Ge­or­gia and Rus­sia, Is­rael and Iran

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

NATO guar­an­tees that an at­tack against one mem­ber coun­try is an at­tack against all are no longer what they used to be. Had Ge­or­gia been in­side NATO, a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries would no longer be will­ing to con­sider it an at­tack against their own soil.

For Rus­sia, the geopo­lit­i­cal stars were in per­fect align­ment. The U.S. was badly over­stretched and had no plau­si­ble way to talk tough without com­ing across as empty rhetoric. Amer­i­can re­sources have been drained by the Iraq and Afghan wars, and the war on ter­ror. The Euro­pean Union is still a mil­i­tary dwarf that swings no weight in the Krem­lin. And the in­ep­ti­tude of Ge­or­gia’s lead­er­ship gave Rus­sian leaders a huge new win­dow of op­por­tu­nity.

Ge­or­gian Pres­i­dent Mikhail Saakashvili ev­i­dently thought the U.S. would come to his side mil­i­tar­ily if Rus­sian troops pushed him back into Ge­or­gia af­ter or­der­ing an at­tack last Aug. 8 on the break­away prov­ince of South Os­se­tia. And when his forces were mauled by Rus­sia’s coun­ter­at­tack, bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment turned to anger. Along with Abk­hazia, Ge­or­gia lost two prov­inces.

Ge­or­gia also had a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael that was mostly un­der the radar. Ge­or­gia’s De­fense Min­is­ter Davit Kez­erashvili is a for­mer Is­raeli who moved things along by fa­cil­i­tat­ing Is­raeli arms sales with U.S. aid. “We are now in a fight against the great Rus­sia,” he was quoted as say­ing, “and our hope is to re­ceive as­sis­tance from the White House be­cause Ge­or­gia can­not sur­vive on its own.”

The Jerusalem Post on Aug. 12 re­ported, “Ge­or­gian Prime Min­is­ter Vladimir Gur­genidze made a spe­cial call to Is­rael Tues­day morn­ing to re­ceive a bless­ing from one of the Haredi com­mu­nity’s most im­por­tant rab­bis and spir­i­tual leaders, Rabbi Aaron Leib Stein­man. “I want him to pray for us and our state,” he was quoted.

Is­rael be­gan sell­ing arms to Ge­or­gia seven years ago. U.S. grants fa­cil­i­tated th­ese pur­chases. From Is­rael came for­mer min­is­ter and for­mer mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo, rep­re­sent­ing El­bit Sys­tems, and his brother Shlomo, for­mer di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Mil­i­tary In­dus­tries. Is­raeli UAV spy drones, made by El­bit Maara­hot Sys­tems, con­ducted re­con flights over south­ern Rus­sia, as well as into nearby Iran.

In a se­cret agree­ment be­tween Is­rael and Ge­or­gia, two mil­i­tary air­fields in south­ern Ge­or­gia had been ear­marked for the use of Is­raeli fighter bombers in the event of pre­emp­tive at­tacks against Ira­nian nu­clear in­stal­la­tions. This would sharply re­duce the dis­tance Is­raeli fighter bombers would have to fly to hit tar­gets in Iran. And to reach Ge­or­gian airstrips, the Is­raeli Air Force (IAF) would fly over Turkey.

At a Moscow news con­fer­ence, Gen. Ana­toly No­gov­it­syn, Rus­sia’s deputy chief of staff, said the ex­tent of Is­raeli aid to Geor- gia in­cluded, “eight types of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, ex­plo­sives, land­mines and spe­cial ex­plo­sives for clear­ing mine­fields.” Es­ti­mated num­bers of Is­raeli train­ers at­tached to the Ge­or­gian army range from 100 to 1,000. There were also 110 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel on train­ing as­sign­ments in Ge­or­gia. Last July 2,000 U.S. troops were flown in for “Im­me­di­ate Re­sponse 2008,” a joint ex­er­cise with Ge­or­gian forces.

De­tails of Is­rael’s in­volve­ment were largely ig­nored by Is­raeli me­dia lest they be in­ter­preted as an­other blow to Is­rael’s leg­endary mil­i­tary prow­ess, which took a bad hit in the Le­banese war against Hezbol­lah two years ago. Ge­or­gia’s top diplo­mat in Tel Aviv com­plained about Is­rael’s “lack­lus­ter” re­sponse to his coun­try’s mil­i­tary predica­ment, and called for “diplo­matic pres­sure on Moscow.” Ac­cord­ing to the Jerusalem Post, the Ge­or­gian was told “the ad­dress for that type of pres­sure is Wash­ing­ton.”

