The Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that the Israeli Embassy in Cairo had reopened in a new location, four years after being closed by a mob attack, without mentioning that the location was actually a building in the courtyard of the ambassador’s residence.
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In this, Foreign Ministry officials capitulated to the Egyptians, who had repeatedly refused other, more prominent locations that Israel had proposed.
On September 9, 2011, during a protest involving thousands of people near the Israeli embassy in Cairo, demonstrators broke through the Egyptian security contingent surrounding the diplomatic mission and entered the building where the embassy was located. Most of the embassy staff was not there, but the protesters tried to get inside the central section where six Israeli security guards were located.
For several hours the Israeli security guards were in danger. Only after pressure was exerted by U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on their Egyptian counterparts were Egyptian commandos sent in to rescue the Israelis.
Israeli diplomats and their families were then immediately evacuated from Cairo. A much smaller Israeli diplomatic team returned two months later, and for security reasons began working out of the ambassador’s residence, located in Cairo’s Muadi neighborhood.
For the past four years Israel has been trying to work with Egypt to find a new building for its embassy and make the security arrangements necessary for reopening it. The Egyptians, however, rejected every building suggested, always making a different excuse.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the feeling was that Egypt was dragging its feet because the absence of an Israeli embassy in Cairo was comfortable for the government from a public opinion perspective. Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry continued to insist on maintaining an embassy in a proper structure just like any other country that has diplomatic relations with Egypt.
Eventually, however, the Foreign Ministry gave up on finding a new building. Instead, it suggested that the Israeli ambassador’s official residence be upgraded to an embassy, and Egypt agreed. One of the buildings in the residential compound was thus designated to serve as the embassy. Israel, in effect, gave its official agreement to a restricting of the Israeli presence in Cairo.
None of this was mentioned in the Foreign Ministry announcement issued Wednesday. The press statement merely made a festive announcement about the embassy’s reopening exactly four years after the attack, and included a photo of Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold and Ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren standing in front of a sign put up on one of the walls, and putting up a mezuzah on one of the doorposts.
Although the Egyptians got what they wanted, they didn’t go out of their way to celebrate the embassy’s reopening. They sent a low-level diplomat, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s deputy chief of protocol, to the ceremony.