Arming the occupation: Israel and the Arms Trade

The London-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)published its report on Israel’s arms trade and use. CAAT is particularly concerned when military equipment is supplied to countries in regions of conflict or governments which abuse human rights. Such exports would appear to be ruled out by the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria which the Labour government adopted in October 2000. These say that the impact on human rights, armed conflict or tensions and the preservation of regional peace, stability and security will be considered before an export licence is issued. Unfortunately, this has not precluded UK companies selling to Israel. Israel is a significant arms producer and exporter. When it buys from overseas it usually does so from the United States. Direct sales from the UK are comparatively modest. Full details are given in CAAT’s report “Arming the Occupation”.

Executive Summary

The current crisis

In breach of international law and against the wishes of the majority of the international community, Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land. Major points of dispute - Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the status of Jerusalem, water resources, and the fate of the Palestinian refugees - and ongoing Palestinian suicide bombings continue to stand in the way of a peaceful solution. Since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, Israel’s military operations in the occupied territories have included the killing of Palestinian men, women and children, extra-judicial executions, arbitrary detention and deportation of prisoners, collective punishment, torture, attacks on hospitals and ambulances, curfews and other restrictions on freedom of movement, and the wholesale destruction of homes. Recently documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the UN Human Rights Commission, these actions are violations of human rights and many constitute war crimes as established by international law. Arms sales help Israel to continue this occupation, help prolong the conflict and give legitimacy to its actions.

Israel’s military industry and exports

As a state established by force of arms in an alien and hostile environment, Israel is preoccupied with security. In 2002, it passed a military budget of $9.8bn, which is 8.9 per cent of its GDP - this is three times higher than the US (3.1 per cent) and four times higher than the world average (2.6 per cent). Israel also has a vibrant domestic military industry and is now the 10th biggest arms exporter in the world. In 2000 military exports reached a new high of $2.49bn. Israel sells weapons to any regime - military juntas, countries in the throes of civil war and known human rights abusers. It has a huge customer base - this makes arms trading an important source of income for its economy. The US, China, India and Turkey are all major customers, as are many European countries. Israel also possesses nuclear weapons although it refuses to confirm it and is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Israel’s major suppliers

Israel’s arms imports mainly come from the US and, to a lesser extent, Germany, France and the UK. The US is, of course, Israel’s main supporter and provider of arms. It provides Israel with $3bn in annual aid and in 2001 alone US arms sales to Israel were worth $2.95bn. The US also gives international support, e.g. blocking UN resolutions which criticise Israel. It seems unlikely that the US will reconsider its unconditional support. Germany is Israel’s next biggest arms supplier - between 1996 and 2000, it supplied Israel with weaponry worth $765m. France exported major conventional weapons worth $50m to Israel between 1996 and 2000.

The UK’s military relationship with Israel

The UK’s military relationship with Israel is also buoyant - the value of UK military export licences to Israel almost doubled from £12.5m in 2000 to £22.5m in 2001. This is surprising given the breakdown in the peace process and Israel’s recent widely condemned military campaign. It is also surprising given that the weapons which the UK sells Israel are being used to fight a military campaign which results from an occupation which the UK deems illegal. Despite calls for an embargo, the UK government has bent over backwards to continue to authorise licences for UK companies to sell arms to Israel saying that it will consider licences on a case-by-case basis - but this just means business as usual as all arms export licences are considered on this basis. The UK government even 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.


The UK government should implement its own arms export criteria and immediately embargo sales to Israel, including components via a third party. The support of Israel’s military industry through UK imports of Israeli equipment is equally damaging and needs to stop (as Norway has already done). The failure to implement a two-way embargo leaves the UK effectively condoning Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its flagrant disregard for international law. It makes UK calls for moderation and peace sound hollow. Action is also needed on a European level, however, UK contortions designed to continue its own exports do not bode well for a wider European agreement.

To download the full report (PDF) click here.