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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam > US & the Tamil Struggle > The Israeli - American Connection, 1986

United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam

The Israeli - American Connection

excerpt from Militarisation in Sri Lanka, by Mayan Vije
Tamil Information Centre, London Publication - ISBN 1 85201 000 2
June 1986

Publishers Note: This paper raises the issues of Militarisation in Sri Lanka and the gross violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan government. These two issues are linked and have led to the dehumanisation of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Militarisation has also affected the development of the country to a great extent. We hope that this paper would bring about greater awareness of the developments in Sri Lanka, and also be useful for campaign against arms sales to countries which violate human rights.

"...Soon after gaining power in the 1970 general elections the Sri Lanka Freedom Party government of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, ordered the closure of the Israeli embassy in Colombo as promised in the Election manifesto. The break in diplomatic relations was on the ground that Israel did not adhere to UN resolution 242 relating to the Palestinians 1. Thereafter there was no resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel and extreme restrictions were placed on Israelis entering the country.

However the present (President Jayawardene) government, when appeals to several countries for military assistance did not have the desired effect, approached Israel in 1983. Negotiations were begun with the secret visit to Israel of the cabinet secretary G V P Samarasinghe in August 1983 2, though the two governments had been in contact much earlier. The government of Sri Lanka had decided to resume relations with Israel although the official position of Sri Lanka and Israel towards the Palestinian question had not changed.

The United States played a major role in the negotiations by providing General Vernon Walters (Head of CIA) to assist Sri Lanka in the drafting of the agreement it signed with Israel in May 1984 3. The "Israel Interests Section" was opened in the US embassy in Colombo on 24th May 1984. There were reports that even before this date Israel personnel were involved in training Sri Lankan soldiers 4. David Matnai, the Assistant Director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, Asian Division who had arrived in Sri Lanka in April 1984 took charge of the Interests Section 5.

There were widespread protests, particularly among the Muslim community in the island, but the government came down hard on the protesters. Police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration before a Mosque in Batticaloa and twenty demonstrators were injured. Demonstrators in several other places were dispersed by the police. The government also imposed press censorship by invoking regulation 14 (1) of the Emergency Regulations which effectively censored all news relating to the Interests Section 6. At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the UNP on 9th June 1984, President Jayewardene confirmed his commitment to keep the Interests Section open and told Muslim MPs that "If they do not support the government decision they could leave and if they spoke against the decision they would be forced to leave the party" 7.

Although initially it was denied that Israeli personnel were stationed in Sri Lanka for military training purposes, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali admitted at a news conference in Colombo on 11th August 1984 that the Israeli internal security agency "Shin Beth" was involved in the training of the Sri Lankan armed forces 8. However he denied that the Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD was operating in Sri Lanka. In November 1984 The Economist also reported that many military advisers belonging to the Shin Beth were training Sri Lankan soldiers at a military establishment near Colombo 9.

A senior Israeli diplomat Agrail Karni arrived to take charge of the Interests Section as its permanent head, on 21st October 1984. Before leaving Sri Lanka, David Matnai disclosed that the Sri Lankan government had been in contact with Israel much before the July 1983 violence 10....

The United States has been interested in Sri Lanka for strategic purposes. The 1980 Congress presentation of the Security Assistance Programme of the IMET (International Military Education and Training Programme) pointed out that the aim of assistance to Sri Lanka was to "reinforce the professionalism of the Sri Lankan military" and that it would allow Sri Lanka to "continue avoiding undue dependence on any single power" 11.

The US has shown keen interest on developments in Sri Lanka in the recent past and a number of high officials from the US have visited Sri Lanka in the last two and a half years. US Defence Secretary Casper Weinberger visited Sri Lanka on 1st October 1983 probably in response to the request by the Sri Lankan government for military assistance immediately after the July 1983 violence. Although it was announced that Weinberger was stopping over for tea, there is no doubt that military aspects would have been in the agenda for discussion.

Weinberger's visit was followed in November 1983 by that of General Vernon Walters who denied any agreement had been reached on military assistance. On 12th January 1984 a six-man delegation led by Joseph Addabbo, Chairman of the defence Appropriations Committee of the US House of Representatives visited Sri Lanka immediately and after discussions with the government announced that it would recommend $350,000 to be released to Sri Lanka immediately for defence purposes. Addabbo also said that the US would consider the Sri Lankan request for a 'military type surface ship' and modern training facilities for the Sri Lanka Navy 12.

