LONDON: UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron has been asked to clarify claims he made regarding arms sales to Israel by the chair of the UK’s foreign affairs select committee.
Cameron recommended arms sales to Israel be allowed to continue on Dec. 8 despite fears by Foreign Office officials over Israel’s military and humanitarian conduct in Gaza.
His decision was backed 10 days later by Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who agreed that Israel had not broken international humanitarian law.
On Jan. 9, Cameron was asked by the foreign affairs select committee about the decision not to suspend arms sales over fears IHL has been breached by Israel in its campaign against Hamas.
The committee’s chair, Alicia Kearns, asked Cameron to confirm whether a formal review of the decision had taken place. He admitted he held concerns about Israel’s conduct, but said: “My job is not to make a legal adjudication. I am not a lawyer.”
The foreign secretary did not tell MPs if he had received legal advice saying Israel had broken international humanitarian law, but said: “The legal advice I have received is consistent with the fact that we have not changed our export procedures.”
He told the committee: “What I have to do is act on the advice that I am given. That advice is based on what we believe is happening, so we ask a whole series of questions of the Israeli government about individual actions that are brought to our attention. We receive advice on that, consider that advice, and then pass it on to the department of trade for them to make the decision on arms exports.”
Foreign Office fears over Israel’s conduct were revealed in a business department affidavit handed to a court in London as part of a claim for a judicial review into arms sales to Israel brought by the Global Legal Action Network.
The papers showed the Foreign Office’s Export Control Joint Unit launched “a change in circumstances review” into arms sales after the conclusion of a Ministry of Defense review in November.
“Given the paucity of information, the scale and intensity of the conflict, the death toll, the unusual civilian population density coupled with their inability to evacuate and the concomitance mounting effects of the conflict on civilians, (the government’s) current inability to come to a clear assessment on Israel’s record of compliance with IHL poses significant policy risks,” the Foreign Office papers said.
The department subsequently sought assurances from the Israeli Embassy in London, but still informed Cameron on Dec. 8 that he had the option to stop arms sales or pause them.
“The availability of each of the options turned on the foreign secretary’s assessment of whether there is a clear risk that items would be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of IHL,” the papers said.
On Dec. 12, Cameron “decided that he was satisfied that there was good evidence to support a judgment that Israel is committed to comply with IHL. On the basis of that assessment in particular, the foreign secretary decided to recommend option 1 to the secretary of state for business and trade.”