A Ru­bi­con has been crossed with this em­bargo

ANAL­Y­SIS

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - ALEX BRUM­MER

CRIT­ICS OF Is­rael’s pol­icy in Gaza­havescoreda sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory with the de­ci­sion to block a dozen li­cences to Bri­tish com­pa­nies that sell weapons parts to the IDF. The £42 mil­lion sum in­volved is tri­fling but the sym­bol­ism will be ex­ploited.

What is deeply dis­turb­ing are mis­lead­ing­sums­bandied­abou­tatWest­min­ster and in parts of the me­dia that have sug­gested Is­rael has a mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship that dwarfs oth­ers in the re­gion, with li­cences worth £7 bil­lion.

The £7 bil­lion fig­ure is non­sense. It is a num­berthatal­mos­tex­ceed­s­the­w­hole of Is­rael’s do­mes­tic bud­get and is far larger than all of the fast ex­pand­ing £3.2 bil­lion two-way com­merce be­tween the UK and Is­rael.

Bri­tain’s arms ex­ports to Is­rael are a tiny frac­tion of those go­ing to the rest of the Mid­dle East. Saudi Ara­bia is cur­rently the UK’s big­gest arms cus­tomer, through the sup­ply of Ty­phoon Eurofighter jets val­ued at £4.4 bil­lion. It is also com­mit­ted to spend­ing £1.6 bil­lion on the pur­chase of Hawk trainer jets.

At any one time there are an es­ti­mated 270 UK mil­i­tary tech­ni­cians on the ground in Saudi Ara­bia. In ad­di­tion Bri­tain’s big­gest mil­i­tary con­trac­tor, BAE Sys­tems, keeps an army of me­chan­ics and in­struc­tors in Saudi with the task of keep­ing its fleet of mil­i­tary air­craft op­er­a­tional.

Much of the UK’s de­fence in­dus­try is based around sup­plies to Gulf states and coun­tries with ques­tion­able hu­man rights records. The Com­mons Se­lect Com­mit­teeonArm­sEx­portCon­trols noted in 2013 that Bri­tain was sup­ply­ing £12 bil­lion of arms ex­ports to 27 coun­tries — from China to Egypt and Sri Lanka — which have been crit­i­cised over hu­man­rights.

The ac­tual fig­ures for ex­port li­cences to Is­rael range from £42 mil­lion to £78 mil­lion. Among the 131 li­cences granted since 2010 are com­po­nents for drones and mil­i­tary radars, tar­get­ing sys­tems and equip­ment for elec­tronic war­fare.

Bri­tish-Is­rael trade has grown ex­po­nen­tially. In 2009 Is­rael-Bri­tish trade was val­ued at $2.7 bil­lion, a fig­ure that had soared by 100.3 per cent to £5.5 bil­lion in 2013.

In 2009 Is­rael ran a phys­i­cal trade deficit with Bri­tain and by 2013 this had been turned into a sub­stan­tial sur­plus of £1.4 bil­lion. So while an arms em­bargo would cause lit­tle harm to Jerusalem, a broader tradeem­bar­go­could­beenor­mously harm­ful to the UK.

In­evitably, Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge will cause some Bri­tish pol­i­cy­mak­ers to ques­tion whether the deep­en­ing re­la­tion­ship is worth the trou­ble. But this is not a stan­dard that has been ap­plied to other ex­port mar­kets. In China UK com­pa­nies have been sub­jected to ha­rass­ment over al­leged bribery or Nige­ria where Shell lives con­stantly in fear of at­tacks by rebel and crim­i­nal groups.

Nev­er­the­less, a Ru­bi­con has been crossed.

Alex Brum­mer is City Edi­tor of the Daily Mail

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