Richard Murphy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and Far East arrived in Sri Lanka in October 1984 (26.10.84). Apart from these visits President Jayewardene, Prime Minister Premadasa and Lalith Athulathmudali made visits to the United States to procure military assistance. It seemed that during President Jayawardene's visit to the US, base facilities for the US Navy had been agreed, but he denied any such agreement.

However, the Trincomalee oil farm deal appears to have granted access to the harbour for the US Navy. Oil storage facilities had been constructed by the British in the 1920's consisting of 101 oil tanks each with a 10,000 tonne capacity. The Trincomalee Tank Development Project was leased to an international consortium on 23rd February 1984 by the Sri Lankan government.

The consortium consists of three firms, Oroleum (PVT) Ltd, Oil Tanking and tradinaft based in Singapore, West Germany and Switzerland respectively. This consortium appears to have been floated (in 1982) specifically to obtain this lease. Oroleam (PVT) Ltd was set up by persons in Coastal Corporation of Singapore, an affiliate of the Coastal Corporation of Bermuda which was refused the Trincomalee contract in 1981 due to protests in Sri Lankan Parliament as the company had deals with the US Navy.

Tenders for the contract in 1984 were submitted by several countries including India which offered a more profitable proposal. Oroleum Ltd. submitted its tender after the deadline, but won the contract. The contract allows the Company to supply petroleum to foreign warships without the permission of the Sri Lankan government 13.

On 15th January 1985 villages of Thoduwawa (800 acres) and Iranwila (200 acres) in Nathandiya in the West Coast of Sri Lanka were handed over to the US under an agreement signed on 10th December 1983 to install the most powerful Voice of America (VOA) transmitter outside the US which would be capable of jamming any other broadcast in the region and with possible links to communication satellites. The 200 families in the villages were evacuated 14. It is reported by defence strategists that VOA can broadcast low frequency messages to US nuclear submarines that lie in canyons beneath the North Indian Oceans without these submarines having to surface to the Ocean to receive the messages.

The present agreement is an expansion of the agreement for VOA facilities signed in 1951 and unlike the latter excludes the jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan government over the administration, operation and maintenance of facilities under the agreement. The Sri Lanka government cannot evaluate the VOA transcripts before broadcast as done earlier and the US has the right to build associated communication and operation facilities 15.

The Trincomalee harbour is a large and natural one and could accommodate any of the large fleets of the super powers. the harbour proved to be a valuable asset to Great Britain during World War II. It is not surprising that the US has an 'eye' on Trincomalee for this reason and its strategic position in the South Asian region and the Indian Ocean. When, in 1981, the Sri Lankan government removed the ban on foreign warships at Trincomalee, the US sent a number of warships on various pretexts 16.

An official document of the United States titled "Military Posture" by General David C Jones (USAF), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published in 1980, referred to Trincomalee as an American military facility. Later the US government said that this was a printer's error 17.

The arms supplied to Sri Lanka by Pakistan, China and Singapore are believed to be from the United States which does not wish to be seen as directly involved. It has been reported that at least 100 gun boats and 50 helicopter gunships have been supplied by the US through Pakistan and China 18. "


1 The Israel Connection - D B S Jeyaraj - The Island 27.5.84.
2 News Today 15.4.84.
3 The Economist 15.9.84.
4 The Guardian 24.5.84.
5 The Island 2.9.84; The Jewish Chronicle 24.8.84.
6 For Regulation 14(1) refer Gazette Extraordinary No.3416 dated 18.3.85.
7 Lanka Guardian 15.6.85.
8 Indian Express 23.8.84; Daily Times (Malawi 14.8.84.
9 The Economist 15.9.84.
10 The Island 2.9.84, 3.9.84.
11 Lanka Guardian 1.7.81.
12 Financial Express 18.1.84.
13 'Ethnic Crisis in Sri lanka - India's Options' - V P Vaidik - New Delhi 1986.
14 Forum 1.7.85; Island 7.3.85.
15,16 V P Vaidik - op.cit.
17 Daily News 20.2.82.
18 Foreign Report by Economist 11.10.84.


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