DOWNING Street’s decision to review UK arms export licences to Israel and suspend some of them if the tentative truce in Gaza is broken will come as no surprise to anyone who has perused a recent report from MPs, “Scrutiny of Arms Exports and Arms Controls (2014)”. It revealed the continuing mystery of licences for £7.8bn worth of equipment, mainly “cryptographic equipment, software and technology”.
Sir John Stanley MP told the Commons: "It seems highly likely that some of that massive cryptographic export to Israel will be used, sooner or later, to the advantage of the Israeli security services in operations against Palestinians.”
The exporter of the equipment is actually an American company, Mindspeed Technologies, which in 2012 acquired British company Picochip. The licences presumably apply to exports from the UK arm Picochip, which makes processors and software.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said the equipment is for purely commercial end use – ie mobile phone networks and internet infrastructure. “We would not grant a licence if there was a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression,” he said, but he remained silent on what checks, if any, are done on what happens in Israel.
A document released by WikiLeaks from an outfit called Cambridge Consultants sheds light on how Picochips can be used. They can make a portable base station which allows operators to locate a target’s mobile phone and then engage in “spectrum capture and intercept”.
Hamas doesn’t miss out…
It is mobile phones that often lead to air strikes on targets, and the deaths of civilians if the intelligence from the phones is wrong. General Sir Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and NSA, boasted in a debate earlier this year that “we kill people based on metadata”, in other words mobile phone usage and contacts.
The UK has helped Israel develop its capabilities with a long list of arms exports, revealed by business secretary Vince Cable in May. These include components for air-to-surface missiles, military cameras, components for electronic warfare, parts for drones, dimensional measuring equipment, lasers, components for small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, and so on. The equivalent exports to Palestine from the UK total zero – but Hamas doesn’t miss out entirely. As it is funded and supplied by Iran and Saudi Arabia, Hamas will get access to similar kit to Israel, including UK-supplied crowd control ammunition, small arms ammunition, jamming equipment and rifle sights.
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World at war
IT’S not just UK arms sales to Russia and Israel that should cause concern: there is plenty of equally fascinating material about other deals buried in the 56-page parliamentary report.
The UK has been exporting arms to Russia for at least a decade – but lest anyone accuse us of taking sides, we have also been supplying arms to Ukraine at the same time.
Despite government “concerns”, components for sniper rifles, among other weapons paraphernalia, have been sold to Ukraine – the same components for the same sniper rifles that have been sold to Russia. In the Ukrainian deal, the weapons were described as “hunting rifles”, perhaps to avoid the embarrassing prospect of the UK being outed as a supplier of similar weapons to both sides of the same conflict, which it is.
Meanwhile, the Syrians have been sold UK “dual use chemicals”, which could easily be turned into a weapon.
At the same time, Iraq, now embroiled in its own conflict with Jihadists spilling over the Syrian border, is also a recipient of British weaponry, including small arms and ammunition. Inside Iraq a bevy of “sneaky beaky” special forces types are tasked with stopping the Jihadis from Syria from cutting off Iraqi oil supplies. “They” – the SAS – are not covered by export licences, but they will be fighting Jihadists using equipment that is.