Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

On Israel and Sri Lankan Links

Part 1

by Sachi Sri Kantha, August 18, 2010

‘In the framework of my previous positions as air force commander and chief of staff, I had a great relationship with your military industries and with Israel Aerospace Industries.

For years Israel has aided our war on terror through the exchange of information and the sale of military technology and equipment,’ says Perera.

‘Our air force fleet includes 17 Kfir warplanes, and we also have Dabur patrol boats. Our pilots were trained in Israel, and we have received billions of dollars in aid over the past few years.

Isn’t it a paradox that while President Mahinda Rajapaksa (a friend of PLO’s ex-chief Yasser Arafat) temporally sides with Palestine Muslims, his new ambassador to Israel Donald Perera (Sri Lanka’s ex-Air Force Chief) would side with Israel, claiming “We back Israel’s war on terror”. Or, this is typical of Colombo’s practical politics of running with the rabbit and hunting with the hounds. Or harmless pleasantries of a newly appointed ambassador, lying on behalf of his nation!

I provide below, verbatim, a recent interview of Donald Perera, the newly appointed Sri Lankan ambassador to Israel with David Regev, for ynetnews.com, because of some of his revelations make interesting reading. He reveals marginal details relating to arms purchases and their suppliers by the Sri Lankan army, and also pays back-handed compliments to the LTTE’s fighting ability. He is quoted that, “At the height of its power, the organization's guerilla force numbered some 35,000 fighters’. We do know. But, there is some value when the details come out from horse’s mouth!

For comparative reading, I also provide relevant texts of my past writings.

(1) a book review that I wrote in 1992. This book (By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer) by ex-MOSSAD spy Victor Ostrovsky made headlines 20 years ago in September 1990. I have noted partial or incomplete citations for my book review in the web. As such, I felt that the complete text of this book review deserves to be posted.

(2) President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s antagonism to Israeli interests in Sri Lanka. Three letters (of which, two were mine) in the Far Eastern Economic Review (Hongkong) magazine in 1991, in relation to Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

Donald Perera 2010
Donald Perera (Sri Lanka’s ex-Air Forces Chief) and Israel’s new Sri Lankan ambassador

Donald Perera’s interview with David Regev

Donald Perera saw the blood-soaked stretcher carrying the body of Velupillai Prabhakaran being transported through the jungle, but he was not calm. Air Chief Marshal Perera, the Sri Lankan chief of staff at the time, had been chasing after the leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels who had terrorized his country for over 30 years. He wanted to make certain that the lifeless body in front of him was indeed that of his long-time adversary.

‘I asked to see his personal gun,’ recalls Perera. ‘I knew precisely what type of gun he was carrying, as well as its serial number. Only when I saw the number 001 did I realize that he had finally been taken out. I drove home, took off my uniform and told myself that now I can retire.’ Perera, 60, has since been appointed Sri Lanka's ambassador to Israel. His wife, a military dentist, and his daughter, a university student, remained in Sri Lanka.

‘I was familiar with Israel before coming here,’ he tells the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. ‘In the framework of my previous positions as air force commander and chief of staff, I had a great relationship with your military industries and with Israel Aerospace Industries.

For years Israel has aided our war on terror through the exchange of information and the sale of military technology and equipment,’ says Perera.

‘Our air force fleet includes 17 Kfir warplanes, and we also have Dabur patrol boats. Our pilots were trained in Israel, and we have received billions of dollars in aid over the past few years. This is why I asked to be assigned to Israel – a country I consider a partner in the war against terror. Many Sri Lankans admire Israel,’ says Perera, a native of the capital Colombo. As chief of staff, Perera commanded over 240,000 soldiers. His greatest challenge was to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, who since 1976 had fought to establish an independent Tamil homeland.

Guerilla forces led by rebel leader Prabhakaran eventually took over east as well as north Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers was one of the first organizations to resort to suicide bombings. ‘They carried out attacks against soldiers, civilians, army officers, ministers, army bases, public buildings, planes and trains. Over the years they became more advanced and formed a naval and aerial force as well. At the height of its power, the organization's guerilla force numbered some 35,000 fighters,’ according to Perera.

Some of Perera's close associates were killed in these attacks, others were left handicapped. Perera was also targeted by the rebels. ‘I was supposed to fly a cargo plane from one of the air force bases. The plane was carrying dozens of military personnel. During take off I suddenly felt a strong thump. I brought the plane to a halt, and when I got off to see what had happened I found an RPG launcher that was used to fire a rocket at the aircraft. Luckily, it passed right by me,’ Perera says.

