Georgia President Denies Israel Halted Military Aid Due to War

Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz Correspondent
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Anshel Pfeffer
Haaretz Correspondent

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili denied on Wednesday night that Israel has suspended its military aid to the country. "I haven't heard anything about that, and I haven't had time to think about that issue for some days," he told Haaretz.

Saakashvili said he is aware of problems with supplying the pilotless drones that his army ordered from Israeli companies, but not of the stopping of any other shipments of military aid.

"The Israeli weapons have proved very effective," he said at a press conference at his office. When asked whether the Israeli arms played a role in the military successes he claimed the Georgian army had achieved, he joked: "Are you asking me as a representative of Elbit or of Israel Aerospace Industries?"

To a reporter's question about Jews who have fled the fighting and come to Israel, he said: "We have two Israeli cabinet ministers, one deals with war [Defense Minister David Kezerashvili], and the other with negotiations [State Minister for Territorial Integration Temur Yakobashvili], and that is the Israeli involvement here: Both war and peace are in the hands of Israeli Jews."

Yakobashvili is actually not an Israeli citizen. Saakashvili's statements are part of his government's attempt to bring other countries into its war against Russia. During the briefing, Saakashvili noted that he is in constant contact with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He promised that U.S. warships would be docking in Georgian ports within a few days to make sure they remain open.

Saakashvili tried to project confidence during the interview, but could not completely hide the stress he is under. A few hours earlier, refugees from Gori held a spontaneous demonstration in front of parliament, calling for Saakashvili to resign.

"We will fight to the death until the last Russian soldier leaves Georgian territory," Saakashvili told reporters. "We will never surrender."

He characterized the announcements against him by Russia's government, blaming him for the suffering of the Georgian people, as "typical Nazi propaganda." He accused Russia of ethnic cleansing in the Georgian villages in the north of the country. "If Georgia falls, all of the energy supply routes will be blocked," he said.

Saakashvili told the press conference that he expected Russia's next victims to be the Baltic countries. He accused Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of "trying to take revenge on the United States, but instead of attacking the Sixth Fleet he found himself an easier target."

Georgian minister slams Israeli suspension of aid Earlier Wednesday, Yakobashvili told Haaretz that Israel has joined in the West's betrayal of Georgia. As the official in charge of bringing Abkhazia and South Ossetia back into the fold, Yakobashvili oversaw negotiations with the Russians to end the fighting there. He warned the world that the situation would escalate into war, but the West ignored him.

"They said the Georgians are exaggerating again," he charged.

A former Zionist leader who speaks fluent Hebrew, Yakobashvili credited Israeli defense companies with "enabling us to train our army and giving us the possibility to withstand the Russians," but termed the Israeli government's decision to stop arms exports to his country "a disgrace."

He said the West should have responded by "deploying NATO troops to defend Georgia's vital infrastructure," and that "Israel is betraying us, along with the European countries and the United States."

Referring to rioting by Russian militia groups in villages surrounding Gori, Yakobashvili said: "Today there was a Cossack pogrom against the local population. As a Jew that gives me a different feeling."

Yakobashvili blasted Israel's decision to suspend defense aid to Georgia: "Israel did it at the Russians' behest. It aided the terrorists, the Russians. It's a disgrace. I don't know what it received in return, I only see that Hezbollah continues to get Russian arms, and plenty of it."

"Israel should protect the interests it has here," he continued. "There are many Israeli businesspeople who invested money, and a country should protect its citizens' investments."

He ascribed Georgia's feisty military ability to Israeli training, and said that Russian experts had told him "they never believed Georgia has such an army and that they would encounter such resistance."

Yakobashvili claimed the Georgian forces had destroyed Russia's 58th army and downed 17 planes and three helicopters (data unsubstantiated by other sources). Eventually they had to retreat, he said, because "Russia deployed 30,000 soldiers and a thousand tanks. Our people are not suicidal we don't want our soldiers to remain in the field and be killed by Russian planes."

The minister claimed that the Abkhazian minority had carried out "ethnic cleansing" in that breakaway region in recent years by expelling members of other ethnic groups, and had supplied weapons to separatists in Ossetia for attacks on Georgian villages.

He was in Tskhinvali, Ossetia, last week, hours before fighting broke out there. "The separatists fired at Georgian villages. We returned fire and asked the Russians to order the Ossetians to stop. The Russian representative told me we have to agree to a total cease-fire and that President Saakashvili had issued such an order to our army, and we did not return fire, even when they bombarded two of our villages. I told the president we should pay the price, just let there be peace. But when we found out that they were continuing to transfer more weapons through the Roki Tunnel [between Russia and Ossetia], we had to attack. It was a matter of screwing or being screwed."

Despite the Russian army's advance toward Tbilisi on Wednesday, Yakobashvili said he believes the cease-fire reached through French mediation will hold.