Archive for category Georgia

Israel fans embers of conflict with more Caucausus arms sales

News that Israel has sold Azerbajan $1.6 billion in arms probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any one.

The sale to Azerbaijan would include drones, anti aircraft and missile defence technology. Israel made a string of excuses for arming the small country in a volatile region, but aside from the arms trade profits, Israel was no doubt trying to create another ally for itself on Iran’s border. Israel has already sold drones to Azerbaijan. It isn’t specified what drones the new contract would include, but presumably would include Heron and Searcher drones described in discussions last year.

In September 2011 Armenia is said to have shot down an Azerbaijan drone over disputed Nagorno Karabakh.

Only a few years ago, Israel made huge arms sales to neighbouring Georgia, but sales were cancelled part way along in the wake of a brush fire war between Georgia and Russia, which involved the shooting down of a Georgian drone over Russian territory. It is alleged that Russia made clear to Israel that if it continued to arm Georgia, then Russia would make further deals with Israel’s arch enemy Iran.

Subsequently Israeli and Georgian institutions became involved in litigation, and Israel began selling drone technology to Russia. The story is long and complicated.  Ali Abunimah wrote a provocative analysis of the events, at the time.

Allegations emerged recently from documents leaked by Wikileaks that prior to the Georgian conflict, Israel had provided Russia with secret codes for the Georgian drones in return for codes for sold to Iran by Russia.

Israel appears to be trying to gain diplomatic and military advantage by its arms sales in the Caucausus, but the result is the destabilisation of the region. No more so than with the sale of drones which, as a new war technology, are inherently destabilising.

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Georgia-Israeli Relations Go Into Reverse

Prior to 2008, Georgia and Israel had warm relations, said to be strengthened by Jewish Georgian politicians that had strong ties to Israel. Israel made a large arms sale to Georgia, but cancelled much of it when Russia threatened to ship arms to Israel’s mideast enemies.  Since the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, relations between the two countries have continued to sour. Although Georgia is a small country it is strategically important, and what has been happening is an critical part of the geo political manuevering in the region.

This analysis by Michael Hikari Cecire in Eurasia Review covers all the bases.

The intrigue surrounding Georgia-Israel relations just got even more interesting. This is not in reference to the Rony Fuchs trial and conviction or even the recently-leveled allegation by Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems that the Georgian government owes them USD $100 million for unmanned drones it acquired. Rather, the latest news is that Global CST, an Israeli security services firm that once had training contracts with the Georgian military prior to the August 2008 war, looks to be hunting for contracts with the de facto Abkhazian government. (Read the remainder here) 

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Elbit Systems Sues Georgia

Elbit Systems has announced that it is suing the government of Georgia for recovery of $100 million unpaid following an arms deal. It is suing in the High Court of Justice in the UK.

Georgia is believed to have purchased about 4o Hermes 450 drones, of which between three and seven were shot down in a conflict with Russia in 2008. These are probably the arms allegedly not paid for by Georgia, although various reporters haven’t been successful in getting Elbit to confirm this.

Relations between Israel and Georgia appear to have deteriorated sharply in recent years. At one point Israel was going to sell Georgia $500 million in arms, but withdrew most of these when Russia threatened to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then Georgia used its Israeli drones in a war with Russia.

Following the war, impressed with the Israeli drones, Russia started making overtures to Israel to acquire Israeli drone technology.

There were several figures in the Georgian government with strong ties to Israel, but it isn’t clear where they stand with Israel at this point.

Georgia recently convicted an Israeli businessman of bribery and sentenced him to jail and a colleague to a large fine. The businessman claimed that it was a plot to make him cancel his multi million dollar claim against the Georgian government. The conviction, which is not likely to be the final disposition, is the culmination of a long series of charges and countercharges which has wracked relations between Georgia and Israelis, even drawing in Israeli President Shimon Peres, who phoned the Georgian President to ensure that the Israelis were treated well.

There are claims that Russia has pressured Israel not to sell further arms to Georgia, in return for Russia not arming Israel’s key enemies. Apparently this would not preclude Israeli companies from selling small arms to Georgia’s Interior Ministry.

