The deputy head of the Mossad traveled to Tbilisi recently to meet with his
Georgian colleagues investigating who was behind the failed February attack on
an Israeli embassy vehicle there, Georgia’s Ambassador Archil Kekelia told The
Though Israel quickly blamed Iran for the bombers who
struck Israeli embassy personnel in Georgia and India on the same day, and
attempted an attack in Thailand a day later, the Georgians – who are in Iran’s
immediate backyard and have friendly relations with Tehran – have not yet
concluded their investigation or cast any blame.
“The investigation is
progressing, but no suspect has been arrested,” Kekelia said in an interview.
While Georgia cannot stop others from speculating about the culprits, “we cannot
say prematurely who did this,” he added.
Georgia has a no-visa,
open-borders policy with Iran, but Kekelia said that Georgia has enough security
to “prevent trouble.”
While Tbilisi is “on the same page” as the West
regarding Iranian “non-proliferation,” he said “we want to maintain people-
to-people contact with the country,” which includes an ethnic Georgian minority
dating back centuries.
Reflective of the poisoned relations between
Russia and Georgia, Kekelia said it was not “straightforward” that Iran was
behind the placing of an explosive device on the car of a local staff member of
the Israeli embassy, and did not rule out the possibility that Russia was behind
it in order to torpedo improving ties between Georgia and Israel. The explosive
device was neutralized by the police.
“We don’t rule out any provocative
action from Russia anywhere in the world,” he said, adding – in reference to his
country’s 2008 war with Russia over the breakaway republics Abkhazia and South
Ossetia – that “no one thought they would invade and occupy a sovereign
“They do everything to prevent Georgia from having good
friends, whether with Israel, the EU, Ukraine or the Baltic countries” he said
Israel – at Russia’s insistence – froze arms sales to Georgia
in 2008 after Russia charged that it was arming the Georgian
Even with that snag, Israel and Georgia had very good relations
during the last decade, but those ties deteriorated considerably when two
Israeli businessmen – Roni Fuchs and Ze’ev Frenkel – were arrested in December
2010, and jailed in April 2011 on charges of bribery.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilii stepped in and pardoned the two, who
returned immediately to Israel. Since then the ties have swiftly improved with a
number of Georgian ministers having visited here over the last four months, and
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman scheduled to go there before
Asked for his thoughts about a recent report alleging that
Israel had gained access to airfields in Azerbaijan, which separates Iran from
Georgia, to assist in a possible attack on Iran, Kekelia shook his head and said
“it did not make sense.”
Beyond the fact that there are several million
Azeris in Iran, Kekelia said it was unlikely that Baku would want to spoil its
relationship with its southern neighbor for Israel. Such a move, he said, would
“create a bomb” in the region where there is a simmering conflict between
Armenia and Azerbaijan, and strained relations between a numbers of other
“Israeli aircraft would mess up the situation,”
said the US-educated ambassador.
As to whether Georgia itself might
consider letting Israel use airbases in its territory – Tbilisi is just 880 km.
from Tehran – Kekelia said it was “not realistic to speak about
First of all, he said, following the war with Russia it would not
be wise to let a foreign military into the country because domestically it might
be seen as a betrayal of the principle of keeping Georgia free of foreign
forces. In addition, it may be perceived as an act against
Secondly, he said, Georgia does have diplomatic ties with Iran,
so “openly providing your soil to attack a country that is seen as your friend
is very difficult.”
And thirdly, he said, it would not make sense to ask
Georgia to provide airbases, since both Azerbaijan and Armenia are closer to
Kekelia, an economist who came to Israel from a top position in the
Georgian finance ministry, rather than the foreign ministry, said he was picked
for his job as ambassador to Israel largely because he was seen as someone who
could tap into the economic potential between the two
Currently there is only some $30 million a year in trade
between Georgia and Israel, compared to $70 million before the 2008 war with
One of the most promising bilateral areas, he said, was tourism,
as Israelis – both backpackers and business people – are discovering Georgia, a
nation he boasted has nine different climatic zones, is three times the size of
Israel and has the highest mountains – and some of the finest wines – in
Last year some 26,000 Israelis went to Georgia, a number he hopes
will double this year. He also said that it is not unreasonable to think that
50,000 Georgian tourists could visit Israel each year, something he said would
be more likely if Israel waived its visa requirements for Georgians, as it has
done for Russians and Ukrainians.
This is something currently being
discussed between the two countries.
Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin