'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Turning A Blind Eye:
UK arms sales to Israel
The British Government may voice disapproving words about Israel's assassination of Palestinian targets but behind the scenes they are granting even more licenses for arms sales. In this month's SQUALL webtorial, Kurt Perry investigates the depth of nu Labour's say-one-thing-do-another strategy.
The British government was quick to condemn the illegal assassination by Israel of Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, described the killing as 'unacceptable', 'unjustified' and 'very unlikely to achieve its objectives'. The official spokesperson for Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters: "We have repeatedly made clear our opposition to Israel's use of targeted killings and assassinations." Whilst the British government was clearly right to denounce Israel's illegal assassination policy it takes only a cursory moment of reflection to reveal the deeply hypocritical nature of British policy in the Occupied Territories.
Aside from the failure of the United Nations Security Council to agree upon a resolution condemning Israel for unlawful killings arising from the missile strike against Yassin and his entourage, due, in part, to Britains decision to abstain from voting, there is ample evidence to suggest a widening disparity between what British officials say and what they do in relation to the conflict.
Britain is not only the second largest arms exporter in the world, responsible for around 20 per cent of global arms exports, it also continues to supply arms and arms components to an Israeli government that has become increasingly enmeshed by its own moral and legal transgressions. Whilst Israel itself is a leading arms manufacturer, this does not absolve Britain from its responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict and its attendant human rights abuses. It's quite clear that supplying arms to Israel, directly or indirectly, is tantamount not only to support for the illegal occupation but also support for the kind of violence Israel inflicted on Yassin, a sixty-six year old quadriplegic, whom the security forces could have arrested at will had they chose to do so.
It is a feat of remarkable double-standards that the British government can deem the Israeli occupation of Palestine illegal and simultaneously export to Israel over £20m of military equipment, particularly when this equipment is manifestly used to continue and intensify the illegal occupation. The absurdity of British policy in the Occupied Territories is reinforced when you consider that the value of military equipment exported to Israel has substantially increased since the second intifada began in September 2000. At best, it is disingenuous of Blair to claim he wants to support a peace-process when his policies help to prop-up the increasingly violent and chaotic policies pursued by Israel, but arguably it is a simple case of complicity.
Whilst the British Ministry of Defence web-site maintains that "Export licences are not approved if to do so would fail to comply with the UK's international obligations or if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or may affect regional stability in any significant way." the evidence clearly contradicts this statement. In December 2003, the British law-firm, Leigh Day & Co, launched legal proceedings against the government, in relation to arms sales to Indonesia, challenging the 'Governments continued decision to license exports of military equipment' in contravention of its policy to block exports to countries where there is a clear risk of the equipment being used for internal repression. The same lawfirm are preparing similar proceedings against the British government in respect of its arms sales to Israel.
According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, the UK government 'introduced new guidelines in July 2002 allowing it to bypass its own export criteria and authorise the sale of UK-manufactured components to the US which are then incorporated into F-16s bound for Israel'. There is credible evidence that Israeli F-16s have been deployed aggressively in Gaza and the West Bank, making a mockery of the guidelines the government itself wrote.
A report written by Oxfam, on behalf of the Control Arms Campaign, in February 2004, also described how the government changed its arms guidelines leading to looser control and a significant increase in the quantity of arms components licensed. Indeed, it was Jack Straw himself who led the changes to the arms export guidance making it easier for arms manufacturers to export their products and raising serious doubts about the sincerity of his condemnation of Yassin's assassination. According to the Oxfam report: "Rather than solely basing decisions to export arms components on human rights, conflict and poverty considerations, new criteria were introduced to assess potential deals against their importance for the arms industry."
Tony Blair consistently defends his export policy by telling his critics: "What would actually happen if we [refused to sell parts] is not that the parts wouldnt be supplied, its that you would find every other defence industry in the world rushing in to take the place that we have vacated. Despite Labours 1997 commitment, when it entered office, to an ethical foreign policy." Tony Blair is shameless in his use of morally bankrupt language to defend his broken manifesto pledge, not to mention his broken promise to support the peace-process. It's difficult to imagine the British government accepting the same argument if, say, Syria or Iran were found to be supplying arms to Palestinians, for their legal right to resist the occupation. This is yet another example of the one rule for us and one rule for them mentality so embedded into the western elite.
On the surface, the British position seems incongruous but its unfailing support for UK arms manufacturers and their subordination of people to profit is more easily understood in the context of the interdependent relationship between Blairs New Labour and the British arms industry.
According to Emma Mayhew, a PhD Student at Bristol University "a better way to understand the continuation of this policy [of arms exports] lies in the intimate relationship between British arms-producing companies and government. The government is not deluded into supporting exports. This is a deliberate policy choice carried out to further the interests of a small state-corporate elite, an elite whose existence underlies the numerous links between government and arms-producing companies". She adds that there appears to be "an overly close, mutually beneficial relationship between arms-producing companies and New Labour". The picture is of an arms export lobby moving away from having to exert its political influence from the outside by progressively integrating itself with those on the inside so that it becomes difficult to tell where the Labour Party ends and military industry begins. The disparity between the words and actions of the British government is exacerbated by Tony Blairs failure to deliver the kind of progress with peace to which he committed himself during the lead-up to war against Iraq. Indeed he used the prospect of peace as bait, hoping that would help sell the case for war against Iraq to the Arab world. On reflection, it has proven to be a charade: Iraq, of course, is not our only concern in the region. I share the widespread desire for real progress on the Middle East Peace Process. President Bush and I have committed ourselves to a fair, lasting and negotiated settlement by 2005 to provide a viable state for the Palestinian people and security for Israel. We will strive to see this through and help deliver the prize of peace.
The decision to assassinate Yassin rather than arrest him suggests Sharons strategy is underpinned by an increase, not a reduction, in the cycle of violence. If British arms companies can profit from this strategy, then, the historical record indicates, the British government, inextricably linked to the UK military industry, is likely to help deliver more misery, death and destruction - not peace.
For Tony Blair, inaction was not an option for dealing with the tyranny of Saddam Husseins rule over the Iraqi people but his attitude toward Israeli tyranny in the Occupied Territories demonstrates that inaction is his favoured option. Blair alone cannot bring about a peaceful solution but he must find the political will to match-up his actions with his words. A meaningful and lasting solution is implausible without justice: both parties must be brought to account for their actions. The British government must assert whatever political influence is available to it and they claim to have political influence in abundance - upon the US administration to ensure Israels reign of impunity is brought to an end. State terrorism is every bit as evil as non-state terrorism.
To preserve any degree of credibility, the British government must reverse those policies that not only undermine the prospect of peace but also help to perpetuate conflict.
Gerald Kaufman, a Labour MP and a former foreign affairs spokesperson for the Labour Party, has rightly observed that "Only widespread economic sanctions on Israel, together with cutting off arms supplies, can make any impact on this government without a conscience". Its now over a year since Blair made his commitment to peace and the world is still waiting. Until his actions mirror his words, British foreign policy in the Occupied Territories will continue to be seen and rightly so - as nothing more than hypocrisy, laced with double-standards and hollow words.