Global Insights: Olmert’s Final Mission

Global Insights: Olmert’s Final Mission

When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Moscow earlier this month, he hoped to achieve three objectives: to ensure that Israel's pre-August military ties with Georgia had not unduly damaged Russian-Israeli relations, to convince Russian policy makers not to provide Syria or Iran with advanced weapons that could be used against Israel, and to induce Russian leaders to pressure Tehran to moderate its nuclear ambitions.

Olmert did not mention the Georgia issue at his public cabinet meeting prior to departure, saying only that he would discuss several subjects "that cause deep concern and require immediate action," including Russian "arms supplies to irresponsible elements" and the Iranian "nuclear problem." But before the Aug. 8-13 war between Russia and Georgia, several Israeli contractors had provided the Georgian armed forces with military training and equipment. Most prominent among the latter appears to have been the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that the Russians got into the habit of shooting down over the disputed separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia prior to the war's outbreak. During Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Sochi on Aug. 20-21, Assad had sought to highlight Israeli-Georgian military ties in a bid to convince the Russian government to sell Syria more advanced weapons.

Israeli government representatives stressed that the support was provided by private contractors operating independently of the Israeli government. They also noted that Israeli suppliers never provided tanks or other heavy weapons to Georgia, and that the deliveries of defensive weapons (such as the UAVs) as well as the military training and other assistance ceased before the summer fighting began. According to Israeli sources, Russian officials accepted these arguments and have not made the Georgia issue a major source of contention between the two governments. Fortunately for Israel, the overwhelming victory of the Russian military, combined with Georgia's more visible defense ties with Ukraine and the United States, apparently made the Israeli-Georgian military connection less of an issue for Moscow.

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