22 July, 2017

Dayan Jayatilleka’s Diatribe On Premadasa’s Israel Policy

By Bandu de Silva

Bandu de Silva

I was more than amused by reading Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s article which is by and large an eulogy on President Premadasa’s foreign policy in relation to Israel. Dayan makes use of my comments on the evolution of Sri Lankan foreign policy towards Israel under successive governments ending with my short addendum published in the Island of 10th July 2017 which he calls “a speculative caricature” as the opening gambit to express his own views on the situation under President Premadasa. He sees my interpretation of reasons for appointment of the Mossad commission as gunning for Minister Gamini Dissanayake as a (mere) local reason which he seems to be inclined to dismiss in preference to a much vaulted interpretation of Premadasa’s understanding of the book “By Way of Deception” by former Mossad operative Victor Ostrovsky. Ostrovsky disclosed that Israel played a double game in Sri Lanka by supporting the government on one hand and the Tigers on the other hand. The situation, true or not, was not unusual with Israel. In the Iran-Iraq war, Israel was reputed to have supported both sides despite Iranian regime’s anti-Israeli posture, the Iranians with intelligence. Obviously, Israel wished to see both their opponents destroyed in a self-consuming war.

I am not inclined to attribute such high profile thinking to President Premadasa such as a deep understanding of Ostrovsky’s book for him to be motivated to pursue his Israeli policy. Nor was there anyone around him who could have translated the book’s significance to him. (My apologies to Secretary K.H.J. Wijeyedasa). There was none in the Foreign Office I knew of. There was, of course, Bradman Weerakoon, Presidential adviser but I doubt if he had any role as he was appointed the Chairman of Air Lanka with its multifarious problems. If one reads Dayan’s article carefully, one would see him according a place to his late father, Mervyn de Silva, outside the bureaucratic circle, in proffering advice to the President. Mervyn was my good friend and we worked closely from the days of Mrs.Bandaranaike on issues like non-alignment. I did not see him getting any close to Mr. Premadasa with whom I had close rapport. (I shall comment later on Premadasa appointing him to the FASG and report on reforms to the Foreign Service).   

Dayan has expressed an opinion which I do not see valid enough to reject the idea that Premadasa was motivated by local factors even if the latter was considered another opinion. Holding on to Ostrovsky theory alone can be flowed and incomplete in interpreting Premadasa policy on Israel.

What was the need for Premadasa institute a second report on reforms at the Foreign Office when he had already appointed a Committee with Bradman Weerakoon as Chairman and W.A.P. Menikdiwela, former Secretary to the President and Dr. Ananda Guruge as members. He engaged another Committee presided by Ambassador N. Balasubramanium, myself, and two other senior Foreign Service men to comment on the Bradman Committee report and to implement what was accepted? Was Premadasa and Mervyn de Silva working on another agenda? 

In final analysis, I have to reject Dayan’s position that it was the understanding of Ostrovsky’s book which made President Premadasa to appoint the Mossad Commission. Sugeeswara Senadheera, Director General of Media Affairs at the Presidential Secretariat, in contrast to my view, has opined that Premadasa was gunning for Minister Lalith Athulathmudali rather than at Gamini Dissanayake through the appointment of the Mossad Commission. I have pointed out how close Gamini was to President J.R. Jayewardene and he was part of the President’s negotiating team on an arms deal in Paris with Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

Premadasa adopting a counter strategy after the disclosure of double dealing by Israel of sending a team headed by Ranjan Wijeratne to Iran, Iraq and Libya to procure arms from these countries is incomplete in detail. Army Commander Wanasinghe did not accompany this mission. It comprised Ranjan Wijeratne, Foreign Trade Minister, A.R. Mansoor (a Muslim!) and myself as the first resident Ambassador in Iran. I arrived a few hours before the arrival of the other two and presented credentials to the Iranian President just in time to join the delegation. We could not proceed to Iraq and Libya because Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait took place at that time. Arms negotiations which followed were carried on by a Brigadier who sought my assistance in negotiating prices. The air craft loads of arms which followed every month which Dayan speaks of, was a later development following the visit of Defence Secretary Cyril Ranatunge. There were no “monthly ” aircraft loads but only a single one which was negotiated by me with the Iranian Defence Minister. The call signs of this single aircraft were conveyed by me in code to General Ranatunge at his residence at Kegalle at midnight. 

As for the formation of FASG (Foreign Affairs Study Group) under President Premadasa with Gamini Corea as Chairman and Mervyn de Silva as Deputy Chairman, whose report was handed over after President Premadasa’s (untimely) death. Gamini Corea was a senior adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1985 but I do not recall him in a role as Chairman of FASG. Not while I was in the Foreign Office till 1990 before appointment as Ambassador to Iran. I recall, however, a few people headed by Major General Anton Mutucoomaru, former Army Commander and Ambassador, after his retirement in 1969 forming a study group in foreign relations along with and a few others including Mervyn de Silva. That was during the regime of Mrs.Sirima Bandaranaike in 1970s.

I say this with confidence as I happened to be at every meeting where President Premadasa discussed anything to do with foreign policy. Where does the commissioning of a report on reforms at the foreign office headed by Bradman Weerakoon and the appointment of FASG coincide? There seems to be some confusion. Anyway, these are matters of detail which need not cloud the main issue of what motivated President Premadasa to follow a particular policy on Israel including the appointment of the Mossad Commission. 

