Israel keeps quiet amid escalating Georgia crisis

Thursday, August 28, 2008 |  Israel Today Staff

Israel this week refrained from joining other Western powers in condemning Russia over its recognition of independence for the breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The situation escalated when both Russian and NATO naval forces increased their presence in the Black Sea, and the US and European Union demanded Russia withdraw its ground forces from sovereign Georgian territory.

Despite being a staunch ally of Georgia, Israel fears that publicly siding with the small Caucasus nation would anger Russia and lead to an increase in advanced arms sales to the Jewish state's Arab enemies.

Over the past few years, Israel has sold about $500 million worth of military equipment and training to the Georgian army, but halted the transactions earlier this summer when it became clear that war between Russia and Georgia was on the horizon.

Israel has since sent humanitarian aid to Georgia, but said it will also be sending aid to the Russian province of North Ossetia, where many South Ossetian refugees have gathered.

Jerusalem's balanced approach notwithstanding, Syria earlier this month tried to exploit Israel's previous military aid to Georgia by asking Russia to sell it advanced offense weapons and offering to host Russian ballistic missiles on Syrian soil.

Russia said it would entertain the requests, but refrained from making any commitments for the time being.

A Russian diplomat told Reuters on Wednesday, however, that Russia does intend to significantly bolster its naval presence in the Mediterranean using bases in Syria.

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