Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fuelling the Middle East conflict

From Lord Avebury P0622083

Tel 020-7274 467

Email ericavebury@gmail.com

August 22, 2006

Dear Mr Ingram,

Could you please explain why the Government are not only increasing arms sales to Israel, but also supplying night vision equipment to Iran which ends up with Hezbollah in Lebanon?

According to The Guardian of April 6, 2006 (see attached article Huge jump in arms sales to Israel), military export licences for Israel almost doubled last year, and now it is revealed (see article from yesterday’s Times attached British Kit found in Hezbollah Bunkers) that at the same time we have been supplying equipment that is of crucial importance to Israel’s mortal enemies.

These policies are profoundly at variance with the aim of achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East, and in the case of Iran, the award of the licence for night vision equipment was also a breach of our own export guidelines (see attached SaferWorld press release Hezbollah night-vision allegations highlight loophole in UK arms export monitoring). Iran has supported Hizbollah has been going on for years, so did it not occur to officials that there was a material risk of diversion to a known illegal client?

I hope the investigation of the sale of night vision equipment will be widened to cover all sales of military and dual use equipment to Israel, Iran and Syria. One immediate contribution we could make to consolidating the fragile peace in Lebanon would be to suspend all shipments of such equipment, and all issues of licences, to the region.

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP,

Floor 5, Main Building,
Ministry ofDefence,
London SW1A 2HB

Huge jump in arms sales to Israel

· Military export licences to country almost double
· Government accused of arming repressive regimes

Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday April 6, 2006
The Guardian

The number of arms export licences granted for countries the government accuses of human rights abuses increased significantly over the past year, the latest official figures show.

They also show that licences for weapons sales to Saudi Arabia increased by 25% last year, to £25m. They included sales of assault rifles, riot control equipment and body armour.

Licences for British arms sales to Israel last year amounted to nearly £25m, almost double the previous year. The licences covered the export of armoured vehicles and missile components.

Quarterly annual figures appear separately on the Foreign Office website and were collated by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (Caat), which alerted the Guardian to them. They show that licences were also approved for sales of arms valued at more than £12.5m to Indonesia. Amnesty International last year reported extrajudicial killings carried out by Indonesian security forces in Aceh and West Papua. British-made armoured vehicles were reported to have been deployed against protesters in West Papua in November last year.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are among 11 out of 20 countries described by the FO in its 2005 annual human rights report as "major countries of concern" to which the government licensed military equipment.

The sales cleared for Israel are the highest since 1999. This was before Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, sought assurances from Israel that equipment supplied by the UK was not being used against civilians and in the occupied territories. In 2002 the government said it was tightening controls on arms exports to the country after it found that assurances had been breached.

The increase in arms export licences to Saudi Arabia came at a time the government was negotiating an agreement, worth an estimated £8bn to BAE Systems, to equip Saudi Arabia's armed forces with Typhoon combat aircraft, formerly known as the Eurofighter.

Indonesia is now regarded as an ally against Islamist extremism and Tony Blair held out the prospect of more British weapons sales on his recent visit to the country.

Britain last year licensed military equipment sales to 14 of the 17 countries involved in major armed conflict, Caat said yesterday. It added that Britain had also licensed weapons equipment to 10 countries at the bottom third of the UN human development index.

The FO said last night that all exports were considered under the government's official criteria. "The bottom line is that no piece of kit is used for external aggression or internal repression," it said, adding that it believed the government's arms export licensing system was stringent and transparent.

"The government has committed itself to leading international negotiations on an arms trade treaty to stop global arms flows to war zones and repressive regimes," Mike Lewis of Caat said yesterday. "Yet in the last twelve months it has licensed weapons exports precisely to these regimes ... The government must stop arming the world's human rights abusers."

The Times August 21, 2006

AN URGENT investigation was launched last night after Israel accused Britain of indirectly supplying Hezbollah terrorists with military night-vision equipment that helped them to target Israeli soldiers in Lebanon.

The equipment was found by Israeli troops in Hezbollah command bunkers in southern Lebanon. Each set was stamped “made in Britain”.

The Israelis made representations to the Foreign Office after it was revealed that Britain had sold 250 night-vision systems to Iran in 2003 for use against drug smugglers.

Foreign Office officials said early indications seemed to suggest that the night-vision equipment found by the Israelis was not part of the batch sold in 2003 to Iran. However, thorough checks were being made to compare serial numbers on the equipment found in the Hezbollah bunkers with those on the ones exported legitimately to Iran.

