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Anger as sales of UK arms to Israel double

By Andrew Grice
Political Editor
The Independent
20 July 2002


The Government's record on arms sales was under fresh scrutiny last night after the Foreign Office disclosed that the value of arms exports to Israel almost doubled last year.

Although Labour banned the sale of tanks, aircraft, warships and artillery to Israel when it came to power in 1997, the amount of arms exports to Israel rose from £12.5m in 2000 to £22.5m last year.

The licences granted included anti-tank missiles, armoured vehicles, components for air-to-air and surface-to air missiles, anti-ship missiles, bombs, combat helicopters, fast-attack craft and large-calibre ammunition.

Ministers insist they have taken a tougher line on exports to Israel since 2000 because of its actions in the occupied territories but the disclosure of the growing trade will alarm Labour MPs, 42 of whom signed a Commons motion attacking the Government's decision to grant licences for components of F-16 fighter jets to be sold to Israel via the United States.

The report on strategic export controls, published by the Foreign Office last night, also revealed that licences approved for Pakistan more than doubled in value from £6m to £14m last year. Those for India fell slightly from £64.5m to £62.5m.

Arms sales to Indonesia increased from £2m to £15.5m despite fears equipment might be used for internal repression. Licences included all-wheel vehicles, components for aircraft cannon, combat aircraft and military aero-engines.

Andrew McLean, communications manager for the pressure group Saferworld, said: "The series of weapons sales that continued to be granted to countries of concern, illustrate how the EU code of conduct is not being rigorously implemented."

The Foreign Office said Britain provided only 0.1 per cent of Israel's defence imports and said not all the equipment was sold to its government, while some items were for testing and research rather than operational use.

A spokeswoman said the number of "open licences", under which exports do not require individual approval, to Israel and Pakistan had been reduced. She said the "fluctuations" in the exports to Israel and Pakistan did not reflect any change in government policy.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, defended himself over previous criticism of arms sales to Israel, India, Pakistan and Tanzania. During a visit to India, he said: "These are difficult decisions that we have to make, but I am satisfied we have been fully consistent with the criteria laid down."