IDF vets who trained Georgia troops say war with Russia is no surprise

For the past few days, since fighting broke out in the Caucasus, 24-year-old L. from central Israel has been trying to phone the group of Georgian combat soldiers he had been training in Georgia up to a few months ago.

L. and a group of young Israel Defense Forces reservists have been watching reports of the fighting in Georgia worriedly, concerned over the fate of the soldiers they had trained for four months.

"We have their phone numbers, but we haven't been able to reach them. These are people we know and we are all hoping for their success," L. said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli trainers are trying to glean from reports on the movements of the Georgian army whether their trainees have internalized Israeli military technique and if the special reconnaissance forces have chalked up any successes after the difficult training they underwent last winter.

"The military bases where we trained the soldiers are practically gone. The Russians have been bombing them over the past few days," L. said. He quickly added that "the bases where we trained the forces were not in the areas of conflict, but it's not a huge country, and the Russians are bombing bases in central Georgia and in the area of the capital, Tbilisi."

L. was hired by Global CST, owned by Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, and Defense Shield, owned by Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsch, about a year ago, right after he left the army. He had served as a combat officer in an elite unit, and he got the adventurous offer through his commanding officers. "It looked interesting. Relative to Israel, the money was excellent, too.

"There was an atmosphere of war about to break out. We received basic background about tensions between Georgia and Russia, but most of what I learned came from talking to the soldiers. From my point of view, the battles of the past few days were to be expected."

The Israelis, who were stationed at bases throughout the country, were to carry out battalion-level infantry and reconnaissance training. "Israel Ziv and Gal Hirsch would come from time to time and watch us in action, but we managed day-to-day operations ourselves," L. said.

L., who trained a Georgian reconnaissance unit, says the troops were high quality. "It's not the standard we know in Israel, but when we left them they were at a good level. They took the training very seriously. There is a wider age range than in Israel, from 18 to 35, but they function very well. Over the past few days I've been following the news and I think they grasped a little of how to use strategy, like we taught them. It looks like we did a good job." L. refuses to discuss the weapons they trained the Georgians with, but he says the program was approved by Israel's Defense Ministry and included no classified information. "We taught them counterterror and house-to-house fighting, but that was very basic."

The trainers left Georgia in April. "I don't think the Georgians would start fighting as long as the Israeli forces where there," L. said. "Once, when tension was high after Russia shot down a drone, we were evacuated to Tbilisi."

L. says they got to know the Georgians off-base as well. "We were at some of the soldiers' homes for dinner. They're very emotional and warm and tried to compare the situation in Israel to their situation. They were very excited that we had come to help them."

L. is furious over the Foreign Ministry directive to freeze Israeli weapons sales to Georgia. "When we found ourselves in a similar situation, we expected the world to act differently," he said.

[Source: By Jonathan Lis and Moti Katz, Haaretz, Isr, 11Aug08]

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