Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada
Israelis wave both Georgian and Israeli flags as they chant anti-Russian slogans during a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, 11 August. (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)
August 12, 2008
From the moment Georgia launched a surprise attack on the tiny breakaway region of South Ossetia last week, prompting a fierce Russian counterattack, Israel has been trying to distance itself from the conflict. This is understandable: with Georgian forces on the retreat, large numbers of civilians killed and injured, and Russia's fury unabated, Israel's deep involvement is severely embarrassing.
The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its US-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel's military prestige and prowess. Worse, Israel fears that Russia could retaliate by stepping up its military assistance to Israel's adversaries including Iran.
"Israel is following with great concern the developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hopes the violence will end," its foreign ministry said, adding with uncharacteristic doveishness, "Israel recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia and calls for a peaceful solution."
Tbilisi's top diplomat in Tel Aviv complained about the lackluster Israeli response to his country's predicament and perhaps overestimating Israeli influence, called for Israeli "diplomatic pressure on Moscow." Just like Israel, the diplomat said, Georgia is fighting a war on "terrorism." Israeli officials politely told the Georgians that "the address for that type of pressure was Washington" (Herb Keinon, "Tbilisi wants Israel to pressure Russia," The Jerusalem Post, 11 August 2008).
While Israel was keen to downplay its role, Georgia perhaps hoped that flattery might draw Israel further in. Georgian minister Temur Yakobashvili -- whom the Israeli daily Haaretz stressed was Jewish -- told Israeli army radio that "Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers." Yakobashvili claimed rather implausibly, according to Haaretz, that "a small group of Georgian soldiers were able to wipe out an entire Russian military division, thanks to the Israeli training" ("Georgian minister tells Israel Radio: Thanks to Israeli training, we're fending off Russian military," Haaretz, 11 August 2008).
Since 2000, Israel has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in arms and combat training to Georgia. Weapons included guns, ammunition, shells, tactical missile systems, antiaircraft systems, automatic turrets for armored vehicles, electronic equipment and remotely piloted aircraft. These sales were authorized by the Israeli defense ministry (Arie Egozi, "War in Georgia: The Israeli connection," Ynet, 10 August 2008).
Training also involved officers from Israel's Shin Bet secret service -- which has for decades carried out extrajudicial executions and torture of Palestinians in the occupied territories -- the Israeli police, and the country's major arms companies Elbit and Rafael.
The Tel Aviv-Tbilisi military axis appears to have been cemented at the highest levels, and according to YNet, "The fact that Georgia's defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation." Others involved in the brisk arms trade included former Israeli minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo as well as several senior Israeli military officers.
The key liaison was Reserve Brigadier General Gal Hirsch who commanded Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon during the July 2006 Second Lebanon War. (Yossi Melman, "Georgia Violence - A frozen alliance," Haaretz, 10 August 2008). He resigned from the army after the Winograd commission severely criticized Israel's conduct of its war against Lebanon and an internal Israeli army investigation blamed Hirsch for the seizure of two soldiers by Hizballah.
According to one of the Israeli combat trainers, an officer in an "elite" Israel army unit, Hirsch and colleagues would sometimes personally supervise the training of Georgian forces which included "house-to-house fighting." The training was carried out through several "private" companies with close links to the Israeli military.
As the violence raged in Georgia, the trainer was desperately trying to contact his former Georgian students on the battlefront via mobile phone: the Israelis wanted to know whether the Georgians had "internalized Israeli military technique and if the special reconnaissance forces have chalked up any successes" (Jonathan Lis and Moti Katz, "IDF vets who trained Georgia troops say war with Russia is no surprise," Haaretz, 11 August 2008).
Yet on the ground, the Israeli-trained Georgian forces, perhaps unsurprisingly overwhelmed by the Russians, have done little to redeem the image of Israel's military following its defeat by Hizballah's in July-August 2006.
The question remains as to why Israel was involved in the first place. There are several reasons. The first is simply economic opportunism: for years, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks, arms exports and "security expertise" have been one of Israel's growth industries. But the close Israeli involvement in a region Russia considers to be of vital interest suggests that Israel might have been acting as part of the broader US scheme to encircle Russia and contain its reemerging power.
Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been steadily encroaching on Russia's borders and expanding NATO in a manner the Kremlin considers highly provocative. Shortly after coming into office, the Bush Administration tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and, like the Clinton administration, adopted former Soviet satellite states as its own, using them to base an anti-missile system Russia views as a threat. In addition to their "global war on terror," hawks in Washington have recently been talking up a new Cold War with Russia.
Georgia was an eager volunteer in this effort and has learned quickly the correct rhetoric: one Georgian minister claimed that "every bomb that falls on our heads is an attack on democracy, on the European Union and on America." Georgia has been trying to join NATO, and sent 2,000 soldiers to help the US occupy Iraq. It may have hoped that once war started this loyalty would be rewarded with the kind of round-the-clock airlift of weapons that Israel receives from the US during its wars. Instead so far the US only helped airlift the Georgian troops from Iraq back to the beleaguered home front.