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Georgian Drones Still an Issue

Georgia’s use of Israeli drones helped to provoke a five day war with Russia in 2008. Apparently Georgia is still using drones to overfly South Ossetia, a territory claimed by Georgia, but which is under Russian control. Presumably these are Israeli made drones acquired recently from Israel in a deal that went bad.

Russia and Georgia have recently exchanged charges that each over flies its territory regularly, using drones.

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Israeli Drone Industry May Not Be as Strong As One Thinks

Despite the  burgeoning drones industry, especially in Israel, some observers have sounded a note of caution. ‘Samson Blinded’ pointed out that while drones are cheaper than piloted aircraft they are still expensive and are limited in many aspects. Furthermore the market for drones is somewhat limited and hampered by low production runs. Drones are in competition with increasingly sophisticated satelites for providing imagery.

Samson Blinded claims claims that the Israeli drones industry won’t prosper without the removal of American export restrictions. (Presumably these are restrictions imposed by the US on who Israel may sell drones to).

One of the reasons that drones have proliferated recently is because of rapid advances in many of the technologies needed to make drones work. But access to these technologies will soon be widely available, and it will be possible to buy many of the drone components almost off the shelf. Thus, Israel may lose its leading position.

Apparently, Israeli Air Industries, a major drone producer and developer of the Heron drone, has announced shifting of its production facilities to the US, to meet the needs of its US military customers. It also says that it will later shift all of its production to the US, except that needed to service the needs of the Israeli Military.

Another problem for the Israeli industry is that customers often prefer to have all or part of the drones they purchase made in their home country. The UK Watchkeeper programme is an example of this, where the UK has acquired the technology of the Hermes 450, but will build it in the UK. (It is not clear how much of the Watchkeeper is UK content, and how much is Israeli-or even sourced in other countries).

Recently IAI and Elbit Systems had a $185 milllion deal with Turkey to sell Heron drones to the Turkish military, under the condition that Turkish imaging equipment was fitted into the drones (actually the deal was to have 30% Turkish content in the drones). But the Turkish cameras were much smaller than the Israeli models, limiting the altitude that the drones could reach and the time they could stay in the air. This meant that the drones no long met Turkish specifications, putting the deal in jeopardy. (Of course there are other issues as well. Due to Israel’s contentious behaviour in Palestine, and a diplomatic incident, Turkish Israeli relations were strained. An extensive report and analysis of the deal can be found here).

In November 2009 UPI reported that Turkey had prevented Israel from participating in a NATO exercise that was later cancelled due to Israel’s exclusion. Demonstrating that the Israel’s drone industry is sometimes subject to hostile action resulting from the Israeli government’s behaviour. (By January, 2010, the deal was back on track again, as reported by Airforce Technology.Com).

Sometimes it works the opposite way. In 200X Israel had a very large arms deal with Georgia, which included supplying Georgia with drones. Georgia used these drones in its subsequent conflict with Russia. Later, impressed with the performance of the Israeli drones, Russia purchased $50 million worth of Israeli drones.

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Russia Buys more Israeli Drones

Russia is to buy another $100 million of Israeli drones from Israel Aerospace Industries. In the recent conflict with Georgia, Russia found out that its defences were severely hampered by its lack of drones. Georgian drones (ironically supplied by Israel) were able to operate on the frontier while Russians had to rely on expensive and cumbersome Tupolov bombers to gather intelligence.

At the time Russia was angered by Israeli arms sales to Georgia, and threatened to provide air defence for Iran (click ‘Georgia’ on the list to the left for more information) which would have help Iran protect its nuclear sites from Israeli or US attacks.

Is this sale an attempt by Israel to make up to Russia for arming a beligerant on Russia’s frontier, or simply a commercial transaction?

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Israel’s arms sales to Georgia

Here is an article about the split in the Israeli cabinet about selling arms to  Georgia.

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A Larger Motive? Why Did Israel risk so much for Georgia?

