Last weekend the Egyptian government announced that it had arrested an agent of the Mossad who had been sent to Cairo to provoke demonstrations against the regime.
The culprit is Ilan Grapel, since featured in a number of media reports.
Descriptions by those who knew him are of an innocent abroad. An American with family roots in Israel, Bronx High School of Science and Johns Hopkins, immigrated to Israel, joined the IDF, trained for one of its elite units but dropped on account of weak Hebrew, said to identify with underdogs, variously described as leftist, Communist, oddball.
Egyptians showed pictures of him in an Israeli army uniform that they found in his belongings, which hardly seems to be the equipment that a Mossad agent would take to a field assignment.
Also available are pictures of him at a demonstration, holding a sign in English and Arabic, "Oh Stupid Obama It is a Pride Revolution Not a Food Revolution."
"His love of Arabic culture and the immense effort he put into learning the language (which is what first brought him to Cairo’s American University a few years ago) wouldn’t make him that unusual in Israel. The fact he chose to go by the name “Illanhu Akbar” around the offices of an organization often tasked with presenting some of the region’s most delicate issues to the outside world, would. His sense of humor was interesting, to say the least."
Grapel provided just what the Egyptians needed: a foreigner with an Israeli identity, who fit the claim that "outsiders" were causing the trouble that brought hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against the regime.
I cannot count the number of bright young people, perhaps like Grapel, who I have encountered in a long career of teaching in good universities. A number of them were Jews from good homes. They stood out as different from most peers, adventurist, willing to visit out of the way places and participate in concerns that did not promise to advance their own lives in any material way.
Some might have seen some of that in thier own behavior. I was brought to a police station in Accra, held up by a bandit while being driven through the Khyber Pass from Kabul to Peshawar, had a flat tire on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere south of Nairobi where its repair might have invited an unwanted visit from a large cat, and walked away from a hostile crowd in Santo Domingo. My own service in the IDF at the age of 40, as a draftee and private in the lecture corps, brought me to Lebanon. One morning I woke to learn that there had been a fire fight with casualties about 50 meters from my sleeping bag.
Somehow I made it to the status of an Emeritus Professor.
I have been luckier than Grapel, but also more careful.
Beyond the edge of wisdom was participating in an anti-regime demonstration in a place not known for the rule of law, and hostile to both of the countries that Grapel called his own.
Israeli officials are saying that Grapel entered Egypt with his American passport, and that is one of the reasons they are leaving his care to the Americans. American officials may also have more leverage with Egyptians.
Franz Kafka might be Grapel''s best guide. With luck, American diplomats will work hard enough and Egyptians will let him go before a trial. Without luck, prosecutors will portray him as the essence of Jewish, Israeli, and American evil, and it may be years or forever before he gets back home in Queens, or to his home in Israel.