Saakashvili 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
"Every time Israel is menaced or threatened, Georgia feels threatened. Every time someone attacks Israel, we send our solidarity and support," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the Knesset Wednesday, promising to back the Jewish State in the face of growing regional threats.
The president's comments came during a two-day tour of Israel, during which he received an honorary degree from the University of Haifa and attended an inauguration ceremony at the Knesset for a stamp bearing the image of a prominent figure in Georgian Jewish history.
Although not officially designated a state visit, many observers suggested his presence here was meant to send a political message. It comes at a time when Georgia, facing sanctions from neighboring Russia, is seeking alternative energy sources.
"During the current crisis with Russia, Georgia is hoping to get their natural gas from Iran," said Reuven Amak, head of the Georgian department at Israel Radio and a leader in the Israeli-Georgian community. "Therefore, it is very important to emphasize [the strong Georgian connection to Israel] once again.
"If the situation continues as is, and Georgian-Iranian ties strengthen, it's hard to imagine that we will be able to count on their support," Amak said.
But an Israeli expert on the Caucuses said the strong connection between Georgia and the West will prevent any deterioration in relations.
"I don't think it will have any affect at all [on Georgia-Israel relations]," said Brenda Shaffer, Faculty Chair for the Center of Advanced Energy Studies at the University of Haifa.
Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith International, also praised Saakashvili personally for his strong demonstration of support for Jews and Israel.
"The relationship between Jews and Georgia has been a clear and benevolent one for over two millennium, first between the Jews and the Georgians, and now between Israel and the independent state of Georgia," said Mariaschin, who accompanied Saakashvili at the Knesset ceremony.
While Saakashvili appeared warm and amiable when discussing Israel and the Jews, his tone turned harsh as he moved to the topic of Russia. Calling some recent Russian acts "ethnic cleansing," the president compared Russia's behavior to that of the Russian Empress Ekaterina II who was responsible for the bloody pogroms of the late 18th century.
After providing a number of examples of recent human rights abuses by Russia against Georgian citizens, Saakashvili said simply, "old habits die hard."