Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lawfare and Political Pressure to Limit UK Arms Sales to Israel

In the wake of the operation in Gaza MPs in the UK are calling for a review of the relatively small amount of military equipment the UK sells to Israel. The UK has indicated that all weapons sales to Israel will now be reviewed with the Gaza conflict in mind.

One of the UK MPs involved in this campaign against arms sales to Israel asks rhetorically, "What does Israel have to do to be subject to an arms embargo..."

Similarly, in older news and another example of lawfare, in February as the Gaza campaign had just ended a group of Palestinian families and organizations has brought a case against the UK for continuing their arms sales to Israel while Israel was engaged in what has been called an illegal war. To decide this case the courts will need to rule on the legality of the Israeli operation in order to determine if the sales ought to have been suspended. The UK foreign ministry has called the petitioners claims inappropriate for decision by a UK court.

Limiting arms sales to countries in conflict or to a party waging war against unarmed opponents could be an effective way of preventing conflict. What the UK MP campaigners ignore and what the case brought to the UK courts don't account for is that Hamas continues to be armed and continues to make attempts to indiscriminately kill Israeli civilians and that these thousands of rockets over many years was the cause for the Israeli operation in Gaza. If the UK was also supplying arms to Hamas, or if there were no weapons of any kind in Gaza or if Hamas had not been attacking Israel then the UK could suspend any arms sales to Hamas as well and then without arms, both parties would have a much harder time fighting each other. The reality is, Hamas continues to re-arm and Iran continues to supply weapons to Hamas and Hizbollah both of whom continue to threaten Israel.

The consequences of these decisions in the UK may have little tangible impact in the short run because even if UK arms sales to Israel drop off, they are not necessarily critical to Israel. On the other hand, they could set the dangerous precedent that when a country strikes back against an irregular army that has been attacking it, that country can face sanctions even as its opponents continue to resupply themselves.


Anne Herzberg said...

Please see NGO Monitor's report, "NGO Lawfare: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict" for more information on this issue:

Charlie H. Ettinson said...


Thanks for the link. I did take a look at some of the documents and articles posted there but admit I have not had the time to read through everything.

I'm interested in your definition of Lawfare. Certainly there can be seriously debilitating effects even from a case that were to be dismissed. My question is--and this is speaking generally, not in the Israeli context--how can one distinguish between a valid use of universal jurisdiction and lawfare?

Also, couldn't lawfare also be a two way street? For example, if part of the value of lawfare is the stigma that comes from media attention to a case, even if the suit is dismissed, couldn't charges be brought against groups like Hamas and their leadership? Are there examples of such cases?