British spy planes have recorded up to 1,000 hours of footage over Gaza, including from the day Israel assassinated three UK aid workers.

8 MAY 2024 –

A British Shadow R1 spy plane in flight. (Photo: RAF)

A British Shadow R1 spy plane in flight. (Photo: RAF)

  • UK government refuses to give details of spy flights but Declassified independently obtains information
  • British spy plane landed at Israel’s major air force base, Nevatim, in February
  • UK’s Shadow R1 spy plane can supply intelligence for ‘target acquisition’
  • ICC could investigate British ministers over complicity in war crimes

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has flown 200 surveillance flights over Gaza since December, it can be revealed.

The UK government refused to give any details about the flights which began on December 3 but Declassified has independently constructed a timeline.

The extraordinary number of missions over the past five months works out at well over a flight per day and continues as Israel invades the supposedly “safe” southern city of Rafah.

March saw the highest number of British spy flights over Gaza with 44 missions.

The new information comes amid speculation that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is set to issue arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers. British officials could also face prosecution for complicity in war crimes, including defence secretary Grant Shapps.

All the British spy flights have taken off from RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s sprawling air base on Cyprus, and have been in the air for around six hours. 

Gaza sits around 30 minutes flight time from the base so it is likely the RAF has gathered around 1,000 hours of surveillance footage over Gaza.

Flightpath of a British Shadow R1 spy on its way to Gaza. (Screengrab: RadarBox)
Flightpath of a British Shadow R1 spy on its way to Gaza. (Screengrab: RadarBox)


A British spy flight was in the air on Monday April 1 when three Britons were killed in an Israeli strike on aid workers in Gaza. 

John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were among seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in the targeted assassination. 

On that Monday, a UK spy plane departed Akrotiri at 5pm local time and arrived back at the base at 10:49pm. The Israeli airstrikes are believed to have taken place soon after 10.30pm.

Israel has not released its full footage from the incident.

A UK spy plane has also landed in Israel. On February 13, a British Shadow R1 plane flew from Akrotiri to Beersheba, Israel, arriving at 12.15pm local time. It stayed for two hours before flying back to the UK base on Cyprus.  

The purpose of the visit is unclear, but Beersheba, an Israeli city in the Negev desert, is home to the Israeli Air Force’s Nevatim base. This base has been the central node the US has used to deliver bombs and other weapons to Israel for its attack on Gaza.

Aerial view of Israel’s Nevatim air base where a British spy plane landed in February. (Google Earth)
Aerial view of Israel’s Nevatim air base where a British spy plane landed in February. (Google Earth)


The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) 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”. 

It added: “Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue.”

In a debate shortly after this announcement, Shapps was asked by five different MPs whether he would share footage from the flights with the ICC, if it showed evidence of war crimes.

Each time he gave an evasive answer. Last week, when asked again by another MP, the MoD appeared to deny that any footage had been shared with the court. It also refused to comment on whether the aircraft had filmed mass graves being built at Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals.

Defence minister Leo Docherty would only say: “The unarmed UK reconnaissance aircraft are employed solely for the purpose of locating the remaining hostages.”

But the extraordinary number of flights, and the fact that they started nearly two months after the hostages were taken, raises suspicions that the UK is not collecting intelligence solely for this purpose. 

Israeli forces are also on the ground in Gaza, and notoriously have wide-ranging surveillance capabilities in the territory. It is unclear what Britain’s R1s can add to the hostage rescue mission.

The three British aid workers assassinated by Israel in Gaza on April 1.
The three British aid workers assassinated by Israel in Gaza on April 1.

The plane

Foreign secretary David Cameron confirmed in January that Hamas holds just two British nationals among its remaining 132 hostages. 

They are understood to be Nadav Popplewell and another unnamed individual. Their families have urged Israel to reach a deal with Hamas to secure their release.

This week Hamas agreed to a ceasefire that would have seen hostages freed, but Benjamin Netanyahu refused to back the deal. 

The Shadow R1 is known as an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft.

It is operated by the UK military’s No.14 Squadron, which is based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, eastern England. 

The UK military recently awarded a £110m contract to the plane’s manufacturer, US weapons company Raytheon, to update the aircraft and increase the British fleet from six to eight. 

British R1 planes flying over Gaza have also made frequent trips to Italy for reasons that remain unclear.

Five planes have departed for Bari, while other planes landed in Brindisi, Naples and Rome. The R1 vehicles have also been doing nearly daily flights around RAF Akrotiri, which appear to be practice runs.