Israel determined to reopen ransacked Cairo embassy

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies) — Israel is eager to return its ambassador to Egypt as soon as adequate security arrangements are in place to safeguard its embassy and diplomatic personnel, diplomatic sources said yesterday. Some 80 Israeli diplomats and family members fled Egypt on Saturday in an emergency operation after of Israel’s embassy in Cairo was attacked and ransacked by a mob of hundreds.

The violence began as thousands of demonstrators rioted outside the embassy Friday night. A group of rioters used a long wooden ram, apparently a telephone pole, to break down a recently constructed eight-foot-high security wall surrounding the embassy compound and the mob poured into the building.

They made their way to the high-rise building’s top two floors, which housed the embassy. As a group of rioters broke down the outer doors, others climbed outside a window railing and tore down the embassy’s Israeli flag, throwing it some 17 stories to the roaring crowd below.

Meanwhile, six embassy guards were trapped inside, facing the possibility of having to defend themselves with lethal force if the inner door were breached. They communicated with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other officials gathered in the Foreign Ministry’s situation room in Jerusalem and received orders to open fire if their lives were threatened.

Netanyahu made a desperate appeal to US President Barack Obama, whose ambassador to Egypt relayed America’s request for assistance. After a tense 20-minute face-off against the would-be invaders at the embassy door, an Egyptian commando unit mounted a rescue operation. They repelled the rioters and escorted the Israeli guards, dressed in Arab robes and headdress, to safety.

The men were quickly taken to Cairo’s airport, where they joined Israel’s ambassador and some 80 embassy personnel, their families, and Israelis staying at the embassy on a special Israel Air Force flight to Tel Aviv.

Speaking on Israel Television Saturday night, Netanyahu noted that although the Middle East is “now undergoing a political earthquake of historic proportions,” Israel would work with Egypt to return its ambassador to Cairo.

“We will continue to keep the peace with Egypt. This is in the common interest of both countries,” Netanyahu said. “We will work toward preventing a further deterioration in our relationship with Turkey. We did not choose this sequence of events. To the extent that the matter depends upon us, we shall act to lower tensions and do everything possible to restore relations,” he said.

Netanyahu praised the United States for intervening with Egypt in order to rescue the Israelis.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the president of the United States, Barack Obama,” he said. “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.”