Jerusalem – The Middle East Newsline has disclosed that Israel has been divided over whether to continue weapons sales to Georgia.
The debate pits the Israel Defense Ministry against the Israeli Foreign Ministry. They said the foreign ministry has advocated a suspension of all weapons sales and support services to Georgia while the defense ministry sought to continue exports.
“The question is whether there should be a temporary suspension of arms exports to Georgia during the war with Russia,” an official said.
Israel has acknowledged the sale of unmanned aerial vehicles and what officials termed “defensive systems” to Georgia. But industry sources said Israeli defense firms have also sold rockets as well as night-vision systems to Tbilisi.
On Aug. 10, the Israeli Defense Ministry, which has overseen an estimated $200 million in military exports to Georgia, convened senior staffers to review the foreign ministry recommendation. Officials said the ministry decided to continue to approve exports for non-lethal systems for military and security applications in Georgia.
Moscow has been protesting Israeli arms sales to Georgia. Russia has asserted that Israeli trainers were advising the Georgian military on how to shoot down Russian combat aircraft and disable main battle tanks.
In December 2007, Israel decided to end the sale of offensive military systems to Georgia, but did not cancel any contracts. Officials said Israel came under pressure from Russia, who warned that such sales would be deemed a hostile act. France and the United States have been leading arms exporters to Georgia.
Still, Russia has pressed Israel for a complete military embargo on Georgia. Officials said the Israel Foreign Ministry was concerned that Moscow could retaliate by selling advanced weapons to Iran and Syria.
“The foreign ministry, and this includes the minister, does not want to give Russia a pretext for selling advanced systems to Iran and Syria,” the official said.
For its part, Israel has warned Russia not to export the S-300PMU-2 air and missile defense system to Tehran. Western intelligence sources said S-300 components have already arrived in Iran and are expected to be assembled into operating systems in early 2009.
On Aug. 6, the foreign ministry convened senior staffers and relayed an appeal to the defense ministry for a halt in Israeli military sales to Georgia. The appeal said the embargo should be reviewed when the war with Russia ends.
Georgia has attributed heavy Russian losses in the war to Israeli military assistance to Tbilisi. Georgia has claimed the destruction of at least 11 Russian combat aircraft and 50 main battle tanks. Two Israeli security companies that operate in Georgia were identified as Defense Shield and Global CST.
“Israel should be proud of its military, which trained Georgian soldiers,” Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobshvili told Israel Army radio on Aug 10. “We killed 60 Russian soldiers just yesterday. The Russians have lost more than 50 tanks, and we have shot down 11 of their planes. They have sustained enormous damage in terms of manpower.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008