market is unclear, due to the use of open licences, including for F-35 components. 
  • Data for export licences since the 7th October will not be made public until July 2024. AOAV’s request for this data under FOI was refused.
  • The UK government clarified that their claim of not supplying lethal weapons since October 7th referred only to government direct exports, not private manufacturers. 

UK context
On the 9th April, 2024, the UK Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, stated that the UK will not suspend arms to Israel after “reviewing the latest legal advice.” Cameron asserted that continuing the transfer of arms to Israel put the UK in line with “other like minded countries”.

“We don’t publish legal advice, we don’t comment on legal advice but we act in a way that is consistent with it, we’re a government under the law and that’s as it should be” Cameron claimed. 

This follows a statement made by the UK Deputy Prime Minister on the 7th April 2024, who told the BBC that selling arms to Israel remains lawful, despite raised concerns UK arms might be fuelling the human rights violations catalogued in the massive bombardment of Gaza. 

“The key thing is, ‘is it legitimate, can we lawfully sell arms to Israel?’ and yes, that is the case and on that basis… that position has not changed,” Oliver Dowden said, in light of recent calls for a halt on UK arms sales following the tragic deaths of seven aid workers in Gaza in an Israeli air strike. 

Labour’s, the main opposition party, response has reflected a growing pressing concern for legal compliance in line with international humanitarian law. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has called for greater transparency, stating, “It’s hugely important that the UK is not complicit in a breach of international law,” emphasising the importance of scrutinising the legal advice received by the government.

The call for the publication of this legal advice, reminiscent of the demands made during the Iraq War, is a testament to the public’s demand for transparency and accountability. Baroness Amos has echoed this sentiment, stressing the need for openness: “The public want to see the legal advice because they have lost trust in the government and what the government is saying.” 

The ethical dimensions of the UK’s arms sales are brought to the forefront by Lord Mark Sedwill’s remarks, “Even if it’s lawful, is it right to continue these arms sales?” This question encapsulates the broader concerns about the implications of the UK’s military support and its potential influence over Israel’s conduct. 

UK government’s position
As the UK grapples with its position and responsibilities on the international stage, the Deputy Prime Minister’s assertion that the nation will “act in accordance with our obligations under law in respect of arms sales” needs to be explicitly examined and critiqued.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the UK has a “very careful export licensing regime” and said Israel must “act in accordance with international humanitarian law”. 

This report calls into question the validity and accuracy of such claims. It hopes to inform the UK government, which is preparing an assessment that will advise on the risk of Israel breaching international law in its actions from early 2024. 

Pushback
In early April 2024, more than 600 legal figures, including former Supreme Court Justices Lady Hale, Lord Sumption, and Lord Wilson, collectively wrote to the UK government against its continued arms sales to Israel, arguing the worsening situation in Gaza and the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that there was a “plausible risk of genocide” obliged to UK to suspend arms sales to the country. In their correspondence, these legal experts, among them over 60 King’s Counsels (KCs), highlighted the UK’s legal duty to prevent genocide, referencing the International Court of Justice’s findings. They called for a halt to arms exports to Israel and restoration of funding to The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) to ensure humanitarian aid to Gazans. 

Notably, the letter, backed by former appeal court judges like Sir Stephen Sedley and legal luminaries such as Matthias Kelly KC, criticised the UK government’s stance as falling short of its international obligations. They urged the government to reassess its arms export licences to Israel, suggesting their revocation should Israel be determined to have violated international law during its operations in Gaza.

So what arms are the UK sending to Israel?
The debate over whether the UK should be arming Israel is further complicated by the fact that, over the years, UK arms export control policies have been repeatedly and heavily criticised both for their lack of transparency and their lack of response to human rights concerns. Such opacity has given rise to misreporting and a lack of clear understanding of what arms the UK exports to Israel both directly and indirectly. 

Of note, the UK government refused to tell AOAV what arms export licences it had issued since October 7th, when asked to do so following a Freedom of Information request. The Department of Business and Trade (DBT) stated in its refusal: “I can confirm that the DBT holds the information that you have requested. However, this information is exempt from disclosure by virtue of section 22 (information intended for future publication), section 36(2)(c) (4) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs), and section 44 (prohibitions on disclosure) of the Act.”

