Arms Exports and Humanitarian Law: Examining Italy and UK in the 2023-2024 Israel-Gaza Conflict

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In recent years, the Palestinian issue, which had waned in prominence since the 2010s, has once again come to the forefront of international attention. The events of October 7, 2023, marked a significant turning point as they reignited tensions in the region and posed new challenges for U.S. policy.

The Palestinians are an Arab people whose historical roots are deeply intertwined with present-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Their struggle for self-determination and statehood has been a recurring theme in the tumultuous history of the Middle East. The territorial disputes, historical claims, and political complexities surrounding this issue make it one of the most contentious in the region.

On October 7, 2023, the world witnessed a sudden and shocking turn of events as the Palestinian Sunni Islamist group, Hamas, launched a series of surprise attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip. These attacks, characterized by their stunning nature, scope, and lethality, have since become a subject of intense analysis and debate among Israeli and U.S. officials. This article delves into the events and developments surrounding the October 7 attacks and their aftermath, providing a detailed account of the situation as of January 26, 2024.


TABLE OF CONTENT


On October 7, 2023: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Gaza-Israel Conflict

On October 7, 2023, a significant escalation in the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestinian groups occurred. The Palestinian Sunni Islamist group Hamas, designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the United States, orchestrated a series of unexpected attacks from the Gaza Strip. These attacks, unprecedented in their scope and lethality in the 16 years of Hamas’s control of Gaza, were conducted by land, sea, and air against Israeli military bases and civilian areas. This offensive coincided with the final Jewish high holiday, evoking memories of the Egypt-Syria surprise attack on Israel that ignited the 1973 Yom Kippur War, also known in the Arab world as the October War.

Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), another group designated as an FTO, claimed participation in these attacks. The involvement of other militants outside Hamas and PIJ is also speculated. The assault’s brutality and the alleged instances of sexual violence have shocked not only Israelis but the international community at large. These events have sparked a debate regarding possible intelligence and operational oversights in Israel, with analysts suggesting that Israel may have missed critical signals, overly depended on technological countermeasures, or misinterpreted Hamas’s intentions.

The role of Iran in these attacks has been a subject of international conjecture. While Iran is known to provide material support to Hamas, U.S. President Joe Biden stated in October that there was no evidence of Iran’s involvement in planning these specific attacks.

In response to these events, Israel declared war on Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established an emergency unity government, incorporating an opposition party. Israel also implemented a blockade on Gaza, cutting off supplies of electricity, food, and fuel, although some shipments resumed later from the Kerem Shalom crossing. Meanwhile, Egypt, coordinating with U.S., Israeli, and U.N. officials, facilitated the entry of international aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, ensuring measures to prevent its diversion by Hamas.

Israel mobilized a substantial military force, conducting extensive air and artillery bombardments in Gaza, and launching ground operations in both northern and southern regions. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) engaged in intense confrontations, particularly targeting Hamas’s extensive tunnel network. The conflict led to significant civilian casualties and displacement, with more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals (including 35 U.S. citizens) and over 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza reported killed as of January 26, 2024. Furthermore, 60% of Gaza’s housing units were destroyed or damaged.

A notable aspect of this conflict was the seizure of around 240 hostages by Hamas and other groups on October 7, including Americans. Hostage recovery has been a major concern for both Israeli and U.S. authorities. Efforts by Qatar, Egypt, and the United States led to a temporary pause in hostilities in late November, resulting in the exchange of 110 hostages held in Gaza (including two U.S.-Israeli dual citizens) and 250 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Negotiations for further exchanges are ongoing, with Hamas potentially bargaining for a cessation of hostilities and the release of approximately 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s custody.

The assassination of senior Hamas official Saleh al Arouri in Beirut on January 2, reportedly by Israel, has complicated the negotiation process for further hostage-prisoner exchanges.

The humanitarian impact of this conflict has been severe. An estimated 1.9 million Gazans were displaced, with many fleeing south following the IDF’s evacuation call for northern Gaza in mid-October. The overcrowding in Gaza’s Rafah governorate near the Egyptian border is particularly acute due to ongoing IDF operations in other southern areas.

There is a contentious debate regarding the attribution of blame for the civilian suffering and worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Critics of Israel argue that Israeli actions have exacerbated civilian casualties and restricted essential supplies. Conversely, those holding Hamas responsible contend that Hamas and other militants endanger civilian areas by operating in or near them.

This analysis aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the complex and evolving situation, underscoring the multifaceted nature of the conflict and its profound implications for regional stability and international relations.

The Role of Iran and the U.S. Response

One critical aspect of the conflict revolves around Iran’s alleged support for Hamas. Reports suggest that Iran provides material support to the group, raising concerns about its complicity in the attacks. However, President Joe Biden stated in October that there was “no evidence” implicating Iran in planning the attack.

Israeli Military Objectives and U.S. Stance

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially stated that Israel’s military objectives were to “destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home.” As of early January, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) appear to have control over much of northern Gaza above ground, while conducting operations targeting Hamas, including its top leadership, further south. The presence of Hamas tunnels in urban areas has complicated the urban warfare scenario. Israeli officials have gradually withdrawn several thousand troops with the aim of transitioning to lower-intensity operations in Gaza by the end of January. While the Biden Administration acknowledges Israel’s right to self-defense, it has also urged Israel to minimize casualties and reduce the intensity of its operations, amid ongoing debates on the conflict’s long-term consequences. There have been calls from ultra-nationalists within the Israeli government to resettle Palestinians outside of Gaza, but U.S. officials have emphasized that Palestinians “must not be pressed to leave Gaza” and “must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow.”

Expanding Geopolitical Risks

Beyond the immediate conflict, there are concerns that the situation could escalate geographically. The Iran-backed Shia Islamist group, Lebanese Hezbollah, another FTO, has engaged in clashes with Israel and could potentially open a second front at the Israel-Lebanon border. U.S. officials are reportedly working to facilitate the withdrawal of Hezbollah forces from border areas to enable the return of around 80,000 evacuated Israelis to their northern homes. Israeli officials have indicated the possibility of military action if the situation is not resolved diplomatically.

In the Red Sea, the Iran-supported Houthi militia in Yemen has posed a threat by attacking commercial vessels transiting the Bab al Mandab strait. This has prompted major shipping companies to suspend or reroute cargoes, incurring significant costs. To counter these threats, the United States is reportedly considering various military options. Additionally, amidst ongoing violence and tensions between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank, the Biden Administration has imposed visa bans on some extremist Israeli settlers, delayed a firearms shipment to Israel, and made efforts to persuade Israel to ease or end measures that have adversely affected the revenues of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

Post-Conflict Challenges

The aftermath of the conflict presents complex challenges regarding security and governance for Gaza. Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted that only Israel can demilitarize Gaza and openly opposes the return of the PA to power there. In contrast, U.S. officials have expressed support for the resumption of PA administration in Gaza following certain reforms, as part of efforts to advance a two-state solution. PA and other Arab leaders maintain that progress towards a Palestinian state is essential for their cooperation in this transition.

As Israel responds to the attacks and seeks to recover hostages, the lives of Gaza’s citizens have been severely disrupted. A staggering 75% of the population has been displaced, facing threats from ongoing hostilities, overcrowding in the southern region of Gaza, and acute shortages of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care. While the United States has voiced support for Israel’s actions against Hamas, it has also urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties and increase humanitarian access, underscoring the delicate balancing act that U.S. policymakers must navigate.

Beyond the immediate crisis, numerous questions loom over the conflict’s potential resolution and the future of the region. A central issue is the governance of Gaza, currently under the control of Hamas since its forceful seizure from the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2007. U.S. officials are advocating for a renewed role for the PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, in the governance of Gaza. This proposition faces resistance from Israeli officials and requires progress toward a two-state solution, as per the PA’s insistence.

In addition to these challenges, the status of Jerusalem remains a contentious and unresolved issue, and there is a looming risk of a broader regional conflict involving Iran and its allies. Furthermore, Israel is actively working to enhance its security and build relations with Arab states, further complicating the already intricate web of Middle East politics.

Over the years, successive U.S. Presidents and Congresses have played a role in shaping the Palestinian issue, offering humanitarian, economic, and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinian people. Since the mid-1990s, U.S. officials have actively sought to facilitate a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace, with most administrations since the early 2000s supporting the concept of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. President Trump’s 2020 plan introduced variations on this idea, highlighting the evolving nature of U.S. policy in the region.

U.S. Response and Aid Allocation

In October 2023, President Biden requested Congress to appropriate more than $8 billion in U.S. security assistance for Israel, as well as over $9 billion in global humanitarian assistance. These funds could partly be allocated to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. Members of Congress have expressed varying views on this request, with the House passing H.R. 6126 and the Senate Appropriations Committee introducing S.Amdt. 1371 to H.R. 815.

U.S. Bolsters Military Presence in the Middle East to Support Israel and Deter Iran

In response to the ongoing Israeli-Gaza conflict and amid escalating tensions in the Middle East, President Biden’s administration has undertaken a series of strategic moves to bolster U.S. military deployments in the region. These deployments have been positioned with multiple objectives in mind, including supporting Israel’s defense, deterring Iran and Iranian-supported groups from further involvement in the conflict, aiding select Arab partners, and preparing for contingencies like the potential evacuation of U.S. citizens from Israel and Gaza.

U.S. Military Assets and Personnel Deployments

The timeline of these deployments can be traced back to October 7, when President Biden initiated the positioning of additional U.S. military assets and personnel to the Middle East. The primary focus of these deployments has been to provide support to Israel, which has been facing increased security challenges during the conflict.

