Arms Exports


After himself suffering tear-gas inhilation at Nil’in, in an interview with Ma’an News Agency (26.01.10) Mustafa Al-Barghouti, chair of the Palestinian National Initiative, commented that Palestinians will begin asking the EU to take a stand on Israeli violence against unarmed demonstrators. ‘They tell us – don’t use violence, not even in self-defence against terrible Israeli violence. We will tell them: the EU cannot continue to be impartial. The EU has great leverage over Israel, if they want to use it. The least they can do is stop military co-operation.’

Figures for Exports to Israel

According to a statement by the then Labour British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in the spring of 2009 (see below), estimates suggest that Israel buys over 95% of its military requirements from the US, while the EU accounts for a proportion of the remainder (CAAT). A further report reckons that in 2007 EU member states exported €200 million to Israel, with France by far and away the biggest EU weapons supplier (€126 million), followed by Germany and Romania (Leigh Phillips, EUobserver, 07.01.09).

In recent years the UK has licensed arms exports to Israel of between £10 million and £25 million a year. However in the first nine months of 2008 over £27 million worth was approved. (‘Stop Arming Israel’).

The Apache is not just equipment. For Palestinians it’s a symbol of indiscriminate military violence. From a young age, every Palestinian child learns to distinguish the Apache’s sound and associate it with assassinations, destruction and blood in the street.’

Shawan Jabarin, director of the

Palestinian human rights group al-Haq.

In Feb. 2009 this Palestinian human rights organization launched legal proceedings with Public Interest Lawyers in the UK for a judicial review of the UK government’s policy of licensing arms sales to Israel.

(‘Stop Arming Israel’.)

Any reckoning as to what is exported is complex. A large part of UK exports is of components; including components for F16 fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters, which have been used to bomb Lebanese and Palestinian towns and villages and in the attack on Gaza. Further, a significant proportion of exports are for dual use, military and non-military; or they are incorporated into Israeli military goods for export to a third country; or are components incorporated into United States goods which are then exported to Israel. It is reckoned that during the years of the Labour Governments of 1997-2007 British companies exported more than £110 million of military hardware to Israel. (David Cronin, Europe’s Alliance with Israel: Aiding the Occupation.) 

The UK also imports military goods from Israel, but it is estimated that this accounts for less than 1% of Israeli military exports.

Codes of Conduct

There are of course codes of conduct as to what it is admissible to export. The EU adopted a ‘Code of Conduct on Arms Export’ on 8 June 1998. The preamble has such fine phrases as 'DETERMINED to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability...'. Criterion 2 (as to whether export licences should be granted or refused) includes 'the respect of human rights in the country of final destination', stating that member states will 'not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression', and elaborating, 'internal repression includes, inter alia, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, summary or arbitrary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms...'. (For the full text click here.)

The record of European states has been various. Very few export licences have been refused on the above grounds. It seems that between 2005 and 2007 the actual export of military equipment by the UK to Israel (as reported by the UK government) was 10.47 million pounds worth. (AI ‘Fuelling Conflict’, p.20.); however, as stated above, in the first nine months of 2008 the UK government licensed the sale of £27 million worth of military equipment to Israel. Nine EU states, which include Sweden, now claim not to export any arms to Israel. Some, including the UK, claim to have restricted their arms sales. (See AI ‘Fuelling Conflict’.) A problem arises from the fact that the export code is monitored at the level of individual states; thus were the UK to press for an outright European embargo it would have to convince 26 other member states. (See Leigh Phillips, ‘Arms Exports to Israel from EU worth €200m’, 07.01.09.)

Questions Asked (UK)

There have been telling questions asked of the UK government. When he was Labour’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw admitted that military equipment licensed by the British government could be used in attacks on Palestinian civilians.

‘The British government has admitted that it cannot accept Israeli assurances that military equipment sold from Britain is not being used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and yet it continues to license these sales.’

