9544Britain War Crimes: Revealed - Britain’s 'r ole' in arming Israel
- Aug 2, 2014Israel-Gaza conflict: Revealed - Britain’s 'role' in arming Israel
CAHAL MILMO Author Biography CHIEF REPORTER Saturday 02 August 2014
The Government has been accused of failing to regulate arms sales to Israel following evidence that weapons containing British-made components are being used in the bombardment of Gaza.
Documents shown to The Independent reveal that arms export licences worth £42m have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.
Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.
The Hermes drone has been widely used during Operation Protective Edge, the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza, to monitor Palestinians and guided missile strikes. The situation in the Occupied Territory deteriorated further today when a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire collapsed within hours amid further shelling and the capture of an Israeli soldier.
The Foreign Office said on Friday night it was investigating reports that Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, was British born.
The Government said that it would review all outstanding export licences to Israel. But politicians and campaigners called on ministers to establish definitively whether whether UK-manufactured weapons or components have been used by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) in Gaza since hostilities began three weeks ago.
Labour MP Katy Clark told The Independent: “By refusing to investigate this vital question the British Government are trying to bury their heads in the sand. This is a shameful approach to take and frankly makes the Government look as if it has something to hide.
“The British public have the right to know the level of support which the United Kingdom has provided to the Israeli armed forces through arms sales.”
In 2009, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband said some IDF equipment used in a previous, heavily criticised offensive in Gaza that year had “almost certainly” contained British-supplied components and vowed all future export applications would take this into account.
Past sales of UK weaponry have included head-up displays for F-16 jets made and parts for Apache attack helicopters made by at least half a dozen UK companies or subsidiaries. Both weapons have also been used in Gaza in recent weeks.
Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than £7bn last year.
But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the £42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some £10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.
The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s £12bn annual arms export trade.
But evidence exists that British-made components feature in weapons being deployed during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has been criticised for what some see as heavy-handed tactics during its assault on Gaza. Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, alongside 63 Israelis, including three civilians.
Drones have played a significant role in the action, flying above the Occupied Territory using sophisticated surveillance technology to pinpoint targets and guide in missile and smart bomb strikes. The drones are also used to deliver “warning shots” by firing smaller missiles into targeted buildings prior to heavy munitions delivered by jets such as the American-built F-16.
Schleifring Systems Ltd, a Berkshire-based subsidiary of a German defence company, is listed in the Government documents as having received 21 licences for military-use equipment in 2010, including four approvals for drone technology, one for armour plating and one for 12mm calibre firearms and accessories.
In one of its brochures, the company states that it supplies an advanced transmission device, known as slip ring, for the Hermes drone made by Elbit Systems, a large Israeli defence company. Both variants of the drone have been deployed over Gaza in the last three weeks according to military experts. The company also states that it supplies technology for other Israeli weaponry, including the Merkava IV main battle tank, also used in Gaza.
Schleifring did not respond to requests from The Independent to comment on its sales to Israel or whether its components feature in Hermes drones or other equipment used in Operation Protective Edge.
A Staffordshire-based subsidiary of Elbit, UAV Engines Ltd, is also listed as having obtained a licence to supply equipment relating to “target acquisition, designation, range-finding, surveillance or tracking systems”.
The company’s principal activity is the manufacture of drone engines. It has previously been listed in its own publicity material as supplying the engine for the Hermes 450, described by Elbit as “the ‘backbone’ of Israeli army and air force ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance] missions”.
UAV Engines did not respond to a request to comment but Elbit has previously denied that the Hermes 450s used by the IDF are powered by UK-made engines.
Other UK suppliers include BAE Systems, which provided head-up display units for US-built F16s delivered to Israel prior to 2002. The company said yesterday it had not supplied equipment since then and additional head-up displays used by the Israelis were provided by a domestic manufacturer.
Campaigners said the worsening situation in Gaza made it incumbent on the Government to halt weaponry sales to Israel. Andrew Smith, of CAAT, said: “There must be an immediate embargo on all arms sales and military collaboration with Israel. When governments sell weapons into war zones they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for what happens when they are used.”
In a statement, a Government spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing all existing export licences to Israel. All applications for export licences are assessed on a case by case basis against strict criteria. We will not issue a licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment might be used for internal repression, or if there is a clear risk that it would provoke or prolong conflict.”
UK's use of drones in Afghanistan 'may be in breach of international law'
Campaigning lawyers challenge legal defence set out by RAF as six protesters await trial over mass trespass of UK drone HQ
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
Follow @owenbowcott Follow @guardian
The Guardian, Saturday 8 June 2013
The use of remotely piloted drones by British forces in Afghanistan may be in breach of international law, a controversial legal opinion circulated to peace campaigners and released on Saturday claims.
The argument challenges the well established legal defence set out by the RAF for deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the UN-sanctioned conflict.
Publication of the document coincides with the court appearance this week of six anti-drone protesters who pleaded not guilty to causing criminal damage following the first mass trespass inside the RAF's new ground control for Afghan drone operations.
