2104 09 – Parliament

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry.

War Graves

A question from Conservative backbencher David Amess on 2 July on Commonwealth War Graves elicited an odd response from Defence Minister Anna Soubry. Amess asked (1) “how many graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, by (a) cemetery and (b) country; (2) which cemeteries are maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, by country; and if he will make a statement. This was Soubry’s reply:

“The Commonwealth Graves Commission ensures that the 1.7 million people who died in the two world wars will never be forgotten. The Commission cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations, in 153 countries. It is therefore not possible to list every cemetery in this answer. Detailed and searchable information on the numbers of graves at each location in every relevant country is available on the Commission’s website: www.cwgc.org (my emphasis).

The question was specifically related to Commonwealth War Graves, so Soubry’s reference to the 1.7 million who died in the two world wars omits the deaths of non-Commonwealth combatants on the allied side, such as Belgium, France, Italy, Russia and the United States. And it omits all those who were killed among the Central Powers. This applies also to the deaths in World War Two. It is difficult to be accurate about casualty figures, but two sites—The Long, Long Trail; The British Army in the Great War; and History Learning Site, Military casualties of World War Two—estimate that in the Great War there were 956,703 deaths of military personnel from the British Isles plus Australia, Canada, India and other Commonwealth countries. And in World War Two there were 452,000 killed from Great Britain and the Commonwealth. A total figure some 300,000 fewer than the figure of 1.7 million provide by the Minister.


The Supply Of Dual Use Chemicals To Syria

In a statement on 9 July, Foreign Secretary William Hague attempted to explain how and why British business have supplied dual use chemicals to Syria.

“Following Syria’s accession to the chemical weapons convention (CWC) last year. and as part of the process to eliminate its chemical weapons (CW) programme, Syria provided a confidential declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which lists a number of states from which it obtained supplies of goods used in its CW programme. The information in Syria’s declaration is classified under the terms of the CWC. However, I wish to inform the House that a review of our own files suggests that there were a number of exports of chemicals to Syria by UK companies between 1983 and 1986 which were likely to have been diverted for use in the Syrian programme.”

“These exports were: several hundred tonnes of the chemical dimethyl phosphite (DMP) in 1983 and a further export of several hundred tonnes in 1985; several tonnes of trimethyl phosphite (TMP) in 1986; a smaller quantity of hydrogen fluoride (HF) in 1986 through a third country. All these chemicals have legitimate uses, for example in the manufacture of plastics and pharmaceuticals. However, they can also be used in the production of sarin. DMP and TMP can also be used for the production of the nerve agent VX. That is why the export of such goods is strictly prohibited under the UK export regime introduced since the 1980s and progressively strengthened.”

“From the information we hold, we judge it likely that these chemical exports by UK companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programme to produce nerve agents, including sarin. Some of the companies no longer exist. Furthermore, some of the chemicals in question may have been sourced by a UK chemical trader, rather than produced in the UK. The review of our records also confirmed an export of ventilation fans by a UK company to Syria in 2003. The fans were not controlled goods. Following an enquiry by the exporter, officials considered the export under licensing procedures, and insufficient grounds for refusal were found. Syria appears to have diverted these fans for use in a chemical weapons facility.”

“In the early 1980s, the exported chemicals were not subject to any international or UK export controls. However, knowledge of these exports, and growing concerns that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was developing a chemical weapons capability, helped prompt the introduction of tighter controls, both in the UK and internationally. The export of goods (control) order was amended to control DMP in July 1985, and TMP and HF in June 1986. There has been a complete overhaul of export control legislation, policy and practice since the 1980s, designed to ensure that such exports could not happen today. The UK operates a robust export control regime, and takes international obligations on this issue very seriously.”

“Key instruments and legislation include:

The chemical weapons convention. The Chemical Weapons Act 1996 implements the provisions of the convention which imposes specific controls on the transfer of certain chemicals including DMP and TMP.

The development of the Australia Group, of which the UK was an original member in 1985. As a matter of routine, all changes to the Australia Group control lists are reflected in UK national export controls. It controls trade in HF as well as DMP and TMP.

The Export Control Act 2002. Replacing legislation passed in 1939, the current legislation provides for controls on the export and brokering of listed goods and technologies, in addition to controls on unlisted items where it is believed they may be intended for use in weapons of mass destruction programmes.

Furthermore, the EU has developed EU-wide controls on the export of dual-use goods, including chemicals. Our ability to control exports is underpinned by the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, adopted by the UK in 2000 and updated in March 2014. The criteria set a clear basis for the assessment of export licenses. This is undertaken on a case-by-case basis taking account of all available information.

