60 British war planes have landed in Israel since Gaza bombing began

Dozens of military transport aircraft have flown to Tel Aviv but the UK government refuses to give full details of what they have onboard.

29 May 2024
British soldiers inside a RAF C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft. (Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

British soldiers inside a RAF C-17 Globemaster III military transport aircraft. (Photo: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

  • Most UK military flights were vast cargo vehicles that can carry weapons and over 100 soldiers
  • Ministry of Defence claims it does not have access to number of troops it has moved to Israel 
  • Flights from UK’s Cyprus base alone had capacity to transport 4,300 soldiers, likely to include elite SAS troops

Britain’s military has flown 60 aircraft to Israel since it began bombing Gaza in October, new information shows. 

Most of the flights have gone from RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s sprawling air base on Cyprus, which is being secretly used by the US Air Force to transport weapons to Israel. 

The vast majority of the British flights went in the first four months after Israel began bombing Gaza. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) previously admitted that 48 flights had gone from October 2023 to February 2024. In the following three months to 8 May, a further 11 flights went. Then on Sunday a RAF-operated Dassault Falcon 900 corporate airliner flew into Tel Aviv from Akrotiri.

There is no record of any flights from RAF Akrotiri to Israel in the six months before October 7. 

The purpose of these flights remains unclear. The need for transparency has grown since the International Criminal Court issued an application for arrest warrants for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence minister Yoav Gallant.

When asked this month for the purpose of each RAF flight to Israel, the MoD responded only: “The purpose of the RAF operated flights have included aircraft used to transport Ministers and senior officials conducting diplomatic engagements with Israel.”

The use of “have included” indicates information is being withheld. Only a handful of UK ministers have visited Israel since it began bombing Gaza.

When asked for a full accounting of what cargo these flights carried, the MoD said: “Royal Air Force operated planes landing in Israel since 7 October 2023 have been used by Ministers, officials and UK Armed Forces personnel conducting diplomatic and defence engagement, and to transport life-saving medical supplies.”

But the department is refusing to elaborate on what this “defence engagement” has involved. 

The department also refused to give details of how many UK military personnel have been transported to Israel on these flights, telling parliament that because “this information is not held centrally within the Ministry of Defence, we are unable to give a specific number.”

This is an unconventional answer to a parliamentary question and its meaning is unclear. Declassified previously revealed that the UK secretly deployed 500 extra troops to its Cyprus base after Israel began bombing Gaza. 


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The flights

The MoD also refused to provide a breakdown of where its flights to Israel have come from. But Declassified has independently verified that 36 military transport vehicles have gone from RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus to Tel Aviv. 

Six were C-17A Globemaster III aircraft while 30 were A400M Atlas C1 planes. Britain has eight Globemaster and 21 Atlas vehicles. 

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”.

Meanwhile, the A400M can carry 116 fully-equipped troops and military equipment including Chinook helicopters. This means the UK military could have transported up to 4,300 personnel to Israel from RAF Akrotiri alone. 

This could include British special forces. The Sun reported on 27 October that Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), an elite special forces unit which is completely outside of democratic oversight, was on “standby” in Cyprus to – it was claimed – rescue British hostages held captive by Hamas and Britons who are trapped in Gaza.

The UK military’s “D-Notice” committee, which seeks to stop the media publishing information it claims would damage national security, requested on 28 October all media editors to not publish information relating to SAS operations in Gaza. No further information has come to light since.

An MoD spokesperson told Declassified: “As we have repeatedly made clear, no RAF flights to Israel have transported any lethal aid. The RAF has operated a number of flights to Israel since 7 October 2023 in order to support the UK’s diplomatic engagement in country and assist with the departure of British nationals.”

The spokesperson added: “The UK remains focused on providing significantly more aid to Gaza and the RAF has conducted 11 airdrops over northern Gaza, delivering over 100 tonnes of essential aid for Palestinians.”