A top Georgian envoy in Israel on Sunday urged the Jewish state to use whatever leverage it has to put pressure on Russia to pull its forces out of the small Caucasus nation. But while voicing support for Georgian territorial integrity, Israel decided instead to appease Russia by halting all arms sales to Tbilisi.
Israel has sold some $500 million worth of military equipment to Georgia over the past few years, and top Israeli military experts have been involved in training Georgian armed forces.
Israeli soldiers who participated in training Georgian forces as recently as four months ago told Ha'aretz that they were not surprised when hostilities broke out. "There was an atmosphere of war about to break out. ...From my point of view, the battles of the past few days were to be expected," said one soldier.
As Russian forces invaded Georgia late last week and the two nations engaged in what is increasingly being called a full-scale war, Israel's leadership expressed concerns that Moscow could retaliate for continued Israeli military support of Georgia by selling advanced arms to Iran and Syria.
Defense officials cited by The Jerusalem Post later said that arms sales to Georgia had ceased several months back, after Israeli authorities became alarmed by urgent requests for large supplies of weapons by Georgian authorities apparently aware that they were about to go to war with Russia.
Said one Israeli official, "We have good relations with [Russia and Georgia], and don't want to back either in this conflict. We therefore made a decision to drastically minimize sales of weapons to Georgia."
Many Israelis expressed frustration with what they said amounted to abandoning Israel's allies in Georgia to appease Russia, even though advanced Russian weapons have been reaching Iran, Syria and their terrorist proxy Hizballah for years.
Israel is home to some 80,000 Georgian Jews who would also like to see Jerusalem provide outright backing to the small Christian nation.
Georgia's other major military backer, the United States, has said it will continue to provide support and training to the Georgian army, and warned Russia that its military escalations could severely damage relations between Moscow and Washington.