Since the incident, Perera changed his daily routine. ‘My army-issued vehicle would be part of a military convoy while I was driving my private car, wearing civilian clothes over my army fatigues,’ he says. The Tamil terror became more and more extreme, culminating with assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Perera was appointed chief of staff in 2006, just as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapksa decided to eradicate Tamil terrorism once and for all.

‘We purchased military equipment from Pakistan, China, the US, Russia and of course Israel. The president told the nation we were headed for an uncompromising war. He explained that the price will be heavy, but called on the citizens to be patient and rally around the army. Then we got the green light to move with full force against the rebels,’ the ambassador recalls.

After rebel forces attempted to take over an important port in east Sri Lanka, Perera gave the order, and large army forces began pouring into the region while pushing the rebels northward. Some 7,000 people, including many army personnel, were killed during 11 months of fighting, he says.

‘The victim's families understood we were fighting for an important cause – the future of their country,’ Perera says during the interview, conducted at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Tel Aviv. ‘The opposition tried to persuade the citizens not to enlist in the army or support it, but it convinced no one. Everyone knew this struggle was important and that it would exact a heavy price, but after so many years of terror they were willing to pay the price.’ Prabhakaran was killed on May 16, and a day later the LTTE announced its surrender. The 30-year battle against the Tamil Tigers claimed the lives of some 70,000 Sri Lankan citizens.

After noting the similarities between the Tamil Tigers and Hamas, Perera says Sri Lanka is a staunch supporter of Israel's fight against terror. ‘No one wants bloodshed. The other side should be offered direct negotiations, without preconditions, to determine its level of seriousness. These talks should focus on trying to reach a compromise that would allow both sides to sign an agreement,’ he says.

‘In case the other side shows it is not interested in a compromise, (Israel) must move on to the military phase with full force. (The government) will have to explain to the citizens that (Israel) is headed for a long and difficult struggle that will exact a heavy price, but at the end of this struggle the country's situation will be much better,’ says the ambassador. Once you have the public's support, you should fight relentlessly until all of the terror hubs are destroyed. There is no going back.’

Addressing the deadly May 31 commando raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship, Perera says, "As a military man I can understand that Israel had to protect itself. Due to Sri Lanka's vast experience in fighting terror, I can say that it will always support countries that also oppose (terror)."

Despite its warm relations with Israel, Sri Lanka has also managed to maintain close ties with the Jewish state's biggest threat – Iran. ‘Sri Lanka is a developing nation in need of assistance. Iran helps us in the civilian realm,’ he says. ‘As to the sanctions imposed on (Tehran), these things should be discussed in the different forums. The Sri Lankan government is in favor of imposing military – not civilian – sanctions.’ Perera, who has already visited Jerusalem, Eilat, Haifa, Netanya and Jaffa, says life in Israel suits him just fine. ‘The people here are very warm, open and easy-going, but on the other hand they are successful in many fields, such as technology, agriculture and education. Some 5,000 Sri Lankan nationals are currently working in Israel. ‘We rarely receive any complaints from them,’ says the ambassador. ‘They like working here.’ Perera's wife and daughter are expected to join him in Israel in the coming months. ‘When they arrive, we will travel throughout the entire country. In the meantime, I recommend that Israelis visit Sri Lanka. We'll accept you with open arms.’ (Some of the quotes in this article were corrected on July 22, 2010.)

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Book Review: By Way of Deception; The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer, by Victor Ostrovsky and Claire Hoy, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1990, 361 pp.

by Sachi Sri Kantha

[originally published in the Tamil Nation print edition, March 15, 1992]

When ex-Mossad officer Victor Ostrovsky’s book By Way of Deception was first published in September 1990, it created a tremor of international proportions. The Time magazine (Sept.24, 1990) captioned the story as, ‘The Spy who spilled the Beans: Israel attempts to quash a Mossad agent’s book’ and noted that due to Israel’s unsuccessful attempt to block its publication and resultant publicity, the publisher had to ‘increase the print run from 50,000 copies to 200,000, practically guaranteeing that it will be high on the best-seller list’.