Today, the UK is playing its full part in the international effort to eliminate Syria’s programme. As the House is already aware, the UK is accepting 150 tonnes of B precursors from the Syrian chemical stockpile for destruction. I can today also inform the House that in addition to those chemicals, a further 50 tonnes of the industrial chemicals hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride will also be destroyed in specialised commercial facilities in the UK. We expect the ship transporting all these chemicals to arrive in the UK next week. The Members of Parliament in whose constituencies destruction will take place have been informed.”

Did Hague feel slightly queasy when admitting that the UK supplied dual-use chemicals to Syria in the 1980s when his heroine Margaret Thatcher was PM? And why did he omit to inform the House that in August 2013 the House of Commons Committee on Arms Exports Control accused Ministers in its report of permitting the export of industrial materials to Syria in the previous few years that could have been used to make chemical weapons?

According to David Lowry, writing in Our Kingdom, power & liberty in Britain on 7 September 2013: “The Business Secretary wrote to Sir John Stanley, chairman of the joint committee a year ago stating: “Chemicals used for industrial/commercial processes—two Standard Individual Export Licenses (SIEL). These licenses were issued on 17 and 18 January 2012 and authorised the export of dual-use chemicals to a private company for use in industrial processes. The chemicals were sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride. These chemicals have legitimate commercial uses—for example, sodium fluoride is used in the fluoridation of drinking water and the manufacture of toothpaste; and potassium fluoride has applications in the metallurgical industry and the manufacture of pesticides.”

But, Lowry wrote, “The Business Secretary tellingly added: ‘However, they could also be used as precursor chemicals in the manufacture of chemical weapons which is why they are included on the Australia Group chemical weapons precursors list.”

Lowry stated that “these licences were only revoked on 30 July 2012, well into the Syrian civil war.” And stated further, “A statement published to accompany the publication of the Report last month on 17 July said: “The Committees welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement that ‘we will not issue licenses where we judge there is a clear risk the proposed export might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts, or which might be used to facilitate internal repression’. However, the Committees adhere to their previous recommendation that the Government should apply significantly more cautious judgements when considering arms export licence applications for goods to authoritarian regimes ‘which might be used to facilitate internal repression’ in contravention of the Government’s stated policy.”

Lowry concluded: “It is manifest that ministers have utterly failed to deliver this recommendation as it assisted Syria’s chemical weapons programme. It has abrogated any moral right it may have had to object to Syria breaching international norms against chemical weapons while assisting President Assad in making them.”


Gaza: Hague’s Final Act

William Hague resigned as Foreign Secretary on 15 July to take up the post of Leader of the House of Commons. His final statement as Foreign Secretary touched on Israel’s attack on Gaza, although he accused Hamas of being initially responsible. According to Hague, Hamas (militants in Hague’s vocabulary) simply fire rockets indiscriminately against civilians, whereas Israel carefully target their missiles. In his statement he constantly refers to the violence perpetrated by Hamas, while understating that on the part of Israel.

Mr William Hague:

“The House is aware that despite intense efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry, talks between Israelis and the Palestinians broke down at the end of April and are currently paused. Since then, there have been several horrific incidents, including the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager. We utterly condemn these barbaric crimes. There can never be any justification for the deliberate murder of innocent civilians.” (my emphasis).

“These rising tensions have been followed by sustained barrages of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Between 14 June and 7 July rockets were fired by militants into Israel, to which Israel responded with air strikes. Rockets are fired indiscriminately against the civilian population, including against major Israeli cities. Israel then launched Operation Protective Edge on 7 July. Israeli defence forces have struck over 1,470 targets in Gaza, and over 970 more rockets have been fired towards Israel. Two hundred and forty Israelis have been injured. In Gaza, as of today, at least 173 Palestinians have been killed and 1,230 injured. The UN estimates that 80% of those killed have been civilians, of whom a third are children.”

“The whole House will share our deep concern at these events. This is the third major military operation in Gaza in six years. It underlines the terrible human cost, to both sides, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it comes at a time when the security situation in the middle east is the worst it has been in decades. The people of Israel have the right to live without constant fear for their security, and the people of Gaza also have the fundamental right to live in peace and security. There are hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable civilians in Gaza who bear no responsibility for the rocket fire and are suffering acutely from this crisis; and the Israeli defence forces estimate that 5 million Israeli civilians live within range of the rockets fired from Gaza. Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks, but it is vital that Gaza’s civilian population is protected. International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and enable unhindered humanitarian access.”

