UK

Halting arms sales to Israel would ‘send powerful message’, says former diplomat

Former national security adviser Lord Peter Ricketts said Israeli forces’ killing of the aid workers has sparked ‘global outrage’.

Former national security adviser Lord Peter Ricketts said the UK should halt arms sales to Israel in the wake of the killings of seven aid workers in Gaza
Alps shooting Former national security adviser Lord Peter Ricketts said the UK should halt arms sales to Israel in the wake of the killings of seven aid workers in Gaza (Chris Ison/PA)

The UK should halt arms sales to Israel in the wake of the killings of seven aid workers in Gaza, including three Britons, a former national security adviser has suggested.

Lord Peter Ricketts, a former senior diplomat who chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee during the Blair government, said Israeli forces’ killing of the aid workers has sparked “global outrage” as he called for an “immediate ceasefire”.

Aid organisation World Central Kitchen (WCK) confirmed British victims John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, who were working for the charity’s security team, were among seven of its staff killed when their convoy was struck after unloading food in Gaza.

The incident has prompted condemnation from the UK and its allies.

Crossbench peer Lord Ricketts, who served as national security adviser between 2010 and 2012, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there is abundant evidence now that Israel hasn’t been taking enough care to fulfil its obligations on the safety of civilians, and a country that gets arms from the UK has to comply with international humanitarian law, that is a condition of the arms export licensing policy.

“I think the time has come to send that signal.

“It won’t change the course of the war. It would be a powerful political message, and it might just stimulate debate in the US as well, which would be the real game-changer, if the Americans began to think about putting limits, restrictions on the use of American weapons in Israel.”

He added: “Sometimes in conflict, you get a moment where there’s such global outrage that it crystalises a sense that things can’t go on like this.

“And I think – I hope – that this awful incident will serve that purpose.”

The peer said a failure by Israel to respond appropriately and show aid workers they are able to deliver supplies to areas of conflict should prompt “further steps to increase the pressure on (Israeli prime minister) Netanyahu”, including the UK no longer supplying the country with arms.

He called for “an immediate ceasefire for an extended period to open up the borders and make it safe to get aid in for those delivering it and those receiving it”, adding this could also help secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey also joined calls for the UK to suspend arms sales to Israel.

He said: “The deaths of these British aid workers in Gaza is an absolute disgrace. These brave people were trying to help starving families in Gaza.

“Clearly, the thought that British-made arms could have been used in strikes such as these is completely unacceptable.

“The Government must take swift action to suspend arms exports to Israel. We must redouble our efforts to secure an immediate bilateral ceasefire.”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has in recent weeks come under pressure from across the political spectrum to publish legal advice he has received about UK arms exports to Israel.

Export licences could not continue to be granted for UK arms heading to Israel if there is a risk weapons could be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Before MPs left Parliament for the Easter recess, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told the Commons UK arms exports amount to “0.02% of Israel’s military imports” when questioned about the legal advice by shadow foreign secretary David Lammy.

Labour’s Darren Jones suggested the UK halting arms sales would not change the course of the war.

“The fact of the matter is if the UK, for example, stopped supplying arms, the war would not end. What we need to do is get the parties to a position where the fighting can stop,” the shadow Treasury minister told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme.