Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Israel to Continue Arms Sale to Georgia

State-funded news channel Russia Today (RT) delivered a report yesterday claiming that Israel had stopped selling military equipment to Georgia after a complaint from Moscow. The report, which has yet to be retracted, purported that Russia had refrained from selling arms to Israel’s adversaries and expected a quid pro quo relationship. This entails Israel’s military relationship with Georgia, from which the small Caucasus nation has used its new acquisitions in the precarious regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. RT wrote that Jerusalem ultimately opted for a ban on military equipment sales to Georgia.

This is in contrast to a statement by Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, who denied Israel had frozen arms sales to Georgia. Mr. Iakobashvili further stated that the administration affirmed their relationship with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and that no problems have been present.

To date, Israeli companies like Elbit Systems, have sold to Georgia 70 million rifle cartridges, Merkava tanks, APCs, helicopters, UAVs, fire control systems, and night-vision devices. The most controversial of these items is the Hermes 450 UAV, which Georgia used for a reconnaissance mission over Abkhazia on 20 April, and was subsequently shot down. Recognized as the leading long endurance tactical UAV in its class, the Hermes 450 has been pivotal to Georgia’s desire to advance its military.

Since being elected in 2004, Georgian President Saakashvili has unabashedly sought to strengthen his nation’s armed forces. Their NATO aspirations have been reinforced with U.S. support by contributing over 2,000 troops to Iraq, making them the third largest contingent force after Great Britain. Georgian armed forces have received counterterrorism training from the U.S. in the 2002 Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP). Their ultimate win over armed rebels and terrorist forces in the Pankisi Gorge secured their position as a technologically proficient actor on the international stage.

A close military relationship between the U.S. and Georgia continues to this day as about 300 Georgia National Guard Soldiers are currently in Tbilisi for a three-week international exercise to help strengthen relationships. Coined Immediate Response 2008, the mission will further training for forces in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Ukraine.

Suffice it to say that even if RT’s report had any claim of credence, it would be very shocking indeed for Israel to make such a strategic blunder. Particularly when a large diaspora of Georgian Jews now live in Israel. Fortunately, Israel is not in between a rock and a hard place, but strategically situated, along with the U.S., to look out for Georgia’s military interests.

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