Iran tried to assassinate a pro-Israel Georgian Jew. Here's how he survived

Itzik Moshe said the assassination attempts occurred outside Beit Israel’s office on the main street of Tbilisi.

 Itzik Moshe (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Itzik Moshe
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Itzik Moshe says he has been the target of three attempted killings in the past year in his hometown of Tbilisi, the capital of the Caucasian Republic of Georgia.

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Fortunately for him, all three attempts failed, thanks to the intervention of the Georgian security forces. Two of the attacks involved attempted stabbings. The third involved a shooting in which the gun failed to fire due to previous sabotage by the Georgian security forces.

Investigations by the local authorities found that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was behind the attempted hits, Moshe told The Media Line. The attacks were apparently aimed at halting Moshe’s efforts to advocate for better ties between Israel and Georgia and to improve the perception of Israel in the region.

Born in Georgia, Moshe immigrated to Israel in the 1970s, aged 12. In 1989, he returned to his native country as the first representative of the Jewish Agency to the Soviet Union. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, he has been creating bridges between former Soviet republics and Israel. His organization, Beit Israel (Israeli House), has expanded to 18 countries.

Where the assassination attempt occured

Moshe said the assassination attempts occurred outside Beit Israel’s office on the main street of Tbilisi.

“The attempts were downstairs from Beit Israel. We are located in the main street, and the order was, according to the investigation, to murder me at the entrance of the office so that they could show the blood together with the flag of Israel,” he said.

Moshe believes that the expansion of his activities to other countries was the trigger for the intended killings.

“I see that their goal was not only to kill me physically but to kill the idea as well,” he said.

But he said that given that his attempted assassins were in jail and he was still alive and active, “the attempt of the murderers did not succeed.”

In mid-July, the Israeli Embassy in Baku, the capital of neighboring Azerbaijan, was also the target of an attack that was prevented by the local authorities.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry holds Iran responsible for that attack too.

“Tehran stands behind the attempt,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said during an official visit to Serbia a few days later.

The Azeri authorities announced the arrest of an Afghani citizen over the attack. Israeli media claimed the suspect had been seen close to the embassy and had been taken for questioning by the country’s security forces.

Victor Kipiani, chairman of Georgian think tank Geocase, told The Media Line that the South Caucasus—the region encompassing Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—holds great interest for Iran. With both Armenia and Azerbaijan bordering Iran, Kipiani said the region was a strategic location crucial to Iran for security and economic reasons.

He said that Iran was the only country in the Middle East that has embassies in or diplomatic relations with all the nations of the South Caucasus.

The attacks, he said, were completely unacceptable.

“Perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate such crimes does not comply with the principles of international law and the principles of established public diplomacy,” he said.

Moshe said that due to the South Caucasus’ importance to Iran, his efforts to bring it closer to Israel were being seen by Iran as a threat.

“In one of the investigations, it was discovered that they are blaming me for bringing the State of Israel into the region since I was the first representative in the Caucasus in the ‘90s,” he said.

The Washington Post reported that Western officials believe that the same people who plotted the attempts on Moshe were behind a plot in 2021 to murder John Bolton, a former US national security adviser and former US ambassador to the United Nations. An Iranian national has been charged with the assassination plot against Bolton.

“I do not want to compare myself to John Bolton, but they know that I’m very connected both in Georgia and in Israel and they intended to show with my murder that they are taking revenge on Israel,” Moshe said.

Kipiani said that the intervention of local security forces sent a strong message about Georgian trustworthiness.

“I think that it also sends a signal about the reliability of the safety and security of Israeli nationals in Georgia, and it also sends a signal about the high level of cooperation between Georgia and Israel,” he said.

He emphasized that both Israeli vacationers and Israeli businesspeople could feel safe in Georgia.

“Doing business in Georgia and investing in Georgia remains safe and secure enough,” he said.

Moshe said he now walks the streets of Tbilisi with a security entourage, and he is aware that the Georgian security forces are constantly protecting him.

“I need to say thanks to the security services in Georgia and Azerbaijan. They are very active,” he said. “They do not update us, but they guard us 24/7. All my respect to them, because Israel is a friendly country for them. And they are not only guarding their ties with Israel. Allowing terrorism to step into their country puts it in danger.”

Kipiani said the current challenges “also gave us qualitatively new advantages or setups for increasing that level of cooperation and being well prepared or more prepared for future challenges and future threats.”