Foreign Ministry seeks lower profile for Israel in Georgia-Russia conflict
Israel is hoping to maintain a low profile with regard to the war in Georgia, government officials told Haaretz. One source noted that currently, neither side of the conflict is pleased with Israel's position, since Russia has been irked by Israeli-Georgian weapons deals for some time, and Tbilisi is now frustrated by Israel's decision to halt arms exports.
In a move which drew heavy criticism from defense officials, Israel's Foreign Ministry over the weekend recommended complete cessation of the sale of weapons and security-related equipment to Georgia in light of the fighting between its troops and the Russian Army.
"The Foreign Ministry's approach demonstrates a naively simplistic view and a lack of understanding of the complex world of the security deals which Israel is conducting with foreign partners," a defense official told Haaretz on condition of anonymity.
Defense sources say the Foreign Ministry should limit its involvement in weapons exports to the regular channel the ministry uses for overseeing such transactions. The Foreign Ministry has a representative in the Defense Ministry's oversight unit for defense-related exports.
"The ministry should stick to its mandate and not involve itself in a public discussion that can only compromise Israel's position," another defense official said.
"We do understand the Foreign Ministry's interest in involving itself in security-related issues," the official added, alluding to the upcoming Kadima primary, in which Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will contend against former defense minister and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, among others.
These complaints came hours after Livni held a special meeting with senior staff yesterday to assess the situation in Georgia. No resolutions were made at the meeting; participants generally agreed that the crisis has passed its peak, and that the two parties are now seeking to end the hostilities and reach a cease-fire to restore the status quo.
Livni did, however, release a short statement about the conflict, which resembles that made by several other countries. The Foreign Ministry said it "recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia," and called for a peaceful solution to the conflict that erupted with Russia late last week.
Stopping short of advising Israelis in Georgia to leave that country, the Foreign Ministry called on Israelis who are thinking of traveling there to reconsider their plans.
Israelis who stay there, the announcement said, should keep travel to a minimum and refrain from visiting South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the two breakaway regions whose attempted secession Tbilisi has prevented since Georgia declared independence in 1991.
Both Abkhazia in the northwest and South Ossetia in the north threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s. Their move to separate from Georgia led to bloodshed as Tbilisi cracked down on the rebel regions.
Serious fighting broke out in South Ossetia earlier this month with Georgian troops and warplanes pounding separatist forces in a bid to retake control of the territory. Russia sent forces to repel the assault.