There are probably 1.5 million Russian speakers in Israel, and among them 75,000 speakers of Georgian.
So were are getting a lot of news and commentary about the war.
We may not know what is happening.
The people who know both countries well are saying, "Do not believe either of them."
It is also apparent that some commentators are articulating ingrown perspectives, as well as their assessments of what has happened since the last time they spoke.
On the one side are a lot of people who are supporting Georgia. Their cause seems just in wanting to keep control of ethnic enclaves within their country. The Russian attack has been brutal, and has gone beyond pushing Georgian troops out of enclaves whose residents had sought Russian protection. We have heard that Russian tanks are moving toward a major port, as well as toward the national capital of Tbilisi, or have even surrounded and cut off that city.
No assertions of Russian aggressive come without parallel denials from Russian authorities, and further warnings by knowledgeable Israelis that they are not sure who is telling the truth.
It is not only Israelis of Georgian origin who are supporting the Georgians. Some Jewish commentators from European Russia emphasize the aggression of Vladimir Putin. They assert that he has ignored the more conciliatory statements of the nominal president, Dmitry Medvedev. They say that Putin is exceeding his authority as prime minister by ordering continued military action, in the style of an aggressive Czar or head of the USSR.
Yet other views begin not so much with issues of justice as with issues of wisdom. It appears that Georgia began the fighting. Its leaders may have hoped for American, European, or even Israeli assistance, and did not take account of the prospect that Russia would invade and no one else would do more than criticize.
Israel had supplied Georgia with military equipment and training. Officials here say that they stopped responding when the Georgians requested weapons meant for attack rather than defense. Israel also desisted when warned by Russia that it was upset about the supplies, and would consider Israeli actions when making their own responses to Syrian and Iranian requests for weapons.
The comments of Israeli leaders about the Russian onslaught have been tamer than those coming out of the White House. No point in little Israel threatening big Russia, which holds many of the cards in this region and has not always shown itself to be restrained.
Seymour Yakobshvili, a minister in the Georgian government, is accusing Israel of being a traitor against his country for not continuing the arms shipments or otherwise helping in its predicament.
One does not have to be fluent in Georgian to recognize that Yokabshvili is one of the 12,000 or so Jews still living in Georgia.
It is not yet clear when the fighting will finally stop, and how much control Russia will assert. It is not pleasant to watch an invasion and the loss of national independence. In this case, however, events recall a slogan used to combat road accidents. Drivers and pedestrians should be wise, and not to insist on their rights in traffic. The same message also makes sense for little countries that live alongside big countries.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
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