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Israel: Arms Embargo

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 25 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will support proposals for a complete embargo on exports of arms and military equipment to Israel by the United Kingdom and the European Union.

My Lords, imposing sanctions would advance neither Britain's influence nor the prospects for peace in the Middle East and in our view is not the best way to engage or to influence Israel. We have been very clear that, in accordance with EU arms export criteria, no arms exports are granted where there is a clear risk that those arms could be used for internal repression or external aggression, and that is surveyed very closely. We continue to monitor this very carefully.

My Lords, this is not a negligible matter. Can the Minister confirm that in the first nine months of 2008, military equipment worth more than £27 million was exported to Israel? Will the Government tell the incoming Government of Israel that disproportionate killing and destruction as in south Lebanon and Gaza are unacceptable? Will they redirect our arms export effort to supporting peace-building and to trying to ensure as far as possible that there is parity between those negotiating for peace?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, we will continue to say to this Government and the incoming Government that disproportionate deaths of civilians are never acceptable. As to his first point, of the £27 million of sales to which he referred, £4 million were dual-use goods that were not being used for military purposes. Of the remaining £23 million, a single approval in January last year of a large contract for naval communications equipment accounted for over 75 per cent of the remainder. I assure the noble Lord and the House that in normal years we are a very small supplier of arms to Israel.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if Israel was rendered unable to defend itself, it would rapidly be destroyed by those neighbours who vowed to remove it from the face of the earth? In the light of yesterday’s Statement on anti-terrorism, is it in the UK’s best interests to impair the ability of a pro-western ally that is right at the forefront in the fight against terrorism?

My Lords, in this House and elsewhere, we have always confirmed Israel’s right to self-defence. Whatever one’s view of the conflict in the region, it is clear that Israel needs a significant capacity for that self-defence.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, a new Government are coming in in Israel who appear to be stone deaf to all forms of outside criticism, with a Prime Minister who has made it clear that he rejects the two-state solution and is not willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of a negotiated principle. What are Her Majesty's Government going to do to provide the outside pressure needed on this new right-wing Government in Israel to make them think rather more constructively about common security and peace for the Palestinians?

My Lords, I very much hope that the new Government in Israel will be given pause for thought by the fact that not just this Government but the Administration in Washington are, like nearly all of Israel's allies, firmly committed to a two-state solution and will use every opportunity to make that point unequivocally clear to the new Prime Minister.

My Lords, the Minister in the other place said that there is no evidence that any British defence exports were used in the recent Israeli operations in Gaza. When will the Foreign Office’s assessment of that matter be completed?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to ask. There have been a number of reports on which we are drawing heavily as sources. There was the Amnesty report on 23 February. Our defence attaché in Tel Aviv has carried out an assessment. Once we have arrived at a clear picture of what materiel and equipment was used by the IDF, we will assess again whether any UK-exported parts or equipment were likely to have been involved. If so, we will adjust our export licensing policies accordingly.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am sure he is—that the previous Conservative Government imposed an arms embargo on Israel following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982? Two years later, they raised that embargo, in the words of the then Foreign Secretary,

“to reward Israel for pressing forward with the search for peace”.

Given the appalling devastation of Gaza by the Israeli defence forces and disturbing reports of instructions given to them that contravene international humanitarian law, is there not a strong case for Her Majesty's Government and the European Union—and the United States—to reimpose an arms embargo on Israel? Does the Minister agree that there is little reason to reject the case for an embargo on the grounds given 1964:

“to reward Israel for pressing forward with the search for peace”?

My Lords, as an underlying policy objective, the UK believes that engaging with Israel, drawing it into the international community and making it meet its obligations to its Palestinian neighbours is the right way forward. Let me add that we do not consider European arms sales to Israel to be the big stick implied. Ninety-five per cent of Israel's defence imports come from the United States. If you add in the gifted element, it comes to 99 per cent. The other 1 per cent indeed comes from the European Union, and the three big providers are Germany, France and Romania. I say that to give us a sense of proportion here. UK arms sales are not a big factor.

My Lords, would it not be just a little absurd to deny arms sales to Israel—to have an embargo on Israel—a democratic ally which supplies us, for example, with drones used to protect our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan while, at the same time, Iran supplies Hamas with sophisticated rocketry that rains upon Israel?

My Lords, I think that the international arms trade is filled with absurdities and contradictions. Let me reaffirm that we believe that arms sales to Israel that entirely meet the export licensing requirements and therefore, we are confident, will not be used for domestic repression are indeed legitimate, and we do not intend to cease them.