UK reviews arms export licenses to Israel after Gaza

LONDON, April 21 (Reuters) – Britain said on Tuesday it was reviewing arms export licenses to Israel after acknowledging British components may have been used in military equipment used by Israel during its 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband faced questions from lawmakers during the conflict in January over whether Israeli forces were using any British equipment but said then it was not clear what equipment had been used.

He told parliament on Tuesday some Israeli military equipment used in Gaza may have contained British components.

"I can confirm that we are looking at all extant licences (for sensitive exports to Israel) to see whether any of these need to be reconsidered in light of recent events in Gaza," Miliband said in a written statement.

"All future applications will be assessed taking into account the recent conflict," he said.

British exports of sensitive products that are for military use or that can have both civilian or military applications need a licence. Britain says it will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk of exports being used either for internal repression or for external aggression.

Miliband said he still believed British arms export controls were "amongst the strongest and most effective in the world".

Israel said it launched the offensive to counter rockets fired from Gaza. According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed. Israel disputes those figures.

Edward Davey, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said the statement was an admission the British arms control system had broken down.

"David Miliband failed to bring pressure to bear on Israel through a suspension of arms sales when it might have had a useful effect. A review now only serves to slam the stable door after the horse has bolted," he said in a statement.

More than 100 legislators signed a statement in January calling for an embargo on the supply of military equipment to both sides of the Gaza conflict, according to Richard Burden, a lawmaker of the ruling Labour Party.

Miliband said Israel was estimated to buy more than 95 percent of its military needs from the United States with part of the rest coming from the European Union. He did not give a figure for British arms exports to Israel.

He said British-made components for F16 fighters and Apache attack helicopters have been licensed for export to the United States where Israel was the ultimate end-user.

Britain has also approved the export of components to Israel for a 76mm gun for a Saar 4.5 class Corvette — a type of vessel reported to have been used in a naval fire support role during the Gaza offensive, Miliband said.

He said Britain had received many applications to licence exports of equipment to Israel’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone, industry, but said most drones were re-exported from Israel and the British government had no evidence to suggest that British components were used by Israeli forces. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Matthew Jones)