Israel concerned over Georgia 'war'

Livni to convene meeting to address fears that arms sales to Tbilisi will harm relations with Russia.

livni I lost my keys 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
livni I lost my keys 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is to convene a meeting of senior ministry officials on Sunday to deal with the Russian-Georgian flare-up, amid concern that Israeli arms sales to Georgia could harm relations with Russia. The situation in South Ossetia is widely believed to be one of the topics of discussion over the weekend in Beijing between President Shimon Peres and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. That meeting took place prior to Putin leaving China and flying to southern Russia to apparently oversee the situation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in what is thought to have been an indirect reference to Israel, lashed out against Georgia's Western allies. "Those who have been supplying arms to Georgia, they should feel part of the blame for the loss of life," The New York Times quoted Lavrov as saying. He also was quoted as saying that foreign leaders "who have been appeasing Mr. [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili's intentions, and helped create the feeling of impunity inside the Georgian [leader], should think twice about whether this is right." Israeli diplomatic officials said Lavrov's comments were aimed at the US, Ukraine and Israel, which all have supplied Georgia with arms. Ma'ariv, in an investigative report on Friday that diplomatic officials said was "highly accurate," said Israeli companies had sold some $300 million worth of military equipment to Georgia. According to the report, Israeli defense officials were embarrassed in April when an Israeli-manufactured drone was shot down by the Russians, and again in May when another drone, and a state-of-the-art Israeli rocket system called Lynx, were on display at a Georgian military parade. The Ma'ariv report said former government minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo was heavily involved in arms sales to Georgia, as a representative of Elbit and the Israeli Military Industries, and that Brig.-Gen (res.) Gal Hirsch, one of the senior officers who left the IDF after coming under blistering criticism following the Second Lebanon War, was heavily involved in the country in providing training for infantry and elite units. According to the Ma'ariv story, the Russians sent a letter to Livni asking Israel to refrain from selling state-of-the-art weaponry to Georgia, and stating that Moscow had acceded to similar requests by Jerusalem in the past. Israel has repeatedly asked Russia not to sell top-line weapons systems to Syria and Iran. According to the report, the Defense Ministry, which at first was hesitant - hoping to parley this into leverage to keep the Russians from selling weaponry to Iran or Syria - then acceded to the Foreign Ministry's request. Israel, according to diplomatic officials, now only sells defensive weapons to Georgia. In light of the escalating situation in Georgia, the Foreign Ministry issued an advisory against travel to the area, and has called on Israelis already there to contact the embassy in Tbilisi, or the situation room at the Foreign Ministry, to let them know their whereabouts. The Foreign Ministry also decided to send reinforcements to the embassy there to deal with the situation. In recent years, Georgia has become a popular destination for Israeli trekkers. Coincidentally, Israel's new envoy to Georgia, Yitzhak Gerberg, was scheduled to leave for his new post on Saturday. Despite the situation on the ground, he left as scheduled.