On The Attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo

How can we explain the attack on the Israeli embassy?

Last week, as the Israeli government was building a giant wall surrounding the Israeli embassy in Cairo, I opined that the wall should not be seen as a necessity because of anti-Semitism or a rejection of Israel, but rather as a reflection of the reality Israel has created for itself. Killing nine Turkish (and American) citizens on the Mavi Marmara in 2010, killing five Egyptian policemen two weeks ago, militarily occupying the West Bank and strangling Gaza is hardly a way to create amicable relations with neighbors. The recent attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo occurred because of the arrogant policies that Israel has pursued for decades and has intensified in recent years. But I will get to that in a second. First, I want to make two comments about the attack.

  • The incident at the Israeli embassy is interesting because there is clearly some complex domestic dynamics that fueled the attack. The embassy was attacked during/after massive protests in Tahrir Square against the ruling military council, SCAF, which many see as trying (rather successfully) to dull the revolution. Military tribunals still exist, the security services are still running wild, and few real reforms have been enacted. Had SCAF been more responsive to the demands of the Egyptian people, this attack may not have happened. That being said, there is a close association between SCAF, Israel and the Mubarak regime in the minds of many Egyptians; all three are basically one in the same. The killing of the Egyptian police, Israel’s arrogant refusal to apologize and SCAF’s awkward and inefficient handling of the event sparked anger towards Israel in Egypt. Moreover, the wall surrounding the Israeli embassy was provocative and only reminded Egyptians of Israel’s discriminatory and racist policy towards Palestinians. From Issandr El Amrani:
The construction of a wall outside the embassy was almost a provocation to people to come and bring it down. The symbolism of a wall was not lost on any one and merely angered people.
  • The slow and inefficient response of SCAF to the storming of the Israeli embassy is shocking. Unlike Seham at Mondoweiss I recognize that it is the responsibility of the host government to provide protection for foreign embassies (though Seham is correct in linking the embassy attack with the Egyptian police killings.) Though the anger that fueled the attack can easily be attributed to atrocious Israeli policies, SCAF has a legal responsibility to protect the embassy, regardless of the murder of Egyptian policemen by Israel. Again, from El Amrani:

The act of entering the embassy was not just illegal (in terms of domestic and international law), it was mindless and showed a poor sense of strategy and priority. It will hurt the credibility of the protest movement at home and abroad, reinforce fears of a country getting out of control domestically, and distract from the more important issue of Egypt’s still uncertain democratic transition. And it will not achieve, beyond the fleeing of most Israeli officials in Egypt for now, much to change the nature of the Egyptian-Israeli relationship. Even with only one senior embassy official remaining, the strategic relations are now taking place chiefly military to military through liaison offices that operate far away from where the embassy is located. This action does nothing to change Egyptian policy, and certainly nothing to help Palestinians, like fully ending the blockade of Gaza would.

But what’s worse about the incident is that it shows how the revolution’s positive energy — the desire for better governance, greater democracy and a more dignified foreign policy — is being dissipated.

I want to return to the root cause of the attack: Israeli hubris. The policies that the Israeli government is pursuing is isolating the country. Events like the embassy in Cairo and the complete break of military and diplomatic ties with Turkey were both preventable and the result of the Israeli decision to continue to defy international standards and opinions. Indeed, the upcoming UN vote regarding Palestinian statehood is simply another in an increasingly long list of diplomatic disasters that could have been avoided. Even in the United States – where criticism of Israel is akin to political suicide – people are beginning to tire of constantly defending Israeli intransigence. A quick look through the Israeli newspapers shows that Israelis are also beginning to view the Netanyahu government as the cause of many of the countries foreign relations disasters.

Noam Sheizaf wrote:

As the situation around the country deteriorates, Netanyahu and Lieberman thrive, playing on the very real existential fears of Israelis, declaring that “now is not the time for concessions,” behaving as if Israeli actions play no role in the regional dynamics, and preparing the public for nightmare scenarios. With no immediate political threat to their government, it seems that the worse is yet to come.

M.J. Rosenberg added:

This is beginning to look like one of the worst periods in Israel’s history… Each of these events [the break with Turkey, the events in Cairo and the upcoming UN vote], standing alone, would be catastrophic for Israel… But standing with Netanyahu does not mean supporting Israel simply because it is Netanyahu who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the tsunami heading Israel’s way.

Tony Karon, even before the Cairo embassy was stormed, spoke of Israel’s self-imposed isolation:

President Barack Obama Administration’s repeated humiliation at the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whenever he tried to put his foot down on over Israeli behavior so at odds with the international consensus that it threatened Israel’s long-term standing graphically demonstrated to the Arab world, and even many Europeans, that the U.S. was simply incapable of delivering on its promise of a fair deal for the Palestinians.

The Israeli government has stumbled from one diplomatic row to the next. Netanyahu’s actions has resulted in the termination of all relations with Israel’s best ally in the Middle East (Turkey), threatened the peace treaty with the linchpin of Israel’s regional security (Egypt), forced an unwinnable situation at the UN (re: Palestine), caused rebuke from Israel’s best western allies (the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Ireland, Australia – concerned the use of forged passports), and repeatedly humiliated the leader of the one country that has repeatedly stood behind Israel despite the divisive and often illegal behavior of Israel.

As Rosenberg says, this may be one of the worst periods in Israeli history. The mere fact that the general response to the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo – unquestionably a dangerous breach in international law and diplomatic protocol – was a flurry of articles concerning the poor foreign diplomacy record of Israel speaks for itself. The world is no longer blindly accepting the Israeli storyline and is beginning to hold Israel accountable – in the court public opinion at least – for its blatant disregard of international law and the insulting arrogance that defines Israeli international diplomacy.

Photo from War in Context

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