(‘Stop Arming Israel’)

In a Ministerial Statement (21.04.09) subsequent to Operation Cast Lead the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that equipment used in Gaza ‘almost certainly’ contained UK components. Quizzed by the Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls the following day, the FO admitted that personnel carriers had been approved since the war on the Lebanon in 2006. Ha’aretz indeed reported (13.07.09) that certain licences had been revoked, the UK embassy in Israel confirming that this had been done following the Foreign Secretary’s statement (‘Stop Arming Israel’). In August 2006 the Quadripartite Select Committee called on the government to explain its policy on exports to Israel in more detail. A year later, finding the Government’s reply ‘unenlightening’, they repeated their question: they understood that: ‘The policy is that no weapons, equipment or components which could be deployed aggressively in the Occupied Territories will be licensed for export from the UK to Israel.’ After Gaza an EDM was tabled (12.01.09:

That this House is appalled that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been licensing increasing arms sales to Israel; registers with extreme disapproval that in the first three months of 2008 Britain exported nearly £19 million worth of weapons to Israel, compared to £7.5 million in the whole of 2007; requests the Government to state the value of British arms sold to Israel from April to December 2008; further requests the Government to list the types of weapons sold to Israel; calls on the Government to halt delivery of further weapons; and urges the Government to investigate whether any of the weapons exported to Israel during 2008 have been used in the attacks on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. 

Most recently the House of Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) in their annual report issued in March 2011 ‘Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls’, comment that ‘surprisingly’ the present (Coalition) Government’s response to their previous (2010) Report stated that ‘The UK Government does not have a policy that UK arms exports to Israel should not be used in the OPTs [Occupied Palestinian Territories].’ The FO Minister Alistair Burt, when asked, had clarified that it was the use of the arms, rather than the specific territory in which they were used, which was the determining factor and that the Coalition Government’s policy had not changed from that of the previous Government. The Committee was however evidently far from satisfied, remarking (#124) that it was ‘far from clear how [Burt’s] response can be reconciled’ with the previous Government’s assurance that ‘No UK originated equipment nor any UK originated systems/sub-systems/components are used as part of the Israel Defence Force’s activities in the Territories’. They recommended that the Government re-state ‘what specific arms or components of arms it is willing to approve for export to Israel that could be used in the OPT’ and that if it is unable to identify any such it withdraw its statement.

(For this on-going tug of war between the CAEC and the government of the day see ‘Scrutiny of Arms Controls’ and ‘Arms Exports to Israel’, bibliography below.)

The United States

Of course what the UK or Europe does pales into insignificance as compared with the US arming of Israel. Israel News reported (18.12.09) that Barack Obama had signed the 2010 budget law, which included $2.775  billion in ‘security aid’ (a euphemism if ever there were) to Israel. This was part of ‘understandings that the American assistance to Israel in the coming decade will total $30 billion’. The budget also comprised for the first time $500 million in aid to the PA, including $100 million for the training of Palestinian security forces by an American general.  (It is to be noted that such security forces of the PA are widely seen in Palestine as collaborators. Whither Then?)

‘Israel's latest attack on the people of Gaza is a war crime, made possible only through the financial, military and diplomatic support Israel receives from Western states.’

(War on Want ‘Statement on Gaza’)

‘The aid will be handed over to the Palestinians under the condition that American taxpayers’ money will only be transferred to a Palestinian government whose members accept the conditions of the international Quartet …The conditions include recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past agreements signed with the Jewish state’: terms written so as to exclude any possible payments to a Hamas-led government. (For why Hamas does not accept these conditions click here)  Israel is bound to use 75% of the ‘security aid’ in dollars; ‘in other words, to produce military devices in the US in order to help create workplaces there.’ Further the President and Congress approved ‘special additions to the Israeli defence industries for the development of technologies, particularly in the missile defence field’. (ynet 18.12.09). An earlier report by the same publication  (21.01.09, click here)  is interesting on how it was not expected that Obama would make far-reaching changes in the financial aspects of his foreign policy: ‘the arms package is bound by 10-year long contracts, approved by both the House and the senate and the president has very little leeway on changing it because it is backed by legislation’.

