Israel Abandons Cairo Embassy, An Alliance Reels

Worries about Egypt/Israel peace after a mob storms the embassy in Cairo

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Fears that the ouster of Hosni Mubarak would upend the uneasy peace between Egypt and Israel? Consider them validated.

After a mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo Friday, the U.S. quickly attempted to intercede, urging Egyptian officials to help put down the riot. But damage is done, with the Israeli diplomatic staff evacuated from the city, and renewed fears all over that two of the region's most powerful countries may soon be at odds as they have not in years.

Writing from Cairo, Wendell Steavenson of The New Yorker diagnoses "revolution overspill." Steavenson and a friend "talked through the current permutations of Egypt’s political landscape, and I said that I thought the revolution was becoming distracted by the emotional issue of Israel."

The Israeli Embassy has been a focus of protests for months, increasingly since Israel refused to apologize for killing five Egyptian soldiers during a raid by Palestinian militants across the Sinai border in August. The infamous “Flagman” became an overnight national hero when he scaled the building with his bare hands and tore down the Israeli flag. Ibrahim shook his head vehemently. “It’s all one cause,” Hodaiby insisted.

The event is laying bare the divide between the popular will that drove the anti-Mubarak revolution as much as it is revealing divisions between the governments of Israel and Egypt.

From Voice of America:

One middle-aged Egyptian man complained to al-Hurra television that the security forces in front of the embassy should not have intervened to protect it, because it is the people's will to tear down the wall in front of the building. 

He says it was a supreme display of the will of the Egyptian people, who demanded that the wall protecting the embassy come down, and they brought it down.  He says Egypt's ruling military council must respect the demands of the people, because they are governing in the name of the people. 

That report also notes Egyptian officials will revive anti-protest security laws that were suspended as the revolution built toward Mubarak's ouster.

Egyptian officials, meanwhile, are trying to allay fears about the future relations between the two nations. The country will maintain its peace treaty with Israel, Ha'aretz reported.

Update: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also extended an olive branch Saturday in televised remarks, thanking Egyptian forces and President Obama for acting to end the hostilities, and pledging to return an Israeli ambassador to Cairo soon, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Other commentators focus on the meaning of this attack - as well as the ejection of the country's ambassador to Turkey - to Israel's domestic politics. Writing for TIME Magazine's Global Spin, Tony Karon says the events in Cairo show the waning ability of Washington to weigh in on Israel's behalf in Middle Eastern countries, especially as Israel's own government becomes more hawkish about its neighbors.

An eleventh-hour Obama Administration effort to prevent the breakdown with Turkey by brokering an agreement that would involve an Israeli apology for the deaths aboard the Maavi Marmara was scuppered when Netanyahu was dissuaded from apologizing by his right-wing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman. And Netanyahu has given Washington and the Europeans precious little to work with in their efforts to forestall a diplomatic confrontation at the U.N. later this month. That's why many Israelis worry, with good reason, that the departure of their ambassadors to Cairo and Ankara in the space of a single week are a grim portent of things to come -- and the fact that the U.S. may not be able to much more for them diplomatically than FEMA had done for the residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.