“The UK has three objectives: to secure a ceasefire, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to keep alive the prospects for peace negotiations which are the only hope of breaking this cycle of violence and devastation once and for all. I will briefly take these in turn. First, there is an urgent need for a ceasefire agreed by both sides that ends both the rocket fire and the Israeli operations based on the ceasefire agreement that ended the conflict in November 2012. Reinstating that agreement will require a concerted effort between Israelis, Palestinians and others, such as the authorities in Egypt, with the support of the international community. All those with influence over Hamas must use it to get Hamas to agree to end rocket fire.” (my emphasis).

“We are in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and our partners and allies. The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 9 July, and in the past few days I have spoken to President Abbas, to Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Steinitz, and to Egyptian Foreign Minister Shukri. As Arab Foreign Ministers meet tonight, I have just discussed the situation with the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Qatar.”

“On 10 July the UN Secretary-General told the Security Council that there was a risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza and appealed for maximum restraint. He had been in contact with leaders on both sides and other international leaders, underlining his concern about the plight of civilians and calling for bold thinking and creative ideas. On Saturday we joined the rest of the UN Security Council in calling for a de-escalation of the crisis, the restoration of calm and the reinstatement of the November 2012 ceasefire. We are ready to consider further action in the Security Council if that can help to secure the urgent ceasefire that we all want to see. Yesterday, I held discussions in the margins of the Iran Vienna talks with Secretary Kerry and my French and German counterparts to consider how to bring about that objective. Once a ceasefire is agreed, it will be vital that its terms are implemented in full by both sides, including a permanent end to the unacceptable threat of rocket attacks and other forms of violence against Israel.” (my emphasis).

“Secondly, we will do all we can to help alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. At least 17,000 Gazans are seeking shelter with the UN. Hundreds of thousands are suffering shortages of water, sanitation and electricity, and stocks of fuel and medical supplies are running dangerously low. More than half the population was already living without adequate access to food before the crisis, the large majority reliant on aid and many unemployed. The UK is providing £349 million for humanitarian relief, state-building and economic development for Palestinians up to 2015, and providing about £30 million a year to help the people of Gaza.”

“We are the third biggest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency general fund.. Our support has enabled it to respond to the crisis by continuing to provide health services to 70% of the population, sheltering 17,000 displaced people, and distributing almost 30,000 litres of fuel to ensure that emergency water and sewerage infrastructure can operate. The Department for International Development is helping to fund the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN access co-ordination unit. With our support, these organisations are providing food to insecure people, helping to repair damaged infrastructure, getting essential supplies into Gaza, getting medical cases out and delivering emergency medical care. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, has spoken to Prime Minister Hamdallah, and DFID stands ready to do more as necessary.”

“Thirdly, a negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all and to achieve sustainable peace so that Israeli and Palestinian families can live without fear of violence. No other option exists which guarantees peace and security for both peoples.”

“I once again pay tribute to Secretary Kerry’s tireless efforts to secure a permanent peace. Of course, the prospects for negotiations look bleak in the middle of another crisis in which civilians are paying the heaviest price, but it has never been more important for leaders on both sides to take the bold steps necessary for peace. For Israel. that should mean a commitment to return to dialogue and to avoid all actions which undermine the prospects for peace, including settlement activity which does so much to undermine confidence in negotiations. For Hamas, it faces a fundamental decision about whether it is prepared to accept Quartet principles and join efforts for peace, or whether it will continue to use violence and terror with terrible consequences for the people of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority should show leadership, recommitting itself to dialogue with Israel and making progress on governance and security for Palestinians in Gaza as well as the west bank.”(my emphasis).

“In all these areas, the United Kingdom will play its role, working closely with US and European colleagues, encouraging both sides back to dialogue, supporting the Palestinian Authority, keeping pressure on Hamas and other extremists, and alleviating the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. There can be no substitute, though, for leadership and political will from the parties concerned. The world looks on in horror once again as Israel suffers from rocket attacks and Palestinian civilians die. Only a real peace, with a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, can end this cycle of violence. And it is only the parties themselves, with our support, who can make that peace.” (my emphasis).

Responding for Labour, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander supported Hague’s statement and echoed much of his criticism of Hamas. The following extracts provide a flavour of what he said.