The Iranians are the prime sponsor of Hezbollah, and the Israeli authorities are demanding to know whether the equipment sold to Iran three years ago ended up in the hands of Hezbollah, which killed 117 Israeli soldiers during the month-long clashes in Lebanon.

A Department of Trade and Industry official said night-vision equipment of military specification required an export licence. The investigation will look into whether any British company might have breached export regulations.

The batch of 250 night-vision systems were given a special export licence in 2003 because they were intended to be used by Iranian police trying to stem the flow of heroin and opium from Afghanistan into Iran. Although there is what amounts to an arms embargo against Iran, aimed principally at stopping the export of equipment that could benefit Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme, the request for night-vision equipment was approved in recognition of the counter-narcotics work.

When the export was agreed, Mike O’Brien, then Junior Minister at the Foreign Office, told the Commons: “The goods are for the use on the Iran-Afghanistan border against heroin smugglers.” He said there was “no risk of these goods being diverted for use by the Iranian military”.

If any of the equipment has been diverted to Hezbollah, it would be a serious embarrassment for the Government. Hezbollah’s “external security”, the military wing of the militant organisation, is proscribed as a terrorist group. The Government has also made clear its support for Israel’s struggle with Hezbollah and has approved the transit of bunker-busting bombs and missiles for the Israelis from the US through British airports.

Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said: “If this turns out to be true, and Iran supplied backing for Hezbollah, it will have consequences for any future military exports to Iran. And it points the finger all the more strongly at Iranian involvement in destabilising the Middle East.”

One set of the equipment was found by Israeli forces in the southern Lebanon village of Mis-a-Jebel on August 10, in a house belonging to a 60-year-old man whose four sons are all Hezbollah fighters.

One was described as a Thermo-vision 1000 LR system with a serial number 155010, part number 193960. Other equipment, including radios also thought to be British, and sophisticated recording and monitoring devices, were found.

Israeli commanders had complained that night-time operations in the border region had been hampered by the ability of Hezbollah fighters to observe and counter their moves. In more than six days of fighting around the village of Mis-a-Jebel, the Israelis lost six soldiers and 20 more were injured.

Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Radowicz, an Israeli commander, said: “The night-vision unit was used to observe the movement of troops. You can also record what you are watching. Then it is connected to a computer. You can obtain a perfect intelligence picture in real time. It is then connected to firing systems.”

SaferWorld - For immediate release – 22 August 2006

Hezbollah night-vision allegations highlight loophole in UK arms export monitoring

British military night-vision equipment, originally sold to Iran, has allegedly been found in Hezbollah’s possession. This highlights the need for the UK Government to more effectively monitor the final destination and use of its arms exports. (1)

Under the UK Government's own arms export criteria, it is obliged to consider "the existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions"(2) when deciding on whether to license an export.

Yet, the UK Government does not have a formal system for checking what happens to arms exports after they have been licensed and left the UK. Introducing such a system would allow the Government to verify delivery and monitor end-use to ensure that exported British military equipment is used as intended – and not diverted elsewhere or used for other purposes. The Government has previously argued that such a system would be impractical, but other countries operate them (3). Earlier this month, a joint committee of MPs called on the Government to look at introducing a system. (4)

Saferworld is urging the Government to close this loophole and establish a formal system of end-use monitoring when it conducts its five-year review of the Export Control Act next year. In the interim, the Government should redouble efforts to ensure that it enforces existing regulations to prevent transfers of weapons or other strategic goods to unintended end users.

This incident demonstrates that the UK Government needs to do more to ensure that it knows for certain who, in the end, will be using the arms its exports. The Government should listen to MPs and campaigners who have been calling for a system for doing this to be introduced and close this loophole.” said Claire Hickson, Head of Communications and Advocacy at Saferworld.


For further information, please contact:

Sonia Rai, Advocacy and Policy Officer, Saferworld

Tel: + 44 (0) 207 324 4646; Mobile + 44 (0) 7931 340 733

Claire Hickson, Head of Advocacy and Communications, Saferworld

Tel: +44 (0)207 324 4646; Mobile: +44 (0) 7867 780 072
(1) British Kit found in Hezbollah Bunkers, The Times, 21 August 2006.
(2) Criterion 7 UK Government Consolidated Criteria.
(3) For example, United States has the State Department “Blue Lantern programme” and the Department of Defence “Golden Sentry programme”, which operate on the principle that where a particular transfer trips a number of “red flags”, checks on end-use are carried out. In 2004, the State Department performed 530 Blue Lantern checks, with 93 ‘unfavourable determinations.
(4) Strategic Export Controls: Annual Report for 2004, Quarterly Reports for 2005, Licensing Policy and Parliamentary Scrutiny, August 2006, HC873

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