As of early January 2024, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group has been strategically placed in the Red Sea. This carrier strike group comprises a formidable force, including an aircraft carrier, support ships, and aircraft, capable of conducting a wide range of operations, including air and missile defense, power projection, and maritime security.

Simultaneously, the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) has been positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. The Bataan ARG is a versatile naval force that includes an amphibious assault ship, a dock landing ship, and a transport dock ship. Such assets are crucial for humanitarian and military operations, including crisis response, disaster relief, and support for ground forces.

Additionally, the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group, after eight months at sea, including the last three months spent in the Middle East, is returning to its home base. Its presence in the region has been pivotal in deterring Iranian-supported groups and maintaining stability.

Supporting Israel’s Defense

The increased U.S. military presence in the Middle East underscores the United States’ commitment to bolstering Israel’s defense during the conflict. Israel has faced rocket attacks, security threats, and the need to protect its citizens, and the U.S. deployments serve as a clear message of solidarity and support.

Deterring Iran and Iranian-Backed Groups

Another critical aspect of these deployments is to deter Iran and Iranian-supported groups from further involvement in the conflict. Iran has been a major regional player, and its support for groups like Hamas has escalated tensions. The U.S. military presence sends a strong deterrent message, emphasizing the consequences of further destabilizing actions in the region.

Aiding Arab Partners and Preparing for Contingencies

The deployments also serve the purpose of supporting select Arab partners who share common interests with the United States. This cooperation is crucial in maintaining regional stability and security.

Furthermore, the U.S. military assets are positioned strategically to prepare for contingencies, such as the need for evacuating U.S. citizens from Israel and Gaza. In times of crisis, having a strong military presence in the region allows for swift and effective response to ensure the safety of American citizens.

U.S. Expedited Arms Deliveries to Israel: A Comprehensive Overview

Background and Scale of Military Assistance

Since October 7, 2023, the Biden Administration has significantly accelerated the provision of U.S. military and security assistance to Israel. This intensification of support has been characterized by substantial deliveries of armaments and equipment. Reports as of late December 2023 detail that the United States has dispatched a staggering 240 transport planes and 20 ships. These conveyances have been responsible for delivering over 10,000 tons of military hardware to Israel. In addition, Israel has placed orders worth $2.8 billion for additional purchases from the United States.

The scale of these deliveries is unprecedented in recent times and marks a significant ramp-up in U.S.-Israel military cooperation. This includes the provision of about 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells, a clear indication of the U.S. commitment to Israel’s defense capabilities.

Humanitarian Assistance for Palestinians

In the midst of escalating military support to Israel, President Biden, during his October 18 visit to Israel, announced a parallel initiative: $100 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the West Bank. This funding aims to support over a million displaced and conflict-affected people with essential services like clean water, food, hygiene support, and medical care. The distribution of this aid is managed through “trusted partners,” including UN agencies and international NGOs.

For the Fiscal Year 2024, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has committed $43.3 million, and the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has allocated $66 million for the region. This assistance is primarily channeled through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other implementing partners.

Despite this assistance, the provision of aid to Gaza and the West Bank has been a subject of debate among U.S. lawmakers. Some have called for a halt or greater oversight on humanitarian aid to ensure it is not diverted by groups like Hamas. Others advocate for increased humanitarian support for the Palestinian people.

Supplemental Appropriations Legislation

In the realm of U.S. domestic politics, these international actions have been mirrored by legislative movements. On October 19, President Biden, in an Oval Office speech, announced an emergency supplemental budget request. This request, encompassing support for U.S. partners like Ukraine, Israel, and others, seeks over $14 billion in Israel-related funding.

Following this, the House passed H.R. 6126, the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2024, on November 2, with a vote of 226-196. This bill proposes $14.3 billion in Israel-related supplemental appropriations, balanced by a corresponding reduction in funds for the Internal Revenue Service. Notably, this bill does not include appropriations for Ukraine or humanitarian assistance.

The Senate Appropriations Committee responded in early December with its version of the supplemental bill (S.Amdt. 1371 to H.R. 815). This bill echoes the House-passed bill and the President’s request in several respects, with allocations including:

  • $5.4 billion for the Department of Defense’s response to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and related expenses.
  • $4 billion for Iron Dome and David’s Sling defense systems.
  • $3.5 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel.
  • $1.2 billion for the Iron Beam laser-based defense system.

These legislative actions represent a significant financial commitment to Israel’s defense infrastructure and capabilities. The bill also introduces measures to streamline the allocation of these funds, such as waiving congressional notification for Foreign Military Financing funds for Israel under certain national security circumstances.

The Biden Administration’s recent actions underline a significant escalation in military support for Israel, balanced by a commitment to humanitarian assistance in the Palestinian territories. The legislative response to these actions reflects a robust and ongoing debate within the U.S. political landscape regarding the best approach to Middle Eastern policy, particularly in the context of the complex and often contentious dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This period marks a notable chapter in U.S.-Israel relations, showcasing both military solidarity and the challenges of addressing humanitarian concerns in a region marked by longstanding conflict and instability.

Amendments to Defense Appropriations and Waivers

A significant aspect of the Senate-introduced base bill is its proposal to amend the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2005 (P.L. 108-287, §12001). This amendment seeks to permit the transfer of previously prohibited categories of defense articles to the Government of Israel. It also temporarily waives limitations on the total value of defense stockpiles located in Israel, as outlined in 22 U.S.C. §2321h(b). This suggests an intention to provide Israel with broader access to advanced military equipment and larger stockpiles of defense articles.

The bill also addresses the process of congressional review for such transfers. While H.R. 6126 proposes shortening the review period to 15 days, the Senate bill allows the President to decide the timing of the review “as far in advance of such transfer as is practicable,” especially in situations impacting U.S. national security.

Differences in Humanitarian Aid Allocation

Beyond military assistance, there’s a focus on humanitarian aid, particularly in response to the crisis in Gaza and Israel. President Biden requested over $9 billion for global humanitarian accounts, which includes $5.65 billion in International Disaster Assistance (IDA) and $3.495 billion in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA). The House bill, however, does not include these funds. In contrast, the Senate-introduced bill proposes to increase these figures to a total of $10 billion ($5.65 billion in IDA and $4.34 billion in MRA), exceeding the President’s request.

This increase in funding signifies a heightened commitment to addressing the humanitarian needs arising from the conflict, potentially benefiting affected populations in Gaza, Israel, and neighboring countries.

Reporting Requirements and Additional Appropriations

The House bill mandates a detailed reporting requirement describing all security assistance provided to Israel since the October 7 attacks. This requirement underscores an effort to maintain transparency in military aid. The Senate-introduced bill, however, does not include this provision.

Additionally, the Senate-introduced bill allocates $120 million in extra appropriations for various entities. This includes:

  • $75 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funding for Jordan and Lebanon to enhance border security.
  • $10 million in INCLE for programs administered by the United States Security Coordinator (USSC).
  • $10 million in Peace Keeping Operations (PKO) funding for a U.S. contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers mission in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, aimed at enhancing force protection capabilities.
  • $25 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF) for reconciliation programs in the Middle East, including efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

These appropriations reflect a broader strategy that not only focuses on Israel’s defense but also on stabilizing and supporting neighboring regions through security enhancements and conflict resolution initiatives.

Palestinian Overview: Population, Politics, and Economy

Population: The Palestinian population is divided into several segments across different territories. In the West Bank, approximately 3.2 million Palestinians reside, while an estimated 2.1 million live in Gaza. These territories have a predominantly Sunni Muslim population, with a minority of Christians. Additionally, about 1.9 million Palestinians are citizens of Israel. However, the issue of Palestinian refugees, numbering around 5.9 million, remains a contentious point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These refugees are scattered across the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and their claims to land in present-day Israel are at the heart of the dispute.

Growth Rate: Palestinians have experienced a relatively high population growth rate, driven by a combination of natural growth and, historically, a high birth rate. This demographic trend has significant implications for the region’s social and economic development.

Youthful Population: A significant portion of the Palestinian population is young, with a large percentage under the age of 30. This youthful demographic poses both opportunities and challenges for the Palestinian territories, including the need for education, employment opportunities, and social services.

Politics: Palestinian domestic politics are characterized by the dominance of two main factions: Fatah and Hamas. Fatah, a secular Arab nationalist faction, is a key player within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which represents Palestinians on the international stage. In contrast, Hamas has not recognized Israel’s right to exist and stands as the primary opposition to Fatah’s rule. The United States and other Western countries have generally supported Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) efforts and encouraged cooperation between the PA and Israel. This political division has added complexity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it involves not only external actors but also internal dynamics within the Palestinian leadership.

Economy: The West Bank’s economy faces numerous challenges, exacerbated by ongoing unrest, violence, and Israeli restrictions on movement, access, and land use. These factors have hampered economic development in the region, making it difficult for Palestinians to access employment opportunities and essential services. The situation in Gaza is even more dire due to the recent conflict, with the majority of the population facing displacement, insecurity, and severe shortages of basic necessities, such as food, water, and medical care. The economic repercussions of the conflict have only deepened the existing economic hardships faced by Palestinians.

The Complex Evolution of Israeli-Palestinian Relations: A Detailed Timeline Since 1993

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a long-standing and deeply entrenched issue that has gripped the Middle East for decades. Since the mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993, the region has witnessed a series of significant events, negotiations, and developments that have shaped the course of this conflict.

1993-1995: Israel-PLO Mutual Recognition and the Establishment of the Palestinian Authority

In 1993, a historic moment took place as Israel and the PLO recognized each other’s existence. This landmark agreement, known as the Oslo Accords, paved the way for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) with limited self-rule. Under the accord, the Gaza Strip and specified areas of the West Bank came under Palestinian control, albeit subject to overall Israeli oversight.

