Israel's Ambassador accompanied by a plane-load of diplomats, staff and families have hastily evacuated from Egypt following the storming of theembassy in Cairo by demonstrators who gave vent to their pent up fury that had been sparked last month by the border killing by Israeli troops of five Egyptian soldiers.
The sudden mass evacuation of Israeli diplomatic personnel on Saturday morning under the cover of darkness was caused by 30 protesters, who broke into the embassy, housed inside a multi-storied tower. Once inside, the group furiously dumped hundreds of official documents into the street below, where a large number of their agitated supporters had assembled.
The crowd that assaulted the mission had been driven into frenzy after it had earlier failed to storm a local police compound. However, the protesters had managed to torch at least four vehicles, and also set a public building alight. Before managing to break-in around mid-night on Friday, the protesters, using sledge-hammers, crowbars and bare hands had torn down the protective wall that the Egyptian authorities had hastily erected recently in anticipation of a possible attack.
With the lives of its embassy staff endangered, authorities in Israel sought urgent intervention from the United States to resolve the unexpected crisis. The New York Times is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned President Barack Obama, while Defence Minister Ehud Barak contacted his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta, to weigh upon the Egyptians to defuse the situation.
According to AFP, Egyptian commandos had entered the building to escort six Israeli citizens to safety. Mr. Netanyahu said the “fact that Egyptian authorities ultimately acted with determination is laudable”. He also thanked Washington for its intervention. By Saturday morning, Israel had sent two military planes to bring home at dawn, 86 diplomats along with their family members.
Analysts point out that diplomatic crisis has endangered the future of the 1979 Egypt-Israel treaty that had anchored special ties during the Hosni Mubarak era. Observers say the perceptible plunge in the relationship following the overnight violence, mostly on account of perceived Egyptian inaction for several hours, may eventually add to Israel's regional isolation.
Already Israel's relations with Turkey, another key regional ally, are on ice following Tel Aviv's refusal to apologise for last year's killing of nine Turkish nationals aboard the assaulted Mavi Marmara, a Gaza-bound aid ship. A senior Israeli official was quoted as saying Friday night's attack was a “blow to peaceful relations”.
In Egypt, the incident is giving rise to apprehensions that the peaceful uprising that brought down the regime of the former President, Hosni Mubarak, is now in danger of plummeting into a violent phase. Three people had been killed, while 837 injured, said the Egyptian Health Ministry. Distancing itself from the violence, the April 6 Youth Movement that had spearheaded the anti-Mubarak rebellion said people who wanted to “distort the image of the revolution” were responsible for the attacks.
Writing on the website of the Israeli daily Haaretz, columnist Aluf Benn points out that the “Tahrir [Square] protesters and Egyptian politicians, frustrated with the slow pace of regime change, have directed their anger toward the most hated target in Cairo — the Israeli Embassy”. The Israeli embassy had become the target of Egyptian youth's ire following the killing on August 18 of five Egyptian soldiers by Israeli forces. This incident was followed by one large demonstration and a stream of smaller protests. In response to the protests, the authorities had erected a wall around the building.