On Nov. 17, Georgian and Israeli officials signed an agreement to lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens traveling to Israel, reciprocating Georgia's visa-free policy for Israelis in place since mid-2005. Although subject to approval from their respective legislatures, the deal represents a major diplomatic accomplishment for Tbilisi and a stunning turnaround in bilateral relations. As recently as a year ago, Georgia-Israel ties were at their modern nadir under Georgia’s now-opposition United National Movement (UNM). Despite a once-close relationship, the two countries rapidly fell out due to Georgian accusations over an arms purchase gone bad, Georgia's seemingly retributive jailing of Israeli citizen Rony Fuchs and even disagreements over the status of a monastery in Jerusalem.
By contrast, as relations with Israel collapsed, the Georgian government pursued a comprehensive upgrade in its bilateral relations with Western nemesis Iran. The two states scrapped visa rules in early 2011; Iran opened a new consulate in the Georgian coastal city of Batumi; and Tbilisi played host to a surge of Iranian visiting delegations and tourists. Although Tbilisi’s outreach to Tehran was understandable given Georgia’s geographic location at the meeting point of several major powers, realism under the UNM sometimes resembled exuberance. When Turkey and Brazil brokered the Iranian nuclear fuel swap deal in 2010, for example, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili stood at odds with much of the West in hailing the agreement. And the Georgian government unexpectedly invited an Iranian defense attache to joint U.S.-Georgia military exercises in 2012, raising eyebrows in the West.
However, the Georgia-Iran love affair did not outlast the change of government in Tbilisi. After Saakashvili's UNM was defeated in the 2012 parliamentary elections, the new Georgian Dream (GD) coalition government, led by businessman turned Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, showed little of the UNM's enthusiasm for robust outreach toward Iran. To the contrary, in late-June, Ivanishvili led a high-ranking delegation to Israel in an effort to rebuild ties and make a break with the bilateral tensions that characterized the later years of UNM rule. (Yesterday, Ivanishvili was suceeded by Irakli Gharibashvili as prime minister in a long-promised move.)