Israel working with Egypt on return of ambassador: PM
Israel is working with the Egyptian authorities for the "quick" return of the Israeli ambassador to Cairo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday evening.
"I seek to ensure that the security arrangements (the Israeli ambassador) and his staff require will be firm and meet Israel's security needs. For now, our consul for state affairs will continue to represent Israel in Cairo," Netanyahu said in a televised press conference.
His comments came less than a day after hundreds of Egyptian protesters stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, prompting Netanyahu to order the emergency evacuation of ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, along with some 80 diplomatic staff and their families, who boarded a military flight to Israel early Saturday, Xinhua reported.
Another six Israelis, the embassy's security guards, were later rescued by plain-clothed members of an Egyptian commando force who arrived at the scene when dozens of protesters had already burnt the Israeli flag and were throwing out hundreds of embassy documents from its windows.
Prior to the commandos' arrival, the six men had barricaded themselves in a room protected by a heavy steel door inside the embassy building.
Netanyahu, accompanied by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen, had spoken with the security team's leader on the phone from a situation room set up at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, reassuring him that all efforts were being made to ensure their rescue.
The rescue operation was made possible after U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heeded an appeal by Netanyahu and personally intervened in the crisis, pressing the leaders of Egypt's governing military council to order the extraction of the Israelis to safety.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also contacted his American counterpart Leon Panetta and Obama's special envoy to the Mideast Dennis Ross, requesting their immediate help.
The Egyptian troops, who arrived at the embassy some 20 minutes after the mob broke in, had reportedly covered the Israelis' heads to conceal their identities and then rushed them to the Cairo airport, where they were placed on an Israel Air Force aircraft.
Netanyahu said he wished to personally thank Obama for his assistance, saying that "it was a fateful moment" which "attests to the special alliance between Israel and the United States."
The prime minister also noted the action taken by the Egyptian commandos "which undoubtedly prevented a tragedy."
"We maintained contact with the Egyptian government. It was clear to all sides that protecting the embassy is an inseparable part of a sovereign state's responsibility," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said Israel was determined to preserve the peace treaty it signed with Egypt in 1979.
"We will continue to guard the peace with Egypt. It is the interest of both countries," Netanyahu said, adding that Israel will "try to prevent a further deterioration" in its relations with Turkey and will continue to pursue peace with the Palestinians.
In a personal message to Israeli citizens, Netanyahu said the Middle East was "going through an earthquake of a historic scale."
"It is why we have to work with restraint, judgment and responsibility," Netanyahu said, "we have to understand that the things happening here are linked to enormous underground currents which have nothing to do with Israel."
He said Israel's security was its "anchor of existence," adding that the situation in the region has "led many in Israel and abroad" to better understand Israel's need to guarantee its defense in any future peace deal.