The Newsweek magazine (Sept. 24, 1990) rather unusually devoted two pages to divulge some important facts included in the book. Why did ‘By Way of Deception’ attract such attention? The Newsweek report had it in its first sentence: ‘In the short but eventful history of the Mossad, no full-fledged officer had ever broken its vow of silence.’ But, Victor Ostrovsky (son of a Canadian father and Israeli mother), who according to Israel’s law-suit had been employed by the Mossad between December 30, 1984 and March 9, 1986, had decided to break his silence.

Ostrovski begins his book, with description about the ‘Operation Sphinx’ of Mossad, which culminated successfully on June 7, 1981 when Israel destroyed the Iraq’s nuclear complex located in the periphery of Bagdad. This was achieved from the information obtained from the Iraq’s nuclear scientist (identified as Butrus Eben Halim) in Paris. Ostrovski also informs that two individuals (an Egyptian atomic engineer named Meshad, who was close to senior Iraqi military and civilian authorities, and a French prostitute Marie-Claude Magal who was patronized by Halim and Meshad) were murdered by Mossad in June and July of 1980.

Then, Ostrovsky provides explanation for the two types of murders. Prostitute Magal’s murder comes in the ‘category of an operational emergency, the sort of situation that arises during operations’. Scientist Meshad’s murder belongs to the ‘formal execution list, and requiring the personal approval of the prime minister of Israel.’ According to Ostrovski, ‘the number of names on that list varies considerably, from just one or two up to 100 or so, depending upon the extent of anti-Israeli terrorist activities.’

After describing how an adversary’s name included in the execution list and the due processes which take place within the Mossad to complete the hit, Ostrovski notes that, ‘one of the first duties of any new Israeli prime minister is to read the execution list and decide whether or not to initial each name on it.’ If this is true, the Nobel peace prize committee has definitely blundered in making Menachem Begin a laureate in 1978.

The book is divided into three parts. The first two parts (consisting of a total of 8 chapters) provides descriptions about Ostrovski’s experience with Mossad as a trainee and case officer from October 1982 to March 1986, when he was dismissed as scapegoat for an operation which became an embarrassment to the Israeli politicians. The third part (consisting of nine chapters) provides case histories related to Mossad’s engagements with the Black September rebels, Carlos Ramirez and Yasser Arafat. Also included are the events related to Israel’s 1982 invasion in Lebanon and ‘Operation Moses’ (the 1985 rescue of thousands of Black Ethiopian Jews to Israel) and the 1985 sinking of PLO ships in Tripoli harbour.

In the chapters related to training by Mossad, Ostrovski provides details about lessons taught on self defence, forgery of documents (especially passports), recruitment of bodlim (‘people who operate as messengers between safehouses and the embassy, or between the various safehouses’), evaluation and tackling of a still object or a building, importance of liaison, sending and receiving secret communications and so forth.

On self-defense, Ostrovsky writes, “You were taught that if your brain does signal your hand to draw a weapon, you go to kill. Your head has to say the guy in front of you is dead. It’s him or you…When you do have to shoot, you fire as many bullets as possible into your target. When he’s on the ground you walk up to him, put your gun to his temple, and fire one more time. That way, you’re sure.” Certainly Jesus and Gandhi are pariahs in the dictionary of Mossad.

On passport forgery by Mossad, Ostrovsky notes, “Mossad had a small factory and chemical laboratory in the basement of the Academy that actually made various kinds of passport paper. Chemists analyzed the papers of genuine passports and worked out the exact formula to produce sheets of paper that duplicated what they needed.” Mossad also gathers genuine passports of other countries from immigrants to Israel on the pretext of ‘saving the Jews’. These genuine passports are studied to prepare fake passports.

Ostrovski identifies four kinds of passports used by Mossad for their operations, ‘top quality, second quality, field operation and throwaway’. The law quality throwaway kind is mostly stolen from others and put in use when ‘needed only to flash them’. They are not used for identification, since it cannot withstand through scrutiny. The field operation kind is ‘used for quick work in a foreign country, but not used when crossing borders’. The second quality passport is a perfect one, ‘without no real persons behind’ the details provided in it. The top-quality passport is the perfect kind, ‘which could stand up completely to any official scrutiny, including a check by the country of origin’. The motto of Mossad in such delicate forgery is that, ‘no operation should be bungled by a bad document.’

Other tid-bits offered by Ostrovsky relating to the operation of Mossad are quite interesting.

(1) ‘The Mossad’s main computer contained more than 1.5 million names in memory.

(2) The London station of Mossad ‘owns more than 100 safehouses and rents another 50.’