By helping Georgia, Israel may have been doing its part to duplicate its own experience in assisting the eastward expansion of the "Euro-Atlantic" empire. While supporting Georgia was certainly risky for Israel, given the possible Russian reaction, it has a compelling reason to intervene in a region that is heavily contested by global powers. Israel must constantly reinvent itself as an "asset" to American power if it is to maintain the US support that ensures its survival as a settler-colonial enclave in the Middle East. It is a familiar role; in the 1970s and 1980s, at the behest of Washington, Israel helped South Africa's apartheid regime fight Soviet-supported insurgencies in South African-occupied Namibia and Angola, and it trained right-wing US-allied death squads fighting left-wing governments and movements in Central America. After 2001, Israel marketed itself as an expert on combating "Islamic terrorism."
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez recently denounced Colombia - long one of the largest recipients of US military aid after Israel -- as the "Israel of Latin America." Georgia's government, to the detriment of its people, may have tried to play the role of the "Israel of the Caucasus" -- a loyal servant of US ambitions in that region -- and lost the gamble. Playing with empires is dangerous for a small country.
As for Israel itself, with the Bush Doctrine having failed to give birth to the "new Middle East" that the US needs to maintain its power in the region against growing resistance, an ever more desperate and rogue Israel must look for opportunities to prove its worth elsewhere. That is a dangerous and scary thing.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Israel Has $1 Billion Invested in Georgia
(IsraelNN.com) The Israeli-Georgia connection is estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to a former Georgian ambassador to Israel. The Jewish state and private investors have provided military assistance and advisors to Georgia, where pipelines pump oil destined for Israel. A new pipeline is being built to bypass Russian territory.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Israeli companies in Georgia have begun evacuating their staff and that Israeli tourists are leaving for home.
Israel won't stop arms sales to Georgia
(Reminds me of the Israeli support for the Apartheid Regime in S. Africa, after the world had decided to pressure the country for reform ...)
Israeli public radio reports defence ministry decides to continue issuing licenses to export arms to Georgia.
JERUSALEM - Israel has decided not to halt arms sales to Georgia, public radio reported on Monday, citing defence ministry sources.
The foreign ministry had recommended a complete halt to the sale of weapons to Georgia for fear of spurring Russia to increase its support of Syria and Iran, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Sunday.
Israel, the region's sole power with nuclear weapons, is concerned about the transfer of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which could be used to protect Tehran’s nuclear installations.
Iran has always insisted its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Public radio said the defence ministry decided on Sunday it would continue issuing licenses to export arms to Georgia, but on a limited scale and under close supervision.
Around a year ago, Israel decided to limit its weapons supplies to Georgia to weaponry and military advisors.
A defence ministry official said that decision had been taken as tension rose between Georgia and Russia.
"We didn't want to become the main supplier of weapons to Georgia and our exports were limited to 200 million dollars (120 million euros) over two years," he said.
Israel has in the past sold aerial drones, night-vision equipment, and rockets to Georgia, and many retired officers from the Israel's military and internal security services work as military advisors there.
US Role in the Georgian Crisis
Christopher King argues that the US and NATO are behind the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia but have misjudged Russian resolve. He says it is time for Europe to distance itself from NATO, which has become a US tool, and to choose whether it wants Russia as a friend or an enemy.
The European Union needs to re-evaluate its relationship to both the United States and NATO.
I’ve said recently (see “The USA, Russia and the spinoff from Iraq and Iran” and “Iran’s ‘provocative missile test’”) that US plans to instal a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to cause trouble between Europe and Russia as well as distracting Europe from US Middle Eastern outrages. These missiles, under US control, are supposed to protect Europe and if you believe that, you probably believe in the tooth fairy. US negotiations for these missiles don’t appear to be going very well since the Poles and Czechs don’t much like the idea of being targeted in response by Russian missiles and the Russians have been musing about installing their missiles in Cuba for a re-run of the Cuban missile crisis and near nuclear war of the 1960s. That would not be popular with US voters. What do do? Are there any trouble spots that can be stoked up to show Russia as an aggressor? What about Georgia and the South Ossetia separatists on Russia’s southern border?
So we’ve arrived at having a US/NATO-sponsored provocation with Georgia invading its breakaway semi-independent province. South Ossetia’s declaration of independence was supported by almost all its residents. The South Ossetian argument is that if the West and NATO supported Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, they should support its independence from Georgia. That sounds reasonable. No? Of course, no! The difference is that South Ossetia wants ties with Russia and the US has been pressing for Georgia to join NATO.
