TBILISI - Israel has joined in the West's betrayal of Georgia, the Georgian reintegration minister, Temur Yakobashvili, told Haaretz yesterday. 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 yesterday, Yakobashvili said he believes the cease-fire reached through French mediation will hold.