Evidently, there are some marginal Israeli connections to the Georgian-Russian conflict that broke out the other week. There’s an Israeli ex-general, who was booted from active service in the IDF for poor performance during the Lebanon war of two years ago, who worked in Georgia as a private contractor/consultant. Apparently, the Georgians might have been better off if this guy, Gal Hirsch, had stayed home.
There were also other Israeli arms and security contracts to supply and assist the Georgian forces. According to the JTA news service, Israel’s defense contracts with Georgia are worth $200 million (small by comparison with those of the US), but Israel is now backing away from other such deals, as it very much needs Russia’s good will in dealing with Iran. Russia’s looming profits in supplying anti-aircraft missiles to Iran and Syria and in assisting Iran’s nuclear facilities make such help dubious, but Israel needs to at least be in a position to try.
My overall impression of the conflict is pretty much the same as expressed by Tom Friedman in the NY Times, “What Did We Expect?” The US, Europe and NATO have overreached in pushing NATO’s borders to Russia itself, by incorporating Poland, the three Baltic states, the Czech Republic and some other former Soviet Warsaw Pact allies. The prospect of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine has pushed Russia beyond its capacity for patience.
Powered by its now prosperous oil and natural gas industries, Putin’s Russia has not only gone most of the way toward a new dictatorship based in the Kremlin, but also toward reasserting itself as a major military power. It’s more a case of Russia stretching its imperial muscles to rid itself of the taste of humiliation and defeat emanating from the collapse of the Soviet Union, than that Russia has justice on its side. But the practical reality is that its effective exercise of armed force in Georgia marks Russia’s coming out party as one of the five major world powers – alongside the US, China, Europe and India. Other important powers include Brazil, Japan and South Korea, but Russia is now clearly back as one of the big five.
And the US is no longer the sole superpower that it was in the 1990s and prior to our recent difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the US is no longer a superpower at all; there are no current superpowers.
Russia’s conflict with Georgia has rights and wrongs on both sides. In this, and in this alone, it resembles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Clearly, Georgia had a legal right to try to reincorporate the rebel territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force. Just as clearly, this was foolhardy to attempt, since Russian “peacekeeping” troops were surely among those killed in Georgia’s offensive in South Ossetia that began this war. There was no way that NATO, the US or anybody else could effectively defend Georgia from Russia’s powerful (and from their point of view, justified) counterattack. That Russian forces are now lingering in Georgia, should hardly be a surprise.
Lost in all this are the rights of the ethnic peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who currently must regard the Russians as their saviors. But these, as well as the Georgians, must all regard themselves as long-suffering small peoples who exist in the shadow of, and at the sufferance of, greater powers.
In this, we Jews may sympathize with all of them. But Israel needs to see to it that this newly resurgent and assertive Russia does not regard Israel as an enemy, unlike the Soviet Union of yore. It is especially important that Russia (and China) be persuaded to help in containing the nuclear ambitions of Iran; since this is less likely now (due to Russia’s more feisty and uncooperative attitude toward the West), the conflict in Georgia may have cost Israel grievously.