How Britain’s Meddling in Israel Could Backfire — on Ukraine

Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, plunges into a rabbit-hole of virtue-signaling.

AP/Efrem Lukatsky
A Ukrainian tank at Bakhmut, the site of the heaviest battle against the Russian troops in the Donetsk region, October 26, 2022. AP/Efrem Lukatsky

Is London meddling too much in Jerusalem’s affairs? The British foreign secretary and former prime minister, David Cameron, appears to have gone down a rabbit hole of virtue signaling at an inopportune time, just as Israel is closing on the last remaining vestiges of Hamas terror units in the Gaza Strip.

In a bizarre inversion of priorities, Britain has even threatened to condition arms sales to Israel on Israel allowing prison visits to Hamas terrorists. Yet suspending arms shipments to Israel, for the time being a hypothetical, could stymie British and American efforts to train Ukrainian soldiers on German-built Challenger tanks. 

Last week it was reported that Britain is seeking to condition arms supplies to Israel on securing permission for “Red Cross or diplomatic visits to the detained terrorists of Hamas elite Nukhba force.” That the Red Cross has a strange affinity for cozying up to convicted terrorists is no longer a surprise. To that toxic equation, though, add the latest rhetorical intrusions of the British Foreign Office — to say nothing of the Biden White House.

Mr. Cameron is blaming Israel for slowing down delivery of aid into Gaza by land. He takes issue with, as he states it, “arbitrary denials by the government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures, including multiple screenings and narrow opening windows in daylight hours.”

The erstwhile premier also claimed that Israel has closed the Kerem Shalom crossing on Saturdays due to the Sabbath. Yet Cogat, the Israeli body governing civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, has denied that and insisted the UN requested the down time so that deliveries could be processed. 

Earlier this month Mr. Cameron wrote on X that Israel should “allow more [aid] trucks into Gaza.” An Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy, replied on X, “I hope you are aware there are no limits on the entry of food, water, medicine, or shelter equipment into Gaza, and in fact the crossings have excess capacity.” Added he: “Test us. Send another 100 trucks a day to Kerem Shalom [border crossing] and we’ll get them in.” 

The British Foreign Office subsequently sought a “clarification” as to whether or not Mr Levy’s posts represented the official Israeli position on the matter. It is not yet clear whether they did or not,  but in the midst of the spat the talented Mr. Levy was suspended from his position.

Mr. Cameron’s threatening to “withhold weapons” from Israel over disagreements pertaining to aid delivery and Red Cross access to imprisoned Hamas terrorists is detrimental to relations between Britain and Israel. According to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center, even though “UK arms imports do not represent a substantial part of Israel’s defense procurement,” the British-Israel defense trade “is of mutual benefit, and the relative importance of the trade relationship is arguably greater to the UK military than to the IDF.”

And how. Israel’s Elbit Systems does a brisk business with the British defense ministry and is currently the main contractor providing training to tank crews in the British Army

According to London’s Private Eye, last May Elbit won a 10-year, $71 million contract to run Project Vulcan for the British Army, which involves “driver, gunner, commander” and “crew training” to “teach troops to use Challenger tanks.”

Not all those who are being trained are British — some are Ukrainian. More than 50,000 Ukrainian recruits have received training in Britain since Russia invaded Ukraine, and Prime Minister Sunak has commended “how the training the Ukrainian soldiers were receiving on British Challenger 2 tanks would give them the upper hand on the battlefield and allow them to push back Russian forces.”

No wonder then that, according to London’s Private Eye, “in the UK Elbit is confident it is well embedded in British military work, saying its recent contracts ‘consolidate’ its ‘position as a leading provider of training and simulation to the UK armed forces.’”

The British Israel Communications and Research Center puts Great Britain’s share of total Israeli arms imports at merely 0.9 percent of Israel’s total. Meanwhile, Israeli arms imported to Great Britain “have protected UK service personnel in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in other combat deployments.”

Why, then, would Mr. Cameron want to possibly jeopardize a mutually beneficial relationship? The Sun was not able to ascertain the precise extent to which Ukrainian troops have received training in Britain on Israel-made battle simulators, but it is safe to say that any such experience would be highly useful along the frontlines. 

Nor had Elbit Systems responded to an inquiry as to whether British grandstanding on Gaza might harm commercial relations or other forms of cooperation between the two countries. One thing is crystal clear, though. Support for Britain’s ruling Conservatives is plunging to new lows, and a general election is fast approaching — as is a possible ouster of Mr. Sunak even before that.

The Labor party is traditionally seen as more sympathetic to Palestinian causes than are the Tories — but as Mr. Cameron ought to know by now, the Middle East can be a more hazardous place to play politics than Downing Street.

The New York Sun

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