Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear Sunday that despite the weekend’s ransacking of Israel’s embassy in Cairo, the government wants to return the ambassador and his staff to Cairo as soon as possible.
Senior diplomatic officials indicated that the reason Israel wanted to see the embassy reopened so soon after the Friday and Saturday siege of the embassy was a concern that the longer the return was delayed, the louder would be the voices in Egypt calling for the authorities there to bar the ambassador’s return.
will do everything to bring you home’
Egypt says it will try those behind Israel mission
Timeline of Israel embassy attack in
There are already many in Egypt calling to follow the lead of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will be visiting Cairo on Monday, and expel the Israeli ambassador.
Netanyahu told the cabinet at its weekly meeting on Sunday, “We are in contact with the Egyptian government regarding the necessary procedures for returning our ambassador so that he and his staff will be properly secured, so that they might continue to maintain Israel’s representation in Cairo.”
The Egyptian newspaper Al- Masry Al-Youm
reported that a high-level Israeli delegation consisting of four
“security and political figures” arrived in Cairo on Sunday on a private
jet and held talks with Egyptian officials. This report fueled
speculation that one of the issues being discussed was the return of
Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon, who along with some 80 other Israelis –
diplomats, their families and businessmen – were flown out of the
country on Saturday.
Diplomatic officials said the government was in touch with Egyptian
security officials about better securing the existing embassy building,
rather than looking for a new location – something that would take quite
a bit of time. Israel is not interested in waiting that long, one
In the meantime, the official added, the No. 2 diplomat in the embassy
is continuing to represent Israel from an unspecified “safe” location in
Israel did not want to remove him as well on Saturday because of the bad
precedent that would be set if Israel was left completely unrepresented
Netanyahu, in the cabinet meeting, said the embassy symbolizes the
“peace between us and Egypt. This peace is being challenged and those
who challenge it are challenging not only policy, but also the country
known as Israel.”
Netanyahu said that those who tore down Israel’s flag in Cairo deny both the peace and “the country.”
“I am pleased that there are other forces in Egypt, beginning with the
Egyptian government,” he said. “There are also other voices that want to
continue advancing the peace.”
Netanyahu, who after the cabinet meeting met Yonatan, the head of the
embassy’s security detail who was holed up in an inner room in the
embassy with five other guards, again praised their actions.
At his meeting with Likud ministers before the cabinet session,
Netanyahu poured more light on the incident, saying that only a heavy
metal door separated the embassy guards from the frenzied mob that had
broken into the offices.
At one time, the prime minister said, there was discussion with Yonatan
and the Egyptian officials about evacuating the guards to the roof of
the building, and then whisking them away from the mob. That plan was
scuttled, however, when it became clear that there were some 50 rioters
on the roof.
At a certain point, the Likud ministers were told, one of the guards
went to the window and shot in the air, forcing those on the roof to the
other side of the building.
Diplomatic sources said that eventually, and with the active
intervention of US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the Egyptian commandos were
activated, cleared the offices of the mob and were able to get the
guards out safely.
“Our people acted exceptionally,” Netanyahu said. “I commend Yonatan and
his friends. They acted with equanimity and, at a certain stage, in
very close coordination with the command center [in Jerusalem], the
Foreign Ministry security personnel and with the commander on the ground
in Egypt, after we established this connection. I must also note the
actions of US President Barack Obama, who became involved at a critical
time in order to use America’s influence on the issue.”
According to Israeli officials, the Americans “played a crucial role,
and were instrumental in conveying to the Egyptians the importance of
moving swiftly and decisively.”
Netanyahu, in his meeting with Yonatan, his wife and parents, said that
“I felt as if I was your father and I needed to get you and the others
out of there. We were very close to a horrible tragedy.” He added that
only one door separated them from the mob, and Israel from a “strategic
crisis” with Egypt.
Yonatan’s wife, Hofit, told the prime minister that she became concerned
when she received a phone text message from her husband saying “‘I love
you.’ I understood something wasn’t right. Until I saw him back in
Israel, I didn’t believe that everything would be all right.”
The security guard’s mother told Netanyahu that on Wednesday Yonatan will celebrate his 30th birthday.
“You gave him the best present – life,” she said.