Liberman praises Egypt’s appointment of new ambassador, calls for closer cooperation

Foreign minister also hails US as Israel’s only steadfast ally

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking Tuesday evening in Jerusalem (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking Tuesday evening in Jerusalem (photo credit: Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman commended Egypt for sending a new ambassador to Israel while reiterating his call for Cairo to intensify bilateral dialogue between the two countries. Israel must not become like a “secret mistress” that everyone takes advantage of but no one wants to acknowledge exists, he said.

“It’s an important step in the right direction. But it’s not enough,” Liberman said Tuesday evening of the ambassador’s appointment. “It is important for two states that have diplomatic relations and signed a peace treaty to have relations — they can be cold but at least they should be normal.”

Liberman did not extend an explicit personal invitation to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to visit Israel, instead saying that the director-generals of the two countries’ foreign ministries should step up their cooperation.

Liberman quipped: “The state of Israel cannot be the mistress of the Middle East: everybody is enjoying her but nobody is willing to admit having relations with her. This kind of diplomacy is unacceptable.”

On Sunday, Cairo unexpectedly sent a new ambassador to Israel: Atef Salem, a career diplomat who will officially take office on October 17. There has not been an Egyptian ambassador serving in Israel since August 2011, when Cairo recalled Yasser Reda from Tel Aviv to protest the deaths of five Egyptian servicemen who died in the gunfire surrounding a terrorist infiltration from the Sinai into Israel in which eight Israelis were killed.

Last month, the foreign minister said he hoped Morsi would visit Israel and meet with President Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials.

Speaking in Jerusalem at a Rosh Hashana reception of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which he chairs, Liberman also referred to the vandalism at a monastery that was discovered Tuesday.

In what police are assuming is a so-called “price tag” attack, carried out by pro-settler extremists in ostensible revenge for this week’s evacuation of the West Bank settlement of Migron, anti-Christian graffiti was spray-painted on the doors and walls of the Monastery of the Silent Monks at Latrun early Tuesday.

“As someone who lives in the settlements, I have to say that whatever these crazies are doing, these ‘price tag’ activities, are intolerable,” Liberman said. It was unacceptable that a small group of people go after religious minorities in Israel. “This is pure damage, these people are doing enormous harm, more than anyone else. We can’t tolerate this.”

Liberman also took pains to make positive remarks about the US-Israel relationship, reminding his audience that the US is Israel’s only steadfast ally. He was speaking amid disagreements between Israel and the US over the urgency of tackling Iran’s nuclear threat.

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