Garibashvili’s Visit to Israel: Greater Bilateral Relations
Author: Josephine Freund
Aug 25, 2023
On August 17, Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili began his official visit to Israel. While in Tel Aviv, Garibashvili met with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. The two leaders discussed increased bilateral cooperation, especially doubling down on economic cooperation.
An official statement from the Georgian government emphasized the shared urge between Georgia and Israel to deepen their bilateral ties: “The parties discussed cooperation in the economic direction. The Prime Minister [Garibashvili] noted that trade and economic relations between the countries are developing dynamically, and negotiations on a free trade agreement will begin next year, which will bring partnership between the countries to a qualitatively new stage.”
The most tangible outcome of Garibashvili’s visit was the resulting free trade agreement (FTA) negotiation process between the two countries. Georgian Ambassador to Israel Lasha Zhvania remarked that the FTA negotiations were set to begin in 2024, and that “the platform for closer cooperation between the two countries has already been built, has a solid foundation, and will develop even more in the future.” Zhvania emphasized that the FTA would increase Israeli investment to Georgia and would bolster Georgia’s economy by incentivizing increased tourism to Georgia by Israeli citizens.
Aside from boosting Georgian-Israeli economic relations, Garibashvili and Netanyahu discussed increased bilateral cooperation in the fields of security, artificial intelligence, medicine, and tourism.
As the two leaders discussed deepening Georgia-Israel relations, Netanyahu noted that the two countries already had a shared history that bonds them. He quipped that the Georgian-Israeli relationship already had begun 2600 years ago, noting Georgia’s historical Jewish population. He explained that Georgian Jews, traveling to and from Israel have “formed a human bridge” of sorts, thus facilitating a natural buildup of strong bilateral ties.
Indeed, Georgian-Israeli relations have significantly increased in the last year. Garibashvili also traveled to Israel in May 2022 to commemorate 30 years of bilateral relations. His delegation included Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilia Darchiashvili and Minister of Defense Juansher Burchuladze. During that visit, the Georgian officials met with then Speaker of the Knesset Mickey Levi. Levi discussed with Garibashvili the shared threat that Iran is posing to the security of the wider region.
The recent visits of Georgian top officials to Israel, as well as the FTA agreement announcement, signal not only a greater momentum in Georgian-Israeli relations, but also a wider regional trend in cooperation with Israel. Georgia’s neighbor, Azerbaijan, has doubled down on its already close relations with Israel. This relationship has also resulted in several economic advantages, such as increased bilateral tourism, greater energy-security cooperation, and cutting-edge projects such as desalination plants. Furthermore, the Israeli-Azerbaijani relationship has proved advantageous in the realm of security cooperation, especially against an increasingly belligerent Iran.
While Georgian-Israeli relations are also, so far, focusing on greater economic relations, it will be interesting to observe if this relationship, too, will develop a security element as well. While Georgia and Iran share fairly good relations, the landscape in the region is certainly shifting. Iran and Russia have reportedly been nurturing stronger defense ties. On August 22, Iranian state media reported that Iran has produced a new advanced drone, the Mohajer 10. According to the state media, this drone “has an operational range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) and can fly for up to 24 hours…its payload can reach 300 kg (661 pounds), double the capacity of the "Mohajer-6" drone.” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on May 15 announced that Russia is seeking to “purchase more advanced drones from Iran.”
With the ongoing war in Ukraine, and Russia’s involvement in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, resulting in the frozen conflicts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia is undoubtedly on the lookout for doubling down on its own defense repertoire. This fear is especially relevant as Georgia’s neighbor, Russia, attains new and advanced weaponry from Iran. In this regard, a stronger partnership on the defense side with Israel would be a logical choice. Israel is certainly emerging as a strong partner to countries in the Caspian Region, especially in the fields of defense and economy. As alliances and relations shift in the region, Israel’s presence is certainly growing.