(3) ‘In London alone, there are about 2,000 active sayanim (Jewish volunteer helpers) who are active, and another 5,000 on the list.’

(4) Margaret Thatcher was always called inside the Mossad as ‘the bitch’, because ‘they had her tagged as anti-Semite’.

(5) For a long time since 1977, Mossad has hired ‘Durak Kasim (Yasser Arafat’s driver and personal bodyguard)’ as their agent, and ‘he was reporting to them almost daily, sending messages through a burst radio communications system, receiving $2,000 a report. He also telephoned information and mailed it periodically…’

Now, let me focus on the material related to Sri Lanka, which made Ostrovsky a recognizable name in the government and military circles in Colombo now. Ostrovsky’s disclosure on the deals made by the military and political power-brokers of the ruling UNP and the Mossad had been published in exerpts in the Tamil Nation of Oct. 15, 1990. What shocked the Sinhalese ruling establishment and the journalists (including the editor of Lanka Guardian, Mervyn de Silva) was the revelation of Ostrovski that Mossad had trained the Sinhalese military personnel and ‘a group of Tamil guerrilla factions’ simultaneously. Based on the meager details provided by Ostrovski, these power-brokers and opinion-makers had identified LTTE as the beneficiary of Mossad’s patronage.

To me, this sounds too premature and incorrect. Let me repeat what Ostrovski had written on this topic. “Around 1983, a group of Tamil guerrilla factions, collectively known as the Tamil Tigers, began an armed struggle to create a Tamil homeland in the north called Eelam – an on-going battle that has claimed thousands of lives on both sides.” This is the only sentence in the book, where a vague reference is made to the Tamil Tigers. The time-frame Ostrovski had written about was ‘mid July 1984’, when he was still a trainee at the Mossad Academy. He had not mentioned LTTE by name anywhere in the book. At that time, all the militant groups fighting for Eelam (LTTE, TELO, EPRLF, EROS and PLOTE) were identified as ‘Tamil Tigers’. This point need be stressed. The authors of Broken Palmyra also clearly state this fact in page 72 of their book; ‘Up to this time (April 1985), the Tamil population had hardly differentiated between rival groups. They were all referred to as boys and even Tigers.’ Again the fact is that, as reported in the Economist of August 3, 1985, in its coverage on the five Tamil militant groups, LTTE was identified as receiving training from the PLO in Lebanon.

Ostrovski has noted that in mid-July 1984, “nearly 50” Sri Lankan army personnel arrived for training in Israel. These training sessions were not offered free. According to Ostrovski, “A unit of 60 trainees would cost about $300 each day (per trainee), for a total of $18,000.. For a three month course, that would be $1.6 million. On top of that, they would be charged $5,000 to $6,000 an hour for helicopter rental, and as many as 15 helicopters could be used in a training exercise. Add to that the cost of special ammunition used in training: a bazooka shell, for example, cost about $220 a unit, while heavy mortars were about $1000 each…”

Ostrovski should be credited for exposing the deals Sri Lanka government had with Mossad, through the Mahaveli River Diversion Project. Apart from exposing how the Sri Lankan authorities diverted foreign-aid funds they received from unsuspecting donors, Ostrovski also has pricked the bloated egos of the Sri Lankan military personnel by divulging how Mossad had fooled them.

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On President Premadasa’s antagonism for Israeli Interests

The following correspondence, between me and a Colombo correspondent appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine issues in 1991. The captions of the letters were not mine.

Letter 1

Looking for scapegoats

by Sachi Sri Kantha

[Far Eastern Economic Review, Oct.3, 1991]

“I agree with Hamish McDonald’s report on the murder of Rajiv Gandhi [12 Sept.], that though ‘the involvement of ethnic Tamils, the location and the suicide element all point to the LTTE’, the murder theory formulated by the Indian investigation team ‘looks almost too neat’ to believe.

In his last interview in The New York Times [22 May] shortly before he was killed, Gandhi stated that ‘India and Indian leaders could be targets of outside powers as the country took on a larger role in the region’. It was also reported that when asked whether he had the CIA in mind as the outside force, he ‘smirked’. Gandhi’s reference to ‘a larger role in the region’ is not too cryptic a remark to fathom what he had in mind.

According to news reports released after the murder, Khaled el-Sheikh, the PLO’s chief envoy in India, said that he gave Gandhi a warning from PLO leader Yasser Arafat ‘about a plot to assassinate him’ some five weeks before he was killed on 21 May. The warning could have been about the activities of the Mossad, the secret service arm of Israel. And Gandhi’s reference to outside powers could be interpreted as a natural extension of his ‘intelligence’ received from the PLO.

