ICJP Seeks Urgent Clarification from FCDO & MoD on British Spy Planes over Gaza

London, 30th May 2024: Yesterday, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) wrote to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO), seeking urgent clarification on the role of British reconnaissance aircraft flying over Gaza since December 2023.

The letter seeks clarity on whether information gathered in-flight is being shared with the International Criminal Court (ICC), for its war crimes investigations in Gaza, and, additionally, whether British intelligence has been shared with the Israeli military. ICJP’s letter warns the government that sharing intelligence with the Israeli military could amount to British complicity in Israeli war crimes, actionable under Article 25 of the Rome Statute. Meanwhile, failure to share intelligence with the ICC would violate UK obligations as a State Party to the Rome Statute.

Over 200 such flights have taken place since December, mostly deploying Shadow R1 aircraft. Reportedly, British planes were flying over Gaza on the 1st April – when an Israeli strike killed three British nationals in a World Central Kitchen vehicle – and on the 26th May – when an Israeli strike massacred at least 45 displaced Palestinians, asleep in tents in Rafah. The public urgently requires information about these and other incidents, to establish whether British intelligence was in Israeli hands at the time of the strikes, including intelligence potentially used for target acquisition.

It is also imperative to know whether footage captured of these apparent war crimes will be shared with the Hague. In Parliament, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps declined five times to confirm or deny whether such intelligence will be shared with the ICC. This is despite the fact that the UK, as a State Party to the Rome Statute, has committed to support the ICC’s mandate to prosecute individuals for international crimes.

The mass number of flights made, and the specialist visual and intel-gathering capabilities of the Shadow R1, mean that British reconnaissance units will have gathered a vast amount of a) potentially useful evidence for ICC investigation, and b) potentially useful military intel for Israeli operations in Gaza. The government claims that these flights are only assisting in the identification and recapture of hostages but has provided insufficient information for the public or legal experts to establish the veracity of that claim.

ICJP Legal Officer Zaki Sarraf has stated:

“The government has provided the public with little-to-any information on the nature or volume of intel shared with Israel, nor whether it will be shared with the ICC. On both counts, it is imperative that the public knows. British spy planes flying over Gaza whilst Israel commits brutal war crimes against the Palestinians is deeply concerning, particularly considering the UK government’s opacity on the issue.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians is an independent organisation of lawyers, politicians and academics who support the rights of Palestinians and aim to protect their rights through the law. 
  2. For more information, to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, or to view a full copy of the letter, please contact the ICJP news desk at [email protected]
  3. Kennard, Matt (8th May 2024), ‘Revealed: UK Military has flown 200 spy missions over Gaza in support of Israel’, Declassified UK
  4. Vernon, Hayden (2nd December 2023), UK surveillance aircraft to search for Hamas hostage sites in Gaza’, The Guardian