Israeli Arms Sales to Georgia Back on the Table?
Russian officials say that they're going ahead with plans to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, an action that could have a trickle-down effect of lifting the de facto arms embargo Israel now maintains against Georgia. Israel imposed the ban after Russia reportedly asked them to. Israel hadn't sold much to Georgia before the 2008 war with Russia, but the use of Israeli unmanned drone aircraft was one of the few tactical bright spots for Georgia in that conflict.
According to Georgian analyst Giorgi Melitauri, speaking in 2008, Russia threatened to sell arms to Israel's foes like Syria and Iran if Israel didn't comply with the request:
"The request probably focused on the UAVs. They would have hinted that, in the event of Israel's failure to comply with the request, Russia would supply weapons to the Arab countries, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan. It should therefore come as no surprise that Israel made this move. Preventing Russia from supplying heavy weapons to the Arab countries is more important to Israel than its own export of light weapons to Georgia. It is common knowledge that the Interior Ministry's police units are armed with Israeli-made pistols. Russia certainly does not care whether the pistols that the police officers carry are produced in Israel or Argentina."
Subsequent Wikileaks-released U.S. diplomatic cables confirmed that theory.
Well, Israel's been complying, but now it appears that Russia might be reneging on its part of the bargain. Russia argues that they are confident that the missiles won't fall into the hands of terrorists, and anyway the missiles are only an updated version of what Russia has already sold to Syria.
Regardless, Israeli officials have previously said that such a sale would result in them considering restarting arms sales to Georgia.
So, will they? Michael Cecire of the blog Evolutsia.net tweeted today* that he didn't think so because that could open the door to another, more critical sale: that of S-300 air defense systems to Iran. Lots of moving parts here, so who knows. But we'll keep an eye on it...
*Speaking of twitter, if you're not following The Bug Pit, get on it!
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.