Foreign Secretary David Cameron confirmed on 9th May that the UK will not follow the US and suspend any weapons sales to Israel despite its horrific ongoing bombardment of Rafah. 

However, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) alleges that Cameron’s comments were at best misleading and, at worst, downright lies. New figures from CAAT estimate that the real value of arms exports to Israel is twice as high as the government claims it is – at least £1 billion since 2015.

Cameron claimed that UK arms sales are not comparable with US sales because “we do not have a UK government supply of weapons to Israel, we have a number of licences”. While UK exports are much smaller than those of the US, whether they are transferred directly through the government, or whether the government issues licences is irrelevant to the UK’s obligations under International Humanitarian Law. The F-35 jets dropping bombs on Gaza for the last seven months would not be in the sky without the components made all across the UK.

He also said that UK licensing procedures are “some of the toughest in the world.”. However, recent revelations in the legal case against the UK government over arms sales showed that there has been a “hiatus” in the legal assessments needed to assess whether Israel is breaching IHL, and that “decisions of some importance have been delayed for some time.”. The last assessment took place on 8th April. However, according to information given in court, this review only covered IHL violations committed in the period up to 28th January. Under UK export rules, arms sales must be halted when there is a clear risk they could be used to break international law. 

Finally, Cameron claimed that “our defence exports to Israel are responsible for significantly less than 1% of their total.” CAAT estimates that the real value of arms exports to Israel is twice as high as the government claims it is – at least £1 billion since 2015. The UK has exported £489 million in single issue licences since 2015. However, 62 open licences have also been issued since 2015. Under open licences, a company can export unlimited amounts of specified military equipment without further reporting requirements. One open licence is for components for the F35 fighter jets Israel is using to bombard Gaza; 15% of the value of every F-35 is produced in the UK. CAAT estimates this licence has been worth at least £368 million to UK industry since 2016. However, this figure is just for the initial building of the planes. It doesn’t cover the spare parts that Israel will need in order to continue its bombardment. We do not know the full value of the other licences. We also do not know if there has been an increase in arms exports since October 7th due to a lag in the data.

On 7th May CAAT issued a statement on the invasion of Rafah. It beings:

“Our government and opposition leadership were given advance notice by Israel that they would commit these crimes against humanity, and their failure to call for a ceasefire, failure to stop arming this genocide, and failure to hold Israel to account is what has brought this horror to Gaza. For months, UK Ministers have acted under the pretence that an unfathomable escalation from Israel in Rafah was needed for them to take meaningful action. This response from our so-called leaders is morally bankrupt and unforgivable. It has allowed Israel to commit genocide with impunity, and created a hell on earth for the people of Gaza. Now that the invasion of Rafah is underway we see that this ‘red line’ is nothing more than rhetoric.”

CAAT’s Media Coordinator, Emily Apple, said:

“Not only is David Cameron complicit in genocide, he is lying to the country about UK arms exports. The UK’s licensing system is not robust. It is murky and unaccountable.Israel is using UK military equipment to commit utterly horrific war crimes in Gaza and this government is still refusing to act. 

“This government pretended Rafah was a red line. This was a sickening lie.The atrocities Palestinian people are facing in Rafah are beyond words. But Cameron’s comments show that he intends to continue prioritising the profits of arms dealers, shamefully disregarding international law and treating Palestinian lives with unforgivable contempt. This has to stop and he must face the consequences for his utterly immoral actions.”

  1. CAAT’s estimate of £1bn of arms exports since 2015 is based on £489m in single issue licences, at least £368m for the F35s, and a low estimate of £143m for F35 repairs and other open licences.

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