On the face of it, it is puzzling that the Israeli Defense Ministry would go so far out on a limb as to heavily arm a tiny country with little value as an ally for Israeli, while risking provoking Russia, a country that could do it immense harm. Was it the chance for big money in arms sales? Was it the undue influence in the Defense Ministry by people either with Georgian connections, or the opportunity to profit?

It has also been suggested that in return for Israeli assistance, that Georgia might have been willing to provide airbases useful to Israel should it decide to attack Iran. Since Georgia is near Iran, with only western friendly Armenia intervening, there would be little problem of diplomatic problems being caused by overflights.

However during the conflict between Russian and Georgia, these airfields were severely damaged, along with infrastructure. As well, Israeli drones and their communication and control equipment were captured. The act which precipitated the Russian move was Georgian drones, (supplied by an Israeli company and operated by Israelis) which overflew Russian controlled territory. But these drones also overflew Iranian territory.

Most of the Israeli military and intelligence staff working in Georgia were reservists working for Global CST, a company owned by former IDF Brigadier General Israel Ziv, and Defense Shield,  owned by former IDF Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. Why were such high ranking former Israeli military staff working in Georgia? Was it just for the money? Or were they part of a larger Israeli enterprise to secure Georgian facilities for an attack on Iran? Quite likely the Russians believed that the presence of these individuals signalled the covert intentions of Israel and the US. (Much of this information comes from an article by Brian Haring, 17 August, 2008, although some of the interpretations are mine).

The same article suggest that an irate CIA employee, complaining of excessive Israeli influence in the agency, passed on information relating to the presence of Israeli operatives in Georgia to the Russians, and seems to imply that this encouraged the Russians to destroy Georgian facilities, thereby heading off a strike on Iran by Israel.

It is also clear that Georgian and Israeli interests are linked because Israel gets a large amount of oil from Azerbajan, via a pipeline through Georgia. Israel would like to have the opportunity to acquire more oil and reexport to regions beyond. (reference)

More info, Time Magazine article,

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Role of former Israeli Defense Ministry Staff in Georgia Debacle

The Postman Patel blog describes how Brigadier General Gal Hirsch resigned from his command in the Israeli military after being blamed for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers which are alleged to have precipitated the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Hirsch then set up Defensive Shield, a mercenary company set up to train soldiers and mercenaries.  Defensive Shield had a contract with the Georgian Defense ministry to train Georgian soldiers, with the approval of the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The Postman Patel blog repeats accusations that at the end of training these soldiers were ill prepared for combat with the Russians, and that many lost their lives and were captured, taking with them valuable secret Israeli Defense Force documents relating to training.

After the Georgian conflict Hesbollah gloated, noting that the same commander who had failed to defeat Hesbollah was now implicated in the defeat of the Israeli trained Georgians, by the Russians.


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More On Israeli-Georgian Co-operation

Georgia/Israeli involvment began about 2001, when Georgians who had moved to Israel pointed out to Israeli arms companies the relatively large budgets available in Georgia to purchase arms. As well, the Georgian defense minister, was Jewish and Hebrew speaking, with close ties to Israel. A close working relationship developed followed by substantial arms trade. Deeply involved were arms traders formerly officials in the Israeli Department of Defense. (Source) 

In 2004, Israel’s Elbit Systems and Georgia’s Tiblisi Aerospace Manufacturing (TAM) teamed up to ‘westernise’ a Soviet-era jet, the Sukhoi SU-25KM, still produced at Tiblisi. This would give it modern electronic and navigation equipment compatible with western produced avionics systems.

By 2008, close cooperation was paying off for Israeli arms traders. Georgia had placed orders for 70 million rounds of ammunition, Merkava tanks, Armoured Personel Carriers, helicopters, (weapons) fire control systems, drones, and night vision devices.

But when Georgia used Israeli drones to do surveilance in Russian controlled territory, the Russians became very angry, and the Israel Foreign Ministry among other pressured to Defense Ministry to stop sales of offensive weapons. In August 2008, Israel received an indirect but very clear warning from Russia that if Israel continued to supply Georgia with weapons, Russian would review its policy of not supplying weapons to certain of Israel’s adversaries. Israel stopped approving sales of contentious weapons to Georgia.

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