UK admits nine Israeli military planes have visited Britain since Gaza bombing began

After Declassified’s revelations, the Ministry of Defence reverses previous position claiming it could not comment on allies' movements within Britain.

8 February 2024

“We want you to win": Rishi Sunak with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, 18 October 2023. (Photo: Simon Walker/10 Downing Street)

  • UK also admits RAF has sent 48 military aircraft to Israel since it began bombing Gaza
  • UK refuses to disclose number of surveillance flights, but Declassified finds 65 British spy missions over Gaza from UK base on Cyprus
  • British ministers have received a written warning about their potential complicity in genocide

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted for the first time that nine Israeli Air Force planes have taken off and landed in the UK since the bombing of Gaza began.

The revelations come after Declassified revealed last week that at least six Israeli military jets had arrived in the UK since October 7.

When contacted by us for that article, the MoD said it could give no details of any Israeli military flights within the UK. 

“We cannot comment on or provide information relating to foreign nations’ military aircraft movements or operations,” a spokesperson said.

But defence minister James Heappey told parliament on Tuesday: “Nine Israeli Air Force operated planes have taken off and landed from British territory since 7 October.”

He added: “These figures are based on official requests for diplomatic flight clearance that have been submitted by the Israeli Embassy in London, subsequently cleared by Ministry of Defence.”

Heappey was responding to questions from Alba MP Kenny MacAskill who has been trying for months to access information about Britain’s largely opaque role in the Israeli assault on Gaza. 

Declassified independently discovered Israeli military aircraft have landed in Glasgow, Birmingham as well as RAF bases in Suffolk and Oxfordshire since 7 October. But the type of Israeli military aircraft used for most of these flights remains unknown. 


It is unclear why the MoD reversed its position on Israeli flights, and the department still refuses to give any details about US flights on British territory related to Gaza.

The latest information about Israeli military assets using Britain during its campaign may further implicate UK ministers in crimes against humanity.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently said it was “plausible” Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, and is investigating the case. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has written to Britain warning it that it is considering refering the country to the ICJ for complicity in genocide. 

Kenny MacAskill, the MP who asked the question in parliament, told Declassified: “These flights by the Israeli Air Force are not usual or regular. What are they carrying and to where? Along with surveillance flights, it seems the UK are getting closer than ever to Israel when much of the world is rightly shunning them for the genocide.”

MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary, added: “UK citizens are being denied information on what they’re government is up to and their media is refusing to investigate. It’s time people were told what was being done supposedly in their name. It’s a genocide and all and every government will be held to account.”


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RAF flights to Israel

The MoD also admitted on Tuesday that it has flown close to 50 RAF operated aircraft to Israel since it began bombing Gaza.

The department told parliament: “As of 2 February 2024, a total of 48 RAF operated aircraft have flown to Israel since 7 October 2023.”

It added: “These flights included aircraft used to transport Ministers and senior officials conducting diplomatic engagements with Israel.”

Declassified could find no similar flights in the two months before the Gaza campaign began. 

The majority of these flights are vast C-17 and A400 military transport aircraft which have gone from RAF Akrotiri, the sprawling British air base on Cyprus, to Tel Aviv.

The UK government claims the dozens of flights have “provided no lethal or military equipment other than medical supplies to Israel”.

But it is possible the US and Israel are using bases in Britain to move weapons to Israel. 

Asked whether the US has used any RAF bases in the UK to transfer weapons to Israel since 7 October 2023, the MoD responded that it “does not comment on Allies’ operations”. 

It has the same policy of secrecy about the nature of Israeli military flights in Britain.


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Spy missions

Another element of British support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza is intelligence sharing. 

A week after the 7 October Hamas attack, the UK government announced military units would be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean “to support Israel, reinforce regional stability and prevent escalation”. 

The military package included P8 surveillance aircraft alongside other reconnaissance assets. The activities of these assets over the past four months remains shrouded in secrecy.

But the MoD then announced on 2 December that it would begin surveillance flights over Gaza “in support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity”. 

“The safety of British nationals is our utmost priority,” the department said. “Surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages”. 

But asked how many spy missions the RAF has flown over Gaza, defence minister Heappey told parliament on Tuesday: “For operational security reasons, I cannot comment on the specifics of this activity.”

But Declassified has found that the UK military has flown 65 surveillance missions over Gaza since 3 December. 

The flights have taken off from the UK’s controversial air base on Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, and averaged around one a day since the beginning of December. 

The British plane used is the Shadow R1, which is known as an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft.