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Amnesty urges suspension of UK arms sales to Israel as evidence revealed that Israel military drones may use British-built engines

Amnesty International today called on the UK government to suspend all military exports to Israel until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of human rights.

The call came as Amnesty pointed to evidence that the specially-designed engines for a pilotless military aerial vehicle used by Israeli forces to target air strikes, may be of UK origin. Amnesty has found in recent conflicts that Israeli Air Force strikes have targeted civilian homes, hospitals and shops, and has documented significant civilian casualties from such strikes (1). The UN Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip has reported the use of drones by Israeli forces in the current Gaza conflict (2).

UAV Engines Ltd (UEL), based in Lichfield near Birmingham, has stated that it manufactures the engines for Hermes 450 UAVs (pilotless aircraft) produced by its parent company, Elbit Systems of Israel (3). Specifications displayed by Elbit Systems beside a Hermes 450 aircraft at a 2006 defence exhibition, photographs of which have been obtained by Amnesty International, also state that the Hermes 450 is powered by a ‘UEL AR-80-1010’ engine manufactured by UEL. The initial version of the aircraft was reportedly powered by an ‘AR741’ engine, also produced by the Lichfield company; this was reportedly replaced by a UEL AR-80-1010 when Israeli forces, at that time the only users of the aircraft, first acquired them in 1997 (4).

Hermes 450s are described by their manufacturer as “the ‘backbone’ of Israeli army and air force ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition And Reconnaissance] missions”. They have reportedly been deployed for surveillance and targeting missions in Gaza prior to 2006, and were reportedly central to IDF operations in Gaza and Lebanon during 2006, according to Elbit Systems (5). Defence media shortly after the 2006 conflict quoted Israeli Air Force sources discussing the performance of the Israeli Air Force Hermes 450’s “50hp (40kW) UEL engine” (6). A spokesperson for Elbit Systems has denied these claims, stating that whilst the UK company does provide engines for Hermes 450s that are destined for export, the UK company does not provide the engines for any of the drones used by the Israeli armed forces.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“What’s most immediately needed in Gaza is a pause in the fighting to allow humanitarian relief for civilians and for all sides to stop attacks which target civilians.

“But the UK government must also ensure that weapons exports to Israel do not fuel human rights abuses. This includes military components: it’s no good stopping arms exports to a conflict-ridden country if you still allow the sale of the parts that make them.

“Pilotless aircraft have been used by Israel in previous attacks on civilian and humanitarian targets. The government should ensure that UK-based firms are in no way implicated in these attacks.”

“The UK should suspend all arms exports to Israel, including indirect exports via other countries and the sale of military components, until there is no longer a substantial risk that such equipment will be used for serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law."

Amnesty International is not alleging any illegality on the part of UEL, nor suggesting that any of its exports have not been authorised by the necessary export licenses from the UK government. Amnesty is calling on the UK government to ensure that no military equipment, components or technology are licensed for export to countries where they may be used to commit human rights abuses

The UK government should also provide information about the nature and intended use of the ‘UAV components’ licensed for export from the UK to Israel since 1997.

This would not be the first time that loopholes in UK export controls relating to weapons components have led to arms transfers that could contribute to human rights abuses in the region. In 2002 the UK Government announced a decision to allow the sale of British components (electronic Head-up Displays, or HUDs) to be incorporated into American F-16 fighter aircraft for onward sale to Israel.

This change in UK government policy was justified by claiming that failure to license the HUDs would jeopardise the UK’s defence relationship with the US and the UK’s defence industrial base. Just four months earlier these planes had been used in raids on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where there is clear evidence that they were used against civilians (7).

Similary the AH-64 Apache helicopter, used by Israel in the 2006 Lebanon crisis, is made up of over 6,000 parts manufactured worldwide, including in the UK (8). Under the EU Code of Conduct, the UK and other European countries should refuse to export attack helicopters directly to Israel. Yet components have been exported to the USA, where they are incorporated into the Apache for onward sale to Israel.

Amnesty International has repeatedly urged all sides of the current Gaza conflict, including Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, to end attacks on civilians and other violations of international humanitatarian law. Amnesty has also called on all suppliers of arms and military equipment not to authorise any transfer which risks fuelling such violations.

Notes to editors:

(1) See for example Amnesty International, Israel/Lebanon: Deliberate destruction or "collateral damage"? Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure, (23 August 2006)

(2) Statements by John Ging, Director of Operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Gaza City, 5 January 2009 - Read the statements

(3) ‘Israeli Defence Industry: In the Lion’s Den’, Jane's Defence Weekly, 26 February 2003. See also ‘Endurance above all for UAVs’, Jane’s International Defence Review 1 June 2003: “Uniquely, Silver Arrow owns its own engine company: UK-based UAV Engines Ltd (UEL), which supplies the 60kW Wankel-type rotary engine...Photo caption: Elbit's UK-based subsidiary UEL makes the engine for the Hermes 450. Like all non-turbine UAV engines so far, it burns gasoline: to date, no acceptable heavy-fuel engine has been adopted. (Source: Elbit)”

(4) Latest Hermes UAV to equip IDF’, Jane’s International Defence Review, 1 July 1997: “The `S' model is the latest version of Silver Arrow's Hermes 450…The 450S is powered by a single UEL AR-80-1010 air/water-cooled rotary engine”;

(5) ‘On winged heels: Hermes flies high as UAVs play a bigger part in operations’, Jane’s International Defence Review, 1 November 2007; also Elbit Systems Press Release, 12 November 2007: “The Hermes® 450 is an original development of Elbit Systems, and the IDF has been operating UAVs based on this platform for several years. During the recent war in Lebanon its UAVs flew many combat sorties proving their efficiency in performing their missions by providing effective operational results and achieving their goal - the supply of necessary, visual intelligence to the ground forces.”

(6) ‘Israel Praises UAV abilities’, Flight International, 31 August 2006. Emphasis added.

(7) For example 'Israeli operations timeline', BBC News Online,

(8) ‘Made in the UK, bringing devastation to Lebanon’, The Guardian (UK), 29 July 2006 (

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