Written by Phil Shiner and Dan Carey of the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, the legal opinion argues that use of drones inside Afghanistan, which is a UN-declared conflict zone, is subject to the European convention on human rights (ECHR). That principle is already established in British case law, they say, in relation to the case of Al Skeini, which went to judges in Strasbourg and concerned the killing of civilians during British security operations in Iraq.
Their document states: "The requirement to use 'no more [force] than absolutely necessary' in article 2(2) [of the European convention relating to when it is permissible to take life] places a significant restriction on drone use.
"Only when it is absolutely necessary to kill someone rather than arrest/disable them will the use of drones be lawful. And even then, drones may only be used for one of the purposes in article 2(2), most relevantly, in self defence under 2(2)(c).
"Provided therefore that UK jurisdiction for the purposes of the ECHR is established, then the application of the ECHR would limit the use of drones solely to situations in which there is an immediate threat to life. This prevents the carrying out of 'targeted killings' and narrowly circumscribes their use even on 'the battlefield'."
"There is therefore a strong presumption that the UK's drones programme is in breach of international law."
The protesters, two of whom are priests, entered RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on Monday and were brought before Lincoln magistrates on Tuesday. They say their action was to prevent crimes being committed in Afghanistan. A fence was cut, pictures of civilian victims distributed and a "peace garden" created inside the base.
The six Disarm the Drones activists are: Chris Cole, a drones researcher from Oxford; Fr Martin Newell, a Catholic priest from London; Rev Dr Keith Hebden, an Anglican vicar in Mansfield; Susan Clarkson, a Quaker pensioner from Oxford; Henrietta Cullinan, a teacher from London; and Penny Walker, who describes herself as a grandmother from Leicester.
Cole said: "We cut the fence in order to prevent more serious crimes in Afghanistan. We were inside for about an hour and a half before they arrested us."
Hebden told the Guardian: "Drones go against international law, you can't warn anybody or engage with the local community. There's between a one and four-second delay between people on the ground [in the UK] pulling the trigger and the drone firing. They are not the accurate weapon commonly portrayed."
Walker said: "This was the first mass trespass at RAF Waddington. Our defence is that we were preventing a worse crime."
All six were held in custody over Monday night. Several said their computers had been seized during police searches despite the fact that conspiracy charges had been dropped. A condition of their bail prevents them returning to Lincolnshire.
Remotely controlled armed drones used to target insurgents in Afghanistan have been operated from RAF Waddington, the home of XIII squadron, since April. The Ministry of Defence has consistently defended its use of remotely piloted drones and published detailed legal justifications. A spokesman said: "All operations, including those involving unmanned aerial systems, are informed by appropriate legal advice and are conducted in accordance with applicable International Humanitarian Law.
"Unmanned Air Systems are subject to legal reviews during the acquisition process, in accordance with the UK's responsibilities under article 36 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva conventions of 1949. The reviews have concluded that UK UAS currently in use are capable of being used lawfully and in accordance with all relevant international and domestic law."
A defence source questioned whether the same conclusions would apply to weapons dropped from traditional aircraft or even artillery and mortar rounds.
British soldier under investigation for murder over shooting of young Afghans
Judge grants request for high court hearing to establish how four males, aged 12-18, died during search for Taliban commander
theguardian.com, Tuesday 16 April 2013 17.56 BST
A British soldier is under investigation for murder after four Afghans aged 12 to 18 were shot dead at close range in the head and neck in a family home, it has emerged.
The high court heard on Tuesday that the soldier, whose identity or unit has yet to be disclosed, has been accused of shooting three of them. The fourth was shot by another soldier who is understood to be an Afghan.
A high court judge said the allegations were "very, very grave".
Mr Justice Holman said:"If a trained soldier shoots not one but three people at close range in the area of the head and neck, it erases the question ... of whether he was deliberately shooting to kill."
He granted a request from the relatives of the dead – who were all male and aged 12, 14, 16 and 18 – for a full high court hearing to establish how they died.
Lawyers for the Ministry of Defence say that the four Afghans were suspected Taliban insurgents - a claim rejected by their relatives. The lawyers say the soldiers fired in self-defence as the four were equipped with weapons – another claim disputed by relatives.
The claims revolve around an incident on 18 October in a village in Helmand province, which was reported in the Guardian in December.
According to the MoD, a team of British and Afghan soldiers were sent to capture an "active" Taliban commander who had been planning bombings against the US-led coalition. It followed a "reliable" intelligence tipoff, says the MoD.
Shaheed Fatima, barrister for a relative of two of the dead, told the court that the heavily equipped soldiers, accompanied by tanks, entered the Loi Bagh village at 8pm looking for the individual they suspected of being a Taliban commander.
She said they went into one house where the four young Afghans were shot and killed, and that after the soldiers left, neighbours entered the house "where they found the bodies lying in a line with their heads towards the doorway".
Fatima added: "The bodies had evidently been dragged into this position. It was clear from the bullet holes and the human tissue on the wall that the four had been shot in the head and neck region as they sat leaning against the wall."
The younger two were schoolboys who were visiting for the night, while the older two worked as a shopkeeper and a farmer, she said.
The judge granted a request for the family members and witnesses to remain anonymous during the case as they feared reprisals from the Taliban. He ruled that only the first names of the dead can be published : Fazel, 18, Naik, 16, Mohammed, 14, and Ahmed, 12.
The court heard that the MoD did not launch an investigation into the deaths for six weeks and only did so after Tessa Gregory, a lawyer for a relative of two of the dead, notified the ministry that she was preparing to take legal action for damages.
The British soldier has been interviewed under caution by detectives from the Royal Military police.
Tony Blair and Iraq: The damning evidence
JONATHAN OWEN Sunday 07 April 2013
Hitherto unseen evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence has revealed that former prime minister Tony Blair was told that Iraq had, at most, only a trivial amount of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Libya was in this respect a far greater threat.
Intelligence officers have disclosed that just the day before Mr Blair went to visit president George Bush in April 2002, he appeared to accept this but returned a "changed man" and subsequently ordered the production of dossiers to "find the intelligence" that he wanted to use to justify going to war.
This and other secret evidence (given in camera) to the inquiry will, The Independent on Sunday understands, be used as the basis for severe criticism of the former prime minister when the Chilcot report is published.
Mr Blair is said to have "realised" and "understood" that Libya was the real threat and that he knew "it would not be sensible to lead the argument on Saddam and the WMD issue" according to evidence of a conversation on 4 April 2002, the day before he flew to the US to spend a weekend with Mr Bush.
This was disclosed in a closed evidence session with one of MI6's most senior officers, named as SIS4. Although details have been redacted, the transcript, later released online with little fanfare, states that Mr Blair "realised that the WMD threat from Libya was more serious than from Iraq".
During a closed session with former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, redacted evidence claims Mr Blair "had understood that Libya posed a bigger threat than Iraq, and understood the risk, therefore, of focusing on WMD in relation to Iraq". It refers to a meeting held by Mr Blair at Chequers days before the visit to Mr Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, but is unclear whether the claims were made by Sir Richard or another individual. What is clear is that in 2002, British intelligence "discovered that Libya has an active nuclear weapons programme", according to Sir Richard.
By contrast, Iraq had no nuclear weapons and any actual WMD would be "very, very small" and would fit on to the "back of a petrol lorry", according to one senior MI6 officer. They admitted the danger from WMD was "all in the cranium of just a few scientists, who we never did meet and we have been unable to meet ever since".
Yet the weekend at Crawford in April 2002 marked Mr Blair's conversion to Mr Bush's way of thinking. The former US president was determined to deal with Saddam Hussein. On Friday 5 April, Mr Blair and Mr Bush spent the evening alone, without their advisers. By the end of the weekend Mr Blair appeared to be a changed man, where previously he had said "we don't do regime change", according to Admiral Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff.
The findings will inform a highly critical attack on Mr Blair when the Chilcot Inquiry publishes its report later this year. "Chilcot has the full story and it's a very complex one," a former senior MI6 officer, who would not be named, told The IoS.
And top-secret British government papers suggesting that the two leaders had made a pact to act against Iraq have been given to the inquiry by barrister and Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd. The document was leaked to him after the invasion.
"It was quite clear that the deal had been struck firmly that weekend and the wording was quite unambiguous," he told The IoS. "There's no doubt in my mind that that weekend saw Blair decide to go to war." The former prime minister "had his head turned" and was "star-struck" by Mr Bush, he said.
Before the middle of 2002, "Iraq had been relatively low down the scale of preoccupations" in terms of WMD, according to one MI6 officer in evidence to the inquiry. In the months after Mr Blair's return from Texas, the secret services came under pressure to come up with intelligence to support a move to war.
MI6 was "on the flypaper of WMD", and had no appetite for war, admitted another officer, SIS4. "Those of us who had been around [redacted] knew perfectly well what a disaster for countless people a war was going to be." Another MI6 officer, SIS1, described the "handling" of Curveball, the Iraqi source whose claims of mobile chemical weapons laboratories were subsequently exposed as lies, and the "marketing" of the intelligence as "awful".
The committee is expected to examine why secret warnings from senior Iraqi figures that there were no WMD were dismissed by British intelligence. Iraq "will not be able to indigenously produce a nuclear weapon while sanctions remain in place", stated a report by the Joint Intelligence Committee in March 2002, which admitted there was little or no intelligence on chemical or biological weapons.
After the invasion in March 2003, SIS4 suggested, there was "a sort of recognition that the WMD thing had served its purpose; we had got in, we had done the war".
"This report will be absolutely damning on Blair's style of government, the decision-making process and the planning and execution for its aftermath," said a source close to the inquiry, speaking before the 10th anniversary on Tuesday of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue.
One authority on Iraq, Toby Dodge of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agrees. "I think they will rip into him for his style of government, and that there wasn't due process," he said. "It's clear the way the intelligence was handled, filtered out and shaped was an issue. This is a perversion of the use of intelligence."
A spokesperson for Mr Blair said: "There have been five inquiries into this now. If people do want to see the intelligence reports they are published online. The view that Saddam Hussein had a WMD programme was held not just by the intelligence services in the UK and US but in countries which opposed military action."