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UK to stop some arms sales to Israel if Gaza hostilities resume

Vince Cable announces that arms sales to Israel will be suspended if fighting restarts but activists insist this is not nearly enough
Vince Cable has been accused of failing to take a strong stance on Israel's Gaza offensive (AFP)

The British government will suspend 12 arms contracts to Israel, if there is a “resumption of significant hostilities”, Business Secretary Vince Cable announced on Tuesday. 

A statement from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said that they had identified 12 arms export licenses that included the sale of equipment used by the Israeli army in Gaza. The licenses relate to military equipment including “components for military radar systems, combat aircraft and tanks.”

Cable welcomed a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza that began on Monday, but he did stress that the 12 export licenses in question would only be suspended if fighting resumed. 

“We welcome the current ceasefire in Gaza and hope that it will lead to a peaceful resolution. However the UK Government has not been able to clarify if the export license criteria are being met. In light of that uncertainty we have taken the decision to suspend these existing export licenses in the event of a resumption of significant hostilities,” he said.

Activists have been quick to jump on Cable's comments, calling his stance "incredibly weak."

“We think the government’s response is incredibly weak,” said Andrew Smith, media spokesperson for Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). “The fact that licenses will only be suspended if significant hostilities resume will be seen as a sign of political support for the Israeli government.”

Smith told the Middle East Eye that the government statement - acknowledging that 12 arms licenses have been used by Israel in Gaza - should provide ample grounds to immediately bar all weapons sales. 

“We would like to see a full embargo on all arms sales to Israel,” he said. “We don’t just want to see the suspension of some select licenses, we want to see the revoking of all licenses.”

“Arms sales don’t just provide military support, they also provide political support, and the UK government needs to send out a strong signal that it does not support the bombardment of Gaza.”

British authorities have come under increasing fire for what many have perceived as a muted response to the Israeli military assault on the Strip. Their failure to openly condemn Israel’s actions led to the resignation of Conservative Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi, who called the government’s policy on Gaza “morally indefensible”.

After the statement on arms export licensing was released, Warsi was quick to criticise the government on her Twitter account.

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had earlier said he was working to suspend arms export licenses to Israel in light of the Gaza attacks. He said an immediate suspension of licenses should be followed by a “wider review of whether they should be revoked more permanently in the long run”.

The junior coalition partner has so far blamed the Conservative leadership for the government's response to the crisis. A spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats slammed Prime Minister David Caeron for the failure to suspend the licenses, saying the BIS statement was “as far as we have been able to reach in collective agreement with the Conservatives”.

“What is clear now is that we have agreement that if the current ceasefire ends in Gaza, which we all hope it doesn’t, and there was a resumption of significant hostilities, then there would be an immediate suspension of those arms export licenses to Israel that give us cause for concern," the spokesperson added.

The British government has previously said barring arms sales could weaken their influence over Israel, especially as other EU member states have avoided a ban on weapons exports. Only Spain has implemented an interim ban on weapons sales to Israel in response to the military offensive in Gaza.