Thursday, October 05, 2006
A few key points:
London was accused of “standing back and doing nothing” during the conflict. But on the contrary, it played an active role in supporting Israel’s actions, supplying substantial military, diplomatic and political support.
Though the US is Israel’s major military ally, Britain also helps to arm the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Since the Oslo Accords were signed Britain has sold Israel submarines, combat helicopters, combat aircraft, tanks, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, mines, machine guns, ammunition and electronic equipment according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Between 2004 and 2005, arms exports to Israel approved by the government doubled to £22.5m. In contravention of the government’s own guidelines prohibiting the sale of weapons likely to be used “aggressively against another country” or fuel regional tensions, Britain provided Israel with key components for Apache combat helicopters, F-15 and F-16 fighter jets deployed in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank. (2)
Britain also gave active military support to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, granting permission to refuel at British airports to US flights carrying shipments of arms to the front, after the Irish government denied Washington such permissions. In late July, as the conflict escalated, sources at one of those airports told The Times that by that stage the number of refuelling stops had become “absolutely unreal”.
As Lebanon was being “torn to shreds”, “cut to pieces” and subjected to “barbaric destruction”, in the words of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, British diplomats worked to head off any pressure on Israel from the international community. At the UN security council on 14 July, the G8 on July 16 and the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on 17 July, British efforts helped to block international calls for an immediate ceasefire. On 21 July, a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, overwhelmed by the number of casualties, began burying the dead in a temporary mass grave. On 25 July, a coalition of the leading aid agencies urged the Prime minister in an open letter “to rethink your policy as a matter of urgency and do what you can to reduce the horrific toll that this conflict is having on ordinary people across the region.”. The next day, at a crisis summit in Rome, Britain again joined the US in blocking calls for an immediate ceasefire. On 1 August, another meeting of EU foreign ministers failed to call for an immediate ceasefire at Britain’s insistence, ignoring further pleas from Oxfam, who described “levels of destruction of civilian infrastructure” as “catastrophic”.
In his 3 August press conference, the Prime Minister explained the UK position by saying that he wanted to see a ceasefire “as soon as possible”, but not before a “lasting settlement” had been agreed – saying, in other words, that the violence could continue until that point. Whilst Winston Churchill had famously said that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”, Tony Blair apparently did not believe this necessarily to be true. Bradford University security expert Paul Rogers described “the signals from Washington and Downing Street” as “more of an insistence that any end to the fighting had to involve the disarming of Hezbollah, whether or not an international force was involved. In other words, the war had to end with what amounted to a clear victory for Israel”. Israel no doubt also wanted this sort of “ceasefire” as soon as possible.