UK government faces growing calls to suspend arms sales to Israel following aid workers attack News
al_si / Pixabay
UK government faces growing calls to suspend arms sales to Israel following aid workers attack

Leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrat Party Sir Ed Davey called upon the UK government on Wednesday to suspend arms sales to Israel. This follows the deaths of British aid workers John Chapman, James Kirby and Jim Henderson, who were among the seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) workers killed in an “unintended strike” by the Israel Defence Forces on Monday. Other opposition politicians and more than 600 British lawyers, including three former Supreme Court justices, have demanded the same as Davey. Downing Street declined to comment on Tuesday.

The largest opposition parties—Labour, Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, Sinn Féin and Plaid Cymru—have all supported the suspension of arms sales because legal experts have found that Israel broke international law. A letter constituting legal opinion was released Wednesday evening, signed by 613 British legal professionals, including former president of the Supreme Court Baroness Hale and two other former Supreme Court justices. In it, the legal professionals cited to the Provisional Order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the worsening situation in Gaza, finding that the UK is obligated to “employ all means reasonably available to them” to prevent genocide—a recognized peremptory norm of international law.

There has been debate as to whether the Israel-Hamas war constitutes genocide, but the majority seems to agree that it does. The letter recommended five urgent actions for the UK: to work actively for a ceasefire; to insist upon safe access to and delivery of medical assistance to Palestine; to impose sanctions on those inciting genocide; to suspend the provision of weapons to Israel, and to suspend steps for furthering the UK’s “strategic partnership” with Israel.

This appeal appears to be coming from all sides of the political spectrum, with four Conservatives telling the Guardian on Wednesday that they support the suspension of arms sales. Conservative MP for Clwyd West David Jones stated, “Given that we’ve seen three British citizens – all of them ex-forces – killed in what is, at best, a negligent manner, I think that we really need to reassess our supply of weaponry there.” While Jones acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately, Jones found Israel’s response “inadequate.”

MP for Peterborough Paul Bristow and Meon Valley Flick Drummond also supported the call. Both noted fear that British arms were being used in the conflict. Former Supreme Court Justice Lord Jonathan Sumption told the BBC he was concerned that the UK had lost sight of its duty to prevent genocide. The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have demanded that the UK Parliament recall to discuss the ending of arms sales. There are still people who disagree, such as Lord David Frost, former Chief Negotiator for exiting the EU and Cabinet minister under Boris Johnson, who wrote a Telegraph article entitled, “Destroying Hamas is in Britain’s interest. We should be backing Israel to achieve it”.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s stance was somewhat unclear when interviewed on the Sun’s new program, Never Mind the Ballots, on Wednesday. He said arms exports to Israel are under “careful” review but did not comment on halting them. Sunak instead said, “We’ve always had a very careful export licensing regime that we adhere to. There are a set of rules, regulations and procedures that we’ll always follow.”

The House of Commons research briefing on UK arms exports to Israel makes clear that the UK does not directly sell arms to Israel, rather it grants licenses for UK companies to do so. This is assessed on a case-by-case basis, using criteria that include the UK’s obligations under international law and if there is clear risk that the items may be used to “commit or facilitate” a serious violation of international humanitarian law. As noted in December by the Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps, UK defense exports to Israel are “relatively small” (amounting to £574 million since 2008), which is only 0.02 percent of Israel’s military imports.

That said, lawmakers’ call to suspend arms sales to Israel would not be unprecedented. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher suspended arms sales to Israel in response to the country’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair did the same in 2002. A YouGov poll reported in the Guardian found that 56 percent of voters in the UK are in favor of a ban on arms exports to Israel, with only 17 percent against. Accordingly, 59 percent said Israel is violating human rights in Gaza, with only 12 percent disagreeing. This poll was commissioned before the airstrike on the WCK.

Details of the WCK attack, claiming sources in defense, were published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. According to their report, an Israeli drone fired three missiles at three armored cars, all of which had the WCK’s logo clearly displayed on the front and the sides. It was reported that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) suspected that an armed militant was with the WCK. The three cars were traveling upon a route pre-approved by the IDF. The WCK is calling for an independent investigation into the attack, asking the governments of Australia, Canada, the US, Poland and the UK to join them in their demand.