Israel portrays itself as a small state simply acting in self-defence, in reality, it is carrying out a decades-long military occupation, denying Palestinian refugees the right to return and continuing to displace hundreds of families. It has one of the strongest militaries in the world, aided and abetted by the backing of international powers.
Approved export licences for arms sales from the UK to Israel cover components for small arms, ammunition, night-sight technology and intelligence. Recent research revealed that British-made military components and hardware were used by Israeli forces during last month’s airstrikes on Gaza, in spite of government claims about Britain’s tough arms export controls. The Israeli F-35 warplanes that are used to bomb the densely populated territory have component parts from a host of UK suppliers, including BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, Selex, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade, between 2016 and 2020, the UK issued single individual export licences for arms sales to Israel to a value of £400m. This is a significant increase from the £67m in licences from 2011 to 2015.
The UK also imports Israeli-made weapons. For example, in 2016, Israel’s major arms producer, Elbit, in conjunction with Thales UK, completed delivery on most of the 54 Watchkeeper drones as part of an £800m contract. Between 2018 and 2020 the British Ministry of Defence bought £46m worth of military equipment from Elbit. Such weapons are marketed as “battle-tested” – demonstrating the ways that day-to-day violence against Palestinians spurs a profitable industry with international reach.
Last month in Leicester, campaigners occupied the rooftop of UAV Tactical Systems, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems UK has nine production sites and offices in the country. The Leicester facility manufactures the Hermes drone that has been used by Israel’s military in Gaza. Campaigners managed to disrupt production for several days before another protest started against an Elbit factory in Oldham.
British-based organisations such as War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade have called for an end to military exports to Israel and a review of UK arms sales.