Did Israel Help Spark the Russia-Georgia War in 2008?

Did Israel Help Spark the Russia-Georgia War in 2008?

Fresh documents released by WikiLeaks raise new questions about the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. In particular, the role of Israel and its involvement in providing military intelligence to Russia in the run-up to the war. 

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According to a leaked e-mail from an analyst at the intelligence firm Stratfor, Russia and Israel engaged in a deal in 2008 in which Jerusalem provided the Kremlin with secret codes for Georgian UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in exchange for information on Iranian missile systems. In the e-mail, a Stratfor analyst says "Israel and Russia made a swap – Israel gave Russia the ‘data link’ code for those specific UAVs; in return, Russia gave Israel the codes for Iran’s Tor-M1s." In 2008, that 'data link' code was allegedly used by the Russians to take down a Georgian drone flying in Georgian air space, a defining moment in the months before the war.

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As many have noted, any information gleaned from Stratfor e-mails should be taken with a grain of salt but the swap scenario is certainly plausible. The Russians would've been an ideal source of information for Israel, as Yaakov Lappin at The Jerusalem Post reports, because they sold Iran 29 launch vehicles carrying batteries of surface-to-air missiles in 2005, which make up Iran's Tor-M1 defense system. The source who provided the information to Stratfor is ranked "A," which according to its glossary, is the highest rank, meaning "Someone with intimate knowledge of the particular insight." The particular item of intelligence is ranked '1' meaning "We can take this info to the bank." 

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The origins of the war between Georgia and Russia remain subject to dispute. Russia maintains it invaded the Georgian enclave South Ossetia in response to Georgia's moves to reclaim the separatist region. Georgia maintains it was responding to assaults on its peacekeepers in the region. In any event, one of the most widely-cited events escalating the conflict was Russia's downing of Georgia's drone in April 2008. Shortly after it happened, Georgia released this video of the attack: 

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Following the incident, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili blamed Russia for the attack and sent along the video to the BBC. Russians denied the allegations, calling them "nonsense" while rebels in Georgia's other separatist enclave Abkhazia claimed they had taken down the drone. However, as C.J. Chivers writing for The New York Times reported, Georgians identified the craft in the video as an MIG-29 that could've only belonged to Russia. "Neither the Georgian Air Force nor the tiny contingent of Abkhaz planes in the separatist territory have MIG-29s," he wrote. While Russians claimed the plane in the video was an Abkhaz L-39, Chivers wrote "The fighter plane seen in the Georgian video did not resemble an L-39, which has a distinctive silhouette, including a single tail."

In any event, while we, unlike Stratfor, can't take intelligence of the swap "to the bank," it's interesting to envision a scenario where the shadowy world of billateral arms agreements ends up pitting two U.S. allies, Israel and Georgia, against each other. As of today, none of the governments implicated in the leak have commented. 

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