2000-2005: Second Palestinian Intifada and Its Impact

The years between 2000 and 2005 witnessed the eruption of the Second Palestinian Intifada, a violent uprising that had profound implications for Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. The Israeli government responded with heightened security measures in the West Bank, further complicating the efforts of third-party mediators, including the United States.

2004-2005: Yasser Arafat’s Death and Mahmoud Abbas’ Succession

In 2004, Yasser Arafat, the long-time leader of the PLO and President of the PA, passed away. Mahmoud Abbas succeeded him, taking on the challenging task of leading the Palestinian people during a turbulent period.

2005: Israel’s Unilateral Disengagement from Gaza

Israel’s decision to unilaterally disengage from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was a significant development. While Israel withdrew its ground forces and settlers from Gaza, it retained control over the territory’s airspace and access points by land and sea.

2006: Hamas Emerges Victorious

In 2006, Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections and assumed control of the new PA cabinet. This shift in power dynamics led to a reconfiguration of international relations, with Israel, the United States, and the European Union limiting their engagement to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

2007: West Bank-Gaza Split and Tightened Controls

A pivotal moment occurred in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip, leading to a division between Gaza and the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas reorganized the PA cabinet to govern the West Bank, while Israel and Egypt imposed strict controls on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, a situation that persists to this day.

2007-present: Unsuccessful Peace Negotiations and International Efforts

Numerous rounds of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have taken place since 2007, with the most recent occurring between 2013 and 2014. Regrettably, all of these attempts have ended without a lasting resolution. In response, the PLO and PA have intensified their efforts to gain membership in or support from international organizations.

2017-2021: Trump Administration’s Controversial Moves

During the Trump Administration, a series of controversial decisions further complicated the conflict. Notably, the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, without specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty. This move had significant diplomatic implications. Additionally, external aid to the PA, including support from Arab Gulf states, decreased significantly, exacerbating economic difficulties.

2022-present: Escalating Violence and Tensions

From 2022 onwards, the region experienced another round of violence, characterized by rising Palestinian militancy, partly backed by Iran, an increase in Jewish ultra-nationalist influence in the Israeli government, and settler attacks on Palestinians. These developments have led to heightened tensions and an ongoing cycle of violence.

2023-present: Hamas-led Attacks and Israeli Response

In October 2023, Hamas initiated a series of surprise attacks, triggering an Israeli counteroffensive. These events marked a critical juncture in the ongoing conflict, with the situation remaining volatile and uncertain.

Leadership and Succession Challenges in the Palestinian Territories

The Palestinian political landscape has witnessed significant shifts and challenges in the years following the 2006 victory of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. This article delves into the complexities of leadership and succession within the Palestinian territories, focusing on the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). From political maneuvering to the impact of the Israel-Hamas conflict, this analysis provides a comprehensive look at the evolving dynamics in the region.

The PA’s Rule by Presidential Decree

Since Hamas’s electoral triumph in 2006, the PA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has primarily ruled through presidential decrees. This shift in governance has drawn international criticism, with allegations of violations of the rule of law and civil liberties. Critics argue that these actions have eroded democratic principles within the PA.

Elections in Limbo

The West Bank-Gaza split in 2007 has further complicated the prospect of holding elections within the Palestinian territories. This division between the Fatah-dominated West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza has made it challenging to organize nationwide elections. As a result, the question of when, or if, elections will take place remains unanswered.

Abbas’s Stance on Hamas

Amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, President Mahmoud Abbas has adopted a cautious approach towards the militant group Hamas. While he has not publicly endorsed Hamas, he has also refrained from openly condemning it. This nuanced stance reflects the intricacies of Palestinian politics, where maintaining a delicate balance between various factions is essential.

Rising Support for Hamas

Recent polls indicate a noticeable increase in support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians. Several factors contribute to this surge in popularity. Firstly, Hamas’s military actions have garnered support among some Palestinians who see armed resistance as a viable strategy. Additionally, the release of Palestinian prisoners secured by Hamas has boosted the group’s image. Lastly, the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, exacerbated by Israeli blockades, has generated sympathy and support for Hamas among Palestinians.

Leadership Succession Speculation

The advanced age of President Mahmoud Abbas, born in 1935, has fueled speculation about leadership succession within the PLO and PA. The Palestinian leadership recognizes the need to plan for the future. Several key figures have emerged as potential successors, each with their own strengths and challenges.

  • Hussein al Sheikh: He is a prominent figure on political affairs, garnering international attention. However, his domestic popularity is limited, raising questions about his ability to lead effectively.
  • Majid Faraj: Known for his role in security matters, Majid Faraj has also gained international recognition. Similar to al Sheikh, his domestic popularity remains a concern.
  • Marwan Barghouti: Despite being imprisoned by Israel since 2002, Marwan Barghouti commands significant popular support among Palestinians. His potential release could reshape the political landscape.
  • Muhammad Dahlan: Although expelled from Fatah in 2011, Dahlan, a former PA security chief in Gaza, maintains support from certain Arab states. His influence in the region adds complexity to the leadership equation.

Hamas and Gaza: A Complex Reality

The situation in Gaza, where Hamas holds sway, is marked by a complex web of political, military, and humanitarian challenges. Understanding the dynamics and history of this region is essential for comprehending the ongoing conflict and its implications for the broader Middle East.

Hamas’s Control of Gaza

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organization, has maintained control over the Gaza Strip since 2007 when it ousted its rival, Fatah, in a violent takeover. The group has since governed the territory through its security forces and has relied on various sources for resources. These sources include smuggling networks, informal taxation of goods entering Gaza, and reported external assistance from Iran and private entities based in several regional countries. Hamas’s financial sustainability and its ability to govern Gaza depend on these sources of income.

Yahya Sinwar, a prominent figure within Hamas, has been the leader of the organization in Gaza since 2017. He played a pivotal role in orchestrating the October 2023 attacks against Israel, which marked a significant escalation in the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas’s Presence Beyond Gaza

While Hamas exercises control over Gaza, it also maintains a presence in the West Bank, the other Palestinian territory. This presence creates a complex political landscape within the Palestinian territories, with Hamas and Fatah often at odds, leading to political tensions and divisions among Palestinians.

Ismail Haniyeh, based in Qatar, serves as the leader of Hamas’s political bureau, responsible for handling the organization’s international relations and diplomatic dealings. Haniyeh’s leadership underscores the global reach of Hamas, as he coordinates the group’s activities beyond Gaza.

Historical Escalations and Conflict with Israel

Hamas’s confrontations with Israel are a recurrent theme in the region’s history. Major escalations occurred in 2008-2009, 2012, 2014, and most recently in 2021. These conflicts typically involve Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups launching rockets indiscriminately toward Israel, while Israeli military strikes target militants and infrastructure in Gaza. These confrontations have had devastating humanitarian consequences, including casualties, displacement, and damage to civilian infrastructure.

One unique challenge posed by Hamas’s governance in Gaza is the construction of an extensive network of tunnels, some of which are located under civilian areas. These tunnels have posed significant challenges for Israeli military operations and have been used for both defensive and offensive purposes by Hamas.

Humanitarian Concerns and Aid Dilemma

The ongoing conflict and the enduring presence of Hamas in Gaza have raised complex humanitarian concerns. Humanitarian organizations struggle to provide assistance to Gazans without inadvertently bolstering Hamas’s capabilities. Before the October 2023 escalation, Israel allowed Qatar to provide specific forms of funding to Gaza, reflecting the delicate balance between addressing humanitarian needs and addressing security concerns.

Some observers argue that Israeli authorities have tolerated the status quo with Hamas in Gaza to avoid engaging in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, as these negotiations have historically encountered significant challenges and obstacles.

U.S. Policy Issues and Aid: Navigating the Complex Path Toward Peace

In the intricate and often turbulent landscape of Middle Eastern politics, the United States has continually strived to balance its diplomatic and humanitarian efforts, particularly concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Biden Administration has taken a clear stance, advocating for a two-state solution and strongly opposing actions that may exacerbate tensions or hinder peace prospects. This approach includes a firm stance against unilateral actions by either Israel or the Palestinians, such as Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian initiatives in international forums, which are often seen as provocative or counterproductive to peace negotiations.

The Taylor Force Act and Economic Support Fund Aid

A pivotal aspect of U.S. policy in this region is the implementation of the Taylor Force Act (Division S, Title X of P.L. 115-141). Passed by Congress, this act significantly impacts the allocation of Economic Support Fund (ESF) aid, which is a crucial element of U.S. foreign assistance. The Act prohibits most of this aid from directly benefiting the Palestinian Authority (PA) unless there is a cessation of payments by the PA to individuals who are accused of acts of terrorism. This policy reflects a broader American stance against any actions or policies that might indirectly support or incentivize terrorism.

Figure 1. U.S. Bilateral Aid to the PalestiniansSource: U.S. Department of State. – Notes: NADR=Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs; INCLE=International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; ESF=Economic Support Fund; OCO=Overseas Contingency Operations.

Biden’s Response to the October 2023 Conflict

The outbreak of conflict in October 2023 marked a significant escalation in regional tensions, prompting President Biden to request over $9 billion in supplemental global humanitarian funding. A portion of this funding is potentially earmarked for addressing the civilian needs in Gaza and the West Bank. This move indicates a recognition of the humanitarian crisis in these areas while balancing the political complexities involved in providing aid to regions under Hamas control.

