Quest for info on Arad helped forge arms sales to Georgia

Analyst names current owner of 'Ma'ariv as a pioneer in forging Israeli-Georgian ties in the early 90's

ron arad 88 (photo credit: )
ron arad 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's quest for information on missing airman Ron Arad was one of the factors which led Israeli arms dealers to begin supplying Georgia with defensive weapons in the 1990s, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, strategic analyst and ex-adviser to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening. Gissin named Ya'akov Nimrodi, current chairman of the Ma'ariv newspaper, as a pioneer in forging Israeli-Georgian arms sales links, which began with the sales of Kalashnikov rifles to the nascent Georgian state in order to strengthen its presidential guard and military. "In the 1990s, the Georgians had good relations with the Iranians. Georgia and Iran are neighbors and had gas deals and other economic arrangements. Israel thought that maybe Georgia can help in tracking down information on Arad," Gissin recounted. "This was one of the factors which led to a closer relationship." Gissin said Israeli arms dealers had received a license from the Defense Ministry to sell Georgia defensive weapons, adding that the sales did not include complex offensive weapons systems. He said Georgia had expressed a long-standing interest in receiving a ground-to-air missile system to fend off Russian air assaults, adding that the Georgian government had been worried about the types of scenarios being played out in recent days for many years. Gissin said all of the sales he knew about involved individual licensed Israeli arms salesmen, rather than official state-to-state transactions. "These weapons were for internal security. Georgia had been concerned about tensions in separatist regions like Ossetia," Gissin said. "We have relations with both Georgia and Russia. We were never the main party which armed the Georgian military. There were arms sales to Georgia from many other states," he added. Sharon had kept up good personal relations with the Georgian government, Gissin said, adding that members of Israel's 12,000-strong Georgian expatriate community had acted as intermediaries in business deals between the two countries.