Revealed: The British military hardware used in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza

Manufacturers boast that ‘the fingerprints of British ingenuity’ can be found on warplanes dropping bombs

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 22 May 2021 13:11 BST

Related video: Israel targets Hamas tunnel in Gaza in airstrikes

British-made military components and hardware were used by Israeli forces carrying out airstrikes on Gaza, according to research seen by The Independent.

Bombing raids on the Palestinian territory began on 10 May and only halted on Friday after killing over 232 people, including 65 children.

But despite supposedly strict UK arms export rules, UK-produced equipment appears to have helped fuel the conflict.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military confirmed last week that cutting-edge F-35 warplanes are among military aircraft being used in the bombardment.

The jet's manufacturer Lockheed Martin says that “the fingerprints of British ingenuity can be found on dozens of the aircraft's key components" while the UK Defence Journal estimates them to be 15 per cent British-made.

And on Friday Boris Johnson, on a visit to a new British aircraft carrier, personally boasted that the warplane “shows how we’re driving investment right across the UK, levelling up the country with new technology and new skilled jobs”.

The manufacturer says that "more than 100 UK-based suppliers" were involved in the construction of the F-35 including "BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, SELEX, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce".

Israeli forces are also known to be using F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters, which the UK government has previously admitted "almost certainly" contain British-supplied components.

In both of those cases British-made components were exported to the United States where Israel was the ultimate end-user, according to a 2009 statement by then foreign secretary David Miliband, issued during a previous military operation.

The UK-made components in the F-16s include advanced targeting equipment such as head-up displays, head-down displays and enhanced display units.

Meanwhile the Apache helicopter gunships use British-made radar systems, navigation equipment, engine assemblies, and fire control systems.

The Independent put the evidence to the British government – which regulates the export of arms and sensitive military hardware – but was only told that "the UK takes its arms export responsibilities extremely seriously".

Human rights groups have called for a halt to all military exports to Israel and Palestinian militants as part of a full review into UK arms sales to the conflict-hit region.

"The last two weeks of bombardment have killed hundreds of people and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, which collated the evidence.

"The government tells us that it's concerned, but it has failed to do the bare minimum, and has consistently refused to provide clear answers to very basic questions about whether UK-made arms that it sold are being used or not.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits in the cockpit of an Lockheed Martin F-35 during a visit to a UK aircraft carrier on Friday May 21, 2021.

"It wouldn't be the first time. Time and again UK-made weapons and components have been used against Palestinians, and it looks like that is what has happened again."

He added: "We are always told how robust arms export controls supposedly are, but nothing could be further from the truth. How many more abuses and atrocities will it take for Boris Johnson and his colleagues to finally change their policy and stop exporting violence and repression around the world?

"We all have to hope that this ceasefire is observed by all sides. But it can't simply be a return to the unjust and unfair normality of the occupation and blockade. It's time for complicit governments like the UK to push for meaningful peace and to stop putting arms company profits ahead of Palestinian rights."

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s military, security and policing programme director, said: “Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups are committing numerous war crimes in this terrible conflict, and the UK must ensure it is not party to these crimes with its arms sales.

“Ahead of a full review of UK arms sales to the region, ministers should immediately halt all military exports to Israel or any third country which could be using UK-supplied components to incorporate into weaponry supplied to Israel.

Ahead of a full review of UK arms sales to the region, ministers should immediately halt all military exports to Israel or any third country which could be using UK-supplied components to incorporate into weaponry supplied to Israel.

Oliver Feeley-Sprague, military, security and policing programme director, Amnesty International UK

“We’ve called on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, but deadlock at the UN means countries such as Britain must act sooner rather than later.

“In particular, UK ministers must say whether UK technology is still being used in the Israeli military drone programme – something that came to light as long ago as 2006 but is still largely shrouded in secrecy.”

Official figures show that since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015 the UK has licensed over £400m worth of arms to Israeli forces, including aircraft, bombs, armoured vehicles, and ammunition.

Labour MP Richard Burgon, who has quizzed ministers on the exports in parliament, told The Independent: “How can the British government claim to be supporting peace when it is helping to arm Israel in this way?

“With the deaths of so many civilians in recent days, it is now time for the British government to place an urgent ban on all arms exports to Israel. Without this, our government's talk of supporting peace is not only empty rhetoric, it is actually complicit in Israel's war on the Palestinian people."

The upsurge in violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories spiralled after Palestinians staged protests against the eviction of families in the occupied neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah by Israel. In response, Israeli security forces attacked worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque with stun grenades and tear gas. Hamas fired rockets at Israel in response, and Israeli forces responded with airstrikes.

Israeli authorities put the death toll in the country at 12, while 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed and more than 1,900 wounded. Israel says of those Palestinians killed around 160 were combatants.

On Friday, a ceasefire came into force, which has so far held.

Asked about the use of British-made components and arms in the conflict, a UK government spokesperson said: “The violence across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories has been deeply concerning. The foreign secretary repeatedly called for de-escalation and welcomed the announcement last night of a ceasefire.

“The UK takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We consider all our export applications thoroughly against a strict risk assessment framework and keep all licences under careful review as standard.

"We will not grant an export licence if to do so would be inconsistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”

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