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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.

The UK Government has decided not to suspend existing licences or stop granting licences for export of arms to Israel and that all arms export licences are kept under review.

UK concerns about arms exports to Israel

In the UK, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to suspend export licences to Israel and not to grant any new licences.

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

Government response to concerns

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 export 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. 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”.

On 8 April 2024, following a further review, and advice from the Foreign Secretary, Kemi Badenoch decided that the government’s position “would remain unchanged” (PDF).

Data on 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. Figures for the whole of 2023 will be published on 13 June 2024.

The Government also intends to publish an ad-hoc release of statistics on export licences to Israel for the period 7 October 2023 to end of May 2024. This is expected to be published around 7 June 2024.

Since 2008, the UK has licenced arms worth over £574 million to Israel, according to analysis of Government export data by CAAT, a UK based pressure group that seeks an end to the global arms trade.

Further information from the Commons Library

Further information about events in Gaza and Israel can be found in Commons Library briefings:

Further information on arms exports, the process for granting licences, changes to the criteria applied when assessing export licence applications, and some of the most commonly raised concerns can be found in Commons Library briefings:

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