Congressional Debate Over Aid

The U.S. Congress remains divided on the issue of aid to the Palestinians. While some members advocate for increased humanitarian assistance, recognizing the dire needs of the Palestinian population, others call for a halt or stringent conditions on such aid. The primary concern among the latter group is the risk of diversion of funds to Hamas, an organization widely regarded as a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and other entities.

Challenges to U.S. Proposals

As the Israeli-Gaza conflict continues to evolve, the United States finds itself confronted with a host of critical policy issues related to the prospects for post-conflict governance and security in Gaza. These challenges are multifaceted and require delicate diplomacy to address the contrasting perspectives of U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.

In early January, Defense Minister Gallant put forth a comprehensive plan outlining the potential framework for Palestinian civil administration in Gaza after the conflict subsides. This proposal comprises several key elements:

  • Maintenance of Existing Palestinian Administrative Mechanisms: Under the plan, the existing administrative mechanisms in Gaza would be preserved. This includes retaining officials and local clans that are not affiliated with Hamas. The aim is to ensure the continuation of governance structures while excluding Hamas from positions of authority.
  • Israeli Responsibility for Security: Israel would take on a broad responsibility for preventing security threats directed against itself. This would involve close coordination with Egypt at the border with Gaza. By assuming this role, Israel aims to safeguard its security interests in the region.
  • Multinational Task Force: A significant component of the proposal is the establishment of a multinational task force. This task force would include the United States, along with some European and Arab states. Its primary focus would be on managing civil affairs and facilitating economic recovery in Gaza. The involvement of multiple nations underscores the international commitment to stability and development in the region.

While Defense Minister Gallant’s proposal provides a detailed framework, the challenge lies in whether U.S., Israeli, and Palestinian Authority officials can find common ground and reach compromises on these fundamental aspects of post-conflict governance and security. The complexity of the situation underscores the need for ongoing diplomatic efforts to navigate the intricacies of the Israeli-Gaza conflict.

Israel’s Response to the Gaza Conflict: A Shift in Strategy and International Diplomacy

Since the October 7, 2023, attacks from Gaza, significant developments have unfolded in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Key among these is the formation of an emergency unity government in Israel, including notable figures such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and chief IDF commander. This consolidation of leadership reflects Israel’s strategic response to the crisis and the complexity of the situation.

Unity Government and Strategic Shift

Netanyahu’s initial objectives following the Gaza attacks were clear: to dismantle Hamas’s military and governmental capabilities and secure the release of hostages. However, recent developments suggest a shift toward de-escalation. Reports indicate that Israel has begun withdrawing a significant number of troops from Gaza, aiming to transition to lower-intensity operations by the end of January. This move suggests a possible shift in strategy from Netanyahu, who has indicated a willingness to accept the expulsion of Hamas’s top leaders, rather than their capture or killing.

Diplomatic Efforts and Humanitarian Concerns

The conflict has not only been a military and political challenge but also a humanitarian and diplomatic one. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other international figures have emphasized the need for displaced Palestinians in Gaza to return home as conditions permit. The U.S. and U.N. have been actively involved in increasing the provision of international assistance to Gaza. Public health concerns, exacerbated by shortages of water, food, and fuel, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and challenges to hospital functionality, have been raised by U.N. and World Health Organization officials. Reports of acute malnutrition and mortality breaching famine thresholds in Gaza underline the severity of the situation.

Regional Escalation and International Response

The conflict has had wider regional implications. Israel has engaged in exchanges of fire with Lebanese Hezbollah (another FTO) and Palestinian militants along its northern border with Lebanon. The potential escalation with Hezbollah, possessing an extensive missile arsenal, poses a significant threat to Israeli strategic sites and population centers. U.S. officials are reportedly working to facilitate the withdrawal of Hezbollah forces from border areas, which is crucial for the return of evacuated Israelis to their homes in the north. The assassination of Saleh al Arouri and cross-border strikes in January could influence whether the conflict escalates further.

In the Red Sea, the Iran-supported Houthi militia in Yemen has targeted Israel with missiles and drones and attacked shipping lanes near the Bab al Mandab strait. Despite international warnings, these attacks have continued, impacting commercial shipping routes.

Tensions in the West Bank

The West Bank has also experienced ongoing tensions and violence. The Palestinian Authority/Palestine Liberation Organization (PA/PLO) faces a precarious position, balancing between not endorsing Hamas while also not publicly condemning it. This stance likely stems from increased support for Hamas in the West Bank, influenced by Hamas’s military actions, the prisoner releases it secured, and the civilian suffering in Gaza.

International Diplomatic Responses

The U.N. Security Council has been active in addressing the crisis. On November 15, Resolution 2712 was adopted, calling for humanitarian pauses and the release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups. Following this, on December 22, Resolution 2720 called for steps to allow humanitarian access and create conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities. These resolutions reflect the international community’s urgent call for peace and stability in the region.

The Escalation of the Israel-Hamas Conflict in 2023-2024 and Its Impact on Arms Exports Policies

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2023-2024 marked a significant escalation in violence, particularly following the attack on the Re’im Music Festival by Hamas-led militants on October 7, 2023. This event triggered a series of military responses from Israel, including an air and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The international community, including the UK, initially showed reserved support for Israel’s actions. However, as the conflict progressed, there were increasing concerns over potential violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by both Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

In light of the 2023-2024 Israel-Gaza conflict, both Italy and the UK have taken significant actions regarding their arms export policies. Italy has ceased its arms shipments to Israel starting from October 7, 2023, as revealed by the Italian Foreign Minister. This decision was a part of Italy’s response to the escalating conflict, indicating a shift in its stance towards the sale of military equipment in the context of the conflict​​.

The UK, on the other hand, has been under increasing pressure to reconsider its arms exports to Israel. The UK’s arms export regime is governed by strict criteria, which prohibit the granting of licenses where there is a clear risk that the items might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Given the conduct of hostilities in Gaza and the potential for grave abuses, human rights groups have challenged the legality of the UK selling arms to Israel. This has led to significant debates within the UK Parliament. The UK Government has also threatened to suspend specific military equipment export licenses to Israel if the country resumes fighting in the Gaza Strip. These licenses cover components for military radar systems, combat aircraft, and tanks​​​​.

These actions by Italy and the UK reflect a growing international concern over the use of exported arms in conflict zones, especially where there are allegations of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. The situation in the Israel-Gaza conflict and the international responses to it underscore the complexities and ethical considerations involved in arms exports to conflict zones.

Italy’s Pivot in Arms Export Policy Amid the 2023-2024 Israel-Gaza Conflict”

In the complex geopolitical landscape of the 2023-2024 Israel-Gaza conflict, Italy’s decision to cease arms shipments to Israel from October 7, 2023, marked a significant policy shift, reflecting a nuanced approach towards international humanitarian concerns and arms trade regulations.

Contextualizing Italy’s Decision

Italy’s move came amidst escalating violence and allegations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) violations. The decision was announced by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, indicating a departure from Italy’s traditional stance in global arms trade. This change in policy was not just a reaction to the immediate conflict but also a recognition of the broader implications of arms trade in conflict zones.

The Process Behind the Decision

The decision was influenced by both internal political dynamics and external pressures. On the domestic front, the Italian government, led by Giorgia Meloni, faced criticism and calls from the left-wing opposition and civil society groups to halt arms exports to Israel. These groups expressed concerns about Italy’s weapons being potentially used to commit actions that could be classified as war crimes. This internal political discourse played a crucial role in shaping the government’s response to the crisis.

These developments in Italy occurred within a complex international context where other European countries, such as Germany, had also been supplying key military equipment to Israel. The SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) detailed that Germany had supplied more than 1,000 tank engines used in Israeli Merkava-4 tanks and Namer armoured personnel carriers. However, unlike Italy, there was no indication of Germany ceasing its military support to Israel during this period.

Italy Halts Arms Sales to Israel: A Shift in Defense Policy

In a significant shift in its defense policy, Italy has ceased all arms shipments to Israel. This decision was prompted by the escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas, particularly following the events of October 7, which witnessed a brutal onslaught by Hamas. Italian Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani confirmed this halt in arms shipments, marking a notable change in Italy’s stance towards the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Background of the Decision

The halt in arms supplies from Italy to Israel comes in the wake of intensified hostilities in the region, notably the conflict in Gaza. The decision appears to be a response to the escalating violence and the broader implications of the ongoing conflict. It represents a departure from Italy’s previous policy of military cooperation with Israel, a relationship that has been characterized by significant arms deals and defense collaborations over the past decades.

Implications of the Policy Change

This policy change by Italy could have multiple implications. Firstly, it demonstrates an alignment with international calls for de-escalation in the region and a focus on diplomatic solutions rather than military interventions. Secondly, it could influence other countries’ policies towards arms sales in conflict zones, especially in the Middle East. Lastly, this move might impact the dynamics of the Israel-Hamas conflict, as it signifies a shift in the international community’s approach to dealing with such longstanding disputes.

The Complex Web of Italian Arms Sales to Israel and the Call for Peace

The Dichotomy of International Relations and Moral Imperatives

In recent times, a significant outcry has emerged from various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the Peace and Disarmament Network, urging Italy to halt its military support to Israel. This plea is rooted in the desire to prevent Italy from being complicit in the suffering of Palestinian civilians, who often find themselves caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas.

The advocates of this cause emphasize that by discontinuing military aid, Italy would not only adhere to its constitutional principles, particularly Article 11, but also comply with Law 185 of 1990, which explicitly prohibits arms exports to countries engaged in active conflict.

This call to action has gained momentum amidst Italy’s abstention from a UN General Assembly vote that sought a ceasefire in Palestine. This abstention was perceived as an implicit endorsement of Tel Aviv’s retaliatory actions, despite the universally acknowledged inexcusability of Hamas’ atrocities and the long-standing repression of the Palestinian people.


