YnetNews, a bilingual Hebrew-English website, has a useful article on the Israeli Connection in the Russian-Georgian war, emphasizing how personal relationships between the 29-year-old former Israeli Defense Minister of Georgia and Israeli arms merchants helped Israel blunder into a diplomatic disaster without the Israeli government as a whole realizing what it was getting into:
The fighting which broke out over the weekend between Russia and Georgia has brought Israel's intensive involvement in the region into the limelight. This involvement includes the sale of advanced weapons to Georgia and the training of the Georgian army's infantry forces.
The Defense Ministry held a special meeting Sunday to discuss the various arms deals held by Israelis in Georgia, but no change in policy has been announced as of yet.
"The subject is closely monitored," said sources in the Defense Ministry. "We are not operating in any way which may counter Israeli interests. We have turned down many requests involving arms sales to Georgia; and the ones which have been approves have been duly scrutinized. So far, we have placed no limitations on the sale of protective measures."
Israel began selling arms to Georgia about seven years ago following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became businesspeople.
"They contacted defense industry officials and arms dealers and told them that Georgia had relatively large budgets and could be interested in purchasing Israeli weapons," says a source involved in arms exports.
The military cooperation between the countries developed swiftly. The fact that Georgia's defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation.
"His door was always open to the Israelis who came and offered his country arms systems made in Israel," the source said. "Compared to countries in Eastern Europe, the deals in this country were conducted fast, mainly due to the defense minister's personal involvement."
Among the Israelis who took advantage of the opportunity and began doing business in Georgia were former Minister Roni Milo and his brother Shlomo, former director-general of the Military Industries, Brigadier-General (Res.) Gal Hirsch and Major-General (Res.) Yisrael Ziv.
Roni Milo conducted business in Georgia for Elbit Systems and the Military Industries, and with his help Israel's defense industries managed to sell to Georgia remote-piloted vehicles (RPVs), automatic turrets for armored vehicles, antiaircraft systems, communication systems, shells and rockets.
According to Israeli sources, Gal Hirsch gave the Georgian army advice on the establishment of elite units such as Sayeret Matkal and on rearmament, and gave various courses in the fields of combat intelligence and fighting in built-up areas.
'Don't anger the Russians'
The Israelis operating in Georgia attempted to convince the Israeli Aerospace Industries to sell various systems to the Georgian air force, but were turned down. The reason for the refusal was "special" relations created between the Aerospace Industries and Russia in terms of improving fighter jets produced in the former USSR and the fear that selling weapons to Georgia would anger the Russians and prompt them to cancel the deals.
Israelis' activity in Georgia and the deals they struck there were all authorized by the Defense Ministry. Israel viewed Georgia as a friendly state to which there is no reason not to sell arms systems similar to those Israel exports to other countries in the world.
As the tension between Russia and Georgia grew, however, increasing voices were heard in Israel – particularly in the Foreign Ministry – calling on the Defense Ministry to be more selective in the approval of the deals with Georgia for fear that they would anger Russia.
"It was clear that too many unmistakable Israeli systems in the possesion of the Georgian army would be like a red cloth in the face of a raging bull as far as Russia is concerned," explained a source in the defense establishment.
For inctance, the Russians viewed the operation of the Elbit System's RPVs as a real provocation.
"It was clear that the Russians were angry," says a defense establishment source, "and that the interception of three of these RPVs in the past three months was an expression of this anger. Not everyone in Israel understood the sensitive nerve Israel touched when it supplied such an advanced arms system to a country whose relations with Russia are highly tense."
That's pretty much how the world works: not through Conspiracies Carrying Out Grand Strategies, but through Affinity Networks. There is no Inner Party who understands all and has the future all plotted out. There are just a lot of hustlers on the make, guys who have friends who have friends.
The Israeli Connection has turned out to be a disaster for Israel, encouraging Israel's enemies. YNet reports:
"The entire front line of the army's brass stepped down because of the war. Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him," laughed Nasrallah. Hirsch, a brigadier-general in the reserves, served as commander of the IDF's Galilee Division during the war and resigned in its wake. In recent years he consulted the Georgian army on the establishment of elite units and rearmament, and gave various courses in the fields of combat intelligence and fighting in built-up areas. "Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learned why the Israeli generals failed," proclaimed Nasrallah, "what happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures." A Turkish news source reported that on a visit to Istanbul:
"The entire front line of the army's brass stepped down because of the war. Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him," laughed Nasrallah.
Hirsch, a brigadier-general in the reserves, served as commander of the IDF's Galilee Division during the war and resigned in its wake. In recent years he consulted the Georgian army on the establishment of elite units and rearmament, and gave various courses in the fields of combat intelligence and fighting in built-up areas.
"Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learned why the Israeli generals failed," proclaimed Nasrallah, "what happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures."
A Turkish news source reported that on a visit to Istanbul:
While speaking about a recent conflict between Georgia and Russia, Ahmadinejad once more addressed the United States. "It is not possible for the United States, which even failed to protect its ally Georgia, to attack Iran. The US could not even protect its own ally. US clout in world politics is decreasing. Moreover, it is in a major economic depression," Ahmadinejad said. "We will see that the US empire will crack and eventually collapse. There is nothing that the US can do against Iran," he added.
The Jerusalem Post reports from an Israel Foreign Ministry source, "Israel Fears War Could Hurt Iran Effort" because Russia is now less likely to cooperate with Israel and the U.S. in isolating Iran.
Georgia has turned out to be to Israel what Israel has been to the U.S.: the tail that wags the dog.
None of this was particularly planned; it just grew out of international networks, the kind of international networks that we here in the U.S. are supposed to never, ever notice.