New details emerge over siege of embassy

 

ISRAELI PRIME minister Binyamin Netanyahu went out of his way yesterday to stress the importance of Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, but the weekend attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo left Jerusalem feeling increasingly isolated.

“Those who rip down flags . . . they are negating peace and the state of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu told ministers. “I am glad there are other forces in Egypt, including the Egyptian government, that are interested in advancing peace.” Two Israeli jets flew to Cairo in the early hours of Saturday morning to evacuate Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, Yitzhak Levanon, along with 80 diplomats and family members, after an angry mob of some 5,000 laid siege to the Israeli mission in the centre of Cairo.

New details emerged yesterday showing that six Israeli security guards who were trapped in the building were under orders to shoot to kill if the mob had breached the embassy’s third and final door. Mr Netanyahu and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman supervised the evacuation from the foreign ministry’s emergency room in Jerusalem, which had a live feed from the embassy’s closed-circuit cameras.

The Israeli guards had planned to climb on to the embassy roof but that plan was aborted when some 50 demonstrators occupied the roof. With the anti-Israel mob massed outside the embassy’s final metal door, the Israeli guards fired warning shots into the air.

Egyptian commandos arrived at the last minute to extricate the men after US president Barack Obama made urgent calls to Egyptian leaders. The guards, wearing Arab keffiyeh head scarves, were rushed out of the building. Mr Netanyahu said the ambassador will return when adequate security arrangements are in place.

The Arab Spring and the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak raised alarm bells in Jerusalem that the 1979 peace treaty may be in jeopardy. Fears were heightened last month when militants infiltrated from the Egyptian Sinai and killed eight Israelis. Five Egyptian policemen were killed in an Israeli retaliatory strike on the border which targeted militants. Israeli expressions of regret over the killings did little to quell the rising anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt.

Saturday’s evacuation of the ambassador to Cairo came a week after Turkey’s expulsion of Israel’s ambassador following Jerusalem’s refusal to apologise for last year’s commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Egypt and Turkey used to be Israel’s key allies in the region. Israel’s growing sense of isolation is likely to magnify significantly later this month when the United Nations is expected to endorse a unilateral Palestinian bid for recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel is facing a diplomatic tsunami and called for a special cabinet meeting to address the country’s growing isolation. “There is a wide picture forming around us. These are events that are not in our control, but we can certainly affect the way we face them,” he said.