WHEN it comes to the UK exporting arms, the Government has been keen to stress its duty to reflect on its obligations under international law.

It was a point raised by Mhairi Black earlier this week when she challenged Oliver Dowden on why arms sales had not been halted following the discovery of mass graves in Gaza, given this could constitute a “war crime”.

The Deputy Prime Minister made it clear that the UK would always encourage Israel to investigate any allegations of misconduct, but backed David Cameron (below) in his decision to continue to allow arms exports to the nation.

The National: Former prime minister David Cameron said the decision on HS2 ‘is the wrong one’ (Yui Mok/PA)

We told earlier this week as part of our series on UK arms exports exactly how the licensing system works, but there is one particular rule which warrants further scrutiny.

Case-by-case basis

In an article on the UK’s arms exports system for Global Policy, international relations professor Anna Stavrianakis explains that decisions on licences are made in a manner which “treats each episode of violence as disconnected from the past and from any future development”.

“Government risk assessments treat each round of violence as new and a blank slate, rather than the latest iteration of an ongoing conflict,” she explains.

“Ceasefires or de-escalations are interpreted to mean there is no clear risk of future misuse, and thus no reason to deny licences.

“Consequently British practices allow recipients to replenish their armouries for use in later assaults and rounds of violence.”

What are the implications of this rule?

Speaking to The National, Stavrianakis explains this then has implications on the ultimate decision which is made about the licence.

The professor said: “Let me give you a counter-example. The UK could take the position that Israel was occupying Palestinian land, was engaged in practices of apartheid and that the Israeli military and security forces routinely committed violence.

“If it took that as its starting point, saying this is a problem that goes back to 1948 and before, then it would have a context in which when a company wants to export and you ask if there’s a clear risk to a violation of humanitarian law, the answer would obviously be yes because this is an occupying power engaged in apartheid practices.”

READ MORE: Which countries buy the most UK arms? See the full list

However, this is not the UK’s official position.

Indeed, when Dowden replied to Black at PMQs on Wednesday, he said he found it “quite extraordinary” that she drew comparisons between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “the legitimate war of self-defence of Israel”.

Stavrianakis continued: “The UK will say that ‘on this date, this branch of the Israeli military used these weapons to do this sort of violence against this sub-set of people’.

“And then the next time, which will be a different example of violence in a different form, they’ll say it’s a bit different or a different group of people.

“So each round is taken as if what was going on before was completely normal and fine so each time it happens, they’ll think ‘oh no something terrible happened’ – when are they going to stop being surprised.”

Putting this into practice, the professor explains that, in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the death of more than 1000 Palestinians, it was known that British-supplied equipment was used by the Israeli military.

“The UK said it would take into account all future applications that they know these were used.

“Five or six years later you have Operation Protective Edge – which resulted in the death of 200 Palestinians – but the Government had no assessment.

“They say that circumstances change and so on so it takes the view that it can’t be expected to have a crystal ball but that’s precisely what a risk assessment is – looking to the future to prevent the harm of the past.”