The UK government has previously asserted that “the UK has provided no lethal or military equipment other than medical supplies to Israel” since the 7th October. However, in a closed meeting with civil society members on the 19th March 2024, UK government officials said they had meant the “UK government” rather than the UK. This clarified position was updated on the UK parliament’s ‘Written questions, answers and statements’ section, with the wording changing from: “Since 7 October 2023, the UK has provided no lethal or military equipment other than medical supplies to Israel” to “Since 7 October 2023, the UK Government has provided no lethal or military equipment other than medical supplies to Israel.” 

To be clear, then, the UK government (as of 12 April 2024) does not claim to be directly supplying Israel with weapons but appears to be still granting export licences for British companies to sell arms to the country. 

It is also clear the UK government wants to underplay the impact any UK arms might have on Gazan civilians. During that meeting with civil society, representatives of the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU), the organisation that administers the UK’s system of export control for military and dual-use items, said that UK government approved arms exports to Israel are “very minor”. Business Minister Greg Hands had previously told MPs the figure for 2022 – £42m – represented 0.02% of Israel’s military imports that year. Whilst UK Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps also stated in November 2023 that UK “defence exports to Israel are relatively small”.

However, despite claims of the exports being ‘relatively small’, between May 2015 and August 2022, the UK government licenced over £448 million worth of arms to Israel, including varying licences for aircrafts, missiles and a number of other lethal military technologies.

This includes, according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT):

  • £183 million worth of ML22 licences (military technology)
  • £117 million worth of ML10 licences (aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £22 million worth of ML4 licences (grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £4.6 million worth of ML6 licences (armoured vehicles, tanks)
  • £1.9 million worth of ML3 licences (ammunition) 
  • £1.1 million worth of ML1 licences (small arms)

Either in addition or as part of the above (again, it is unclear), the UK government has reportedly approved 88 open licences, which lack a specified total value, permitting unlimited quantities and value of arms exports. Among the items that could be included under these licences are parts for the F35 stealth combat aircraft, body armour, military-grade communications and electronic devices, as well as parts for military radars, targeting systems, and components for naval vessels.

Further, following a legal challenge brought by Al-Haq, a Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank, it was revealed there are 28 existing UK licences and 28 further pending applications for military equipment that could be used by the Israeli forces in Gaza. It is not known who holds these licences or if they are in addition to the above approvals.

Opacity clearly reigns. In March 2024, the UK government refused to comment on whether Israel had bombed a medical compound in the Gaza Strip housing British doctors from Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) using F-16 jets produced at least in part with UK-supplied components.

Has the UK banned arms exports to Israel in the past?
Precedent, however, might show a path forward in terms of banning UK arms exports. Of note, the UK government previously refused to export weapons components to Israel in 2011 and 2012 over concerns that Israel did not adhere to international humanitarian law or respecting human rights. 

Between 2017 and summer 2023, some 28 licence applications for exports to Israel were also either rejected or refused. In a specific instance, a request to export spectrometers – devices designed for analysing chemical compositions – was denied due to concerns over a possible association with “WMD” – shorthand for weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, during the same timeframe, three licences for visual imagery technology, referred to as focal plane arrays, were also rescinded.

Such denials have to be seen within the UK’s own international commitment. The UK is a signatory of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT aims to create common international standards for regulating the international trade in conventional arms, in order to contribute to international peace, security and stability and to reduce human suffering. Before authorising exports of certain arms or items, exporting states must objectively assess, under their national controls, the potential for these exports to affect peace and security or to be used in serious human rights violations, refusing export if risks outweigh benefits. 

States such as the UK, supplying weapons to Israel may, then, be in breach Article 6 of the ATT and risk complicity in genocide and serious international law violations, with such arms transfers also violating ATT’s Article 7 by contributing to breaches of humanitarian and human rights law, including gender-based and violence against women and children.

