Global Gun Prohibition Lobby: Ban Arms Sales to Israel

This summer, the United Nations review conference for the 2001 Programme of Action on Small Arms failed to reach an agreement for new global gun control rules. Although stymied on one front, the gun prohibition movement is moving forward elsewhere, pushing for a binding Arms Trade Treaty. The proposed treaty is currently being discussed at the United Nations by the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) of the General Assembly.

The leading NGO lobbying for the Arms Trade Treaty is Control Arms, an organization created and directed by IANSA, Amnesty International, and Oxfam. Earlier this month, Control Arms released a major new report, Arms without Borders, which makes the case for the Arms Trade Treaty.

The report offers examples of arms transfers which, according to Control Arms, would be stopped by a global Arms Trade Treaty. Among the examples cited is the sale of Apache AH-64 helicopters to Israel (page 12). Control Arms notes an incident in which an Apache helicopter shot an automobile in Tyre, and that, according to Human Rights Watch, there was no evidence of Hezbollah activity in the vicinity. In response, Prof. Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University states that the HRW/Control Arms claims "contradict clear evidence of heavy Hizbullah presence and use of vehicles for transporting missiles and armed personnel."

Page 25 of the Control Arms report states:

Helicopters, combat aircraft and air-to-surface missiles supplied to Israel primarily by the USA, but often incorporating components supplied by other countries, have been used in the Occupied Territories resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries, in apparent violation of international humanitarian law. According to Amnesty International, many of the 190 Palestinians killed in 2005 were 'killed unlawfully', including as a result of deliberate and reckless shooting, or attacks in densely populated residential areas. At the same time, Palestinian armed groups have used rockets, explosive belts and other bombs to kill and injure hundreds of Israelis.
Page 4 of the report includes a half-sentence criticizing Hezbollah for firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel. The Control Arms paper does not mention any problem about the international flow of arms to Syria. Iran is criticized for its arms sales to Sudan, but not for its supplying of arms to Hezbollah and to terrorist organizations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Control Arms paper presents, at best, a moral equivalence between Israel, Hezbollah, and Palestinian terrorists--all three of whom would, under the Arms Trade Treaty, theoretically be prevented from acquiring arms.

In future discussions of the Arms Trade Treaty, everyone should acknowledge that the Treaty is intended, according to its leading NGO sponsor, to create an arms embargo against Israel. A person who wants arms sales to Israel to remain legal under international law would be foolish to support the Arms Trade Treaty.

The General Assembly's First Committee meeting also covered other issues. Several delegates urged the First Committee to "stop the arms race in space," which is tantamount to asking for a ban on America's Strategic Defense Initiative.

UPDATE: Several commentators make the point that Israel has a robust domestic military industry, and therefore could survive an arms import embargo. The Control Arms folks are one step ahead; their paper emphasizes that the Arms Trade Treaty must include control of components as well as finished products. Control Arms is also very clear on requiring that the trade in dual-use materials (e.g., titanium which could be used for civilian products, or for arms) be banned, unless there are strong safeguards that the material will not be used for human rights violations (such as, in the view of Control Arms, Israel's current tactics in its wars against Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al Aqsa, etc.).

The Control Arms report notes that Israel, like India, South Korea, and South Africa, among others, is an emerging arms exporter. The report offers no evidence that Israel has exported arms to any human rights violator. However, the report suggests that Israel and EU should both exert greater controls of the ultimate sale of Israeli or EU arms which are co-produced in India.