Egypt and Israel Seek Return to ‘Normal’ Ties

Egypt and Israel have said they want a return to normal diplomatic activities after the Israeli ambassador flew home on Friday following the storming of the embassy in Cairo during violent protests.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said on Sunday that his government was consulting with Egypt on arrangements to return Israel’s ambassador, Yitzhak Levanon, and his staff to Cairo but wanted security assurances.

"We are in touch with the Egyptian government over the necessary arrangements for the return of the ambassador, so that he and his staff will be appropriately protected in order to maintain Israeli representation in Cairo," a statement from his office quoted the premier as telling the weekly cabinet meeting.

Egypt’s army, which took over when Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president on February 11, has struggled to quell public fury against Israel since five Egyptian border guards were killed last month when Israel repelled cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian.

The United States called on Egypt to protect the mission.

"The security in front of the embassy has been enhanced," Mohamed Higazy, Egyptian cabinet spokesman, told Reuters. "Returning back to normalcy is the objective for both sides."

About 16 trucks full of police and security personnel, three buses of military police, two armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles were parked near the embassy on Sunday.

‘Serious Incident’

The Israeli ambassador and scores of embassy staff were evacuated from Egypt following Friday night’s attack, that also threatened to unravel the peace treaty signed by the two countries 32 years ago.

Netanyahu called Friday night’s attack a "serious incident", but said Israel would send its ambassador back to Egypt "as soon as possible".

"Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt," Netanyahu told a news conference on Saturday. "We will continue to keep the peace with Egypt. This is in the common interest of both countries."

Netanyahu said the Middle East was undergoing a "political earthquake of historic proportions".

"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."

Netanyahu also thanked US President Barack Obama and Egyptian security forces for their help in defusing the embassy crisis.

He said Israeli officials had maintained direct channels of communication with the Egyptian government and said the intervention of Egyptian commandos had prevented a tragedy.

Egyptian officials had said three people were killed and more than 1,000 people injured in clashes late on Friday between protesters and security forces near the embassy, following earlier peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Protesters tore down a cement barrier around the high-rise building and dumped Hebrew-language documents out of the embassy’s windows.

At least 20 suspects had been arrested following the attack, the Egyptian interior ministry said.

Egypt’s information minister Osama Hassan Heikal said those who took part in the violence would be sent to an emergency state security court.

Heikal said Egyptian authorities would apply "all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety" following the embassy attack, and respect international conventions regarding the protection of diplomatic missions.

Police and military forces remained stationed in front of the Israeli embassy, the Saudi embassy and the Giza security headquarters, which was also attacked late on Friday night.

Angry Protesters

The protesters were rallying in the heart of Cairo against the slow pace of reforms by the current military council since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, the former president. 

They had also been angered by Israel’s killing of the Egyptian border guards last month, during an operation targeting gunmen suspcted of deadly attacks in southern Israel.

The protesters were demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy, an end to gas exports to Israel and nullification of the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between the two countries.

A plane carrying Yitzhak Levanon, the Israeli ambassador, and around 80 others landed in Israel on Saturday.

Six Israeli embassy security officers who were still in the building early on Saturday morning were later rescued by Egyptian commandos, and then sent back to Tel Aviv on a second plane from Cairo.

Israel’s consul for state affairs was left behind to maintain its embassy, as Israel prepared its formal response to the attack by dozens of protesters on the building that houses its diplomatic mission.

Pulling its diplomats even temporarily out of Egypt was another regional setback for Israel, which has already seen relations with Turkey – another erstwhile regional ally – turn sour amid anger over last year’s deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Speaking on Saturday, Netanyahu also said Israel would "work toward preventing a further deterioration in our relationship with Turkey".

Israel imports about 40 per cent of its natural gas from Egypt.
Some Egyptians say Israel pays too little for the gas, and the pipeline that connects the two countries has been attacked at least five times since February.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out