In addition, the UK is a signatory to the November 2022 Dublin Political Declaration on Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA). That declaration laid out the UK’s commitment to avoid the use of explosive weapons in densely-populated civilian areas such as cities and towns. Israel’s conduct and the UK’s subsequent continued transfer of arms might bring the integrity of their commitment into question. 

Populated areas under attack
Certainly populated areas are being impacted. The Gaza Strip has a population density of near 14,000 people per square mile, roughly the same as London. United Nations Satellite Centre Data has revealed that 35% of the buildings in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged by Israel’s assault. An estimated 1.9 million people, nearly 85% of the population of Gaza have become internally displaced, as a result of evacuation orders by the Government of Israel to ‘safe zones’. 

The UNRWA has reported that nearly 1.72 million of these IDPs were registered in severely overcrowded facilities of the UNRWA, whilst the rest took shelter in public infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and community shelters. Euro-Med Monitor has documented several cases whereby Israel has targeted shelter centres with aerial bombardment, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the injury of many more, including the bombing of Al-Fakhoura School.

In an assessment released on the 4th April 2024, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that Israel’s strike on a residential building on 31st October 2023 that killed 106 people in the Gaza Strip including 54 children constitutes a war crime. HRW’s investigation found no evidence of any military targets in the vicinity of the building at the time of the attack, thereby making the strike “unlawfully indiscriminate under the laws of war”. Israeli authorities have provided no justification for the attack. Also, in December 2023, it was reported that up to 50% of all munitions dropped on Gaza were unguided, something that Marc Garlasco, former UN war crimes investigator, has argued undermines Israel’s claim of minimising civilian harm.

Given these facts, it is in the interest of the British public for a thorough explanation to be provided from the UK government as to why the bombardment of these areas sheltering civilians, potentially using British-made components, has not crossed a red-line for the UK’s commitments within both the ATT and the Dublin Declaration. 

The UK’s slowness to assert an arms control approach that prioritises civilian protection in the Gaza Strip stands in stark contrast to its swift suspension of future funding to the UNRWA in January 2024, following Israel’s accusation that 12 UNRWA staff collaborated with Hamas in the 7th October attacks. In March 2024, the UN reported that Israel had yet to provide evidence to back up these claims. Despite this, the UK government announced in January that the UK will “temporarily (pause) any future funding of the UNRWA while we review these concerning allegations”.

Perhaps in light of all of this, employees at the UK Department of Business and Trade, who oversee arms exports to Israel, are reportedly considering a walkout due to concerns about their legal liability, according to a PA news agency report

British suppliers and international manufacturers based in the UK linked to arms exports to Israel

This report will now turn to what specific companies are linked to arms exports to Israel. Their inclusion does not indicate any illegality; rather they are included to highlight which companies are arming the Israeli state in light of the above concerns.

BAE Systems
The UK’s leading arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, is involved in the production and maintenance of the Israeli Air Force (AIF) fleet of F-15, F-16 and F-35 fighter jets, as part of a joint venture programme with other arms manufacturers. Britain supplies around 15 percent of the F-35 fighter aircraft, which is built in the US by Lockheed Martin. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) estimates that, given Britain’s share of the programme, the value of UK parts in the F-35s delivered to Israel has been worth “£336m since 2016”. Online postings by the Israeli army show F-35s in the bombing of targets in Gaza City and elsewhere along the strip. 

A significant portion of the military hardware supplied to Israel by BAE Systems is financed through the US Foreign Military Financing program. Partnerships with Israeli defence firms have further enhanced BAE’s role in upgrading and supplying advanced military technology, including for naval and artillery systems. The American Friends Service Committee has outlined that not only has BAE Systems collaborated with US manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman in the development of the tail of the F-35 fighter jet used in Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip, it also provided the AIF with electronic missile-launching kits for the F-16 aircraft. (Of note, the UK subsidiary of Italy’s Leonardo makes the “advanced targeting laser” for the F-35 at a site in Edinburgh).

When questioned why the current licences for UK manufacturers to produce components for the F-35 are yet to be revoked, the representatives of the ECJU asserted that ‘Israel export licences are under constant review and considered on a case-by-case basis’ (Civil Society Participants, 2024). 

