Israel and Sri Lanka: An Unholy Alliance

Israel and Sri Lanka

As the Gaza war is about to enter its seventh month, the Palestinian death toll stands at well over 33,000, including over 12,000 children. Hundreds of schools and hospitals have been destroyed, with residents of Gaza deprived of food, which is used as a weapon of war, and the entire population rendered homeless. The assault by Israel is supported by Western powers who fully back Israel, ignoring the global public outcry.

Israel was unable to conceal its genocidal intentions as the war garnered widespread attention from international and social media, with Israeli politicians and senior government spokespeople being vocal in announcing their intentions.

On 20 October 2023, in a poignant address to parliament, Gajen Ponnamblam, a Tamil Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, identified the brutal onslaught underway in Gaza as a genocide and compared it to what the Tamil people had been subjected to in 2009 in Sri Lanka.

On December 7, 2023, Countercurrents.org, in an article titled “Echoes of Mullivaikal in Gaza,”[1] highlighted how the daily death and destruction in Gaza has evoked painful memories for Tamils everywhere of a similar carnage half a world away in Mullivaikal, the coastal village that became the scene of mass slaughter at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.


The mass killings, first by Israel and then by Sri Lanka, were permitted despite both violating moral and legal constraints due to the overriding interests of global and regional powers. However, there were distinctions: Israel’s actions garnered attention, whereas Sri Lanka’s actions occurred in a “war without witnesses” as journalists were denied access to the theater of war and UN agencies operating in the Tamil Homeland had withdrawn at the request of the Sri Lankan Government. It was a hasty decision by the UN, one they would later regret.

Unlike in Sri Lanka, the UN Secretary-General and the UN General Assembly were proactive in condemning the actions of the Israeli regime.

In 2012, the UN’s Internal Investigations into their conduct in Sri Lanka brought to light a sobering truth. The civilian deaths could have been prevented had the UN remained in the war zone. (In 2011, the UN’s Panel of Experts acknowledged that there were credible reasons to believe that at least 40,000 Tamil  people had been killed during the final months of the war) The investigations revealed that the organization succumbed to pressure betraying its principles and responsibilities. The investigation’s conclusion pointed to a great failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings during the evolving stages of the conflict’s final stages and its aftermath. This failure had severe consequences for hundreds of thousands of civilians contradicting the very principles the UN was meant to uphold.

Perhaps it was this lesson learned in Sri Lanka that prompted the UN to be proactive in dealing with Israel’s brutalities.

On 26 December 2023, Alan Keenan from the International Crisis Group (ICG)  tweeted  that the “The dynamics @MairavZ (CrisisGroup  colleague in #Israel) describes, like so much else about the war in #Gaza, reminds me of #SriLanka and a#Mullaitivu 2009”

But the parallels and connections run even deeper.

After its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) established relations with Israel unlike most of the neighbours in South Asia, which were markedly pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. Under Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, Ceylon began buying weapons from Israel, including the naval vessel HMCyS Gajabahu.[2]

In 1960, two years after the 1958 anti-Tamil pogrom fueled by ‘political Buddhism,’ B. H. Farmer, a British scholar writing in “Ceylon: A Divided Nation,” drew a comparison to Zionism. He observed that the violence stemmed from the Sinhalese perception of themselves as a ‘special people’ and their belief in being the chosen guardians of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, based on an interpretation of an ancient 5th Century chronicle, Mahavamasa, which was akin to how some Jews (Zionists) view the State of Israel through an Old Testament-inspired lens.

It was therefore not surprising that Israel should during Sri Lanka’s 26-year-old war against the Tamil people, provide arms and ammunition to the Sri Lankan regime with whom it shared similar ideologies.

According to Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack Israeli weapons, including surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other military equipment, were used by the Sri Lankan Army in atrocities against civilians during the decades-long war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Sri Lankan government, he wrote, “also purchased combat aircraft and battleships from Israel that were used in the commission of war crimes”.[3]

In 2004, Israeli academics,  Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University and Asad Ghanem of the University of Haifa, in an article titled “Understanding ‘ethnocratic regimes: the politics of seizing contested territories,”[4]  identified Sri Lanka and Israel as ethnocratic states.

An ethnocratic state, however, is not completely devoid of democracy. But this democracy is confined to the dominant ethnic group. As such an Ethnocratic state is ruled mainly or solely by members of a majority ethnic group for their benefit. It is they who are in charge, making the major decisions: ethnos and demos are conflated but the ‘democracy’ is disproportionately and sometimes exclusively available to the favored ethnos-Sinhalese and Jews.

The Sri Lanka-Israel connection has continued even after the brutal suppression of the  Tamil uprising.

In September 2021, the Sri Lankan government signed an agreement with Israel to upgrade Israeli-made Kfir fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

In late 2023, Sri Lanka’s long-standing relationship with Israel resulted in at least 20,000 workers from Sri Lanka going to Israel to work in the farm and construction sectors to replace Palestinian workers, who, no longer work in Israel.[5]  

In 2024, Sri Lanka decided to join the US-led Patrols in the Red Sea and became an active participant in the conflict in Gaza. According to a Sri Lankan navy spokesperson, “the deployment will be in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian, the United States-led multinational initiative combating Houthi rebels in the Red Sea”.[6]

Just as Israel had destabilized the Middle East by drawing Iran, the regional power, and the US, the global power into confrontalist positions, Sri Lanka too has precipitated actions that China, India, and the US are now engaged in a tussle to bring Colombo within their orbit.

Sri Lanka’s ethnocentric and violence-ridden policies have brought it perilously close to being classified as a ‘failed state.’ Meanwhile, Israel, increasingly isolated by a majority of countries worldwide, is swiftly approaching a status reminiscent of South Africa’s former standing as a pariah state.

Ana Pararajasingham is an independent researcher and writer. He was Director- Programmes with the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD), a Switzerland-based action research centre between 2007 and 2009. He has written widely on the conflict in Sri Lanka for over thirty years.


[1] https://countercurrents.org/2023/12/echoes-of-mullivaikal-in-gaza/

[2] https://www.dailymirror.lk/print/opinion/The-many-twists-and-turns-in-Sri-Lanka-Israel-relations/172-273862

[3] Etay Mack, “Israel’s Complicity in Sri Lanka war crimes must be investigated”,27 June 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2023/6/27/israeli-complicity-in-sri-lanka-war-crimes-must-be-investigated

[4] Oren Yiftachel and  As’ad Ghanem, “Understanding ‘ethnocratic’ regimes: the politics of seizing contested territories”, Political Geography, Volume 23, Issue 6, August 2004,

[5] Uditha Jayasingha, “Thousands of Sri Lankan Workers Set to Depart for Israel Despite War”, 24 November 2023  https://www.reuters.com/world/thousands-sri-lankan-workers-set-depart-israel-despite-war-2023-11-23/

[6] Uditha Devapriya, “Why Is Sri Lanka Joining US-led Patrols in the Red Sea?”, The Diplomat,12 January 2024, https://thediplomat.com/2024/01/why-is-sri-lanka-joining-us-led-patrols-in-the-red-sea/

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