I’m a bit late with the news today, what with Shabbat and family celebrations out of town but now I’ve had a chance to catch up somewhat and the news out of Cairo is not good.
Israel’s embassy in Cairo was violently attacked on Friday night by a huge mob who managed to enter the embassy itself, leading to the decision to evacuate the entire embassy staff. The six remaining staffers, all security personnel, almost met a violent end at the hands of the baying mob but were extricated by Egyptian commandos – but only after the intervention of US President Barack Obama himself.
Friday’s violent clashes at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo continued into the night, leading to a particularly dramatic decision. Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt Yitzhak Levanon, some 80 diplomats, their family members and other Israeli staying in Cairo were transferred to the Egyptian capital’s airport in a secret operation, under tight security.
A special Israel Air Force flight returned the Israeli representatives to the Jewish state, where they landed early Saturday.
Another plane, carrying six security guards and embassy staff who were stranded in the embassy, landed in Israel several hours later. The evacuation of the six Israelis by an Egyptian commando force took place early Saturday with a live broadcast to the Foreign Ministry’s situation room in Jerusalem.
…”The mob attack on the Israeli Embassy in Egypt is a serious incident, but could have been worse had the rioters managed to get through the last door and hurt our people,” Netanyahu said after the rescue.
“I’m glad we managed to prevent a disaster and would like to thank US President Obama for his help. I would also like to congratulate all the intelligence officials who helped in the rescue for their excellent work.
“The fact that the Egyptian authorities acted with determination and rescued our people should be noted and we extend them our thanks,” the prime minister added. “However, Egypt must not ignore the severe injury to the fabric of peace with Israel and such a blatant violation of international norms. We will hold consultations later on.”
State officials told Reuters that Israel left a diplomat behind to maintain its Cairo embassy. The diplomat, Yaakov Dvir, the consul for state affairs and Ambassador Levanon’s deputy, will remain in Egypt while Israel weighs a response to overnight demonstrations during which the Cairo office tower housing the mission was overrun, the official said.
Israel decided to evacuate the embassy after it was stormed by Egyptian protestors, who removed the Israeli flag from the building’s rooftop, for the second time within one month.
The al-Arabiya network and local media said more than 1,000 Egyptians were hurt in clashes between police and demonstrators who tried to invade the embassy and a nearby police compound, while police used teargas and fired shots in the air to disperse protesters.
According to the al-Youm al-Sabah daily, three of the protestors died of their wounds. An earlier report said one of the protestors died after suffering a heart attack.
At one point, hundreds of Egyptian troops arrived at the site in dozens of armored vehicles in an effort to quell the violence.
Arab television networks broadcast footage of protestors throwing documents they claimed to have found in the embassy storeroom out of the windows. The Foreign Ministry said in response that the documents were papers handed out to all embassy visitors.
Earlier, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf summoned his cabinet crisis team and the Interior Ministry put police on alert and canceled police holidays, state media said on Saturday.
Obama speaks with Netanyahu
Jerusalem sources defined the attack on the embassy as “a serious incident”, and the Foreign Ministry launched opened an emergency headquarters, which was visited by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The ministry is said to be in close contact with the Egyptian authorities.
The United States was also involved in efforts to calm tensions in Cairo, with President Barack Obama calling on Egypt Friday to protect Israel’s embassy from demonstrators in Cairo, as he spoke by telephone to Prime Minister Netanyahu, officials said.
Obama expressed “great concern” over the incident and explained steps Washington was taking in response, including a call on Egypt “to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy.”
“The president expressed his great concern about the situation at the Embassy, and the security of the Israelis serving there,” a White House statement said. “The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch until the situation is resolved.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later called Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr to urge Egypt to meet its Vienna Convention obligations to protect diplomatic property, a senior State Department official said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke to US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and with Dennis Ross, President Obama’s emissary to the Middle East. Barak, who discussed the situation in Cairo with Netanyahu and heads of the defense establishment, asked the American officials to help defend the Israeli Embassy against the protestors.
Egyptian protesters earlier tore down a security wall outside the embassy before one of them scaled the high-rise building and tore down its flag.
Earlier, thousands of protesters had massed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand reforms and an end to military trials of civilians. After listening to the weekly Muslim prayer at which they were told it is shameful for Egyptians to “forget their revolution,” about 1,000 of them broke off and marched to the Israeli embassy.
