Israel: Embassy storming was attack on Israeli-Egyptian peace

Israel Materials 11 September 2011 14:16
The mob that stormed Israel's embassy in Cairo assaulted 32 years of peaceful Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel said Sunday.
Israel: Embassy storming was attack on Israeli-Egyptian peace

The mob that stormed Israel's embassy in Cairo assaulted 32 years of peaceful Israeli-Egyptian relations, Israel said Sunday, DPA reported.

The incident was not only a physical attack on a sovereign mission, but one "on the Israeli-Egyptian peace, and on the stability in the region," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said.

On Friday afternoon, thousands of Egyptians stormed the embassy, climbing over a security wall, breaking windows, bursting inside, lighting fires, spray painting anti-Israeli slogans and looting the mission's offices on the building's higher stories.

Only early Saturday could Egyptian commandos rescue six Israeli security guards, who for hours had been held up inside a safe room. The ambassador and other staff had already gone home for the Jewish Sabbath.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference late Saturday that one armoured door had separated the mob and the guards.

Israel's top leadership, from a situation room in Jerusalem, followed the drama unfold on live a feed from security cameras installed in the embassy.

Netanyahu said the embassy's security officer had asked that, if something happened to him, his parents be notified in person and not by telephone.

The premier added he had given them the green light to fire weapons if necessary to save themselves.

Three Egyptian civilians were killed and a total of 1,049 injured, including 46 police and military soldiers, during the attack on the embassy, Egypt's Health Ministry said, as Egyptian forces confronted the mob.

Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, his family and embassy staff landed safely in Israel before dawn Saturday, while a small plane brought home the six security personnel hours later.

Meridor, of Netanyahu's Likud party, and who holds the intelligence and atomic energy portfolio, said both Israel and Egypt had a "mutual interest" to restore normal ties as soon as possible.

"Egypt must take some steps to promise us that it can guarantee the safety of our diplomats," he told Israel Radio.

Asked if active negotations with Palestinian representatives would have helped moderate anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt, the minister replied peace talks with the Palestinians were an Israeli interest too.

"But what is happening in the Middle East is much bigger than the Israeli-Palestinian issue," he said. The question of Israeli relations with Palestinians, both in Israel and in its occupied territories, is a sore point across much of the Arab world.

Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai praised the Egyptian commandos who rescued the Israeli security personnel, although an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity criticized Egypt, noting its agents could have acted "quicker and more efficiently."

"From my point of view, the Egyptian commandos solved the situation and did this very well," Vilnai told Israel Army Radio.

"The situation was very tense and could have easily become bloody, because our people would have had no option but to shoot," he said.

He also praised the Israeli guards, saying they showed "restraint" and "professionalism."

Netanyahu too praised the Egyptian rescue operation, which came after he had asked US President Barack Obama to intervene.

"The Middle East is undergoing a historical earthquake and we have to operate calmly, responsibly," Netanyahu said.

"Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt. We are working together with the Egyptian government to quickly return our ambassador to Cairo," he said.

Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal promised extra measures to protect the embassy compound, using all articles available under the emergency law.

Some 38 people have been held in connection with the attack on the building, according to state-run daily al-Ahram.

Netanyahu also specifically thanked Obama during his statement, saying the US had helped rescue the diplomats. "He said he would do everything in his power, and he has done that. We owe him a special thank you," the Israeli premier said, without elaborating.

The United States mediated in negotiations between Egypt and Israel that resulted in the peace treaty of 1979.