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  • 7
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    Bandu de Silva – You begin by saying “I am more than amused by reading Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke’s article…”. There is no cause for alarm, he keeps all CT readers entertained! I can assure you in all confidence that Dayan will sooner or later send you one of his “rejoinders”. Keep your fingers crossed.

    • 2
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      ‘double game in Sri Lanka’ A very amusing insight into then Sri Lankan War policy. When the said government of the day played the biggest double game, by Arming the very LTTE with the Army procured weapons. Sri Lankan Tax Payer funded the LTTE arms to kill the her own soldiers. The Government playing the double game at it’s best.

    • 0
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      • 3
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        To that time, going back to our black past, the manner Premadasa killing squads destroyed the youth oft he country, leaving their dead bodies being burnt down on the tyre pyres…. How would anyone with a heart ever agree only to continue all good uneducated Premadasa had done? This ballige putha seem to know nothing but to bring the kind of diatribe makes us very unhappy. I have lost how many of my batch mates that time ?. Only person to spout the kind of diatribe is idiosyncratic shameless man of the lanken spot light- most known DAYAN Jayathilaka AKA Silva.
        This man would always sit with the wrong parties just because he has a grudge against PM and his politics. – is seen the manner how he supported JO in their Nugegoda stage saga. No matter any of his educated circles would have been against, but to go for his thoughts is moronic.. I really don’t know why the kind of buggers make this kind of spreads.

    • 0
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      mike— please note Israel and China are the most “piece” loving countries.

  • 2
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    Yes,The rejoinder has come even before my pen dried up! As for my not writing when Mervyn de Silva and Izeth Hussain were alive, I have been writing since 1995 almost regularly. I also wrote on Sri Lanka’s Israel policy which Hussain acknowleged appreciatively.
    When did Nihal Rodrigo come into the picture? He was for a long time Deputy Perm Rep at the UN. I cannot remember him anywhere in the Foreign Office during my stay at the F/O. If Dayan is so adament about the formation of the FASG, I can concede it and it must have happened after I left the Foreign Office in 1990 on appointment as Ambassador to Iran and all the people he mentions may have been in it..
    I have no reason to disparage President Premadasa. He trusted me and sought my advice when I was around. I have been trying to share facts as I recall for everyone’s information. Bradman Weerakoon knew my close relationship with Mr. Premadsa so much so that he asked me to look through the draft his book “Premadasa I knew”. Yes,He is still around. Susil Sirivardena too knew this. I was the only official from the Foreign Office invited by Premadasa for his GamUdawa celebrations. I think Susil was the one who handled invitations. The other who knew was Bernard Tilakeratna.
    Bandu de Silva

  • 2
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    Yes, the rejoinder has come even before my pen dried! I have no reason to disparage Mr.Premadasa over his Israel policy. I was only trying to share information as I remembered. My personal relations with Mr.Premadasa started during my University days in Colombo in early 1950s. He rusted me and sought my advice when I was around. President’s Secretary, K.H.J.Wijayadsa and Bradman Weerakoon who are very much around know this. Bradman asked me to look at the draft text of his book “Premadasa I knew” before it went to the publishing house in Mumbai.
    If Dayan is so insisting that FASG was set up during President Premadasa’s time with persona he mentions, I can concede that.Since he mentions the presence of Nihal Rodrigo from the Foreign Ministry at the FASG, I can concede that it may have happened after I left for Iran in 1990 as Ambassador there. Nihal who was my junior by at least 10 years, was on overseas appointments (He was Deputy Perm Rep in New York for long years) was not in the Foreign Ministry anytime when I was there. That should settle the issue over it.

  • 9
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    According to Dayan Jayatilleka there are two all knowing and infallible persons on this earth. That is himself and his father Mervyn De Silva. If either of them made all the decisions for the world this would be heaven ! !

    I think he is either a madman or a conman.

  • 3
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    Ask yourself if this is a coincidence?
    Former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was against Israel – Asssassinated
    Former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was against Israel – Asssassinated
    Former Sri Lankan ruler Ranasinghe Premadasa made some anti israeli statements – Assassinated
    Former American president John F Kennedy threatened to stop supporting Israel – Assassinated
    Former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had anti Israeli sentiments – Assassinated
    I am sure there are other leaders who suffered the same fate for the same reason?

  • 3
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    Bandu de Silva: “Dayan Jayatilleka’s Diatribe On Premadasa’s Israel Policy”
    Dayan is baiting. He can just about say that Israel starts with the letter I and Palestine with P.
    He has been instructed to cause a spilt in UNP – he is doing that.
    He will misquote selected parts from your reply.

  • 3
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    To invite, work with, and befriend Israel, is inviting a serpent in to your home. Once it enters you cannot get rid of it. Take a good look at the US. Israel has become a parasite that sucks the blood off it’s host, it has organized it’s lobbies to donate thousands of dollars towards political campaigns, and once that candidate wins, Israel has a “yes” vote to push it’s agenda. The US is obliged to send billions of dollars and weapons to an occupier, that uses it against unarmed Palestinians The US media is very cautious in it’s coverage of Israel, and although they criticize the President, and any other American, they never criticize, nor mention the Israeli occupation and land grabs at all. I do not trust Sri Lankan politicians to do the right thing for their country and reject the shekels thrown their way.

    • 1
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      Vijay, you are absolutely right. The serpent is already here and must be already at work to destabilise the country which is still struggling to win the Peace 8 years after winning the War.

  • 2
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    Bandu de Silva.
    Watch out. Dayan will start (mis)quoting you!

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