Israel unlikely to berate Russia

'Post' learns J'lem won't join West in condemning Moscow's recognition of Georgian provinces.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
As the US and Russia sent military vessels to dock at different Georgian ports on Wednesday, Israel continued to tread carefully, issuing no statement regarding Russia's recognition of the breakaway Georgian provinces and - in an apparent show of balance - is planning to send humanitarian aid not only to Georgia, but to North Ossetia as well. Anatoly Yurkov, the charge d'affaires at Russia's embassy in Tel Aviv, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that Moscow appreciated the balanced position Israel had taken throughout the crisis, as well as its "low profile." A first meeting was held in the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to discuss Russia's recognition a day earlier of the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Post has learned that while Israel would most likely decide to continue to recognize Georgia's "territorial integrity," it was unlikely to join the chorus of condemnations of Russia coming from the US, Germany and Britain. It would also certainly not recognize the breakaway republics. The dominant position in Jerusalem is that this is not Israel's fight, that it has critical strategic interests in the relationship with Moscow, and that it is not a superpower that needs to sound off on every issue around the globe. No formal decision, however, on how or even whether to react to Russia's recognition of the breakaway republics has been made. Government sources pointed out that Israel had yet to recognize Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Yurkov said that Russia "will take into account" Jerusalem's "balance" and "low profile" during the crisis, and these would likely have a positive impact on Israeli-Russian relations. He said that in recent months Israel had stopped selling any offensive weapons to Georgia, and had ceased all arms sales to Tbilisi since the fighting began. Yurkov also claimed that Georgia was trying to drive a wedge between Moscow and Jerusalem in talking about Israeli arms sales and the effectiveness of Israeli weaponry against Russian troops, an assessment not dismissed in Jerusalem. One indication of the balance Israel is trying to maintain on the conflict is that Jerusalem, which has already sent humanitarian aid to Georgia, has offered to send humanitarian aid to North Ossetia in Russia to help it deal with the influx of refugees there. Yurkov said the aid being discussed consisted of medicine and medical equipment, while Israeli sources said the details were still being worked out. The ambassador said that the symbolism of the aid was more important than the content. No date for sending it has been set. Yurkov said that the tension over Georgia would not impact on Russia's position regarding the Iranian nuclear program, and that Russia was not going to give Teheran any assistance now in order to damage US interests. He repeated Moscow's position that a nuclear Iran was not in Russia's strategic interests. "Our position on Iran will stay the way it is now," he said. When asked whether Russia would support another round of measures against Iran, Yurkov said it "depended on the sanctions." He also reiterated Russia's position that it would not introduce offensive weapons to the Middle East that would change the region's strategic balance. He stressed that Syrian President Bashar Assad's comments during his visit to Moscow last week about placing Russian missiles in Syria as a counterbalance to the agreement to place US missiles in Poland were Assad's comments alone, not Russia's. Yurkov downplayed any crisis in Israeli-Russian ties over Assad's arms requests, and added that the Syrians had been requesting state-of-the-art weaponry for years. Regarding the Middle East diplomatic process, Yurkov said Russia would still like to host an international Middle East peace conference in November as a follow-up to last November's Annapolis meeting. He said, however, that Israel's agreement to such a meeting was essential. Israeli officials have said that Jerusalem has not yet made a decision on the matter. Yurkov dismissed the notion that the conflict in the Caucasus would lead to Russia's ouster from the Middle East Quartet, which in addition to Russia consists of the US, EU and the UN, and that Moscow intended to take part in the Quartet meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in mid-September.