The Labour Party — Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party –has called for the U.K to impose a total arms embargo on Israel. This would not be the first time the U.K. has imposed such an embargo on Israel. In the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, at the time of maximum peril to the Jews of Israel, with the nascent state invaded by the armies of five Arab states, Great Britain also imposed such an embargo. It was not alone. The United States also banned sending arms to the belligerents on either side. The most important weapons deliveries, including airplanes, for the Jews in 1947-49 came from Czechoslovakia.
The British, unlike the Americans, did not impose an arms embargo on both sides in 1948. Instead, they continued to supply arms to Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. More important, the British armed, trained, and provided officers, to the Arab Legion of Jordan. Under the overall command of General John Bagot Glubb, the Arab Legion was the most effective fighting force on the Arab side, and the only one that could claim a clear victory — at Latrun — over the Jews during the 1948 war. Even before the war was declared by the Arab states, the Arab Legion joined forces with local Arabs, who attacked the four Israeli settlements that made up the Etzzion bloc. The Jewish forces consisted of members of the Hagana militia and kibbutzniks. Of the 129 Haganah fighters and Jewish kibbutzniks who died during the defence of the settlement, Martin Gilbert states that fifteen were murdered on surrendering.
Controversy surrounds the responsibility and role of the Arab Legion in the killing of those who surrendered. The official Israeli version maintains that the kibbutz residents and Haganah soldiers were massacred by local Arabs and the Arab Legion of the Jordanian Army as they were surrendering. The Arab Legion version maintains that the Legion arrived too late to prevent the attack on the kibbutz by men from nearby Arab villages. The surrendering Jewish residents and fighters are said to have been assembled in a courtyard, only to be suddenly fired upon; it is said that many died on the spot, while most of those who managed to flee were hunted down and killed. Israel continues to insist that members of the British-commanded Arab Legion took part in the killing of those who had surrendered.
John Bagot Glubb was one of those old-style British Arabists — some called him a second Lawrence of Arabia — who went native in a big way, even able to converse with the Bedouin in their own dialects. When he was finally discharged by King Hussein in 1956 — Hussein wanted to totally “arabize” the Legion and show other Arabs that he was indeed Jordan’s ruler — Glubb Pasha retired to his home in Great Britain, and wrote a series of books “to dispel Western misconceptions and prejudices about the Arab world and Islam.” Delving deep into the past, he started that series in 1964 with ”The Great Arab Conquests,” a book on seventh-century Arabia where, he wrote, the Bedouins ”established the greatest empire in the world of their day.” A second book, ‘The Lost Centuries,” published in 1966, “traced the destiny of the Moslem empires from the 12th century to the European renaissance in the 15th.” A third book. “The Life and Times of Muhammad” again was an effort to correct cliches he thought had “distorted the image of the founder of Islam and his religion.” Glubb was a great admirer of the Arabs. He adopted two Palestinian Arab children. He also was an apologist for Islam. And the Arab Legion stood for all the military aid that the British lavished on the Arab side in that 1947-1949 conflict.
So Corbyn’s call for an arms embargo on Israel brings us back to the earliest days of the state. But now Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world, is itself in the top ten of the world’s arms exporters, and in some areas of military technology — such as drones — is among the world leaders. Furthermore, while Israel does import a large amount of weaponry from the United Kingdom, there is nothing it receives from the U.K. that is not available elsewhere, albeit at a higher price. Israel is a good customer, and its expert use of the weapons it buys serves as a kind of advertisement for those weapons with other potential buyers. The amount of British sales to Israel has gone way up in the last three years: £20m worth of arms licensed in 2015, £86m in 2016, and £221m in 2017.
If Corbyn wants to put a total arms embargo on Israel, will he also call for an arms embargo on any other countries? One country buys 49% of all British arms exports — Saudi Arabia. On what grounds could Corbyn deny democratic Israel arms and yet continue to supply them to one of the world’s most repressive regimes, a state where Wahhabism is the official religion, where human rights hardly exist, where non-Muslim workers have no rights and often are treated as little better than slaves, where women have far fewer rights than do men, where public executions and public amputations are the norm, where a ruling dynasty helps itself to tens of billions of dollars of the nation’s wealth? How could Jeremy Corbyn conceivably justify continuing to supply such a country with weaponry? And what of the other major buyers of British arms that are dictatorships or despotisms? China, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Egypt, Bahrain are among them. Most are outright dictatorships; Venezuela and Pakistan hold “elections,” but there is so much fraud, intimidation, and corruption that these cannot be considered democracies in the Western sense. If any kind of morality is to be invoked in arms sales, then none of these countries ought to be supplied. Is Jeremy Corbyn ready to declare an embargo on all of these countries, or is he interested only in depriving Israel’s Jews of the wherewithal to defend themselves?
“The UK has consistently armed many of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in the world, and a number have been invited to London to buy weapons,” said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade. “These arms sales aren’t morally neutral, they are a clear sign of political and military support for these regimes.”
I suspect Smith was not talking about Israel, which is neither brutal nor authoritarian, but about Saudi Arabia, China, Venezuela, the Emirates, Kazakhstan. That’s not something Jeremy Corbyn wants to hear. But even if Smith meant to include Israel in his indictment — as supposedly “brutal” in its suppression of the Hamas-sponsored riots in Gaza — he would certainly be aghast at an arms embargo that targeted only that country.