The daily Haaretz re­ported Ge­or­gian Min­is­ter Te­mur Yakobashvili — who is Jewish, the news­pa­per said — told Is­raeli Army ra­dio that “Is­rael should be proud of its mil­i­tary, which trained Ge­or­gian sol­diers” be­cause he ex­plained rather im­plau­si­bly, “a small group of our sol­diers were able to wipe out an en­tire Rus­sian mil­i­tary divi­sion, thanks to Is­raeli train­ing.”

The Tel Aviv-Tbil­isi mil­i­tary axis was agreed at the high­est lev­els with the ap­proval of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. The of­fi­cial li­ai­son be­tween the two en­ti­ties was Re­serve Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, who com­manded Is­raeli forces on the Le­banese bor­der in July 2006. He re­signed from the army af­ter the Wino­grad com­mis­sion flayed Is­rael’s con­duct of its Sec­ond Le­banon War.

That Rus­sia as­sessed th­ese Is­raeli train­ing mis­sions as U.S.ap­proved is a given. The U.S. was also hand­i­capped by a short­age of spy-in-the-sky satel­lite ca­pa­bil­ity, al­ready overex­tended by the Iraq and Afghan wars. Nei­ther U.S. nor Ge­or­gian in­tel­li­gence knew Rus­sian forces were ready with an im­me­di­ate and mas­sive re­sponse to the Ge­or­gian at­tack Moscow knew was com­ing. Rus­sian dou­ble agents os­ten­si­bly work­ing for Ge­or­gia most prob­a­bly egged on the mil­i­tary fan­tasies of the im­petu­ous Pres­i­dent Saakashvili’s “sur­prise at­tack” plans.

Mr. Saakashvili was con­vinced that by send­ing 2,000 of his sol­diers to serve in Iraq (that were im­me­di­ately flown home by the U.S. when Rus­sia launched a mas­sive coun­ter­at­tack into Ge­or­gia), he would be re­warded for his loy­alty. He could not be­lieve Mr. Bush, a per­sonal friend, would leave him in the lurch. Ge­or­gia, as Mr. Saakashvili saw his coun­try’s role, was “Is­rael of the Cau­ca­sus.”

The Tel Aviv-Tbil­isi mil­i­tary axis ap­pears to have been ce­mented at the high­est lev­els, ac­cord­ing to YNet, the Is­raeli elec­tronic daily. But whether the IAF can still count on those air bases to launch bomb­ing mis­sions against Iran’s nuke fa­cil­i­ties is now in doubt.

Iran comes out ahead in the wake of the Ge­or­gian cri­sis. Nei­ther Rus­sia nor China is will­ing to re­spond to a West­ern re­quest for more and tougher sanc­tions against the mul­lahs. Iran’s Euro­pean trad­ing part­ners are also loath to squeeze Iran. The Rus­sian-built, 1,000-megawatt Ira­nian re­ac­tor in Bushehr is sched­uled to go on line early next year.

A com­bi­na­tion of Vladimir Putin and oil has put Rus­sia back on the geopo­lit­i­cal map of the world. Moscow’s oil and gas rev­enue this year is pro­jected at $201 bil­lion, a 13-fold in­crease since Mr. Putin suc­ceeded Boris Yeltsin eight years ago.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s global democ­racy cru­sade, as seen by the men in the Krem­lin, and not an in­signif­i­cant num­ber of friends, is code for im­pe­rial hubris. The Putin-Medvedev tan­dem’s re­sponse is a new five­point doc­trine that told the U.S. to butt out of what was once the Soviet em­pire, not only for­mer Soviet re­publics, but also for­mer satel­lites and client states.

Only su­per­an­nu­ated cold war­riors saw a re­birth of the Cold War’s Brezh­nev Doc­trine, or the right to in­ter­vene in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of other “so­cial­ist states,” e.g., the 1968 in­va­sion of Cze­choslo­vakia. But it does mean the Rus­sian bear can­not be baited with im­punity — a la Ge­or­gia.

Ar­naud de Borch­grave is ed­i­tor at large for The Wash­ing­ton Times and for United Press In­ter­na­tional.

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