TABLE 1 – LAW 185 OF 1990 – ARTICLE 11

The Application of Article 11 and Law 185 of 1990 in Italy: Political Movements and Recent Developments

The application of Article 11 of the Italian Constitution and Law 185 of 1990, particularly in the context of arms exports, has recently come under significant discussion and scrutiny, particularly under the government led by Giorgia Meloni. These laws, which have historically played a crucial role in regulating Italy’s arms exports, are currently at the center of a contentious debate due to proposed changes by the current administration.

Background and Legislative Framework:

Article 11 of the Italian Constitution, emphasizing Italy’s commitment to peace and repudiation of war, and Law 185 of 1990, regulating the export, import, and transit of military goods, have long been cornerstones of Italy’s approach to foreign policy and international trade in arms. Law 185 of 1990, in particular, is grounded in the principle that arms exports must align with foreign policy, human rights respect, and Italy’s peace-oriented constitutional mandate.

Recent Political Developments:

The current right-wing government coalition led by Brothers of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni has drafted a new law intending to ease the process of exporting arms from Italy. This proposed change has sparked controversy and opposition from various quarters, including civil society organizations and activists.

Under the existing framework, Italy’s arms exports are regulated to prioritize human rights and prevent sales to countries engaged in war or known for serious human rights violations. The proposed changes, however, would grant greater discretion to a political body, the CISD (Inter-ministerial Committee for the Trade of Arms for Defence), in deciding when international bans and limits on sales apply.

Implications and Responses:

The changes suggested by Meloni’s government have raised concerns among activists and NGOs, who fear that easing the arms export laws would lead to Italian weapons being sold to countries where they could be used to commit human rights abuses.

Organizations like Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo have been vocal in highlighting the potential negative impacts of the proposed changes, arguing that they contrast starkly with the rationale of Law 185/90 and could undermine Italy’s role in promoting peace and safeguarding human rights.

Italy’s approach to arms exports, guided by Article 11 of its Constitution and Law 185 of 1990, reflects a complex interplay of legal, ethical, and political considerations. These legislative instruments underscore Italy’s commitment to peace and the prioritization of human rights in its foreign policy.

Application of Law 185/90 and Article 11: Law 185 of 1990, influenced by civil society pressure, emphasizes that arms sales cannot be merely commercial ventures but must align with foreign policy and respect for human rights, resonating with the peace-oriented mandate of Article 11 of the Italian Constitution. This law has been instrumental in shaping Italy’s arms export decisions, including those related to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Political Movements and Influence: Italian political movements, particularly those advocating for peace and disarmament, have been pivotal in pushing for stricter adherence to Law 185/90. These groups have often raised concerns about arms exports to regions embroiled in conflict or where human rights violations are reported. The Italian Peace and Disarmament Network has been a significant voice in this regard, highlighting issues with government decisions on arms exports, especially to non-EU and non-NATO countries, and advocating for greater parliamentary control over these exports.

Italy’s Stance on the Israel-Palestine Conflict: Italy’s approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been guided by a desire to promote peace and stability in the region. Italian foreign policy, as articulated by officials like Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, has emphasized efforts to prevent the conflict’s escalation and has supported creating conditions for a two-state solution. Italy has also shown support for the Palestinian cause, as evidenced by the non-binding resolution passed by the Italian parliament in 2015 urging the government to recognize a Palestinian state. However, Italy’s stance has also been characterized by a careful balancing act, as seen in its abstention from voting in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict between Gaza and Israel in October 2023.

The application of Article 11 and Law 185 of 1990 in Italy, particularly concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, highlights the ongoing struggle to balance national interests, international commitments, and ethical responsibilities. While Italy has demonstrated a commitment to peace and human rights, the evolving geopolitical landscape and internal political dynamics continue to shape its foreign policy decisions. As Italy navigates these complex issues, the role of civil society and political movements in advocating for a peace-oriented approach remains crucial.

Conclusion:

The debate over Italy’s arms export laws, particularly in the context of Israel, highlights the ongoing tension between economic interests, political considerations, and ethical obligations. As Italy considers altering its stance on arms exports, the implications for its international role and its commitments to upholding peace and human rights remain a significant concern.

This analysis provides an overview of the current situation regarding Italy’s application of Article 11 and Law 185 of 1990, focusing specifically on its implications for arms exports to Israel. The evolving political landscape in Italy and the international community’s response to these changes will be crucial in determining the future direction of Italian foreign policy and arms trade practices.


Historical Context: Italy’s Evolving Relationship with Israel

The Italian stance on the Middle East conflict has evolved significantly over the decades. Up until the early 2000s, Italy maintained a policy of equidistance, balancing its relations with Israel and other Middle Eastern countries while keeping arms supplies to Israel relatively inconsequential.

However, a notable shift occurred in 2003 under the right-wing government led by Silvio Berlusconi. Italy signed a military cooperation agreement with Israel, ratified by Law No. 95 in 2005, shrouded in secrecy and lacking transparency even to the Italian parliament. This agreement, still in effect, encompasses the exchange of defense information, joint military exercises, and cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Critics, such as Senator Malabarba from the Communist Party, warned that this agreement could inadvertently embroil Italy in conflicts against Arab movements seeking liberation from occupation, given Israel’s broad definition of ‘terrorism.’

Escalation of Arms Deals and Military Cooperation

In a significant development that further solidified the relationship between Italy and Israel, the Monti Government of Italy signed a groundbreaking contract in 2012 for the sale of 30 M-346 training aircraft to Israel. This $1-billion deal marked a pivotal moment in the two countries’ bilateral cooperation, not only in the defense sector but also in strengthening their strategic partnership.

The M-346, a cutting-edge trainer aircraft developed by the Italian aerospace company Leonardo S.p.A. (formerly known as Alenia Aermacchi), was designed to provide advanced pilot training for military personnel. Israel’s interest in acquiring these aircraft showcased the nation’s commitment to enhancing its defense capabilities and bolstering its aerospace industry.

The contract, valued at several billion dollars, was not only economically significant but also held broader strategic implications for both nations. It represented a notable shift in Italy’s arms export policy and marked a major step in Israel’s efforts to modernize its military forces.

This landmark deal came at a time when Israel was actively seeking to update its aging fleet of training aircraft. The M-346 was chosen as the ideal solution due to its advanced technology, performance capabilities, and compatibility with the Israeli Air Force’s requirements. The contract stipulated the delivery of 30 M-346 aircraft, along with related support and maintenance services, over the course of several years.

One of the key factors that contributed to the success of this deal was Italy’s reputation for producing high-quality aerospace technology. Leonardo S.p.A. had established itself as a leading player in the global defense industry, and the M-346 trainer aircraft was a testament to their expertise and innovation. Israel’s decision to partner with Italy in this endeavor was a testament to the trust they had in the Italian aerospace industry’s capabilities.

The implications of this agreement extended beyond the economic benefits and military capabilities it brought to both nations. It strengthened the overall bilateral relationship between Italy and Israel, creating a solid foundation for future collaboration in various fields, including technology, research, and innovation.

Additionally, the M-346 deal underscored the geopolitical importance of Italy in the Middle East. Italy’s willingness to engage in such a significant defense contract with Israel highlighted its commitment to regional stability and security. This move allowed Italy to play a more active role in the complex dynamics of the Middle East.

As the years passed, the implementation of the contract proceeded smoothly. The delivery of the M-346 training aircraft to Israel enhanced the Israeli Air Force’s capabilities and contributed to the country’s military modernization efforts. The contract also generated economic benefits for both Italy and Israel, as it supported jobs in the aerospace industry and fostered technological cooperation.

An Israeli Air Force M-346 Lavi jet trainer aircraft. (Defense Ministry)

It appears that the M-346 training aircraft delivered to Israel were capable of being armed with weapons and bombs, further enhancing their versatility and combat capabilities. The delivery of these armed versions of the M-346 aircraft began in 2014, marking a significant development in Israel’s military capabilities.

In return for the acquisition of the M-346 training aircraft, Italy reciprocated with its own investment in Israeli military technology. This included the purchase of Gulfstream 550 spy planes, an investment totaling approximately $800 million. The Gulfstream 550 is known for its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, making it a valuable asset for Italy’s defense and intelligence services.

Additionally, Italy invested $245 million in the OPTSAT-3000 satellite system. This system enhanced Italy’s space-based reconnaissance capabilities, enabling advanced imaging and intelligence gathering. The collaboration in space-based technology further deepened the ties between Italy and Israel in the realm of defense and security.

The exchange of defense technology and capabilities between Italy and Israel underlined the shared commitment to bolstering their respective national security interests. It showcased the strength of their partnership and the trust they placed in each other’s defense industries and capabilities.

Italy-Israel Defense Collaboration Flourishes, From Drones to Advanced Helicopters

Since the groundbreaking 2012 contract for the sale of 30 M-346 training aircraft, the partnership between Italy and Israel in the realm of defense has not only endured but flourished. Subsequent years witnessed a remarkable expansion in military cooperation, encompassing a diverse array of technologies, from underwater drones to armored combat vehicles, along with an escalation in joint air force exercises. This robust partnership achieved yet another significant milestone in 2019 when the defense ministries of both nations agreed to a deal involving the sale of AW119Kx advanced training helicopters worth $350 million, underscoring their unwavering military alliance.

One notable aspect of this ongoing collaboration was the mutual interest in underwater drones. Israel, renowned for its prowess in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), extended its expertise to underwater domains. In the same vein, Italy’s experience in naval technologies played a pivotal role. The joint development of underwater drones allowed both nations to bolster their maritime surveillance and security capabilities. While the exact timeline of these developments may not be readily available, their significance cannot be underestimated.

