History repeats itself: Netanyahu’s Rajapakse Strategy

The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel’s IDF began two months ago, with the media reporting the world expressing mixed opinions on Israel’s aggression against Hamas. Israel has now favored abandoning the Gaza Strip from north to south, as northern Gaza has a population of 11-12 million out of a total of 22 million.

The two largest towns have a population of roughly 1.1 million, while 1.3-1.4 million Palestinians live in North Gaza, which is Hamas’s heartland. Israel has ordered residents to leave the area and relocate to the southern Gaza Strip. The warning has been widely broadcast, with leaflets from planes dropping instructions.

Israel’s strategy of giving northern Gaza residents a week to evacuate is not widely understood by the international community due to humanitarian concerns. The strategy is not a permanent solution, but rather a symptom of a larger plan to permanently eliminate Hamas.

Experts question how a state can eradicate terrorism in the region? This is something that was still not feasible for Israel in the past 70 years. However, the best example of this was 15 years ago, masterminded by Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

In 1976, the Liberated Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in Sri Lanka in response to the 1972 Constitution, which established Buddhism as the country’s principal religion and Sinhala as its national language. The conflict escalated, leading to the assassination attempt of Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who got away with her life, but was seriously injured and lost an eye.

The LTTE’s headquarters were located in seclusion in the north of Ceylon, geographically similar in position to the Gaza Strip where Hamas operates today. Amnesty International had also attempted to mediate talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers in Scandinavian nations, resulting in a temporary ceasefire. However, these attempts were unsuccessful as the LTTE returned, re-energized, and continued to carry out attacks against civilians and the military.

In 1987, Sri Lankan naval sailors Vijitha Rohana, who was later found to be LTTE sympathizer, assaulted India’s sixth Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, at a ceremony honoring his visit at the President’s House. In May 1991, Gandhi was murdered by the LTTE in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, a stronghold of Tamil Tiger followers. Gandhi was alleged to have been assassinated on personal grudge of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran due to his decision to send the Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka, a betrayal.

Gandhi and Prabhakaran had previously met in a pleasant atmosphere, with their photos together published in the media. The Israel-Hamas conflict is similar to the one faced by Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapakse, who ran for office with a pledge to eliminate the Tamil Tigers.

In 2004, Rajapakse won the election and began extermination operations against the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka’s strategy after this was a massive  ‘comb and exterminate’ operation against the LTTE, similar to what Israel is attempting to eliminate Hamas in Gaza.

Rajapakse’s Chief of Army Staff announced, that people who are mostly Tamil but not Tamil Tigers, should evacuate the Jaffna region immediately in 90 days, only with the clothes on the body and the necessary materials and report beyond a predetermined boundary line out of Jaffna on this side of that boundary on the south side.

As a strategy, a demarcation was drawn between Sri Lanka as a whole and the northern area of Jaffna and asked those who did not identify themselves as Tamil Tigers or those who didn’t wish to fight alongside the Tamil Tigers to cross the border to the southern side to safety.

After 90 days, anyone who remains in the Jaffna area would be deemed an LTTE or sympathizer and will face prosecution without any mercy. The Sri Lankan Army was ready on high alert while this evacuation was taking place on the southern side of the demarcated areas, same as the current blockade to the Egyptian territory was created. Also a naval force on the Bay of Bengal side was on alert to stop the evacuation to neighboring India or anywhere else beyond. Once the evacuation date passed the Army initiated “Operation Liberation” in May 1987 to regain the control of Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE.

This was the first conventional warfare on Sri Lankan soil since independence. Every individual that was seen in the area after that day was executed for association with LTTE. The global humanitarian organizations tried to intervene and there were worldwide protests as happening today naming Rajapakse as an anarchist, similar to how Netanyahu is portrayed today.

Amnesty International and the UN tried to send their representatives to Sri Lanka for mediation.

Rajapakse warned them of the danger and urged them to keep away from traveling via land or sea to Jaffna or fly over the skies of Jaffna. The army declared the human shielding LTTE as animals and hence no question of humanitarian consideration doesn’t arise. Now it’s been approximately 15 years that there’s no news of LTTE related attacks from Sri Lanka.

Taking a cue from Sri Lanka? 

Netanyahu seemed to have borrowed a cue from Rajapakse’s notes for the anti-Hamas operation, and the deadline of October 15, 3:30 pm, was given for evacuation for the compliant Gazaites to the “safer” southern part of the seaside territory.

Anyone who remained in the northern part of Gaza after the expiration of the term is now considered a Hamas terrorist and is in line of execution, whether the person is a woman, old person or a Hamas operative. There will be nothing like an accidental terrorist in northern Gaza after the permissible evacuation time. Termination of Hamas from the Gaza Strip is as imperative as it was for eliminating the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

Geographically, it is conducive for this operation that Hamas operates only out of the Gaza area and the IDF hasn’t faced any armed resistance from the West Bank, hence IDF is saved from a two front operation.

Israel has not found geopolitical resistance as Sri Lanka did back then from humanitarian organizations nor from the western nations. Even the progressive Islamic countries like Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, have not gone against Israel, as they want Islamic extremist HAMAS to be eliminated, for they fear it’s spread in their territory. Hence the role of the Islamic neighbor Egypt to demobilize Hamas, was to create blockade at the Egyptian border to not let Hamas operatives escape to reorganize. Today Hamas has become the LTTE.

This Rajapakse strategy today is adopted by the Israeli leadership. Hamas has vowed to fight out fiercely and Netanyahu seems to be possessed by Rajapakse’s spirit.


Vipul Tamhane is a counter terrorism expert and a visiting faculty with Pune University (SPPU) at Dept. of Defense and Strategic Studies (DDSS). He is also founder and Editor-in-Chief at Diplomacy Direct, a public interest Think Tank based in India.

The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 


Images courtesy of (KSL TV) and provided

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