Israel Witnesses Slow Down in Shipments from Main Weapons Suppliers

Defence Industry

Washington: The US has suspended a shipment of heavy, bunker-busting bombs to Israel, weapons Israeli forces have used in their war against Hamas militants that has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. President Joe Biden also publicly warned Israel for the first time, in a CNN interview on May 8 that the US would withhold arms supplies if Israeli forces carry out a threatened assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, given this could endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians there.

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As the largest arms supplier to its closest Middle East ally, the US has long been the strong support for Israel. Germany’s support reflects in part atonement for the Nazi Holocaust – and Italy too has been supporting Israel. Two countries, Canada and the Netherlands, have halted arms shipments to Israel this year over concern they could be used in ways violating international humanitarian law – causing civilian casualties and destruction of residential areas – in Gaza.

According to international rights groups, most of Gaza’s dead from Israeli bombardments and ground offensives have been civilians. Israel says it does not target civilians, accusing Hamas militants of hiding among them, which the militants deny.

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The suspended arms delivery to Israel consisted of 1,800, 2,000-pound (907-kg) bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs worth tens of millions of dollars, according to US officials. The decision arose from concerns about the “end-use of the 2,000-pound bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings (like Rafah)…,” one US official said. However, billions of dollars worth of US arms remain in the pipeline for Israel, including tank rounds and munitions that convert dumb bombs into precision weapons, although the approval process has slowed, Senator Jim Risch, top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on May 9.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stopped short of concluding in a pending, highly critical report to Congress on Israel’s conduct in Gaza that it has violated the terms for its use of US weapons, Axios reported on May 9.

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In 2016, the US and Israel signed a third 10-year Memorandum of Understanding covering the 2018-2028 period providing for $38 billion in military aid, $33 billion in grants to buy military equipment and $5 billion for missile defence systems. Israel received 69% of its military aid from the US in the 2019-2023 period, according to a March fact sheet issued by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

As the first international operator of the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, deemed the most technologically advanced fighter jet ever made, Israel had taken delivery of 36 of 75 F-35s on order as of last year, paying for them with US assistance. The US has also helped Israel develop its Iron Dome short-range rocket defence system, developed after the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The United States has repeatedly sent Israel hundreds of millions of dollars to help replenish the system’s interceptor missiles. Additionally, the development of Israel’s “David’s Sling” system, designed to shoot down rockets fired from distances of 100 km to 200 km (62 miles to 124 miles) away received funding from Washington.

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In 2023, German defence export approvals for Israel rose nearly tenfold to 326.5 million euros ($351 million) as Berlin treated permit requests as a priority after Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. However, since the start of this year, as international criticism of Israel’s war in Gaza mounted, the German government appears to have approved considerably fewer exports of war weapons to Israel. Deliveries worth just 32,449 euros have so far been allowed, the economics ministry said on April 10 in response to a query in parliament from a left-wing lawmaker.

Germany primarily supplies Israel with components for air defence systems and communications equipment, according to the German press agency dpa, which first reported the 2023 figures. Weapons exported included 3,000 portable anti-tank weapons and 500,000 rounds of ammunition for automatic or semi-automatic firearms. Germany provided about 30% of Israel’s military aid in 2019-23, according to SIPRI figures.

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On May 9, a foreign ministry source confirmed that Italy had halted new export approvals since the start of the Gaza war. “Everything stopped. And the last orders were delivered in November,” a source told a news agency. Under Italian law, arms exports are banned to countries that are waging war and those deemed to be violating international human rights. In March, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto had said Italy has continued to export arms to Israel but that only previously signed orders were being honoured after checks had been made to ensure the weaponry would not be used against Gaza civilians.

Italy sent 1.3 million euros worth of arms to Israel in December 2023, triple the level of the same month in 2022. Italy provided 0.9% of Israel’s imported arms in 2019-23, according to SIPRI’s report, reportedly including helicopters and naval artillery.

Unlike the US, Britain’s government does not give arms directly to Israel but rather licenses companies to sell – often components into US supply chains, such as for F-35 jets. Last year, Britain granted export licenses to sell at least 42 million pounds ($52.5 million) of defence equipment to Israel – mainly munitions, unmanned air vehicles, small arms ammunition and components for aircraft, helicopters, and assault rifles.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told parliament  that Britain ran one of the world’s strictest licensing control regimes in which it periodically reviewed advice on Israel’s commitment to humanitarian law. “With regard to export licenses, following the most recent assessment, it is unchanged,” he said.

Calling on the government to revoke the export licenses in the face of Gaza’s soaring death toll, some left-wing opposition parties have asked the government to publish the legal advice used to reach the assessment that arms exports could continue.