Sa'ar gunship
Sa'ar gunshipIsrael news photo (file)

Prodded by Parliament Members and Amnesty International, Britain will “punish” Israel for its anti-Hamas offensive of earlier this year by withholding spare gunship parts.

At the end of a three-month government review of all defense exports to Israel – 182 in number – the British government has decided to cancel five of the licenses. All the canceled contracts involve spare parts for guns on Sa'ar 4.5 warships.

The review followed the publication by Amnesty International in February detailing the use of drones supplied by Britain to Israel in Israeli targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders in Gaza. The ultimate decision to embargo arms, however, did not include the drones.

An official explanatory announcement by the British Embassy in Tel Aviv stated that the embargo was related to Israel’s counter-terrorism offensive in Gaza of this past January, known as Operation Cast Lead.. “U.K. equipment was not exported for specific use in Operation Cast Lead,” the embassy stated. “We do not grant export licenses where there is a clear risk that arms will be used for external aggression or internal repression.”

The embassy both defended and criticized Israel, concluding, “Israel has the right to defend itself and faces real security threats. This said, we consistently urge Israel to act with restraint, and supported the EU Presidency statement that called the Israeli actions during operation Cast Lead 'disproportionate.'"

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Voice of Israel Radio that he was not concerned by the decision: "We've had many embargoes in the past... We can manage.”  Foreign Ministry officials said that only a small percentage of Israel's defense-related imports come from Britain.

Just two years ago, in August 2007, Britain announced it was placing stricter limits on arms sales to Israel, citing fears that the exports would upset regional stability or would be used in violation of human rights.