PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed “deep shock” at the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday that killed at least 207 people, and said Israel is ready to render assistance to the authorities in Sri Lanka “at this difficult hour.”
“The entire world must unite in the struggle against the plague of terrorism,” he said in a statement.
Israel’s ambassador to India Ron Malka, who serves as the country’s non-resident envoy to Sri Lanka as well, also offered assistance earlier in the day. So far, no requests for anything concrete has come from Colombo. National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat spoke about the matter with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Udaya Seneviratne.
President Reuven Rivlin said in a Twitter post that the attacks, including against worshipers on Easter Sunday, “are a despicable crime.”
“We are all children of God; an attack on one religion is an attack on us all,” he wrote. “Israel sends condolences to the families of the victims, and wishes for the recovery of the injured.”
The Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that no Israelis were involved in the attacks, and that an Israeli who died in the country on Sunday died from injuries suffered in the country in an unrelated accident last week.
Sri Lanka is an increasingly popular vacation destination for Israelis, particularly for surfing enthusiasts, and an estimated 8,000 Israelis visited the country last year, with the number expected to increase by more than 50% this year.
The ministry advised Israeli tourists there to stay away from churches and popular tourist attractions, and to inform their relatives in Israel of their whereabouts. Although the government clamped a curfew on the country, Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport is open, and tourists who want to leave can do so via transportation supplied by their hotels.
Ties between Israel and Sri Lanka have, over the years, known peaks and valleys, with current period being among the peaks, according to Danny Carmon, who served as Israel’s ambassador to India and non-resident ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2014-2018.
The turning point came in 2015 following democratic balloting in the country and the election as president of Maithripala Sirisena, who favors more openness to the West than his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Israel has benefited from this tilt a bit as well, and since then, the country’s voting pattern toward Israel in the UN has improved slightly. For example, it abstained on an UNESCO vote in October 2016 which erased any Hebrew reference to the Temple Mount, and also abstained, rather than voted against, a resolution in December in the UN General Assembly to condemn Hamas violence in the Gaza Strip.
This stands in contrast to the 1960s and 1970s, when Sri Lanka played a central role in the Non-Aligned Movement – along with India, Cuba and Yugoslavia – and relations between the two countries were often problematic. Colombo broke off ties with Israel in 1970 and again in 1990 after a brief resumption of low-level relations in the early 1980s. The ties were restored again in 2000.
Even when there were no formal ties, Israeli arms sales to Sri Lanka continued, primarily Kfir planes and patrol boats.
Sri Lanka purchased 16 Kfir jets from Israel between 1995 and 2005, seven of which were lost during the 26-year-long Sri Lankan civil war. A Kfir plane, Carmon said, adorns the square at the entrance to the country’s Air Force Headquarters in Colombo.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel provided $455 million worth of arms to Sri Lanka from 1990 to 2018, second only to China.
While Israel does not have an embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka does have one in Tel Aviv. Carmon said that the embassy is active in many spheres, especially in dealing with the Sri Lankan caregivers in Israel.
Remittance payments from Sri Lankan workers abroad is significant for the South Asian country, Carmon said, adding that Israel is considered one of the better work destinations for Sri Lankan caregivers, both in terms of their treatment here, and the salaries. Currently there are an estimated 8,000 to 9,000 Sri Lankan caregivers in Israel.
In January, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and United Hatzalah teamed up to train first responders in Colombo in mass casualty incidents and disaster management. The AJC brought experts from United Hatzalah of Israel to train members of local response organizations in providing quick and effective emergency response to large scale emergencies ranging from natural disasters to terror attacks. The team trained members of the Sri Lanka military, police force, search and rescue units, and the fire department and provided them with tools and techniques developed in Israel to deal with large-scale attacks such as the type that hit the country on Sunday.
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