Israel is one of the few countries that has had violence constantly forced upon it. It has had to fight three major wars for its existence, in 1947-49, in 1967, and in 1973. It has fought smaller wars, too: the Sinai Campaign in 1956, the three recent wars in Gaza — in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014 — against Hamas, as well as an endless campaign against Arab terrorists inside Israel and the territories. Israel must, unfortunately, make use of the weapons it buys. It thus tests them out on the battlefield. If Israel successfully uses British weapons, and the Israelis have a long history of successfully using their weapons — then other potential buyers on the world market will find them more appealing. If the British defense industry can no longer supply Israel, it will not have that battlefield testing of its weapons, that real-life advertisement for their efficacy.
Will a British embargo really hurt Israel? Licences issued to UK defense contractors exporting to Israel in 2017 included those for targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, missiles, weapon sights and sniper rifles. In 2016, the UK issued licences for anti-armour ammunition, gun mountings, components for air-to-air missiles, targeting equipment, components for assault rifles, components for grenade-launchers and anti-riot shields. None of these, with the possible exception of the “components for air-to-air missiles” and “missiles,” are major items. None of them seem to be the kind of thing that Israel could not find from another supplier. Unlike, say, Israel’s own Iron Dome technology, or now its “steel dome” anti-tunnel technology that has been developed with the Americans, there is nothing the British can offer that is unique to them.
There is another aspect to consider. Corbyn may not care, but many in the security services of the United Kingdom certainly do care, about what Israel can offer, not just in weapons systems of its own, but in its intelligence capability. Israel has for years faced an extraordinary threat from Muslim terrorists. Now much of the world faces the same kind, if not the same level, of threat. Israel has during that time developed intelligence networks, both human and technological, that are unrivaled, and of obvious interest to other governments. One government that has collaborated with Israel, receiving information about Iran and such allied terrorist threats as Hezbollah, is Saudi Arabia. Last year, Great Britain was the European nation that suffered the most attacks by Muslim terrorists. It needs whatever help other countries can give. Israel has the expertise — again, both human and technological — that could help detect and foil such threats. Its knowledge is not limited to terrorists in the Middle East. The European nations ought to be solidifying their security ties to Israel, for their own benefit. None of them has had the experience of terrorism that Israel has endured for decades, nor do they have the expertise its agents have developed. There are many acts of Israeli derring-do, of eliminating terrorists in Damascus, or in hotels in the Gulf, or in the capitals of Europe.There have been the assassinations of four Iranian nuclear scientists right in the middle of Tehran, that set back their nuclear program for a long time.
The Israelis also devised Stuxnet (with some help from the Americans), a diabolically clever computer worm that does little or no harm to computers not involved in uranium enrichment. When it infects a computer, it checks to see if that computer is connected to specific models of programmable logic controllers (PLCs) manufactured by Siemens. PLCs are how computers interact with and control industrial machinery like uranium centrifuges. The worm then alters the PLCs’ programming, resulting in the centrifuges being spun too quickly and for too long, damaging or destroying the delicate equipment in the process. While this is happening, the PLCs tell the controller computer that everything is working fine, making it difficult to detect or diagnose what’s going wrong until it’s too late. That is not something that Jeremy Corbyn, who has never said a word about Iran’s nuclear project, would probably care about. He doesn’t realize how much the Israelis have done, in protecting themselves by delaying Iran’s plans, to also protect the West. Nor does Corbyn ever discuss Islamic terrorism. So why would he care if Israel continues to be of inestimable value to the West in helping foil Islamic terrorists, if he doesn’t think that such terrorism is much of a problem? For Corbyn, the only problem that haunts him is the existence of Israel, that vast outpost, the last remaining example of Western colonialism, that doth bestride the world like a colossus.
In considering the wisdom of an arms embargo, Corbyn should be reminded of Israel’s extraordinary advances and innovations in weapons technology, right across the board: the Merkava battle tank, the Spike missile system, the Tavor assault rifle, the Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missile, the Iron Dome defense, and the many improvements Israel has made to American weapons and systems of all kinds.. Some of these just might be useful to the British military. But these technological feats are of no concern to Corbyn; he’s not interested in arms; he doesn’t believe in war; he’s a disarmament enthusiast from way back. His grasp of geopolitical reality does not go much beyond Islington. He’s interested in arms embargoes, or rather in one particular arms embargo, the one he wishes to impose on Israel. (We’ll get to Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and other arms customers who don’t appear to bother him at all, a bit later). Corbyn sees Israel not as a tiny permanently imperiled country but as an implacable and powerful colonialist entity, an outpost of the West (Corbyn doesn’t much care for the West, he likes the Third World), using the Holocaust as a way to justify its oppression of the poor “Palestinians.” He doesn’t want to arm a state like that.
Israel would have something to lose if Corbyn were to declare an arms embargo. But it would not lose nearly as much as Corbyn thinks, for so much of what Israel buys from the U.K. is the kind of thing that can be bought elsewhere. It is the U.K. that would be shooting itself in the foot, by damaging so dramatically its relations with the one Western country that, because of its long experience of dealing with Islamic terrorism and terrorist networks, knows best how to uncover, infiltrate, foil, and fight them. The knowledge Israel has acquired has been shared with the West, and has helped to have saved Western lives. Corbyn may not know this. Were he to become Prime Minister, he would then be privy to all sorts of secrets. He would learn the full extent of the terrorist threat inside the U.K. He would learn, too, how much the British, and other European, security services rely on information that is supplied by Israel. Perhaps even that knowledge wouldn’t change his determination to impose an arms embargo, one that would spell the end of any cooperation with Israel. Or perhaps, mugged by reality with the first terror attack that occurs when he is the resident of 10 Downing Street, he will shift course, and if not embrace, at least not push away, those “Zionists” that for now he so implacably disfavors.