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January 31, 2012 11:41 am

How Israel Helped Sri Lanka Defeat the Tamil Tigers

avatar by Lakkana Nanayakkara

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Israeli built Kfir plane used by Sri Lankan Air Force. Photo: wikipedia.

Conflict background

In 2009 the Sri Lankan government defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, proving that a guerilla group can be defeated on the battle field. The LTTE invented the suicide belt and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks. It was also the only terrorist group to have an air and naval wing.

The LTTE was carrying out suicide bombings well before Hamas and Islamic Jihad carried out such attacks, while Islamic terrorist groups such as Hamas learned how to carry out suicide bombings from the LTTE.

The war against the LTTE had dragged on for more than 20 years due to corruption and incompetence of previous Sri Lankan governments, but when Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2005, he set forth clear goals for defeating the LTTE.

Sri Lanka won the conflict against the LTTE primarily as a result of the following three policies:

The Sri Lanka government effectively doubled its defense budget. In the short-term this meant running large budget deficits, but longer term this made sense because if the war had dragged on, it may have bankrupted the Sri Lankan government.

The United States, European Union, Canada, India and Australia had designated the LTTE as a terrorist group, thereby cutting off foreign funding to the LTTE. At the same time, the Sri Lankan government bought weapons or received military aid from countries with divergent ideologies such as India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, China, Russia and the United States.

The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa ignored criticism from foreign governments, NGOs and human rights organizations and there is evidence that some individuals who wanted a ceasefire were influenced by LTTE lobbying. The LTTE had previously used the tactic of using ceasefires to regroup and rearm.

Map of Sri Lanka with yellow notating LTTE controlled territory prior to Sri Lankan offensive. Photo:

The Israeli influence

Sri Lanka has substantial military ties with Israel. A large section of the Sri Lankan air force consists of Israeli aircraft such as Kfir planes purchased from the Israeli government and a significant part of the Sri Lankan navy consists of Dvora and Shaldag attack craft, which were either purchased from Israel or built under license in Sri Lanka. There were also reports of Israeli missile testing from submarines in Sri Lankan waters.

The Sri Lankan government is reluctant to publicize its military links with Israel for several reasons. Sri Lanka imports all of its oil from the Middle East and it does not want to damage its relations with Muslim countries in the region. Additionally, Muslims residing in Sri Lanka make up 8% of the population, and generally have a negative view of Israel. The current Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is pro-Palestinian – there is even a street named after him in the West Bank.

Some Western experts believe that Israel and the US can learn from Sri Lanka on how to defeat terrorism, however Israel may not be able to replicate Sri Lanka’s success in defeating terrorism due to the following reasons:

Sri Lanka received and continues to receive comparatively little media attention, including UN criticism, compared to Israel, and Muslim countries had no interest in the Sri Lankan conflict because the LTTE were not Muslim. The Sri Lankan military were thus able to carry out operations without being constrained by external influences.

The territory that the LTTE wanted for a separate state is universally considered to be part of Sri Lanka.

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