If the LTTE planned to murder Gandhi, how could one explain that Arafat came to know about this plot? It is ridiculous to believe that Arafat spied on the LTTE in Jaffna or in jungles of the Vanni region of Sri Lanka.

Mossad’s motives in eliminating Gandhi are not incomprehensible, since India under Gandhis (both Indira and Rajiv) has openly supported the causes espoused by the PLO. Last year, Mossad also suffered a loss of face when one of its former agents, Victor Ostrovsky, exposed its nefarious activities in his much publicized book, By Way of Deception. So it is not improbable to expect that Mossad could have been tempted to redeem its tarnished image among clients, which included the military establishment of Sri Lanka.

One wonders why Arafat cannot be contacted and asked in detail about what kind of warning he gave Gandhi and whom he had in mind as the suspects.”

Letter 2

Gandhi’s killers

by U. Pethiyagoda

[Far Eastern Economic Review, Nov.7, 1991]

“In reference to the letter by Sachi Sri Kantha [Letters, 3 Oct.], a ‘smirk’ by the late Rajiv Gandhi shortly before his brutal murder, the purported ‘warning’ five weeks before his killing, and a specious assumption that Mossad had ‘lost face’ by the publication of a book by an ‘ex-Mossad agent’, is apparently good enough evidence to suspect hands other than those of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for Gandhi’s murder.

The painstaking and impressive evidence uncovered by an Indian investigating team which fairly points the finger at the perpetrators pales into insignificance before the novel line of reasoning of your correspondent.

Such impeccable logic of LTTE apologists is not unfamiliar to Sri Lankans. Clearly ‘looking for scapegoats’ continues!.”

Letter 3

Backed by the president

by Sachi Sri Kantha

[Far Eastern Economic Review, Nov.28, 1991]

“One Colombo correspondent [Letters, 7 Nov.] feels irritated by my linking of Israel’s secret service to the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. I wish to note that Mossad’s involvement in the politics of South Asia has been corroborated by Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa himself. On 24 September, Premadasa openly accused Mossad of trying to topple him.

In his address to the Sri Lankan parliament, he said: ‘You know that immediately after the sending back of the IPKF [Indian Peace Keeping Force], I had the Israeli Interests Section removed. In such a context there is nothing to be surprised about the Mossad rising up against me. Please remember that there are among us traitors [Note by Sri Kantha: he was indeed referring to his then nemesis Lalith Athulathmudali!] who have gone to Israeli universities and lectured there and earned dirty money. Don’t forget that for a moment.”

Curiously, when you covered the impeachment crisis faced by Premadasa, this accusation was left out in your news reports. Also one should not forget that a serious assassination attempt was made on Gandhi in Colombo after he signed the now disgraced Gandhi-Jayewardene Peace Accord in mid-1987. Only the poor targeting by the assassin allowed Gandhi to have an additional four years of life.

Being more inclined to get involved in polemics, the Colombo correspondent makes fun of the warning given to Gandhi five weeks before his death. This warning had come not from an ordinary person. It was given by Yasser Arafat.

While some in Sri Lanka may be impressed by the ‘painstaking evidence uncovered by an Indian investigating team’ which pointed fingers at the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the performance of the Indian sleuths resembled more closely a page from a Marx brothers’ comedy script. The Tamil Nadu police, the Central Bureau of Intelligence and the Research and Analysis Wing of the Indian search team bungled at every step from 21 May to 21 August. The so-called ‘impressive evidence’ could not track the personal details of the female assassin. Nothing is known about her background. The alleged mastermind Sivarajan has been identified by an investigative journalist [Note by Sri Kantha: I was referring to D.B.S.Jeyaraj’s report to the Frontline magazine] as one who belonged to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) until 1986. It was this rebel group which received official patronage from the Indian Government between 1983 and 1986.”

Coda

It was my conjecture that, the “Tamil Tigers” mentioned by Victor Ostrovki in his book belonged to the TELO group. In containing the LTTE challenge since 1983, Sri Lanka’s dealings with India had attracted much energy and space of academics and journalists. I, for one, would suggest that there is adequate material about Sri Lanka’s dealings with Israeli institutions that remains unnoticed, unevaluated and uninterpreted.

Part 2

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