As Russia and Georgia publicly air out competing versions of reality concerning an ongoing border dispute, my friends Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez have recently received some new corroboration of their excellent historical work.
The current question is: Did Russia lose a fighter plane on Friday? Perhaps, Georgia said, suggesting that it occurred over the province of Abkhazia, where Russian-backed separatists are attempting to break away from Tbilisi.
Russia denies it.
Abkhazians say a plane did violate Georgian airspace but that it wasn't Russian.
Last week, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told Turtle Bay reporters that Georgia had fabricated evidence in an earlier incident that involved a missile that Georgia's U.N. ambassador, Irakli Alasania, said was dropped over Georgian territory by Russian planes.
We may not be able to sort all this out immediately, so in the meantime, it would be instructive to look at the case made by two journalists-turned-historians, Ms. Ginor and Mr. Remez, who have recently posited one of the most fascinating explanations yet offered on the origins of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that changed much of modern history.
According to their new book, "Foxbats Over Dimona" (Yale University Press), the Six-Day War started because the Soviet Union was concerned about Israel's nascent nuclear program, having initially learned about it from an Israeli Communist Party leader, Moshe Sneh, who might have worked in the service of Mother Russia, or Zionism, or both.
The "Foxbats" in the title refer to the then-experimental MiG–25 reconnaissance bombers that, according to the authors' reporting, flew over the secret Israeli compound in Dimona in May 1967, primarily to map out plans for the destruction of Israel's emerging nuclear facility there, which the Soviets planned to demolish under the fog of a war between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors, a war to be launched at Soviet instigation.
Confirmation of the authors' contention was first reported in the Jerusalem Post last week, when the chief spokesman for Russia's Air Force, Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, wrote what sounds a lot like a Russian version of "The Right Stuff" in official publications. Describing the extraordinary abilities of Russian test pilots, Mr. Drobyshevsky allowed that one decorated hero, Colonel Aleksandr Bezhevets, performed "unique reconnaissance flights over the territory of Israel in a MiG–25RB aircraft" in 1967.
The slipping out of this hitherto secret — and disputed — bit of information, according to the authors, amounts to an official Russian admission of a key piece of their reporting about the origins of the war.
The Soviet plan did not turn out well: When the war was indeed launched on June 5, 1967 — a month after those Foxbat flights over Dimona — Israel's victory was so swift and complete that Russia could not deploy its plan to destroy the nuclear facility, the target it was seeking all along.
Mr. Remez, a Six-Day War veteran, and his Russian-born wife, Ms. Ginor, see many parallels to America's mangling of the intervention in Iraq. They are also well aware that the Soviets of yore were as shortsighted as today's power players in Moscow.
Moscow currently has little concern about the potential threat Iran's nuclear and missile programs would pose to Russia in the long term.
"Russia is playing the game of my enemy of my enemy is my friend," Mr. Remez said, because the country is mostly interested in increasing its short-run influence in the region.
A military correspondent for a Russian newspaper, who was recently killed under suspicious circumstances, according to reports from Moscow, was allegedly working to uncover the story of how Russia sold fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles through Belarus to Syria and Iran — just as the Soviet Union concealed its military involvement in the early days of the Arab-Israeli war by using a satellite, Czechoslovakia, to sell arms to both sides.
Realpolitik-obsessed Russians are not that different from so-called neoconservative or neoliberal ideologues who ignore good intelligence to support their theses.
"Intelligence is good on the ground, but the analysts upstairs are too steeped in their own concepts," Ms. Ginor said.
Now, as then, Mr. Remez said, "it is not about ideology, but about strategic superpower considerations."
Last week's press conferences by the Russian and Georgian ambassadors to the United Nations reflected Moscow's attempt to assure the world that a former Soviet satellite remains under its influence, even as Tbilisi allies itself with the West and hopes to join NATO.
Next month, Russia will reassert its Middle East diplomatic presence as a member of the Quartet — with America, the European Union, and the United Nations — mediating in the region. Even veteran Kremlinologists like Secretary of State Rice could learn a thing or two from "Foxbats" about the hazards of such a presence.