NATO – Israel Anti-Terror Cooperation

On 2.12.2008 (three weeks before the attack on Gaza) an agreement was reached between NATO and Israel to boost cooperation in the ‘fight against terrorism’ and to increase military ties: click here.

Israel as an Arms Exporter

Israel is a major exporter of arms, astonishingly large for its size (in 2000 ranked as the tenth largest arms exporter in the world). Unlike most countries, that produce arms in the first place for their own use, in the case of Israel in 2001 (for example) 75% of the arms it produced were for export. Further, Israel exercises nil criteria as to whom it will export arms. When asked by the Jerusalem Post in 1997 as to whether Israel takes into consideration the human rights record of a country when selling arms David Ivri, an adviser to the Israeli Ministry of Defence responded: ‘Israel to this day has a policy of not intervening in the internal matters of any country in the world. We don't like it when others interfere in our internal matters. For this reason, our policy doesn't touch on such matters.’ (Jennifer Washburn, Power Bloc: Turkey and Israel Lock Arms, The Progressive Magazine, Dec 1998, quoted by Mandy Turner, ‘Arming the Occupation: Israel and the Arms Trade’.) Turner, of CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade, a British organization), comments:

Israel sells weapons to any regime - military juntas, countries in the throes of civil war and known human rights abusers. For example, the Guatemalan army received weapons from Israel between 1977 and 1981, a time when tens of thousands of people "disappeared"; and Israeli arms were shipped to the Medellin drug barons in Colombia. Other major customers in the 1970s and 80s included the Galtieri regime in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua under Samoza, Noriega's Panama, and Sri Lanka - all of which had been accused of gross human rights violations. Israel was also apartheid South Africa's leading arms supplier with annual two-way sales worth more than $500m in violation of a UN arms embargo. In fact, selling arms to countries boycotted by other arms exporters has helped Israel become a leading arms exporter...

And further:

More recently, Israel has sold air-to-air missiles and F-7 fighter upgrades to the military junta in Burma, and in 1997 it upgraded Cambodia's MiG-21s and supplied avionics for L-39trainers - a time when the country was on the verge of civil war. China, Burma and Zambia are all Israeli customers despite the fact that the US either embargoes or severely restricts its own arms sales to those countries. It was also reported that the UN had to ask Israel to stop supplying warring countries Ethiopia and Eritrea with arms. Pariah state Zimbabwe has also recently become a customer with a $10m order for riot control vehicles from the Beit Alfa Trailer Company.

Controlling Israel is clearly crucial for many far-flung areas of the world.


AI Gaza Mission 2009

Missile that killed paramedics

Label from the remains of a missile that killed three paramedics and a child in Operation Cast Lead. AI found an electrical component for a missile with ‘Made in France’ on it. (Amnesty International ‘Fuelling Conflict’).


- Phillips, Leigh, ‘Arms Exports to Israel from EU worth €200m’, (07.01.02).

  1. -AI, ‘Fuelling Conflict: Foreign Arms Supplies to Israel/Gaza’ (23.02.09). See pages 16-30; pages 19-20 for a table of supplies of arms by the U.S. and European countries to Israel.

  2. -Stop Arming Israel’, c/o War on Want.

  3. -War on Want ‘Statement on Gaza’.

  4. -CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade): Mandy Turner ‘Arming the Occupation: Israel and the Arms Trade’.

  5. -House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: ‘Global Security: Israel and the Occupied Territories’.

  6. -Report issued by the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills, Defence, Foreign Affairs, and International Development Committees, ‘Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls’ (2011), # 121-24 ‘Israel, pp. 50-52.

  7. -For a detailed discussion of UK arms exports to Israel see House of Commons Library, Standard Note SN/1A/4931 ‘Arms Exports to Israel’:

See Further on this Site:

- Hamas (for arms supplies to Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups)

- Iran and theLebanon

- Militarisation