"Georgian government officials used to tell me that they wanted to model their army after the IDF," former Israeli ambassador to Georgia Shabtai Zur told Ynet Sunday evening amid the country's bloody feud with Russia over the separatist region of South Ossetia.
The fighting which broke out over the weekend between Russia and Georgia has brought Israel's intensive involvement in the region into the limelight. This involvement includes the sale of advanced weapons to Georgia and the training of the Georgian army's infantry forces.
The Israeli Defense Ministry held a special meeting Sunday to discuss the various arms deals held by Israelis in Georgia, but no change in policy has been announced as of yet.
Zur, a candidate for mayor of Ashkelon in the upcoming municipal elections, explained that since Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili took office the country has seen advancements in various fields, specifically the enlistment of women to the army and the recruitment of reservists.
"In my opinion these developments are due in part to advice Georgia received from Israeli companies that operate there," Zur said, adding that the economic development in the country has attracted many Israeli businessmen.
'US intervention needed'
The former envoy said the ongoing tension between Georgia and the separatist provinces brought Israeli experts to the area.
"The private company of Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch (Galilee Division commander during the Second Lebanon War) has been operating in Georgia for some time now and is providing consultation to the Georgian army," he noted.
According to him, some 6,000 Jews currently live in Georgia, and most of them enjoy a relatively high economic status and rarely suffer from anti-Semitism.
"South Ossetia and Abkhazia were always considered a part of Georgia," Zur told Ynet. "When I was a child we used to visit those regions, and to us they were always a part of our country. It's a shame what is going on there now, especially during one of Georgia's more prosperous periods."
The former ambassador said some 150-200 Jews reside in the heavily-bombarded city of Gori. "Last night I spoke with three nurses who live there; they told me that they do not know if any Jews were among the victims," he said.
Zur said he hoped the US would intervene and "bring the parties to the negotiating table".
Arie Egozi contributed to the report