Condoleeza Rice predictably, was quick to call on the Russians to withdraw from South Ossetia. President Bush says sanctimoniously that Georgia is a sovereign nation and that its territorial integrity should be respected. That is pretty rich (hypocritical) as we say in the UK. Before Condoleeza or anyone else in the US takes that position they could prevail on President Bush to leave Iraq and Afghanistan where they are looting oil, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, driving millions of refugees from their homes and creating general disaster half a world away from their own country.
While she is about it, Condoleeza could also call on the Israelis to leave Palestinian and Syrian territory outside their 1967 borders and allow the ethnically cleansed Palestinians and their descendants to return and re-claim their property that was stolen by the Israelis.
To return to South Ossetia and Georgia, we should note that NATO rejected South Ossetia’s referendum in favour of independence. "What’s this? What does a national referendum, particularly in a non-NATO country, have to do with NATO?” you might wonder; “Isn’t NATO our warrior arm, dedicated to defend us against armed aggression?” Not any more. It’s now a political organization as well. The EU countries should seriously consider whether it is a good idea to allow its military arm to make political decisions, particularly when it is driven by US rather than European interests.
NATO has also taken on a role in formulating conspiracy theories against Russia, for example Russia’s “Gas OPEC plans", reported by the Financial Times. There seems to be no evidence for this whatever and even if it were true, (a) What does it have to do with NATO and (b) Would it matter more than our existing oil OPEC? Russia still wants to sell its gas and can do so on any terms it wishes whether NATO or the EU like them or not.
The new non-Communist free-market Russia, that the US and Europe wanted and got, is a disaster for NATO because it no longer has an enemy. The only way to save careers and maintain funding is for NATO officers to create enemies and new threats. Its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is no longer popular so a prod at Russia through South Ossetia has doubtless been designed to produce a response that can be spun as Russian aggression.
The new Russia is also a disaster for the US. Russia is creating strong economic ties with Europe. There is serious talk of a free trade agreement between the EU and Russia and the possibility of Russia becoming an EU member is being talked about. Russia is, after all, historically a part of Europe. You can imagine how the idea of such an economic superpower is perceived in the US with its declining oil reserves and economy.
As matters stand, rather than having the purely defensive joint military force with the US that was its original purpose, Europe finds itself supporting, through NATO, the US’s aggressive foreign policies in the Middle East. Worse still, NATO is formenting trouble between Europe and Russia, which should be thought of as a valuable friend and future EU partner, rather than an enemy.
To be blunt, NATO has become a tool for the extension of US influence and foreign policy. This is argued cogently by F. William Engdahl whose article I have resisted plagiarising. One might consider why Finland rejects NATO membership. The main reason given by opponents of membership in a poll 18 months ago is that Finland could be drawn into conflicts that have no direct bearing on their country. This seems to be a polite refusal to fight wars for the US and Israel. Indeed, Israel has recently joined a NATO exercise and Italy’s defence minister has proposed that Israel should join NATO. Certainly it might, when it withdraws to its pre-1967 borders, abandons its settlements on stolen Palestinian land and gives right of return to the Palestinians. Alternatively, a single state with right of return and equal rights might do.
The evidence is clear. NATO has become not only counter-productive to European interests but an immediate danger to the EU as an arm of the US military-industrial complex. The South Ossetia conflict is an unmistakable warning. The US and NATO provocateurs have shown their hand and have gone too far. Russia has acted with commendable restraint in relation to the US’s outrageous attempts to bribe new EU countries to accept its missiles on Russia’s borders. There can be no doubt that the US and NATO are behind the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia but have misjudged Russian restraint for unwillingness to act. What they now have is called, I believe, “blowback”. The EU needs to reassess NATO from fundamental principles of its defensive needs. The current senior command of NATO has clearly been politicized by the US. This is unacceptable as also is NATO’s current role as tool of the US.
The EU should make some decisions about its links and future with Russia, its economically important and militarily powerful neighbour. The choice is simple: to have Russia as a friend in the short term and EU member eventually or make it an enemy. It is clear that the USA’s military-industrial complex needs Russia as an enemy, not only to stay in business but to prevent a European Union/Russian superstate developing. Europe needs to pursue its own peaceful interests, ideally keeping a good relationship with the US while working with Russia toward closer economic integration. If the US does not like that, it is too bad. The US has used up its global credibility and goodwill.
Russia has had a bad press in the West for the last 60 years, not always undeserved. We should recall, however, that the man who set Russia and the Soviet Union on its post-war course, created Churchill’s “iron curtain”, the nuclear arms race and the repressive character of the Soviet post-war state, was not Russian at all. Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, otherwise known as Stalin, was Georgian, born in Gori, just south of South Ossetia.
Christopher King is a retired consultant and lecturer in management and marketing. He lives in London, UK. This article appeared in Redress Information & Analysis.
The Real Axis of Evil