Mr Douglas Alexander:

“Today, a spiral of violence has again engulfed Gaza, southern Israel and the west bank, bringing untold suffering to innocent people in its wake. Of course, I unequivocally condemn the firing of rockets into Israel by Gaza-based militants. No Government on earth would tolerate such attacks on its citizens, and we recognise Israel’s right to defend itself. As the Foreign Secretary set out, in recent days hundreds of rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel, and at least three Israelis have been seriously injured. However, he was also right to acknowledge that, since the start of the Israeli military operations in Gaza just seven days ago, more than 170 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured. The UN has reported that more than 80% of those killed were civilians, and that a third of those killed were children. Although this conflict cannot and must not be reduced simply to a ledger of casualties, the scale of the suffering in Gaza today must be fully and frankly acknowledged, because the life of a Palestinian child is worth no less than the life of an Israeli child.”

“Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if the operating logic of Hamas is terror and the operating logic of Israel is deterrence, then pleas by the international community for restraint alone will be insufficient? Today, the risk of an all-out escalation in the conflict and the threat of a full ground invasion are still palpable.—and preventable, if Hamas stops firing rockets.” (my emphasis).

There were strong words of condemnation of Israel from former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Mr Jack Straw:

“The whole House condemns the killing of the three Israelis and the burning of the Palestinian, and none of us has any truck with Hamas. However, for all the vacuous words of the Israeli Government and the Israeli defence forces spokesman, is it not clear that they have no regard for international humanitarian law; that they place a completely different and much lower value on Palestinian life than Israeli life; and that the cycle will go on as long as the international community, in an effort to be even-handed, fails to say to the Israelis that the actions that they are taking are completely outwith the United Nations charter and any idea of how a civilised nation ought to behave?”


Flight MH17: ‘Putin Did It!’

In his last statement, on 21 July, before the summer recess, David Cameron spoke about the shooting down of flight HM17 and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. And he was adamant that Putin and Hamas were respectively responsible. Following the customary words of sympathy for those who died aboard HM17, he directed his anger at Putin and Russia. What follows are key extracts from his statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron):

“Alongside sympathy for the victims, there is anger. There is anger that this could happen at all; there is anger that the murder of innocent women and children has been compounded by sickening reports of looting of victims’ possessions and interference with the evidence; and there is rightly anger that a conflict that could have been curtailed by Moscow has instead been fomented by Moscow. That has to change now.” (my emphasis).

“In the past few days, I have spoken to Presidents Obama and Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, and the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Poland and Australia. We are all agreed on what must happen. First, those with influence on the separatists must ensure that they allow the bodies of the victims to be repatriated and provide uninhibited access to the crash site to enable a proper international investigation of what happened to flight MH17. Secondly, President Putin must use his influence to end the conflict in Ukraine by halting supplies and training for the separatists. Thirdly, we must establish proper long-term relationships between Ukraine and Russia; between Ukraine and the European Union; and, above all, between Russia and the European Union, NATO and the wider west.”

“I spoke with President Putin last night and made it clear that there can be no more bluster or obfuscation. I also made it clear to President Putin that we expect Russia to end its support for the separatists and their attempts to further destabilise Ukraine. No one is saying that President Putin intended flight HM17 to be shot down—it is unlikely that even the separatists wanted this to happen—but we should be absolutely clear about what caused this terrible tragedy to happen. The context for this tragedy is Russia’s attempt to destabilise a sovereign state, violate its territorial integrity, and arm and train thuggish militias.”

Cameron is an intelligent man, so when he said that there is anger that the shooting down of flight HM17 could happen at all, was he genuinely ignorant that prior to HM17 seven civilian airlines had been shot down by military fire, including Iran Flight 655 by USS Vincennes, an American cruiser on 3 July 1988? Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names, a US media website, contained a report in July 2008, twenty years after the incident. The following are key extracts from the report. The full report can be read on: www.counterpunch.org/2008/07/11/the-shoot-down-of-iran-airflight-65


The Shooting Down Of Iran Air Flight 655

“In a daily press briefing on July 2, 2008, the following set of questions and answers took place between an unidentified reporter and Department of State Spokesman Sean McCormack:


Tomorrow marks the 20 years since the U.S. Navy warship Vincennes gunned down the IR655 civilian airliner, killing all 300 people on board, 71 of whom were children. And while the United States Government settled the incident in the International Court of Justice in 1996 at $61 million in compensation to the families, they, to this day, refuse to apologise–

Mr McCormack:



–as requested by the Iranian Government. And actually, officials in the Iranian Government said today that they’re planning on a commemoration tomorrow and it would, you know, show a sign of diplomatic reconciliation if the United States apologised for this incident.”

