Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon’s March 22-23 visit to Tbilisi reflected well-established cordial relations, traceable to Eduard Shevardnadze’s tenure of office during the late Soviet era. As leader of the Georgian Communist Party, Shevardnadze opened the door for Jewish emigration to Israel from his republic at a time when official Soviet policy was still highly restrictive. In his subsequent capacity as foreign minister of the USSR, Shevardnadze was instrumental in liberalizing the Soviet Union’s overall policy on emigration.
Commenting on this relationship in a broadcast to the country, Shevardnadze drew a parallel between Jewish and Georgian efforts to build a national state, and cited historiographic findings on continuous Georgian-Jewish relations since the building of the first synagogue on Georgian soil twenty-six centuries ago.
As they did in Ukraine (see Western Region section above), the Israeli leaders signed a set of memoranda of understanding with their Georgian counterparts on military and security cooperation. The contents of those documents was not disclosed but was partially hinted at when the sides declared their common interest in combating international terrorism. Shevardnadze recalled that he had twice been attacked by terrorists and had in vain asked Moscow to extradite certain suspects. Netanyahu remarked that “there is no limitation on Israel-Georgia cooperation”–an apparent hint that Jerusalem would not accept attempts by Moscow to set such limitations.
The visitors expressed Israel’s interest in importing Caspian oil from the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (Turkey) pipeline to avoid dependence on Persian Gulf oil. This development holds economic significance–enhancing the planned pipeline’s commercial prospects–and political significance, adding to the set of interests shared by Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Israel. Those countries form an emergent group which supports Western policies in the South Caucasus and Near East (Kavkazia-Press, Radio Tbilisi, Israel Television, Kol Israel, March 22-23).
RUSSIAN ARMS CONTRABAND UNCOVERED IN BAKU.