PM faces legal battle over Israel arms sales

Campaigners have threatened the UK government with legal action over its failure to suspend exports of military equipment to Israel.

The aftermath of an Israeli strike described by the UN as a violation of international law. Picture: AFP

Leigh Day, the law firm acting on behalf of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable warning that the present policy appears to be illegal and an application for a Judicial Review would be considered unless sales of equipment that could be used in action against Gaza were halted.

A review of existing export licences, ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron amid pressure from the Liberal Democrats and others over the violence in Gaza, found 12 were for components which could be part of equipment used by the Israel Defence Forces in its offensive against Hamas.

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With both sides presently observing a ceasefire, Mr Cable signalled these will be suspended in the event of the “resumption of significant hostilities”. But CAAT says no proper definition has been given of that threshold or of whether any of the materials which have already been exported may have been used in illegal acts.

In a lawyers letter to Mr Cable the legal experts say: “The concept of a ‘resumption of significant hostilities’ is not defined or explained nor, indeed, is the rationale for such a threshold given that conduct occurring outside significant hostilities (such as a single airstrike) could equally violate international humanitarian law or human rights law.”

Neither does there appear to be sufficient clarity over when the issuing of new licences – which has been suspended as a precaution – would be resumed.

CAAT claims 131 such licences have been granted, with £41.5 million worth of UK components being sent to Israel that can be used in drones, radar, targeting systems and other military hardware.

Campaigners state these “may have been – and may continue to be – used in the commission of grave breaches of international humanitarian law and/or international human rights law”.

One example cited is the death of ten civilians in a strike on a school – cited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a “gross violation” of international law.

“Subject to any new information you provide us, we consider that the failure of the UK government to suspend existing licenses for the export of arms to Israel is unlawful where there is a risk that such arms may be used in hostilities in Gaza,” the letter concluded. “Unless the UK government agrees to suspend existing licences, we are instructed to consider issuing judicial review proceedings.”