The Saar 4.5 gun-ships are the newest generation of small, fast-attack missile boats designed and built by Israel with some of its equipment, notably spare parts of the ship’s guns, being bought from British companies. Saar boats participated in Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year and because of that Britain now imposes a partial arms embargo on Israel – it would not sell Israel replacement parts for her Saar ships.
The embargo follows a British review of 182 licenses for arms exports to Israel, including 35 for exports to her Navy and the cancellation of five such licenses, all related to the Saar ships. The British government insists that by using the ships in Operation Cast Lead, Israel violated the security agreements between the two countries, which specify what uses may be made of British equipment.
It’s worth mentioning here that in the 1960s and 1970s Britain used to be a major supplier of arms to Israel, including the transfer of 300 Centurion tanks and other equipment. But following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 the British government decided to impose her first arms embargo on Israel; since then sells from British companies to Israel have never really recovered and by now only a fraction of Israel’s defense related imports come from Britain.
While the British decision is unlikely to have a major impact on the Israeli Navy’s operational capabilities, Israel is still concerned that the British move might encourage other nations to halt their defense exports to Israel.
So who’s the next to impose an arms embargo on Israel? I bet it would be Belgium.