World

MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 22 FEBRUARY 2024

UK mulls over restricting arms exports to Israel; Brazil escalates rift with Netanyahu

UK mulls over restricting arms exports to Israel; Brazil escalates rift with Netanyahu
People inspect damage to their homes after Israeli air strikes on 21 February 2024 in Rafah, Gaza. (Photo: Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images)

The UK government was considering restricting some arms exports to Israel if it launched an offensive on the Palestinian city of Rafah or obstructed aid trucks from entering Gaza, sources said.

Iran blamed Israel for an attack on its gas transmission network last week that caused supply disruptions to some villages in the Persian Gulf country.

Brazil escalated a diplomatic rift with Israel, saying the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s controversial remarks about the war in Gaza to divert attention from a “massacre” happening there. 

UK mulls over restricting arms sales to Israel if it goes into Rafah

The UK government was considering restricting some arms exports to Israel if it launched an offensive on the Palestinian city of Rafah or obstructed aid trucks from entering Gaza, people familiar with the matter said.

Further escalation of Israel’s military action in Gaza without more effort to protect civilians could put it in breach of international humanitarian law, depending on how it conducts the operation, UK officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity about internal assessments. 

Legal advice to ministers that governs the granting of export licences could change in such a scenario, potentially affecting the sale of some weapons and technologies to the country, the people said. The Foreign Office declined to comment.

While Britain isn’t a major supplier of arms to Israel, the potential action — which the UK has discussed with allies — suggests Western nations are ratcheting up the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration to take greater care in its crackdown on Hamas. Months of Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip have left 29,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

The Israeli action was triggered by Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 250 more were abducted. The UK, US and European Union all designate Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

The UK, along with the US and other allies, has called on Israel not to proceed with a planned ground offensive in Rafah unless civilians have been safely moved out. More than a million refugees have taken refuge in the city in southern Gaza, which has become the strip’s last remaining safe haven. Israel has promised to allow civilians out, though it has yet to set out how this will happen.

Israel will go ahead with the operation unless more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas are released by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan next month, Benny Gantz, a member of the Israeli war Cabinet, said on Sunday. Israel argues it can’t successfully eradicate Hamas in Gaza without proceeding.

In a letter to UK parliamentarians published on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary David Cameron expressed “deep concern about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah”, adding: “We do not underestimate the devastating humanitarian impacts that a full ground offensive, if enacted, would have.”  

British defence exports to Israel totalled £42-million in 2022, according to a statement by Defence Secretary Grant Shapps last year, citing the latest available figures. Some 114 licences for defence exports from Britain to Israel had been granted, he said. The UK supplies Israel with components for combat aircraft, missiles and tanks, as well as small arms and ammunition, Human Rights Watch said last year

Iran says Israel behind attack on gas pipeline network

Iran blamed Israel for an attack on its gas transmission network last week that caused supply disruptions to some villages in the Persian Gulf country.

Tehran “quickly neutralised” the issue, Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji said in televised remarks, calling it a “conspiracy” by Israel. 

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It seldom comments on suspected Israeli strikes inside Iran.  

Brazil accuses Israel of diverting attention from Gaza ‘massacre’

Brazil escalated a diplomatic rift with Israel, saying the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s controversial remarks about the war in Gaza to divert attention from a “massacre” happening there.

“The words from Netanyahu’s government are unacceptable in their form and deceiving in their content,” Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira told reporters on Tuesday. “They’re putting up a smoke screen to hide the real problem, which is the ongoing massacre in Gaza.” 

Lula caused controversy on Sunday when he compared the killing of civilians in Gaza with the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.

Following Lula’s comments, Israel declared the leftist president persona non grata in the country and summoned the Brazilian ambassador to Tel Aviv for a reprimand. Brazil immediately called him back home for consultations.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz, in a social media post written in Portuguese, described Lula’s comments as shameful for Brazil and a “spit on the face of Brazilian Jews”. He said that “millions of Jews around the world are waiting for an apology”.

But Vieira said there was no reason for that.

“The president cannot retract or deny the massacre that’s happening in Gaza,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.” 

Brazil’s Holocaust remarks turn G20 into high-stakes affair

The international outcry over Brazil comparing Israel’s actions in Gaza to the genocide during World War 2 has turned a typically sleepy gathering of Group of 20 foreign ministers into a high-stakes affair.

The world’s top diplomats are meeting in person in Rio de Janeiro for the first time since the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel sparked a full-blown conflict and Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, came in unequivocally. She was asked about Lula’s drawing a parallel between what is happening in the Gaza Strip to the Nazi extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust cannot be compared to anything,” she said before walking off.

Her words immediately set the tone for what will be a tense meeting, one that will also put US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov together just as the war in Ukraine completes its second year.

The Rio meeting, as a result, has become a significant test of the G20’s ability to serve as an effective global forum, and whether the group can still find consensus on pressing economic and environmental issues even amid its deep foreign policy disagreements.

Lula held a one-on-one meeting with Blinken in Brasilia on Wednesday, a day after the US vetoed another UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The US is instead pushing an alternative resolution that warns against an Israeli assault on the city of Rafah while calling for a temporary ceasefire. 

Brazil has explored strategies to keep the wars from derailing the rest of the agenda, including the possibility of issuing a single statement at the end of its presidency in November rather than after each ministerial meeting. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.