By Rajan Hoole –
Border Aggression and Civilian Massacres – Part 15
We give here the gist of the testimony given before the Mossad Commission (19th and 26th July 1991) by the late Mervyn de Silva, senior journalist and editor of the Lanka Guardian. He had closely studied Israel’s dealings with Sri Lanka and had inter- acted with several Israeli VIPs, including Natanel Lorch, Israel’s consul-general in Ceylon until 1959 and David Matnai who headed the Israeli Interest Section in 1984. He argued that the Sri Lankan Government’s course of seeking Israeli help through the US was based on mistaken premises and faulted the Government for changing Sri Lanka’s diplomatic thrust from Open Diplomacy to Secret Diplomacy which created friction with India. The Israelis, he said, pursue national in- terest “with cold-blooded calculation. They do not wave flags for anybody-just their own flag”.
He doubted that Israel had a serious inter- est in crushing the Tamil insurgency. Israel had come here with an eye to a diplomatic base in India and was deeply disappointed when President Jayewardene in a secret meeting in Paris with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in October 1985, wanted Israel to continue its aid but refused her full-diplomatic status. On the results of Israeli involvement, he quoted from the renowned Israeli social scientist Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi:
“In any event, this renewal of contact with an Asian country was not a complete success. This help received by the Sri Lankan Government has not enabled it to subdue the insurgents. If anything, it seems that since Israel became involved in 1984, things have become bloodier and less hopeful. Sri Lanka has now earned the frightening nickname of ‘the Lebanon of South Asia’.”
On how the move to get the Israelis in gave offence to India, he said: “The irony is that the US did not want to give us direct help in order not to antagonise India, while India found yet another reason to be hostile to Sri Lanka and its foreign policy; I would call that another giant step in our MARCH OF FOLLY.”
*Mervyn de Silva ( Middle) with Sirima Bandaranaike and Lalith Athulathmudali
Giving the Oil Tank Farm in Trincomalee co- vertly on contract to the US was apparently part of the deal made by President Reagan’s envoy General Vernon Walters, which India found threatening. de Silva described Walters as a man “who has been involved in a lifetime’s career of international intrigue, conspiracies, arming of anti- government rebels etc. As US Ambassador later in the UN, he was a confirmed opponent of Third World countries, ridiculing and abusing the non-aligned group. Walters was always happy in the company of dictators and fascist, pro-US junta-type defence ministers, national security top brass etc.”
As for the Oil Tank Farm, questions were raised in Parliament in the Spring of 1984 and Industries Minister Cyril Mathew defended its award to the Singapore registered firm of Douglas Miller. The U.S. Coastal Corporation of which Miller was earlier managing director, had been an unsuccessful tenderer in the first round. Sarath Muttetuwegama MP, said of Miller’s firm that the capital is “hardly enough to run a bicycle shop in Singapore”. A year later the Communist Party journal Forward reported (1.7.85) that the “Trincomalee Oil Farm deal fizzled out when the dummy firm fronting [for] the US Navy which received the award, did not complete legal formalities by 30th June.”
On this matter, de Silva said that it was another issue, which India raised as threatening its security interests. He added, “true or false, exaggerated or not, the regional Big Power, used it as a sort of causus belli, argumentative support for its intervention in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs”.
de Silva dismissed the belief held by members of the pro-UNP elite that Israel was somehow pro-Sinhalese in the local context (strong hints of this belief are there in Gunaratne’s and Ratnatunga’s books). He quoted Netanel Lorch, who as consul-general here witnessed the 1958 riots and ended up as Secretary General to the Israeli Knesset, as detracting from Sri Lankan Foreign Minister A.C.S. Hameed’s repeated claim that Israel would “help to eradicate Tamil terrorists in the north of the country”. As official historian of the Israeli Army, Lorch wrote in the Jerusalem Post in 1985, recording with satisfaction the prospect of re-establishing diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka as a broadening of Israel’s diplomatic network. Lorch noted that from time to time, “violent outbursts in an otherwise tranquil country accentuated the inherent tensions. In 1958, pogroms were committed against Tamils – barely reported in the Western media, but on a scale and with a brutality which compare to the worst in the annals of the Jewish people.” “Pogroms means genocide”, de Silva added, saying that Lorch had written from what he had witnessed in Sri Lanka in 1958.
de Silva also said, “The matter of Israeli aid to the Sri Lanka Government’s ‘suppression of the Tamils’ was raised in the Knesset by Matityahu Peled on October 23, 1984. Prime Minister Shimon Peres answered the parliamentary question on January 22, 1985, denying any Israeli involvement.” (Accord- ing to social scientist Beit – Hallahmi, “As of Au- gust 1984, there were reportedly up to six domestic intelligence experts from Israel working with the [Sri Lankan] Government to develop a new intelligence network against the Tamils.”)
About the book in question (i.e. Ostrovsky) he said: “… despite Mossad and Shabak, the KMS and South Africa, and all the pompous pro-Israeli pundits of warfare and national security, we had become ‘the Lebanon of Asia’. Of course, Ostrovsky has been called a fiction writer by some witnesses straying into the field of literary criticism – an act of intellectual vagrancy. Your Lordship may wonder whether such persons should be charged for loitering.”
“That is why I say that the 1980s has been the decade of the arrogance of power and the march of folly”, de Silva said, adding that it had led to a resurgence of Islam by such a policy, activating the country’s third largest community, and irritating India.
Mervyn de Silva summarised his testimony thus:
(a) Israel has a militarised economy and society. The sale of arms and expertise is a money-spinning export industry.
(b) That industry thrives on conflict, and the proliferation of conflict, not its resolution. Conflict today is in the Third World, and recently in the second.
(c) In any case, the “dream of Asia”, “an eye on India” is the main imperative in Israel’s Asia policy. There is a “vacuum” between Israel and Burma. Sri Lanka, so close to India, could fill that vacuum. Matnai used the phrase “return to Asia”.
(d) Since the “ethnic conflict-cum-insurgency” involves India, any intimate connection with that conflict gives access to Tamilnadu and India.
(e) For this reason, Israel must try to infiltrate the Eelam movement.
(f) If the US-UK, and the big powers could “keep off” Sri Lanka because of India, why should the Israelis, especially when the intention seems to be to use them and dump them, get seriously entangled with the Sri Lankans?
(g) If Israeli-Jewish opinion matters, and it does, the sentiment is on the side of the minority “persecuted” Tamils, the victims of “pogroms” (Lorch, Beit-Hallahmi etc).
(h) Long before the Westernised Sinhalese elite glorified Israel, it was the Tamil leadership and intelligentsia, from the days of the Federal Party to the Marxist-Trotskyist intellectual C. Karalasingham, who compared their fate to that of the persecuted Jew in search of an independent state in their traditional homeland.
To be continued..
*From Rajan Hoole‘s “Sri Lanka: Arrogance of Power – Myth, Decadence and Murder”. Thanks to Rajan for giving us permission to republish. To read earlier parts click here