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We Arm Israel

By Bob Roberts Political Correspondent
The Mirror
9 July 2002


BRITAIN was accused of bowing to the US last night after allowing bombing equipment to be sold to Israel.

In a move branded unethical, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw changed rules and allowed export licences for British components to be built into US F-16 fighter jets bound for the Middle East.

Three months ago Mr Straw condemned the Israelis after they used F-16s against the Palestinians.

But yesterday he said: "Any interruption to the supply of these components would have serious implications for the UK's defence relations with the US. We are not a pacifist country."

His comments fuelled charges that Tony Blair was George Bush's "poodle". Brian Iddon, secretary of the Commons all party Palestine group, said: "We are aiding and abetting the Americans to attack the Palestinians."

Slamming the turnabout as "completely immoral", Labour MP Alice Mahon said: "After continuing to arm India when she was on the brink of nuclear war, this is too much to swallow."

Up to now, the Government has refused to issue export licences for equipment bound for Israel if it could be used against the Palestinians.

Now it will decide on a "case by case" basis. The F-16 components are head-up displays used by pilots to lock on to targets.

Downing Street said the changed guidelines reflected the "new reality" of the international defence industry.



Anger Over Arms To Israel

By Bob Roberts Political Correspondent
The Mirror
9 July 2002


JACK Straw last night faced being hauled before the Commons after an amazing "arms for Israel" about-turn provoked outrage among MPs.

Announcing new guidelines, the Foreign Secretary revealed that export licences had been granted for British bombing equipment to be installed in US F-16 fighter planes bound for Israel.

Critics say the planes could be used to launch fresh missile attacks on the Palestinians.

Fuelling claims that Britain was in thrall to George Bush, Mr Straw said any interruption to the supply of the British components would have "serious implications" for UK-US defence relations.

He added: "We are not a pacifist country. I do not believe that we would make the world a safer place by Britain not being involved in responsible defence exports."

His comments were in stark contrast to his condemnation on April 16 after the Israelis launched F-16 strikes against the West Bank.

Then, he told MPs: "I am profoundly concerned at the scenes of widespread destruction of densely populated refugee camps."

Last night furious Labour MPs demanded that Mr Straw be brought before the Commons to justify his latest decision.

Commons Speaker Michael Martin will decide today whether to allow a Private Notice Question which compels ministers to answer criticism in Parliament.

The Government currently refuses export licences for equipment directly bound for Israel if it could be used against the Occupied Territories. That policy is said to remain unchanged.

But Mr Straw has ruled that licences for goods to be incorporated into products for onward export should be assessed case by case.

Among factors to be considered are the importance of the UK's defence relationship with the "incorporating country".

British "head-up displays" - used by pilots to lock on to bombing targets - can now be installed in the US F-16s destined for Israel.

Mr Straw said: "Appropriate use of arms exported to Israel by the US is the subject of regular dialogue. When the US have concerns they make these known to the Israelis."

Don Anderson, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded a debate.

He was backed by Labour's Ann Clwyd, who said: "We must have an opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary on the continuing export of arms to Israel by the US or any other country."

Labour MP Alice Mahon warned of "growing unease" among fellow backbenchers at Mr Straw's "completely immoral" decision.

She said: "There are only a few planes involved. They could have put it on hold. It's another example of Bush saying 'Do this'."

Lib Dem spokesman Menzies Campbell said the relaxation in arms rules would leave the door open to exports "of any kind".

He said: "This clearly rushed and reactive change of policy provides maximum flexibility and minimum accountability.

"It gives the Government absolute discretion. Who on earth believes that hopes of peace in the Middle East will be helped one bit by this decision?"

Phil Bloomer, of Oxfam, added: "This could lead to British arms turning up in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts. That Straw is prepared to push through more questionable sales is worrying."

The UK will spend about £4million on joint research with the US on missile technology, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday.

In Jerusalem Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met the Palestinian Finance Minister, the first Cabinet level talks between the two sides in four months. But no breakthrough was expected.