Additionally, armored combat vehicles became a focal point of cooperation. Italy’s advanced armored vehicle technology combined with Israel’s experience in military hardware innovation culminated in the development and production of cutting-edge armored vehicles. These vehicles not only enhanced the military capabilities of both nations but also positioned them as reliable partners in the global defense industry.

Another dimension of their partnership was the increased frequency of joint air force exercises. These exercises served as crucial training opportunities, allowing both Italy and Israel to integrate their military assets effectively. They promoted interoperability and the sharing of best practices, contributing to a high level of readiness in case of contingencies.

The expansion of defense cooperation between Italy and Israel, spanning from underwater drones to armored combat vehicles and advanced training helicopters, is a testament to the depth of their strategic partnership. It is a partnership that goes beyond mere business transactions and encompasses a shared commitment to regional stability and security.

Contemporary Stance and Calls for Peace: Italy’s Role in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Contextualizing Italy’s Evolving Defence Policy

Italy’s role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly in light of recent developments, has become a subject of intense scrutiny and debate. This examination is set against the backdrop of Italy’s long-standing diplomatic history and its current military cooperation with Israel. As of January 2023, the meeting between Italy’s new Defence Minister, Guido Crosetto, and the Israeli Ambassador in Rome marked yet another chapter in this complex relationship. Crosetto’s expression of intent to further strengthen defense ties with Israel has been met with a mix of apprehension and critique, especially in the context of recent tragic events, including the October 7 massacres.

The Tragic Reminder of October 7

The events of October 7 stand as a grim testament to the ongoing volatility in the region. These incidents have reignited the conversation about the efficacy and morality of military solutions in resolving deep-seated geopolitical conflicts. The international community, including various human rights organizations, has repeatedly underscored the necessity of a political, rather than a militaristic, approach to the Israel-Palestine issue. This perspective advocates for a solution that prioritizes dialogue, mutual respect, and a commitment to human rights, as opposed to an escalation of arms and military might.

The Dilemma of Defence and Diplomacy

Italy’s continued arms trade and military collaboration with Israel pose a challenge to its role as a mediator and a proponent of peace in the international arena. The country’s historical stance, characterized by a policy of equidistance in Middle Eastern affairs, has gradually shifted, raising questions about its current foreign policy priorities. This shift, especially in the context of the recent massacres, has led to calls for a re-evaluation of Italy’s defence strategy in the region. Critics argue that Italy’s arms sales to a nation embroiled in a longstanding conflict with its neighbors potentially undermines its position as a neutral and peace-promoting actor on the global stage.

The UK’s Multi-Faceted Approach to the Middle Eastern Crisis: Analysis and Developments

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has been under intense scrutiny in recent times, with the UK government playing a pivotal role in managing and responding to the complexities of the region. This analysis delves into the various facets of the UK’s approach, encompassing the government’s advisories, military involvement, humanitarian efforts, diplomatic actions, and its stance on the ongoing conflict.

UK Government Advisory for British Nationals

The UK Government has issued specific advice for British nationals in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Lebanon. Emphasizing the importance of safety, it has advised British nationals to register their presence with the UK Government. In a significant move, the government has recommended that all British nationals should leave Lebanon. However, the advisory notes that Palestinians in Gaza, who are not dependents of British nationals, are currently ineligible for UK visa assistance.

In Egypt, UK officials have been stationed to offer medical, consular, and administrative support to British nationals. The government has relayed that the Rafah crossing will be operational for controlled and time-limited periods, allowing foreign nationals, including Britons, to cross. The UK embassy is to receive and disseminate details from Egyptian authorities about the crossing schedules.

UK’s Military and Humanitarian Response

In response to the escalating tensions, the UK has deployed military assets in the Middle East to aid in de-escalation and surveillance. The government has clarified that its military support to Israel has been limited to non-lethal aid, specifically medical supplies, since 7 October.

December 2023 marked the initiation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an international maritime coalition led by the United States to safeguard Red Sea shipping routes against Houthi attacks. The UK, alongside France, is a participant in this 20-nation coalition. The Houthis, a group aligned with Iran and controlling northern Yemen, have targeted ships linked to Israel, citing insufficient aid reaching Gaza. UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has indicated the UK’s readiness to confront Houthi threats to ensure the safety of Red Sea shipping.

The UK’s commitment to humanitarian assistance is evident in its pledge of £87 million in aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories for 2023. This aid is carefully channelled through UN agencies, avoiding direct engagement with Hamas. Further insights into this aid distribution are available in the Commons Library research briefing titled “UK aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip: FAQs”.

Diplomatic Efforts and Statements

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has expressed condemnation of the Hamas attack on 7 October and has reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. He has urged Israel to take measures to protect civilians in Gaza and emphasized the UK’s role in diplomatically facilitating humanitarian aid and preventing regional escalation. The Prime Minister, along with current and former Foreign Secretaries, has engaged with Middle Eastern leaders to discuss aid, de-escalation strategies, and the release of hostages.

Addressing Violence by Israeli Settlers

The UK, aligning with other G7 nations, has condemned the violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. This issue has been raised with the Israeli Government. Both the UK and the US have imposed visa restrictions on extremist Israeli settlers involved in such violence. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the violence, he has criticized the accusations levelled against the settlement movement.

The UK’s Stance on a Sustainable Ceasefire

The UK Government supports temporary humanitarian pauses in the conflict for aid delivery and hostage release but stops short of endorsing an immediate ceasefire. International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell, on 11 December, argued that a ceasefire seems implausible at the moment due to the lack of willingness from both conflicting sides. The UK and German Foreign Ministers have jointly advocated for a sustainable ceasefire, which would encompass the release of hostages, aid delivery, and the assurance of security for Israel from Hamas threats. The Labour Party supports this stance, while the SNP advocates for an immediate ceasefire and the Liberal Democrats call for an immediate bilateral ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The UK’s multifaceted approach to the Middle Eastern crisis reflects a balanced mix of diplomatic efforts, humanitarian aid, and strategic military deployment. While navigating complex geopolitical dynamics, the UK government continues to prioritize the safety of its nationals, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the pursuit of a sustainable resolution to the ongoing conflict. This strategy underscores the UK’s commitment to playing a significant role in stabilizing the region while safeguarding its national interests and international responsibilities.

UK’s Stance on Middle Eastern Conflict: A Comprehensive Overview of Government Statements and Diplomatic Efforts

The United Kingdom’s response to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East has been marked by a series of definitive statements and actions, aimed at balancing humanitarian concerns with geopolitical realities. This analysis provides a detailed examination of the UK Government’s approach, as articulated in the Prime Minister’s statements to the Commons, along with other significant government pronouncements and diplomatic initiatives.

Prime Minister’s Statements to the Commons

The UK Prime Minister, in two critical statements made to the Commons on 16 October and 23 October 2023, outlined the government’s perspective on the conflict.

  • 16 October 2023 Statement: The Prime Minister characterized the attack by Hamas against Israel as a “pogrom”, a strong term indicative of the severity with which the UK views the incident. He emphasized that this attack posed a fundamental challenge to co-existence in the region, which he regarded as essential for peace and stability. The Prime Minister affirmed Israel’s “absolute” right to self-defense, including actions to deter further incursions and secure the release of hostages, in accordance with international humanitarian law. Additionally, he urged Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid civilian casualties.
  • 23 October 2023 Statement: Further details about the Prime Minister’s second statement were not provided, but it likely continued to address the evolving situation in the region.

UK Government Priorities

In his 16 October address, the Prime Minister delineated three primary objectives of the UK’s response:

  • Preventing Escalation and Protecting Israel: The UK committed to deploying forces for regional surveillance, aiming to prevent further escalation and threats against Israel. It was explicitly stated that the UK would not engage militarily in Gaza.
  • Increasing Humanitarian Aid: The UK pledged to enhance humanitarian aid for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and advocated for humanitarian access to Gaza.
  • Diplomatic Support for Stability: The UK engaged in diplomatic efforts to support regional stability, including advocating for a two-state solution. High-level diplomatic contacts were pursued to further this aim.

Government Statements on Specific Issues

  • Calls for a Ceasefire: The International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, expressed on 11 December the government’s view against an immediate ceasefire. He explained the impracticality of a ceasefire at the moment, given Hamas’s stance and the lack of willingness from both sides. Instead, the UK supported humanitarian pauses, which had shown some success in delivering aid and facilitating the release of hostages.
  • Sustainable Ceasefire: In December 2023, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, along with his German counterpart, opposed a general and immediate ceasefire. They advocated for a “sustainable ceasefire”, emphasizing the need for the release of hostages, delivery of aid, and protection of civilians. The Prime Minister further elaborated on this concept, underscoring the importance of addressing key issues like the release of hostages and cessation of Hamas operations as prerequisites to a lasting ceasefire.
  • Two-State Solution: On 22 October, the Prime Minister highlighted the significance of the Abraham Accords, which saw Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel. He called for renewed efforts to support effective Palestinian governance and to challenge actions undermining Palestinian statehood aspirations. The UK’s position remains to recognize the state of Palestine when it is deemed beneficial for peace.

The UK’s Position on International Humanitarian Law in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The UK Government’s stance on the application of international humanitarian law in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a subject of significant parliamentary discussion and international interest, particularly in light of recent events. This analysis examines the UK’s position as articulated by various ministers, its relation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the broader context of international law.

