by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis, Declassified UK, 10 November 2023
But Declassified discovers 33 UK military transport flights to Tel Aviv in the last month, including every day for two weeks after the Gaza bombing began.
- British A400 military transport aircraft flew to Tel Aviv on Wednesday
- Declassified could find no record of similar flights to Israel before Gaza bombing started
- UK military denies sending “lethal aid” and says the planes supported Britain’s “diplomatic engagement” in Israel
- Ministry of Defence refuses to provide detail of the cargo or personnel on flights
Flight logs tracking aircraft from RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s vast air base in Cyprus, show the RAF flew military transport aircraft to Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital, every day from 13 to 26 October.
Declassified has counted 33 RAF flights from Cyprus to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport since Israel began bombing Gaza. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) told Declassified it had sent 17 flights into Israel’s capital but the time period for this number is unclear.
Flight records going back to 6 August show no UK military flights from RAF Akrotiri to Israel before the bombing of Gaza began.
The first flight went on 11 October from Brize Norton, the RAF’s major base in Oxfordshire. This was four days after the start of Israel’s brutal bombing campaign in Gaza, which has included flagrant war crimes, including targeting hospitals and ambulances, and the killing of over 10,000 Palestinians.
The exact nature of UK military aid to Israel remains unclear. The discovery of a large number of transport flights could make defence secretary Grant Shapps, who is in charge of the UK military, vulnerable to questioning by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, has said the body is investigating evidence of war crimes perpetrated during the bombing campaign in Gaza.
RAF Akrotiri, which has long been the staging post for British bombing campaigns in the Middle East, sits 180 miles from Tel Aviv. The flight time is 40 minutes.
An MoD spokesperson told Declassified: “The RAF has operated 17 flights into Tel Aviv in order to support the UK’s diplomatic engagement in country as well as to assist with the departure of British nationals.”
The department added: “None of these flights transported any lethal aid for foreign nations.”
‘Effective combat force’
The C-17 is capable of transporting 134 personnel and many types of military equipment, including Abrams tanks and three Black Hawk helicopters.
The US military, which also operates C-17s, notes that its role is to “rapidly project and sustain an effective combat force close to a potential battle area”.
Declassified is investigating whether the UK military is using these vehicles to transport personnel and/or military equipment to help Israel’s campaign in Gaza. The MoD would not provide Declassified with any detail.
During this two-week period when the RAF flew every day, most days saw more than one UK military transport plane go to Tel Aviv. On 15 October a total of six UK military flights went to Israel.
The flights stopped abruptly at the end of October for reasons that remain unclear. A new vehicle, the CN-235 military transport aircraft, then flew from RAF Akrotiri to Israel this week on November 5th and 7th.
A British A400 Atlas also flew to Israel on Wednesday this week, the last known flight.