Russia 110419 Basic Political Developments

Israel gives boost to Abkhazian economy

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Israel gives boost to Abkhazian economy

Published: 19 April, 2011, 06:50

Edited: 19 April, 2011, 06:50

Tbilisi seems shocked by what is happening Yury Simonyan

The Israeli Ambassador to Tbilisi, Yitzhak Gerber, was asked on Monday to arrive at the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Georgia in order to clarify the circumstances of the visit, made by a delegation from the defense company, Global CTS, to Abkhazia late last week. According to Deputy Minister Nino Kalandadze, the ambassador assured the ministry that Tel Aviv “will not allow the company to work with Abkhazia in the military sphere”. Tbilisi was only partially satisfied with the statement as Global CST is ready to work with Abkhazia not only in the military, but also in the socio-economic spectrum.    

The visit of the Global CST delegation could open a new era for Abkhazia. Last week’s talks in Sukhum had ended with the guests declaring their readiness to provide non-offensive military technologies, security equipment, and medicine, as well as invest into the agricultural sector, tourism, and mining.   

Global CST is a reputable company, with former high-ranking IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) officers holding key positions. The company has strong connections with Israel’s senior state officials, and is headed by the former head of the IDF Operations Directorate, Yisrael Ziv. On his trip to Abkhazia, he was accompanied by former Military Secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Meir Klifi, and six others responsible for various operations at Global CST. According to experts, with a proper approach, the Israeli company is able to give a significant boost to the economic level of the republic, with a population of half a million.  

The President of Abkhazia, Sergey Bagapsh, and Prime Minister Sergey Shamba, were satisfied with the five-hour meeting and the plans of the Israelis, which will materialize in the near future. “We are ready to give the Israeli companies access to the development of mineral deposits. We have agreed that a group of experts will soon arrive from Israel, who will start developing joint projects in the given sector,” said Sergey Shamba. Abkhazia has mineral deposits of coal, lead, zinc and molybdenum ores, barite, silver, nickel and copper. It also has oil, but its probable deposits have already been reserved by Rosneft. Yisrael Ziv, in turn, stressed the lack of a political agenda in the visit: “Our arrival in Abkhazia is not related to politics, but has purely economic interests…We saw a country that is trying to recover from war”.         

Other than the deputy foreign affairs minister’s recounting of the Israeli ambassador’s explanations, Tbilisi has not issued any official commentary. And we cannot possibly consider as such the confused statements, made by deputies and experts, such as: “Global CST has the reputation of a venturesome company”, or “Israel is acting under Russia’s pressure”. It seems that Tbilisi is shocked by what is happening. And the officials have only themselves to blame: stubbornness on the international arena is not always beneficial, especially in relations with such a country as Israel, with a powerful lobby in the world’s leading countries.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) has already reported on the arrest of Israeli businessmen, Roni Fuchs and Ze'ev Frankel for attempted bribery of a Georgian official. They have been sentenced by the Tbilisi court to seven and six and a half years in prison respectively, as well as a fine of almost half a million dollars. The history of Roni Fuchs and Ze’ev Frankel’s relations with Georgia begins with the presidency of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. One could only guess as to how they were able to obtain an open-ended contract for exclusive rights to the development of all hydrocarbon deposits and management of all the pipelines on the territory of Georgia. The unique contract finally expired when new authorities began to rake through the corrupt Augean stables. This did not suit the Israelis, who had invested into the rehabilitation and even placement of certain pipelines; and litigation proceedings followed.           

The London Court of Arbitration has obliged the current government of Georgia to pay the businessmen close to $100 million. The authorities found this to be an excessively large sum to pay for the corruption of their predecessors and made a counter-claim. Fuchs and Frankel, realizing that the process was being delayed, began looking for a shorter path to the money, for which they promised a reward, in particular, to Georgia’s deputy finance minister. Their meeting in one of the hotels in Istanbul was filmed at the official’s suggestion. And at the following rendezvous in Adzharia, Fuchs and Frankel were caught red-handed. Video recordings, under the Georgian law, are considered solid evidence in court. The Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister, Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres, had vainly interceded for the detainees. Neither did Georgia’s ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze’s appeal, made to the authorities through the mass media, bring any results.

The patriarch of Georgian politics, having stressed that Frankel and Fuchs are on good terms with the Israeli political establishment and have numerous times financed the campaigns of some high-profile politicians, urged the leadership to free the businessmen, as their stay in the Georgian prison did nothing but test the relations with such an important partner as Tel Aviv. Warnings that Fuchs and Frankel’s arrest would lead to negative consequences, as the State of Israel never abandons its citizens in trouble, were made by experts as well. All was in vain. Officials were not even alerted by Tel Aviv’s refusal to, first, host the speaker of the Georgian parliament, and then one of the ministers, as well as its stern reminder of the debt, collected from unmanned aircraft supplies, which were made before the August war in South Ossetia.        

The official position of Tbilisi, which deserves credit for being uncompromising, suffered a loss when it was discovered that Fuchs and Frankel had come to the fateful meeting…at the invitation of Georgian Prime Minister, Nika Gilauri. Tel Aviv declared that the Georgian authorities had provoked the businessmen and made a spectacle, after which it did not wait long to respond. And despite the fact that state officials are claiming the visit of the Global CST directors to Sukhum has no ties to the state vector, thick white thread is visible from afar. “This is indeed a stance against Georgia, not so much due to the arrest of the businessmen who broke the law…but because the authorities failed to consider the appeals of well-known Israeli politicians, including Peres and Lieberman,” suggests Mamuka Areshidze, an expert on the Caucasus.       

Incidentally, this version is not being repudiated in Sukhum. As was noted by the local newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda the demonstrative nature of the Israelis’ visit, which was announced by them as being a part of the wide-scale partnership with Abkhazia, including in the defense sector, could be linked to a desire “to anger Tbilisi, which had put the Israeli businessmen behind bars.”  

Military expert, Irakli Sesiashvili, doubts that Global CST’s entire cooperation program with Abkhazia will materialize. “Military partnership with an unrecognized state contradicts the Israeli Constitution. In addition to that, Israel is an ally of the US and the West, whose attitude toward Georgia’s occupied territories is well-known; and while Israel itself is facing difficulties with Palestine, it will not go against the shared principles,” believes Sesiashvili.

According to Mamuka Areshidze, even indirect “military cooperation will, at most, be limited to the purchase of unmanned aircraft supplies, similar to those Georgia purchased from Israel, while Abkhazia – Russia’s ally – does not need other weapons. There might also be preparation of Abkhazia’s special forces by Israel’s military retirees.” Global CST representatives have already trained special units in Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Togo, and Guinea. However, according to Areshidze, other plans may be realized: “Not long before Global CST’s arrival in Abkhazia, a delegation from Abkhazia had made a visit to Israel. I learned something that was not published by the press: the talks between the businessmen and Knesset representatives focused on supplies of medical equipment and high-level medical technologies to Abkhazia. I am confident that, unlike the military supplies, Israel will implement these plans.”        

The development of the Israeli-Abkhazian relations has become a reflection of the deteriorating Georgian-Israeli relations. Is Germany next? Recently, the Abkhazian capital was visited by a representative delegation from this state, which included ministers of various German states. According to observers, Berlin’s sudden loyalty to Sukhum could be related to Georgia’s repeated sharp criticism of the position of Berlin, which opposes the country’s accession to NATO.


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