The UK Government’s Approach to Assessing Compliance with International Humanitarian Law

  • Ministerial Responses: On 8 November 2023, the Minister for International Development addressed a parliamentary question concerning the Israeli Government’s compliance with international human rights law. The Minister stated that it was not within the government’s purview to make such assessments, which are typically the responsibility of legal experts and courts.
  • Adherence to International Law: The Minister reinforced the UK Government’s position that all countries, including Israel, must abide by international humanitarian law and the rules of law.

The Role of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

  • Jurisdiction and Ministerial Stance: The UK’s stance on the ICC’s jurisdiction was clarified on 15 and 21 November 2023 by the Minister for International Development and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, respectively. They emphasized that determining the ICC’s jurisdiction is the prerogative of the Chief Prosecutor, not of ministers. The ministers affirmed that questions regarding prosecution are for independent prosecutors to decide.
  • ICC Chief Prosecutor’s Statement: Karim Khan, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, has asserted jurisdiction over events occurring in Gaza and the West Bank. His visit to the region in December underscores the ICC’s active interest in these areas.
  • Israel’s Position on ICC Jurisdiction: Historically, Israel has rejected the ICC’s jurisdiction over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The UK Government’s Cooperation with the ICC

  • Evidence Provision to the ICC: On 4 December, the Minister for Europe and Central Asia, Leo Docherty, stated that the UK was not currently in a position to provide evidence to the ICC on potential breaches of international humanitarian law. However, he noted that the government continues to monitor the ICC’s work.
  • Surveillance Drone Footage: In response to parliamentary inquiries about sharing surveillance drone footage over Gaza with the ICC, the International Development Minister, on 12 December, indicated that multiple organizations are attempting to ascertain on-the-ground realities and compliance with international humanitarian law. Any relevant evidence would be presented to the appropriate authorities, including the ICC, if available.

Additional Resources and Context

  • Section 6 Briefing: For further insights, section 6 of this briefing offers resources on the ICC and international law, providing a broader understanding of the legal framework and its implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The UK Government’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with respect to international humanitarian law, is marked by a commitment to legal and procedural norms. The government defers to legal experts and independent prosecutors for assessments and decisions on compliance and jurisdiction. The UK’s position on cooperating with the ICC, while cautious, indicates a willingness to engage with international legal mechanisms. This stance reflects the complexities of international law and the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, illustrating the challenges faced by governments in navigating these issues on the global stage.

The UK’s Approach to Arms Sales to Israel: A Detailed Analysis of Compliance with International Standards

The topic of UK arms sales to Israel has garnered significant attention, particularly in the context of civilian safety and adherence to international humanitarian law. This analysis aims to dissect the UK Government’s stance on arms exports to Israel, as elucidated in recent parliamentary discussions and the established criteria governing such sales.

The UK Government’s Response to Parliamentary Inquiries on Arms Sales to Israel

  • Defence Secretary Grant Shapps’ Statement (20 November 2023): Addressing a question on the potential impact of arms sales to Israel on civilian deaths and compliance with international humanitarian law, the Defence Secretary emphasized that the UK assesses all export license applications on a case-by-case basis. He underlined the government’s commitment to not issue export licenses inconsistent with strategic export license criteria. Furthermore, Shapps highlighted that UK’s defence exports to Israel were relatively minor, amounting to £42 million in the previous year.
  • Minister of State for Defence James Cartlidge’s Position: In response to another query, James Cartlidge, the Minister of State for Defence, stated the government’s ongoing vigilance in monitoring the situation. He asserted that any existing licenses found incompatible with the established criteria would be revoked.

Criteria for UK Arms Exports

  • Commons Library Research Briefing (November 2023): The UK’s criteria for arms exports are comprehensively outlined in the Commons Library research briefing titled “UK amends its criteria for arms exports.” The document provides an extensive framework, applying eight criteria to assess export license applications. These criteria encompass a range of considerations, including:
    • Respect for Human Rights: Ensuring that arms exports do not contribute to human rights violations.
    • Peace and Security: Evaluating whether arms exports could potentially undermine peace and security in any region.
    • UK National Security: Assessing the impact of arms exports on UK national security and that of its allies.
    • Further Criteria: Additional criteria, detailed in sections 2 to 10 of the briefing, cover a wide array of ethical, strategic, and legal considerations.

Implications and Analysis

The UK Government’s approach to arms sales to Israel reflects a careful balancing act. On one hand, the UK acknowledges the strategic importance of Israel as a partner. On the other hand, there is a clear commitment to ensure that these arms sales do not contravene international humanitarian law or contribute to civilian casualties. The relatively small scale of these exports, as noted by the Defence Secretary, suggests a measured approach in dealing with a complex geopolitical ally.

The application of rigorous criteria for arms exports demonstrates the UK’s commitment to ethical considerations in international relations. This approach is not only about compliance with international norms but also reflects a broader commitment to responsible governance in the realm of international arms trade.

The ongoing monitoring and willingness to revoke licenses if they no longer meet the criteria indicate a dynamic and responsive approach to changing circumstances in international relations. This adaptability is crucial given the volatile nature of the region and the potential implications of arms trade on regional peace and stability.

The UK’s management of arms sales to Israel is a nuanced process, deeply ingrained in ethical considerations and international law. By adhering to a stringent set of criteria and maintaining a vigilant stance, the UK endeavors to balance its strategic interests with its commitment to international standards of human rights and humanitarian law. This approach underscores the complexity of international arms trade and the need for continual assessment and reevaluation in light of evolving global dynamics.

Israel’s Evacuation Order for Parts of Gaza: A Detailed Analysis

Contextualizing the Evacuation Order

In a significant geopolitical development, Israel issued an evacuation order for the northern part of the Gaza Strip. The move, announced in October, was addressed in the British Parliament, where the Prime Minister underscored Israel’s attempts to minimize the impact on civilians. The Prime Minister’s statement emphasized Israel’s strategy of requesting civilians to vacate northern Gaza. This directive comes amidst a complex backdrop of long-standing regional tensions and the delicate balance of international relations in the Middle East.

The UK’s Stance on the Gaza Situation

The United Kingdom’s position on this issue has been clear and consistent. The Prime Minister articulated the UK’s opposition to any forcible displacement of people from Gaza into neighboring countries like Egypt. This stance aligns with the broader international perspective on the rights and sovereignty of displaced populations. In January 2024, this position was further solidified when the Minister for the Middle East criticized remarks by Israeli officials advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside Gaza. These comments were labeled as “inflammatory,” reflecting the UK’s commitment to a future Palestinian state that includes Gaza as an integral part.

UK Nationals in Gaza: A Concerning Scenario

Amid these geopolitical shifts, the situation of UK nationals in Gaza has become a pressing concern. As of November 2023, the UK government acknowledged the presence of British nationals being held hostage in Gaza, with initial estimates suggesting three such cases. This situation escalated tragically, as evidenced by the Foreign Office Minister Leo Docherty’s December statement confirming the deaths of 15 British nationals since October 7, 2023. These developments have raised serious concerns about the safety of foreign nationals in the region and the escalating tensions in Gaza.

Addressing the Rise in Antisemitic Offenses in the UK

In response to the rising tide of antisemitic offenses within the UK, the Prime Minister announced substantial funding to bolster the security of Jewish communities. This initiative includes a £3 million allocation to the Community Security Trust (CST), a charitable organization dedicated to protecting Jews from antisemitism and related threats. The CST’s mandate covers Jewish community buildings, synagogues, and schools across the UK. This funding decision, announced in the Autumn statement of November 2023, is a testament to the government’s commitment to combating antisemitism. Furthermore, the Chancellor echoed this commitment with a pledge to provide similar funding to the CST in the following year.

Additionally, the government announced a significant investment to address antisemitism through educational and memorial initiatives. This includes a £7 million funding allocation over the next three years for organizations like the Holocaust Memorial Trust, aiming to educate the public, especially in academic settings, about the horrors of antisemitism.

Protective Security for Mosques Scheme: A Step Towards Inclusivity

In a parallel development, the government, before the conflict in June 2023, announced the Protective Security for Mosques Scheme, earmarking £24.5 million for the 2023/24 period. This scheme is designed to safeguard mosques and Muslim faith schools, reflecting an inclusive approach towards religious and community safety. Notably, the funding for this initiative saw a 20% increase from the initial announcement, indicating the government’s proactive stance in ensuring the security of minority communities.

Analyzing the Political Response to the Israel-Gaza Conflict: A Comprehensive Overview

The Israel-Gaza conflict has elicited varied responses from British political figures across the spectrum, highlighting the complexity of the issue and the divergent approaches to conflict resolution and peacekeeping in the region.

Official Opposition’s Stance

Keir Starmer’s Condemnation and Call for Humanitarian Access

The Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, strongly condemned Hamas’ attacks, labeling them acts of terror. He emphasized the urgent need for humanitarian access to Gaza and the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers. Starmer also stressed the importance of working towards a two-state solution and fostering cooperation between Israel and Arab states, underlining his comprehensive approach to resolving the crisis.

David Lammy’s Proposal for a Special Envoy

David Lammy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, suggested appointing a new UK special envoy to the Middle East. He believes this role could help “recharge” negotiations towards a two-state solution. Lammy also proposed the establishment of a “Western and Arab-led vehicle” to lead reconstruction efforts and future talks. His response to the violence in the West Bank includes recommending “entry bans” for individuals involved in attacks, serious criminal activities, or fostering hatred.

Wayne David’s Skepticism on Ceasefire

Shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David, speaking in December, expressed skepticism about the possibility of a “genuine ceasefire,” citing the lack of indication that both warring parties would agree to such a measure.

Support for a Sustainable Ceasefire

On 18 December, the Official Opposition backed the Government’s call for a “sustainable ceasefire,” seeing it as a gateway to broader political discussions, including talks on a two-state solution.

