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We have to stop the deadly trade in arms

EVERY time ministers are caught flogging deadly weaponry to murderous regimes we can expect a torrent of guff about how carefully we vet buyers.

Britain, we are told, operates “one of the most robust defence export control regimes in the world.”

MPs have passed legislation stating that we only sell arms for defensive purposes, and they must not go to countries likely to use them for “internal suppression or external aggression.”

The government will mouth the usual pieties in light of the shocking revelation that our arms sales to Israel have doubled over the past year.

The words are a meaningless formality: as with Tory pledges on everything from NHS spending to the institutional racism exposed by the Windrush scandal, ministers don’t believe what they’re saying and don’t even expect us to.

Like others around the world, British people were shocked by Israel’s savage assault on Gaza four years ago, that left thousands of Palestinian civilians including hundreds of children dead.

Senseless acts of terror like the massacre of four boys, aged between nine and 11, playing football on the beach caused widespread revulsion and helped mobilise 150,000 people on a Stop the War Coalition and Palestine Solidarity Campaign march through London that August.

Speakers at the demonstration, who included Labour’s current leader Jeremy Corbyn, called then for an immediate arms embargo on Israel.

Evidently the government felt differently. Not only was no action taken to limit arms sales to Tel Aviv, but they have increased tenfold since.

The Department of International Trade has licensed components for drones, combat aircraft and helicopters to a government which Britain officially recognises is illegally occupying both Palestinian and Syrian territory and is engaged in equally illegal settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing.

It has also licensed parts for sniper rifles such as those used by Israeli Defence Force soldiers to kill 32 Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border in recent weeks and maim hundreds more.

For all the Israeli government bluster about defending itself from Hamas, video footage has shown unarmed civilians being shot in the back as they seek to run away and soldiers cheering as one of their defenceless victims crumples to the ground.

Israeli general Zvika Fogel has confirmed that children shot by the IDF are deliberately targeted, while the army itself has bragged that it doesn’t make mistakes and knows where every bullet lands.

How much evidence does our government need that Israel is using weapons we sell it for “internal suppression and external aggression?”

Israel is not an isolated case. Arms sales to repressive governments have rocketed since 2015, with billions of pounds’ worth of bombs and fighter aircraft sold to Saudi Arabia even as that Gulf tyranny continues its devastating bombardment of Yemen, a conflict that has killed thousands of civilians, most recently 20 people, “mostly women and children,” at a wedding party in Bani Qayis.

Since successive Conservative governments have gutted British manufacturing, what was once the workshop of the world now exports little else but death and destruction.

Campaign Against Arms Trade’s Andrew Smith is right to note that arming governments like Israel’s sends a message of support for its actions.

Britain’s peace movement must exert maximum pressure on ministers to call a halt to this grim trade — while fighting for a Labour government that will put human rights at the heart of its foreign policy and implement a defence diversification plan so Britain is once again building products that help people rather than killing them.

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