From the moment Georgia launched a surprise attack on the tiny breakaway region of South Ossetia last week, prompting a fierce Russian counterattack, Israel has been trying to distance itself from the conflict. This is understandable: with Georgian forces on the retreat, large numbers of civilians killed and injured, and Russia’s fury unabated, Israel’s deep involvement is severely embarrassing.
The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its US-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel’s military prestige and prowess. Worse, Israel fears that Russia could retaliate by stepping up its military assistance to Israel’s adversaries including Iran.
“Israel is following with great concern the developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and hopes the violence will end,” its foreign ministry said, adding with uncharacteristic doveishness, “Israel recognizes the territorial integrity of Georgia and calls for a peaceful solution.”
Tbilisi’s top diplomat in Tel Aviv complained about the lackluster Israeli response to his country’s predicament and perhaps overestimating Israeli influence, called for Israeli “diplomatic pressure on Moscow.” Just like Israel, the diplomat said, Georgia is fighting a war on “terrorism.” Israeli officials politely told the Georgians that “the address for that type of pressure was Washington” (Herb Keinon, “Tbilisi wants Israel to pressure Russia,” The Jerusalem Post, 11 August 2008).