Responses from Other Parties and MPs

SNP’s Perspective

Stephen Flynn, the Leader of the SNP Group in the House of Commons, called for defeating Hamas, opening humanitarian corridors to Gaza, and protecting civilians. He advocated for an “immediate ceasefire.” Additionally, SNP Defence Spokesperson Martin Docherty-Hughes recommended that the UK cease arms licenses and exports to Israel.

Alicia Kearns’ Critique and Proposals

Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, urged the UK Government to ensure Israel adheres to international law in its military operations against Hamas. She also recommended appointing a special envoy for the Middle East peace process. On 18 December, Kearns argued that Israel’s actions in Gaza had exceeded self-defense and violated international law.

Former Defence Secretary’s Views

Former Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also criticized Israel’s approach, suggesting that its actions, including collective punishment and forced civilian movement, were undermining its legal authority for self-defense and risked exacerbating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Vicky Ford, a former FCDO Minister, echoed the call for an immediate ceasefire to foster a two-state solution.

Liberal Democrats’ Call for Action

Sir Ed Davey, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, along with Alicia Kearns and other MPs, called for the proscription of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, citing Iran’s past support for Hamas. Davey also advocated for an immediate bilateral ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as a step towards peace.

Parliamentary Responses to the Israel-Hamas Conflict

The House of Commons Vote on Amendments to the Loyal Address

Overview of the Amendments and Votes

On November 15, the House of Commons witnessed a significant voting session on two amendments to the Motion for the Loyal Address, which were centered around the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. The amendments, proposed by Labour and the SNP, failed to pass but highlighted key perspectives and stances within the UK Parliament regarding this complex international issue.

Labour’s Amendment and Its Defeat

The Labour Party’s amendment, known as amendment (r), focused on the temporary humanitarian pauses in the conflict. It advocated for these pauses to be extended, considering them a crucial step towards a lasting cessation of hostilities. The amendment was defeated with 290 votes against and 183 in favor. The detailed text of this amendment is recorded in the Hansard for November 15, 2023, at column 674, providing a comprehensive view of Labour’s stance on the conflict.

SNP’s Amendment and Parliamentary Response

The SNP’s amendment (h) urged the UK Government to collaborate with the international community in advocating for an immediate ceasefire by all involved parties. This amendment also failed to pass, with 293 votes against it and 125 in support. The specifics of this amendment can be reviewed in the Hansard for November 15, 2023, at columns 755 to 757, offering insight into the SNP’s approach to the situation.

Government’s Reaction

Responding to these amendments, Minister for Policing, Chris Philp, articulated the government’s perspective. He emphasized that a ceasefire with Hamas in its current state would not be equitable. Philp referred to Hamas’s stated intention to destroy Israel and its history of atrocities, including the events of October 7, and the ongoing hostage situation, which involves children and British citizens. He further mentioned Hamas’s continued rocket attacks on Israel, arguing that asking Israel to cease fire unilaterally would neither be fair nor just.

Scottish Parliament’s Stance

Motion and Voting Outcome

On November 21, 2023, the Scottish Parliament passed a motion, supported by a vote of 90 to 28, addressing the same issue. This SNP Government motion condemned the October 7 attack by Hamas, demanded the unconditional release of hostages, insisted on adherence to international humanitarian law, and called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Availability of Full Motion and Debate

The complete motion is accessible on the Scottish Parliament’s website, under the reference “The situation in the Middle East, S6011342, 21 November 2023.” The comprehensive debate held in Parliament on this issue can be reviewed in the Parliament’s Official report for November 21, 2023.

The UK’s Military Deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East: An In-Depth Analysis

In a significant move, the UK Government announced the deployment of military assets to the eastern Mediterranean in October 2023. This decision, aimed at supporting Israel, reinforcing regional stability, and preventing escalation, represents a strategic shift in the UK’s military posture in response to the evolving geopolitical situation in the Middle East.

Details of the Military Deployment

Surveillance and Patrol Operations

The UK deployed 12 maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft to monitor and prevent the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups. This deployment plays a crucial role in maintaining regional security and combating the proliferation of arms to non-state actors.

Royal Navy Task Group

A Royal Navy task group, comprising aircraft, helicopters, a company of royal marines, and two ships (RFS Lyme Bay and RFA Angus), was dispatched to assist in potential humanitarian efforts. This deployment underscores the UK’s commitment to humanitarian assistance in conflict zones.

Reinforcement of Operation Kipion

HMS Diamond, an additional destroyer, was redeployed to augment Operation Kipion, the UK’s longstanding maritime presence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. It has been repositioned to support coalition efforts in the Red Sea, highlighting the UK’s strategic interest in maintaining stability in this critical maritime corridor.

Increase in Military Personnel

The number of military personnel in the region was increased by approximately 1,000, totaling around 2,500. Additional personnel were also stationed in Tel Aviv, Beirut, and Jordan, with a primary aim of protecting British military personnel and citizens. The government’s request for existing forces in the region to enhance their contingency plans further indicates a heightened state of readiness.

The UK Government’s Position on Deployment

No Deployment in Israel or Occupied Territories

The Secretary of State for Defence clarified that there would be no deployment of UK forces in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This statement underscores the UK’s cautious approach to direct involvement in the conflict areas, focusing instead on defense and protection of British interests and citizens.

Response to Houthis in the Red Sea

On January 3, 2024, the Secretary of State for Defence expressed readiness to take “necessary and proportionate action” against the Houthis if their activities in the Red Sea persisted. This stance, coupled with ongoing diplomatic efforts, reflects the UK’s dual approach of military readiness and diplomatic engagement in addressing regional threats.

Unarmed Surveillance Flights over Eastern Mediterranean and Gaza

Focus on Hostage Rescue

From December 5, the UK extended unarmed surveillance flights over the eastern Mediterranean to include Gaza, with a specific mission to locate hostages. The Defence Secretary emphasized that any intelligence gathered would be exclusively used for hostage rescue operations, highlighting the humanitarian aspect of these missions.

Contextual Background

Commons Library Research Briefing

For additional context, the Commons Library research briefing titled “UK forces in the Middle East” provides an in-depth background on the UK’s recent military presence in the region. This document offers valuable insights into the historical and strategic dimensions of the UK’s military engagements in the Middle East.

UK Humanitarian Aid and Sanctions in Response to the Middle East Conflict

UK Humanitarian Aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs)

Increase in Aid Allocation

Since October 7, 2023, the UK Government has significantly ramped up its humanitarian aid to the OPTs, announcing an additional £60 million. This is in addition to the £27 million committed in July and September of 2023, bringing the total aid during the 2023/24 period to £87 million.

Appointment of a Humanitarian Coordinator

To streamline and enhance the effectiveness of aid delivery, the UK Government has appointed a dedicated humanitarian coordinator. This role is pivotal in ensuring that aid reaches the intended recipients efficiently and effectively.

Nature and Distribution of Aid The new funding is earmarked for critical needs like food, water, and emergency shelter. The UK Government has emphasized utilizing “trusted partners” such as UN agencies for the distribution of this aid. This approach is designed to ensure that no funding is inadvertently directed to Hamas and that all aid undergoes stringent oversight.

First Aid Flight and Subsequent Deliveries The first UK aid flight departed for Egypt on October 25, 2023, with the Egyptian Red Crescent handling the distribution of supplies. As of December 6, four such flights have been conducted. Additionally, on January 2, 2024, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Lyme Bay arrived in Egypt with more supplies. There were delays in this shipment, reportedly due to uncertainties regarding direct access to Gaza.

UK License for Humanitarian Aid Delivery On November 14, 2023, the UK issued a general license facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and funding from the UN and other selected organizations to Israel and the OPTs. This license provides specific exemptions from the UK sanctions regime exclusively for humanitarian purposes.

Scottish Government’s Contribution

The Scottish Government has independently announced a contribution of £750,000 towards the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza.

New UK Sanctions and Visa Restrictions

Sanctions Against Hamas and Iran-Aligned Groups

Prior to the conflict’s escalation in October 2023, the UK had already imposed sanctions on Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and various Iran-aligned groups and individuals. The sanctions include travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes. In coordination with the United States, the UK announced additional sanctions:

  • On November 14, 2023, six more individuals were added to the counter-terrorism sanctions list, including four members of Hamas and two financiers of the group.
  • On December 13, sanctions were imposed on leaders and financiers of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  • On December 14, seven individuals, including the Hamas representative to Iran and members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Palestine Branch, were designated.

UK Stance on IRGC

The IRGC, established post-1979 Iranian revolution, is sanctioned by the UK under nuclear sanctions, which entail asset freezes and travel bans. While there have been calls for its proscription, the UK Government is keeping this under review. Proscription would create specific offenses in the UK for being a member, among other things. In December 2023, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron labeled Iran a “malign” actor and emphasized the UK’s readiness to sanction individual IRGC members, although proscription of the IRGC as a whole is not currently being pursued by UK intelligence agencies or police.

Visa Restrictions and Settler Violence

On December 14, 2023, Lord Cameron announced that the UK would ban individuals responsible for settler violence in the West Bank from entering the UK. This action aligns with similar measures taken by the United States and reflects the UK’s stance on holding perpetrators of such violence accountable.

The UK’s response to the conflict in the Middle East encompasses a robust humanitarian aid program to the OPTs, strategic sanctions against groups and individuals involved in the conflict, and visa restrictions aimed at curbing settler violence. This multifaceted approach illustrates the UK’s commitment to providing humanitarian support, maintaining regional stability, and enforcing international norms through targeted sanctions and diplomatic measures.


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