Labour MPs protest at new rules on arms to Israel

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Government was warned last night it faced "one hell of a row" over new arms export guidelines that will allow Britain to sell military equipment intended for Israel.

The Government was warned last night it faced "one hell of a row" over new arms export guidelines that will allow Britain to sell military equipment intended for Israel.

Labour MPs and arms campaigners protested after they found out that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, would be spelling out updated rules, enabling components intended for Israeli F16 fighter planes to leave this country. The parts – "heads-up" cockpit displays – will be shipped to the United States where they will be incorporated in a consignment of jets being built for the Israeli air force. Israel uses the planes in sorties over Palestinian territories on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The deal will in effect bypass the Government's own embargo on exports of equipment to Israel if they could be used for internal repression or external aggression. The apparent intention is to ensure British contractors can continue to win contracts in projects involving several countries.

Downing Street said last night: "This is not a new policy. It is guidance based on existing criteria, to take account of the new reality of multinational assembly lines for major defence contracts." It refused to discuss the F16 contract, but said Mr Straw would make a Commons announcement on the revised guidelines this week.

In a foretaste of Labour backbench anger over the move, Roger Berry, chairman of the Commons Arms Export Licensing Select Committee, said: "Anything that undermines the commitment not to export kit to Israel that could be used in the occupation of the Occupied Territories would be a significant change in policy and cause a hell of a row. I would be furious and a lot of other people would be as well."

Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, said ministers would face massive objections. She said: "It is outrageous, given what is happening in the Middle East. This is a regional superpower going against an occupied territory with all the weaponry of modern warfare. It is immoral and wrong."

Llew Smith, Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, said: "How we can get into a position of exporting arms via a third country to Israel, which is invading the Occupied Territories on an almost daily basis, is beyond my comprehension. If this is an ethical foreign policy, I don't want anything to do with it."

Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the move was a "dispiriting" response to events in the Middle East and one that was likely to dismay Britain's European allies.

Sam Perlo-Freeman, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: "They [the arms industry] have been arming India and Pakistan, even while they stood on the brink of nuclear war, and now they are choosing to contribute directly to death and destruction in the Middle East. They are clearly without shame, with the interests of the arms manufacturers being all."

The component at the centre of the row enables pilots to view information about their weapons and position in front of each eye, without having to look at dials. Its designer says that, by reducing distractions, pilots can pick out targets more accurately.

Comments