Mr McCormack:



Do you think it sends a positive message if, on the 20th anniversary of this incident, the United States Government apologised for (inaudible)?

Mr McCormack:

You know, to be honest with you, I’ll have to look back and see the history of what we said about this—about the issue. I honestly don’t know. Look, nobody wants to see—everybody mourns innocent life lost. But in terms of our official U.S. Government policy response to it, I can’t—I have to confess to you, I don’t know the history of it. I’d be happy to get an answer over to your question.”

CounterPunch reporter:

Mm-hmm. Could this be true? Could the spokesman for the State Department not know anything about the role that the US played in the Iran-Iraq war in general and Iranian Air Flight 655 in particular? Is it possible that the entire US Department of State is ignorant of that history? Is it conceivable that the current US policy towards Iran is being made by a host of ignoramuses? This is, indeed, a frightening prospect………The frightening prospect is not helped at all by the correction that appeared on the website of the US Department of State shortly after the above set of questions and answers took place. The correction read:

Iran Air Flight 655 (Taken Question). Question:

“Does the State Department have anything to say on the 20th anniversary of the accidental downing of an Iran Air flight?


“The accidental shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655 was a terrible human tragedy, and today U.S. officials at the time expressed our deep regret over the tragic loss of life. We would certainly renew our expression of sympathy and condolences to the families of the deceased who perished in the tragedy.”

CounterPunch reporter: The last major event that brought about the final capitulation of Iran occurred on July 3 1988. On that day the American warship Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 passengers on board. True to its pattern of denying any role in the Iran-Iraq war, at first the United States government tried to deny culpability in the downing of the civilian airliner. On July 3 AP reported that the ‘Pentagon said U.S. Navy forces in the gulf sank two Iranian patrol boats and downed an F-14 fighter jet in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday during an exchange of fire.’ The report also said that, according to Iran, the US shot down not an F-14 but a civilian airliner killing all passengers on board. ‘U.S. Navy officials in the gulf’, the report went on to say, ‘denied the Iranian claim.’

“Subsequently, the US claimed that the ‘Iranian airliner, in some ways, was not acting like a passenger plane…It was heading directly for the ship, appeared to be descending and was about four miles outside the usual commercial air corridor’ (The Washington Post, July 4, 1988). The Pentagon further asserted that USS Vincennes was in international waters, i.e. outside the territorial waters of Iran, and that the passenger plane was emitting a military electronic code.”

“Slowly but surely, all the above claims were proved to be false. Vinnences was not in international waters, but in Iran’s territorial waters. The Iranian airbus was not heading for the ship or even descending but ascending. The plane was not four miles outside of the usual commercial air corridor, but well within it. Moreover, Flight 655 was not emitting any military signals but regular transponder signals which identified it as a commercial aircraft. All these contradictions resurfaced four years later, when on July 1 1992, the ABC News program Nightline broadcast a piece, investigated jointly with Newsweek magazine, entitled ‘The USS Vincennes: Public War, Secret War.’ Newsweek magazine itself published on July 13, 1992, a separate article by John Barry and Roger Charles which appeared under the title ‘Sea of Lies.’ Both pieces showed the contradictions in the US claims, four years earlier, concerning the downing of the Iranian civilian plane”

“Indeed, with regard to the answers provided by the US government to the questions ‘Where, precisely, was the Vincennes at the time of the shoot down?’ and ‘What was she doing there?’ ABC’s Nightline stated that the ‘official response to those two questions has been a tissue of lies, fabrications, half-truths and omissions.’ For example, on the issue of the exact position of USS Vincennes when it shot (down) the Iranian airliner, the following exchange between Ted Koppel of Nightline and Admiral William J. Crowe Jr. took place:

Ted Koppel: But if I was to ask you today, was the Vincennes in international waters at the time that she shot down the Airbus—

William J Crowe Jr: Yes, she was.

Ted Koppel: In international waters?

William J Crowe Jr: No, no, no. She was in Iran’s territorial waters.

Ted Koppel: Let me ask you again. Where was the Vincennes at the time that she shot down the Airbus?

William J Crowe Jr: She was in Iran’s territorial waters.

The remaining six civilian planes shot down by military fire were:

Cathay Pacific Airways (1954).

