Israel’s (non)role in the Georgia fighting

Fighting between Georgia and Russia in the little-known region of South Ossetia broke out just two days after Israel announced that it would not sell offensive weapons to the pro-Western government of Georgia. What made Israel take this decision? Russian pressure, of course. The Russians, apparently, had encountered an Israeli-made drone in the service of the Georgian armed forces earlier this year, and were concerned about the impact that several more of the pilotless vehicles could have on their troops in the area.

(A few ex-generals are also “advising” Georgia, training its infantry and/or selling Israeli munitions.)

Israel’s decision to bow to Russia’s demand is seen as a quid pro quo for Russian restraint in arms sales to Syria and Iran, two of its major weapons clients and also, of course, the two most significant threats to Israel at present. So it was interesting that, two days after the announcement on Israeli weapons sales to Georgia, a top Israeli defense official took the extremely unusual step of publicly threatening Russia against following through with its plan to sell the highly advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. The system would be yet another move on Tehran’s part to thwart an Israeli airstrike on its nuclear facilities. The Israeli official’s public threat to jam the Russian system and expose it as useless was a significant signal to Iran that Jerusalem means business, and to the Russians that Israel has little faith in Moscow’s promises.

To bring this full circle, let us recall the words of Georgia’s foreign minister, who during a visit here less than a year ago warned Israel not to appease Russia:

“The appeasement of Russia will not bring you results. No, if they feel that you are weak, they will put you down, put you down, using your weakness. They play on weakness all the time. So, be strong, don’t show your weakness, and try to engage them from a position of strength. Build alliances.”

One such alliance that Israel could and should make, the foreign minister implied, was with Georgia. Israel has, in fact, made some attempts to forge such an alliance. But this untimely act of appeasement will not help.

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