BAE Systems has, since 2005, been the manufacturer of the M109-52 howitzer, a 155mm mobile artillery system. In 2023, it was reported the Israeli military was using the M109A5 Self-Propelled Howitzers along the Gaza Strip, though the age of these M109A5s is unknown.

BAE Systems, which constructs the rear fuselage section of the F-35 jets at its factory in Samlesbury, Lancashire, told the Financial Times it has “no operations or employees in Israel or Gaza, nor do we sell military equipment directly to Israel”.

Elbit Systems
The Israeli company Elbit’s involvement in the United Kingdom dates back to 1995 with the acquisition of ‘Alvis UAV Engines Limited’ from Alvis plc. This company, established in 1992 by engineer David Garside, specialised in developing Wankel engines for Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs). This acquisition marked the beginning of Elbit becoming a leading global UAV Engine supplier. The expansion continued with the establishment of ‘Elbit Systems UK Ltd.’ on September 24, 2004, serving as a holding entity for Elbit’s UK operations. 

This move followed Elbit and the Thales Group winning a tender, known as the “Watchkeeper program,” to supply the British Army with unmanned aerial vehicles, which included a mandate to create a local manufacturing base. By the end of 2005, Elbit and Thales formed a joint venture, UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS), in Leicester, producing the Watchkeeper WK450 and establishing a flight testing facility in ParcAberporth, Wales. 

Today, Elbit Systems supplies 85% of Israel’s drones and land-based military equipment and has lauded its Hermes 450 drones used in Israeli strikes in Gaza as “the backbone of the Israeli Defence Forces”. 

The UK government also issued a new contract to Elbit Systems on the 15th January 2024 worth £25,000 for training to be delivered to American, Lithuanian and NATO military personnel. Among Elbit’s UK subsidiaries is UAV Tactical Systems Ltd (U-TacS), which has seen collaboration with the UK government on UAV technology since at least 2005, under a deal initially valued at over £1 billion aimed at developing the Watchtower drone project. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracted U-TacS, a joint venture between Thales UK and Elbit Systems UK, for this development. U-TacS remains under the ownership of these two companies. 

Another subsidiary, Instro Precision Ltd, manufactures targeting equipment for troops and vehicles, holding export licences to Israel. This gear is presumably utilised in Israel’s ground operations. Additionally, Elite KL Ltd, another part of Elbit’s network, is reportedly linked to producing military-grade components critical to the assembly of Israel’s Merkava tanks.

Elbit Systems has noted that the October 7th attacks and the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip have led to increased demand for their products in addition to a closer relationship with the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Recent protests outside their factories have reportedly culminated in the 2024 forced sale of the ‘Elite KL’ factory in Tamworth.

Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin has been implicated in a number of weapons used in the Gazan conflicts. The MLRS M270 rocket launcher, produced by a consortium including Lockheed Martin (alongside Diehl BGT Defence, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Aérospatiale-Matra) has been reportedly and recently deployed by the Israeli army in Gaza. Lockheed Martin is also the lead contractor for the F-35 stealth bombers, with several key components being manufactured in the UK.

It is not known what specific role the UK arm of Lockheed Martin produces in relation to these two weapon systems. Their Ampthill-based facility employs 550 workers and “the facility’s skills and expertise support a range of capabilities, including air-land integration, battlespace management, ground-based air defense and weapons safety, integration and support”.

J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited (JCB)
In 2021, Amnesty International issued a report accusing the UK’s JCB, a leading manufacturer of construction equipment, of not taking sufficient steps to prevent its machinery from being used in the demolition of Palestinian homes and the building of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Their report, titled “JCB Off Track,” documents instances where JCB’s equipment was allegedly used in activities that violate international law. 

JCB maintains that its business dealings, through its Israeli agent Comasco, absolve it of direct responsibility for how its products are used, a stance Amnesty challenges based on international human rights standards. 

