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UK could restrict arms exports to Israel if Rafah is invaded

UK could restrict arms exports to Israel if Rafah is invaded
2 min read
22 February, 2024
If Israel presses ahead with its ground attack on Rafah, the UK government might be forced to restrict arms exports to Tel Aviv.
Over half of Gaza's population are currently crammed into Rafah, having fled from Israel's unprecedented assault on the enclave elsewhere [Getty]

The UK government could restrict some arms exports to Israel if it launches an offensive on Rafah, according to a report.

‌UK officials believe Israel could breach international humanitarian law if the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launches a ground invasion of the densely populated southern Gazan city without attempting to protect civilians.

In such circumstances, the legal guidance provided to British ministers overseeing export licences could change, possibly affecting the trade of certain weapons and technologies with Israel.

Israel faces mounting pressure from its Western allies to abandon its proposed military action in Rafah, where approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, many of whom have been internally displaced by Israel's offensive elsewhere in Gaza, are sheltering.

While the UK isn’t a major arms supplier to Israel the action would be seen as an escalation of pressure on its ally.

Other countries, including more significant European suppliers of arms to Israel, could follow suit.

Despite such pressure, Israel has vowed to go ahead with its attack on Rafah unless Hamas releases all remaining hostages by 10 March, the beginning of Ramadan.

This comes as UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said last week he was "deeply concerned" over Israel’s planned assault on Rafah.

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Cameron claimed the UK government has been confronting Israel regarding its conduct in Gaza and "will persist in this effort as part of the crucial procedure we undertake to assess their adherence to international humanitarian law".

However, London has continued to support and export arms to Israel despite its relentless assault on Gaza killing almost 30,000 people and rendering most of the enclave uninhabitable, leading to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

In January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza and must take immediate action to prevent genocidal acts.

The UK government, along with Israel’s other major Western allies, has largely ignored this ruling, while also consistently rejecting an immediate ceasefire. Amid mounting public pressure, British lawmakers on Wednesday voted to back an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire"  – an amended motion forwarded by the Labour Party which removed the initial SNP motion's mention of Israel's "collective punishment" of Palestinians.

Last year, the UK government granted 114 standard individual export licences for military goods valued at £42 million to Israel, according to a Commons briefing, which includes components for combat aircraft, missiles, and tanks, as well as small arms and ammunition.

The UK government claims that none of these weapons have been used by Israel to seriously violate international humanitarian law.