So once again, the Jews, i.e. Israel in this case, are made into the scapegoats for a failing revolution. There was no other discernible reason to attack the Israel embassy, despite the best efforts of the foreign media to assign the motive to the killing of 3 Egyptian border guards by Israel after the deadly terrorist attack on the Israeli side of the border last month in which 8 Israelis were killed.
This view is given some support by Prof. Mordechai Kedar, a Middle East analyst from Bar Ilan University.
Though the crisis ended fairly well, Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior research fellow at the Begin- Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University explains that these are the sort of events that happen when peace is forged between governments, not people.
“The peace between Israel and Egypt was illegitimate to begin with in the eyes of the Egyptian people. It was an agreement with the Zionists, and the majority of the Egyptian population is religious, and does not believe the State of Israel has the right to exist,” Dr. Kedar noted.
“Anwar Sadat, who was a dictator, decided to act against the will of his people when he signed the peace treaty, and was assassinated as a result,” Kedar said, adding that “now, when the Mubarak regime is also out of the way, they believe the peace treaty can finally be canceled.”
More importantly, Mubarak’s ousting has yet to bring about the desired outcome. “When the Egyptians look at the results of the revolution, they realize that its goals have not been achieved.
“Since Mubarak was deposed, the unemployment has doubled, and so has the frustration among Egyptians, who are desperately looking for a scapegoat,” Dr. Kedar noted.
“The tourism industry suffered a great loss, and the Egyptian economy has plummeted. We are looking at an anarchic situation, and so the Egyptian public turns its anger toward Israel; however, it may soon redirect its frustration toward the military, which has failed to provide socioeconomic solutions,” he added.
What is even more concerning about this attack, beyond the obvious danger at hand, was the fact that the head of the ruling Supreme Military Council Mohammed Tantawi was mysteriously unavailable during the crisis.
What really transpired behind the scenes of the dramatic rescueof six Israelis who were stranded in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo? Although Israel praised the action undertaken by Egyptian forces and its commandoes for rescuing the stranded Israelis from a fanatical mob, it turns out that there had been a severe lack of coordination even amongst the highest ranks.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak tried to reach the head of the ruling Supreme Military Council Mohammed Tantawi
over the phone overnight, but the Egyptians said they were “unable to locate him”.
It appears that only the swift intervention of US President Barack Obama prevented a catastrophe from unfolding. “I would say it was a decisive moment – fateful, I would even say,” Netanyahu said on Saturday evening.
“He said, ‘I will do all that I can,’ and he did; he applied all of the means and influence of the United States of America, which are certainly substantial. And I think we owe him special thanks.”
On Saturday evening, a senior Israeli official said, “Such things are not supposed to take place in the circumstances that had evolved.”
Was it just a diplomatic snafu or a diplomatic “illness”? If the latter, this does not bode well for Egypt-Israel relations.
Besides the valuable help from the US Administration (who must have threatened the Egyptians with who knows what in order to get them to stop the violence), Britain’s PM David Cameron condemned the attack, as did, surprisingly, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister.
Here is an excerpt from the text of Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement in the wake of the embassy attack:
I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, “I will do everything I can.” And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.
I wish to cite also the intervention of the Egyptian Commandos which prevented a tragedy. We maintained direct channels of communication throughout the night with the Egyptian government. It was clear to all that the defense of an Embassy, and particularly the Israeli Embassy, is the obligation of any sovereign state.
I therefore also appreciate the words of the Egyptian Information Minister who condemned the attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. Many world leaders and Arab leaders joined him in this sentiment. I attach great importance to this.
I wish to say one more thing this evening to you, my fellow Israeli citizens:
The Middle East is now undergoing a political earthquake of historic proportions. Perhaps this can be compared to what happened a century ago at the end of the First World War with the establishment of a new world order. In the face of this historic turmoil we must act coolly and with responsibility. We must understand that these events are occurring as a result of deep and strong political undercurrents. We in Israel have a tendency to think that everything happens because of us or that we are somehow at fault for the turbulence in our area. There are many external and strong forces at work here. More than anything else, we must in these times act to safeguard our security. This is the anchor of our existence, especially in these turbulent times. We must work towards advancing our national interests in the area at the appropriate time.
Those words of Netanyahu that I highlighted are of utmost importance in today’s climate, when it seems that the whole world and his wife accuse Israel’s settlements policy as the root of all evil and instability in the Middle East. Today’s violence makes a nonsense of that theory.