UK’s arm sales policy towards Israel criticized by MPs


London : The British government’s policy of exporting arms to Israel was criticized by one of parliament’s most senior committees Tuesday for being neither transparent nor accountable.

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The Quadripartite Committee, made up of members of the Foreign Affair, Defence, Trade and International Development Committees, concluded that on the basis of evidence, the government’s issuing of export licences to Israel “may have been tightened up.

“The Government’s ‘case by case’ response in explaining decisions to grant or refuse licences is unclear,” it said in a review of the country’s strategic export controls.

“While the ‘case by case’ approach gives the Government flexibility this appears to allow latitude to adjust policy without the need for public explanation, which is neither transparent nor accountable,” the all-party group of MPs said.

The review also recommended that the government explain its policy on licensing exports to Israel, Jordan or other countries in the Middle East and that it explain whether it has adjusted its policy since Labour came to power back 1997.

Official figures show a wide variety in the number of licences refused for Israel, fluctuating between zero and 34 per cent, each year as events in the Occupied Territories and Middle East have unfolded.

The Quadripartite Committee also asked the government to explain how it assesses whether there is a “clear risk” that a proposed export to Israel might be used for internal repression, which is one of the criteria used in its licensing guidelines.

Israel was further named in the review as one of the countries where there is a “lack of transparency in the interpretation of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports at its most stark.”
“The reasons for refusal are not published and so may encompass some or all of the Criteria in the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. This of itself is an indication of lack of transparency,” it said.

The report largely praised the government’s current review of strategic exports legislation as constructive, but warned that the pace of technological development, changing proliferation patterns and the threat from terrorists mean “any gaps in the legislation could have serious consequences for the UK.”
The government was called upon to use its review to plug the holes in the controls on arms exported from the UK and to keep a tight grip on those trafficking and brokering arms between countries outside the UK.

The committee also said it wanted to see “more vigorous prosecution of those who break export controls and has called on the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review the level of fines and punishment.”