In Georgia’s defeat, some lessons for Israel

Israel has been careful not to criticize Russia too loudly for its part in the brief war with Georgia. Yet Jerusalem’s disappointment with the unfolding of events, which have culminated in the utterly humiliating defeat of pro-Western Georgia, is evident.

Yes, Russia’s aggression may very well cost it dearly in the diplomatic arena. (Georgia did indeed initiate the fighting by pounding South Ossetian militias that had been sniping at Georgian forces. But were those militias encouraged by Russia to start trouble, so as to offer Moscow a pretext to intervene? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they were.) But it has definitely reestablished itself as the bully in the neighborhood.

Why does Israel have a special interest in these developments? Because the neighborhood in question just happens to be one that Israel would desperately like to see become a major bulwark against both Iran and Russia, two empires not particularly high on Israel’s list of friends. Georgia is the middle link in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline carrying oil from Azerbaijan’s coast on the Caspian Sea to Turkey’s coast on the Mediterranean Sea. This pipeline was built in defiance of both Russia and Iran, who are vying for greater control of the considerable oil and gas wealth in the Caspian, and symbolizes hopes that pro-Western states in the region can offset those two powers, economically as well as diplomatically.

Israel has quietly but steadily invested in relations with Azerbaijan (see this article) and Georgia over the past decade; for various reasons, its dealings with Turkey have had a higher profile. Together, the three states form a crescent onto which Israel would very much like to grab a hold. With enemies to its west, south and east, these countries to the north, with ambitions of strong ties with America and Europe and interests in tempering the Muslim states around them, have been the stars of Israeli dreams.

Well, those dreams should be dissipating right about now, along with the smoke from Russian artillery shells.

Georgia, of course, has learned a bitter lesson about the precarious existence of an anti-Moscow former Soviet republic. What concerns me, however, is what Israel can learn from this experience. My thoughts, briefly:

1. The future of the BTC pipeline, and of the states that control it, is far from certain. Israel’s energy woes are by no means solved. The less Israel needs foreign oil and gas, the better.

2. The best way to undermine Israel’s enemies in the Middle East (and to tame Russia, which remains much closer to those Middle Eastern states than to Israel and her allies) is to develop affordable alternatives to petroleum and natural gas. No nation in the world has a greater strategic interest in this field.

3. The “local players” on whom Israel is relying for some sort of loose alliance are too weak, and have far bigger concerns than hooking up with Jerusalem, to hang our hopes on. In addition to its already strong ties with the United States and Europe, Israel ought to invest heavily in ties with the two powers who will really matter in the near future, China and India. After all, no one is about to invade them any time soon.


One Response

  1. I reckon you’ll defend your loved country, right or wrong, that might not be the best thing for Israel!

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