Potential Israeli Embassy Tragedy Averted in Cairo

A diplomatic disaster was prevented in the Middle East as the remaining Israeli staff in their Embassy in Cairo were rescued from an Egyptian mob storming the facility last week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement posted on the Prime Minister’s Office website, said the staff were saved in “a complex rescue operation” that was completed around 5 am Saturday morning. Netanyahu said Egyptian commandos intervened and “prevented a tragedy.” The Israeli news website Ynet reported the commandos got the Israeli staff members out, telling them to disguise themselves.

The commandos weren’t the only Egyptians involved according to Netanyahu’s statement. “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.”

Netanyahu also thanked the United States for their involvement in resolving the tense situation. Netanyahu was on the phone with US President Barack Obama and said regarding the conversation, “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.”

In a statement released on the White House website regarding his conversation with Netanyahu, Obama “expressed his great concern about the situation at the Embassy, and the security of the Israelis serving there. He reviewed the steps that the US is taking at all levels to help resolve the situation without further violence, and to call on the Government of Egypt to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy.”

The Israeli security head temporarily trapped at the embassy, Yonatan, also spoke with Netanyahu during the crisis. Said Netanyahu in the statement, “Only one door separated between the mob and Yonatan and his friends. He sounded perfectly calm to me, and on the other hand understood the situation in which he and his colleagues found themselves.

Continued Netanyahu, “During the ongoing event, he requested from the security officer in the Foreign Ministry one thing: If something happens to me, he said, my parents should be notified face to face, and not by telephone.

“I got on the phone line and I said to him, ‘Yonatan, be strong.  I promise you that the State of Israel will do everything in its power and will use all possible resources in the world in order to rescue you and your friends unharmed and whole from this situation.’ And thank God this morning they all landed in Israel.  A short while ago I spoke with Yonatan and his mother. They sounded wonderful.”

Despite the intense situation and perceived risk, Ynet cited an Israeli security source who spoke with Yonatan and downplayed the threat of a lynching of the six Israeli staff members, who were all embassy security personnel. Ynet quoted the source as saying, “The reports do not exactly reflect reality.”

However, Ynet further reported that some of the security guards at one point fired their weapons in the air from inside their barricaded security room, after which the mob moved on.

Meanwhile, Israel has received support from officials around the world following the incident, including Egypt. Netanyahu said he appreciated “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.”

Among those who commented on the mob attack was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who did so in a phone conversation with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr.  Expressing her “deep concern about the violence,” Clinton “called on the Egyptian government to fully protect all diplomatic missions and personnel in Egypt, according to its Vienna Convention commitments,” said a State Department press release.

Despite the assault on the embassy, which had elements reminiscent of the US embassy takeover in Iran in 1979, Netanyahu said they “are working together with the Egyptian government to quickly return our Ambassador to Cairo.”

“I wish to make sure that the necessary security arrangements for him and for our entire staff will be effective and will assure their necessary safety,” continued Netanyahu. “At the same time, our diplomatic delegate in Cairo will continue to represent Israel until the Ambassador’s return. “

The Israeli leader also highlighted that “Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt.”

The US was glad to hear the commitment to the peace treaty between two of their regional allies. In her statement, Clinton “welcomed the statements made by both Egyptian and Israeli officials that both remain committed to the peace between the two nations, and reiterated her view that Egyptian-Israeli peace is a cornerstone to regional stability.”

The situation follows a number of anti-Israel protests in Egypt since the revolution that overthrew the Mubarak regime.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, September 11, 2011)