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During the 2023/24 Israel-Hamas conflict, some MPs in the UK Parliament have raised concerns about UK arms exports to Israel, citing a risk that they could be used to violate international humanitarian law. At the International Court of Justice, Israel has also been accused by South Africa of international humanitarian law violations in its military operations in Gaza. Israel’s Government states it is “committed” to conducting its military operations “in accordance with international law” and will investigate any alleged misconduct by its forces.

UK arms exports to Israel

The Secretary of State for Defence, Grant Shapps, says that UK defence exports to Israel are “relatively small”, amounting to £42 million in 2022. Since 2008, the UK has licenced arms worth over £574 million to Israel, according to analysis of Government export data by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK based pressure group that seeks an end to the global arms trade.

In relation to the current Israel-Hamas conflict, CAAT has highlighted UK industry contributions to F-35 combat aircraft, which CAAT says are “currently being used in the bombardment of Gaza”. 

Calls to suspend export licences to Israel

In the UK, MPs have asked the Government to consider revoking arms export licences to Israel in relation to the current conflict with Hamas. Several MPs raised this with the Secretary of State for Business and Trade during oral questions on 30 November 2023. Zarah Sultana (Lab) also led a debate on arms exports to Israel on 12 December 2023. The SNP has called on the Government to suspend export licences to Israel.

Other organisations, such as Campaign Against Arms Trade and Saferworld, are also calling for the UK to halt arms exports to Israel.

The Government’s response

Ministers have responded to such concerns by referencing the UK’s strategic export licencing system, under which all applications for a licence to export military equipment and related items are assessed against a set of criteria, and emphasised Israel’s right to defend itself within the bounds of international humanitarian law. The criteria reflect, among other things, the UK’s obligations under international law, and the potential for the goods to be used in the violation of human rights.

The Government says export licences are kept under review (PDF) and can be amended, suspended, refused or revoked as circumstances require.

Review of export licences to Israel, December 2023

The Government undertook a review of existing and pending licences (PDF) in December 2023. On 18 December 2023 the Business and Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenoch decided not to suspend existing licences or stop granting licences, but to keep her decisions “under careful review.”

This briefing explains how licences are granted, information on UK arms exports to Israel and the Government’s review of existing licences to Israel in December 2023.

Further information from the Commons Library

Further information about events in Gaza and Israel can be found in Commons Library papers 2023/24 Israel-Hamas conflict: UK and international response, and UK aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip: FAQs. Library paper Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: A Parliamentary reading list (2020 – 2024) collates Commons and Lords Library papers, Committee reports, parliamentary material and Government press releases.

More information on arms exports, the process for granting licences and some of the most commonly raised concerns can be found in Commons Library briefing An introduction to UK arms exports. More information on the criteria can be found in Commons Library research briefing UK amends its criteria for arms exports.

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