The investigation by Amnesty International pointed out that Comasco, JCB’s agent in Israel, provided maintenance services for JCB machinery used by the Israeli Ministry of Defence, implying a direct link between JCB’s equipment and its controversial use in the region. Amnesty International called for JCB to implement controls to prevent the misuse of its equipment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, emphasising that JCB has the means to track and manage its machinery remotely. Following the report, the UK’s National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines found JCB in breach of certain human rights obligations, suggesting a broader issue of corporate accountability. 

Teledyne Defence and Space
Teledyne Defence and Space, situated in Shipley, Bradford, UK, is integral to the production of key technologies for military use, specifically focusing on missile filters and drone components. These components are crucial for the precision targeting capabilities of missiles, including those seemingly used by Israel. 

The company’s involvement in arms to Israel extends to components for the AGM-114R9X Hellfire missile (as well as the AGM-Harpoon, AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles). Due to this, the Teledyne facility has become a focal point for activism, with Palestine Action leading protests, direct actions, and blockades against the company’s operations in Shipley. From 2009 to 2014, the UK government issued at least 86 arms export licences to Teledyne’s owners for the shipment of weapons technologies to Israel, indicating the company’s significant role in the UK-Israel arms trade. 

Leonardo UK
Leonardo UK, a leading aerospace company in the UK and one of biggest suppliers of defence equipment to the UK MoD, has operations in London, Luton, Edinburgh, Lincoln, Yeovil, Bristol, Basildon, and Southampton. Leonardo UK, a branch of Italy’s leading defence manufacturer, expanded its influence in the defence sector when its American counterpart, Leonardo DRS, merged with the Israeli radar firm Rada in November 2022. 

Rada’s radar systems notably provide comprehensive coverage across the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Leonardo equips Israel with Aermacchi M-346 aircraft and parts for Apache attack helicopters. The company’s site in Edinburgh is responsible for producing the laser targeting system used in F-35 fighter jets. 

Among Leonardo’s subsidiaries is Selex ES International Limited, which has faced controversy regarding its Gabbiano radars’ presence in Israel. Despite a 2014 denial from Selex about these radars being located in Israel, earlier statements from 2011 contradicted this, revealing that Selex Galileo (now part of Leonardo) agreed to supply Gabbiano-series radars for Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 and 900 UAVs. 

Additionally, Selex Galileo announced a collaboration with Italian and Israeli space agencies to develop a hyperspectral instrument for the SHALOM mission (Spaceborne Hyperspectral Applicative Land and Ocean Mission is a joint mission by the Israeli Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency to develop a hyperspectral satellite).

AgustaWestland International Limited, another subsidiary, now reportedly functions as Leonardo’s helicopter division. This subsidiary has been accused by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for producing components for Apache attack helicopters utilised by Israel in Gaza.

Moog
Moog specialises in creating motion control technology for sectors such as the military, aerospace, medical, and industrial applications. According to the company, it manufactured components for the M-346 training aircraft at its facilities in Tewkesbury and Wolverhampton. In 2013, it was reported that Israel had ordered from Alenia Aermacchi, a Finmeccanica company, a total of 30 M-346s as advanced trainers to replace the TA-4 Skyhawks currently in service. The first delivery arrived in 2014.

Redmayne Engineering
Redmayne Engineering is a privately-held British company operating in the aerospace sector. In 2006, it was reported by the Guardian to have supplied parts for Israel’s Apache helicopters. Presently, it holds approvals that it has met the required standards to engage in contracts with several firms involved in arms sales to Israel, including Leonardo, BAE, and Boeing.

MPE
MPE, a manufacturing company located in Liverpool with distributors in Israel, was reported in 2006 to have sold to Israel electromagnetic filters that are integrated into the bomb racks installed on all F-15 fighter jets and the specific models of F-16s operated by Israel.

Martin-Baker
Martin-Baker has previously supplied the ejector seats for the F-35, while Dunlop Aircraft Tyres has provided the aircraft’s tyres. The F-35 refuelling probe, a vital component for mid-air refuelling, is produced by Mission Systems Wimborne Ltd.

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For other parts of the report ‘Who is Arming Israel?‘ please see: