ANGER OVER ARMS-TO-ISRAEL
Jul 9 2002
By Bob Roberts
JACK Straw last night faced being hauled before the Commons after an amazing "arms for Israel" about-turn provoked outrage among MPs.
Announcing new guidelines, the Foreign Secretary revealed that export licences had been granted for British bombing equipment to be installed in US F-16 fighter planes bound for Israel.
Critics say the planes could be used to launch fresh missile attacks on the Palestinians.
Fuelling claims that Britain was in thrall to George Bush, Mr Straw said any interruption to the supply of the British components would have "serious implications" for UK-US defence relations.
He added: "We are not a pacifist country. I do not believe that we would make the world a safer place by Britain not being involved in responsible defence exports."
His comments were in stark contrast to his condemnation on April 16 after the Israelis launched F-16 strikes against the West Bank.
Then, he told MPs: "I am profoundly concerned at the scenes of widespread destruction of densely populated refugee camps."
Last night furious Labour MPs demanded that Mr Straw be brought before the Commons to justify his latest decision.
Commons Speaker Michael Martin will decide today whether to allow a Private Notice Question which compels ministers to answer criticism in Parliament.
The Government currently refuses export licences for equipment directly bound for Israel if it could be used against the Occupied Territories. That policy is said to remain unchanged.
But Mr Straw has ruled that licences for goods to be incorporated into products for onward export should be assessed case by case.
Among factors to be considered are the importance of the UK's defence relationship with the "incorporating country".
British "head-up displays" - used by pilots to lock on to bombing targets - can now be installed in the US F-16s destined for Israel.
Mr Straw said: "Appropriate use of arms exported to Israel by the US is the subject of regular dialogue. When the US have concerns they make these known to the Israelis."
Don Anderson, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded a debate.
He was backed by Labour's Ann Clwyd, who said: "We must have an opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary on the continuing export of arms to Israel by the US or any other country."
Labour MP Alice Mahon warned of "growing unease" among fellow backbenchers at Mr Straw's "completely immoral" decision.
She said: "There are only a few planes involved. They could have put it on hold. It's another example of Bush saying 'Do this'."
Lib Dem spokesman Menzies Campbell said the relaxation in arms rules would leave the door open to exports "of any kind".
He said: "This clearly rushed and reactive change of policy provides maximum flexibility and minimum accountability.
"It gives the Government absolute discretion. Who on earth believes that hopes of peace in the Middle East will be helped one bit by this decision?"
Phil Bloomer, of Oxfam, added: "This could lead to British arms turning up in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts. That Straw is prepared to push through more questionable sales is worrying."
The UK will spend about £4million on joint research with the US on missile technology, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday.
In Jerusalem Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met the Palestinian Finance Minister, the first Cabinet level talks between the two sides in four months. But no breakthrough was expected.