The violence underway currently at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, which was overrun by demonstrators forcing the ambassador and some 70 staff to flee, has so far caused less concern in the major European capitals than the US.
The ambassador and his staff are expected to land in Israel in coming minutes but only President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have voiced concern. No other government in Asia or Europe has reacted. The United Nations is also silent so far.
Egypt’s top leaders promised both their American callers that they will protect the embassy and continue to honor earlier peace treaties with Israel. Deposed President Hosni Mubarak carefully kept anti-Israeli elements in check for over 30 years. He is currently under trial in Cairo for ordering violent suppression of unarmed civilian protestors during the Tahrir Square uprising earlier this year.
Responding to Obama, Egyptian authorities have placed Cairo on high alert and police are battling protestors with teargas. Some Cairo residents reporting by phone say the violence may subside soon because the main demand that the ambassador be removed has already been met.
However, the fact that mobs actually entered parts of the diplomatic premises and were seen to throwing documents out of windows is an uncomfortable reminder of the storming of the US embassy Tehran in 1979 when 90 American personal were taken hostage. Fortunately, all Israelis have already left the buildings in Cairo but the Egyptian street’s seething hostility is becoming harder to control. The current regime’s motives are also suspect.
This is a serious incident that signals Israel’s increasing isolation in the region. Washington cannot protect Tel Aviv from this solitude. The storming comes just days before the sad commemoration of the 9/11 catastrophe and weeks before a Palestinian move in the United Nations to obtain recognition as a State rather than Observer (as currently). Washington has not been able to protect Israel against that move either, which Tel Aviv says will undermine peace.
Israel is used to protests outside its embassies in many countries and some have also been attacked by terrorists. But the storming in Cairo gives cause for special concern. It signals that the attitudes of Egyptian authorities are unclear because it should not have come as a surprise. Hundreds have protested angrily outside the Israeli embassy almost constantly since 18 August, following the deaths of five Egyptian policemen at the Gaza border, allegedly at the hands of Israeli forces.
In coming days, investigations may show that the embassy was not sufficiently guarded by police despite the daily skirmishes with protestors. Today, tear gas and other dispersal techniques were not used against the mob until after it entered the diplomatic buildings.
Since Mubarak’s fall, the temporary regime has bowed to pressure from Obama and Clinton to honor his security agreements with Israel. It has now sent a not so subtle message saying it is too insecure to anger radical Egyptians by siding overtly with the US and Israeli. Soon democracy is expected to come to Egypt through elections. An elected government is less likely to honor Mubarak’s promises to Israel than the current military regime run by generals who were loyal to him for decades.
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