On July 23, 1954, mainland China’s People’s Liberation Army fighters shot down a Cathay Pacific Airways (the airline of Hong Kong, then under British control) C-54 Skymaster flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong; 10 out of the 19 passengers and crew died. In apologising for the attack to Britain days later, the Chinese government stated that they thought the plane was a military aircraft from the Republic of China (Taiwan) on an attack mission against Hainan Island (near where the shoot down took place).

El Al Flight 402 (1955).

On July 27, 1955, an EL Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv flew into Bulgarian airspace and was shot down by two Bulgarian MiG fighters. All 58 people on board were killed. After officially denying involvement, Bulgaria admitted to having shot the plane down. Eight years after the attack, Bulgaria agreed to pay a total of $195,000 ($1.5 million in current dollars) to Israel, having already compensated non-Israeli passengers.

Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 (1973).

On February 21, 1973, a Libyan Arab Airlines (a wholly owned part of the Libyan government) Boeing 727 flying from Tripoli to Cairo got lost and flew over the Sinai peninsula, which had been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. After giving signals to land and firing warning shots, Israeli jets shot down the plane, killing 108 of the 113 people on board, and leaving four passengers and a co-pilot alive. Defense Minister Moshe Dyan called the event an “error of judgement” and the Israeli government compensated the families of victims. Libya condemned the attack as “a criminal act” while the Soviets called it a “monstrous new crime”.

Itavia Flight 870 (1980).

On June 27, 1980, an Itavia Airlines flight from Bologna to Palermo with 81 passengers and crew crashed in the Tyrrhenian Sea, near Sicily. The New York Times’ Elisabetta Povoledo reported that “the most widely accepted theory behind the crash”–for which an Italian court last year said there was “abundantly clear evidence”–was that a stray missile from an aircraft hit the plane, but any information about which country’s aircraft it was, or why, is still very much up in the air.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983).

KALOO7 was shot down by a Soviet fighter plane on September 1, 1983, killing all 269 passengers and crew, including Larry McDonald a Congressman from Georgia then in his fourth term. An ardent anti-Communist and believer in various conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations plotting to bring about a socialist world government, McDonald also was president of the John Birch Society, the ultra-right-wing conspiracist group. There is no evidence that what happened was more complicated than KALOO7 entering Soviet airspace and being shot down as an intruder.

Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 (2001).

On October 4, 2001, 64 Siberia Airlines passengers and 12 crew members onboard a Soviet-made Tupolev Tu-154 en route from Novosibirsk to Tel Aviv were killed when the plane was shot down over the Black Sea by a Ukrainian missile. It took a while for Ukraine to admit that was what happened, but after pressure from Russian investigators, Ukraine’s then-president, Leonid Kuchma, accepted that the Ukrainian military was at fault. From 2003 to 2005, Ukraine paid $15.6 million to families of victims following a deal with the government of Israel.


Double Standards

The following exchanges took place on 22 July. In the first, (Written Answers session), Labour’s Roger Godsiff asked the Foreign Secretary “If he will introduce an embargo on the export of weapons to Israel.” To which Foreign Office Minister ? Ellwood replied:

“We remain deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza. We call for an immediate de-escalation and restoration of the November 2012 ceasefire, to avoid further civilian injuries and the loss of innocent life. The United Kingdom does not believe that imposing a blanket arms embargo on Israel would promote progress in the Middle East Peace Process. All countries, including Israel, have a legitimate right to self-defence, and the right to defend its citizens from attack. In doing so, it is vital that all actions are proportionate, in line with International Humanitarian Law, and are calibrated to avoid civilian casualties.” (my emphasis).

“Export licence applications to all countries continue to be considered on a case by case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Exporting Licensing Criteria, taking into account the circumstances prevailing at the time of application. In view of the situation in Gaza, we are keeping all licence applications under review to ensure that all our decisions remain consistent with our human rights commitments and all applicable criteria. If a decision is taken to suspend or revoke licences we will announce this to Parliament, and where possible we will do this in concert with our EU partners.” Note: Parliament went into its summer recess on 22 July.

Later that same day, during the debates session, Lib Dem Member Adrian Sanders asked the Minister for Europe, David Liddington: “What discussions he has had with the French Government on arms sales to Russia; and if he will make a statement. Liddington replied:

The United Kingdom has already suspended all such export licences to Russia where exports could be used against Ukraine. We have discussed the possibility of an EU-wide arms and defence exports embargo with the French Government, both bilaterally and at European Council and Council of Ministers meetings.” (my emphasis).

Mr Sanders: “I urge the Minister to press the French and other EU countries more on that, because it really is time we all put principles ahead of short-term economic interest and stopped arming the Russian regime.” (my emphasis).