Georgian premier slips in, barely noticed

Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri arrived here barely noticed on Tuesday, but both Israeli and Georgian official said the low-profile visit should not be interpreted as having anything to do with trying to play down ties so as not to antagonize Russia. Rather, both Israeli and Georgian diplomatic sources said, Gilauri was here on a semi-private summertime vacation-visit with a focus on drumming up Israeli investments in his country. While Gilauri will not be meeting either Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he will meet with President Shimon Peres and Vice Premier and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom. He is the highest ranking Georgian official to visit since last summer's armed conflict with Russia. Had Israel been trying to "hide" the visit from the Russians, Gilauri would not be meeting with Peres, one official noted. The sale of Israeli military equipment to Georgia has at times emerged as a sore point in Israeli-Russian relations, especially since the fighting last August. Israel halted the sale of offensive weapons to Georgia a few months before the conflict over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and ceased all arms sales to Tbilisi when the fighting began. Jerusalem has walked a tightrope since the Russian-Georgian conflict, on the one hand not wanting to antagonize Russia with strong ties with Georgia, but on the other hand - for historic, emotional and sentimental reasons - not wanting to ruin ties with the pro-Western Georgian government.